With the disappointment of the 2016 season behind us, Broncos Europe gathered with other NFL fans at Pie & Ale in Manchester’s Northern Quarter to watch the first two days of the 2017 NFL draft.
It was our first official meetup in conjunction with the thriving northern powerhouse that is Gridiron & Gravy, and it was a fun evening as we launched into a mammoth session of a delayed broadcast of day one before going live through to 5am for day two.
So, with the 2017 draft class in the books, the Broncos coaches have several new weapons to play with as we look to return to the playoffs.
Here are our top five from this year’s class.
Carlos Henderson, WR, Louisiana Tech
We keep hearing about juice guys since head coach Vance Joseph arrived and the Broncos have it on tap with the former Bulldogs wideout, who led the FBS in all-purpose yards and scored 23 touchdowns in a stellar year for Louisiana Tech. He won’t have those numbers in the NFL, but he could have a fun competition with Demaryius Thomas for yards after the catch if Mike McCoy and the quarterbacks can give him some catch-and-go opportunities. His 4.46 40-yarder is far from the quickest in this year’s class, but still quick enough to ensure that he’ll see plenty of action on special teams as a downhill returner. Plenty to like about how much this kid could make an immediate impact in 2017 and, if he can improve as a receiver, he could push to be the WR3 in Denver amid relatively poor competition.
DeMarcus Walker, DE, Florida State
The FSU product is potentially a steal by the Broncos as he could have gone higher and could finally replace the Malik Jackson hole. Should develop into a productive rusher in the NFL. Might not become a starter in year one, and certainly won’t achieve production close to the 16 sacks and 21.5 tackles for a loss from his senior year, but should get chances to make an impact.
Jake Butt, TE, Michigan
Butt fumble jokes aside, the tight end turned out to be a fairly low -risk move for Elway given how far his stock fell due to an ACL injury in the Orange Bowl. While some first round picks opted to skip their Bowl games, it’s commendable that Butt wanted to play his final game for the Wolverines. Projected as one of the top three tight ends in the draft, in all likelihood, he would have landed elsewhere. It could be a month or more into the season before the Broncos feel comfortable to deploy Butt, but if he can get – and stay – healthy, he’ll quickly become a big weapon for the Broncos QBs in McCoy’s system. If he can be half as good as Julius Thomas was, he’ll be a huge upgrade on what the Broncos have endured since Thomas cashed in down in Florida.
Garett Bolles, OT, Utah
Expectations are through the roof on this 25-year-old out of Utah. The Broncos desperately needed a left tackle and went after Bolles with the 20th pick in the first round. It’s a huge gamble in a year with no standout offensive tackles. He could be the long-term starter if he can win the job in training camp. He needs to win it or it could be another disappointing year if Vance Joseph has to rely on Ty Sambrailo or Donald Stephenson while waiting for offensive line coach Jeff Davidson to get Bolles ready. With the Broncos shifting free agent acquisition Ronald Leary to right guard for Max Garcia to continue at left guard, Bolles could have a tough introduction to life in the NFL, but he’ll be given a chance sooner rather than later.
Isaiah McKenzie, WR, Georgia
McKenzie is another of the juice guys the Broncos drafted and looks set to make an immediate impact. The diminutive wide receiver—clocking in at just 5ft 7in, 173lbs, comparable to veteran running back/return specialist Darren Sproles who was 5ft 6in, 170lb at the 2005 combine—gives special teams a huge boost and allows the Broncos to safeguard star receiver Emmanuel Sanders from taking extra licks on return duties. With some questions about his route-running ability, and his college highlights coming from sweeps, swing screens plays and return duties, McKenzie will have to work harder to prove his worth on offense.