The 2019 NFL Draft is in the books and the Denver Broncos drafted six players — their smallest class since 2014 — after three days of wheeling and dealing by general manager John Elway.
So it’s time to see what new toys Broncos Country can look forward to for the upcoming season.
#20 Noah Fant, TE, Iowa
Finally, the Broncos have a tight end that can be an immediate and long-term difference maker.
Yes, Fant isn’t the inside linebacker that many in Broncos Country wanted, but the Iowa standout’s size makes him an athletic, vertical-threat weapon for Joe Flacco in Rich Scangarello’s offense, and he could also see plenty of action in the slot in a Travis Kelce or George Kittle role.
The Broncos will improve their offense massively if Fant has close to being as explosive as former Iowa teammate Kittle was in San Francisco last year.
Factoring in the extra picks from trading down from 10 places from #10, this was a solid move by Elway in the first round.
#41 Dalton Risner, OL, Kansas State
Irrespective of what the Broncos did in round one, Colorado native Risner was my guy for the second round, even over Drew Lock. He had a first-round grade from several draft analysts and should be an immediate starter and a focal point of the Broncos’ offensive line for a decade. This selection is one of the steals of the 2019 NFL Draft.
The Broncos’ new offensive line coach Mike Munchak probably pounded the table to get this high-character, nasty trench monster too, and it’s a perfect match as he transitions to the NFL and fixes a few weaknesses.
Risner’s versatility means the Broncos have options for 2019 and in the future with likely starting center Connor McGovern a free agent in 2020. If the newly-minted Ju’wuan James doesn’t work out at right tackle, Risner could also slide out there.
#42 Drew Lock, QB, Missouri
Let’s get it out of the way: Drew Lock could be the Broncos’ quarterback of the future. Mocked to the Broncos as high as #5 in a trade-up scenario, that he fell to the second round makes him a great value pick by general manager John Elway, despite giving up draft capital to trade up from #52 to see off Green Bay and New England.
In the space of 23 picks, the Broncos selected three first-round talents and those three players are as good as the three taken by Oakland in the first round.
The Mizzou QB wasn’t my guy in the 2019 NFL Draft, but it’s hard to argue with what the Broncos did in their maneuvers to get him.
The Paxton Lynch debacle may be in the rearview mirror, but Lock doesn’t have to win the job in training camp.
Time will tell if Lock can develop into the starter and franchise quarterback many expect him to be, but he has a Super Bowl MVP to learn from in Flacco and an offensive coordinator in Scangarello, who made Nick Mullens and a host of other no-name QBs look good when he was quarterbacks coach of the 49ers.
Dre’Mont Jones, DL, Ohio State
Jones is a sneaky good pick-up for the Broncos in the third round. He will bring plenty of pass rush from the inside and is solid against the run, albeit susceptible to double teams because of his lack of size against bigger guards and tackles.
The Ohio State defensive lineman increased his sack count from one in 2017 to 10 in 2018 as he played 500 pass rush snaps, and he will be a useful addition in Vic Fangio’s defense as a three tech.
#156 Justin Hollins, LB, Oregon
The Texas native was tipped to be a sixth-round pick or later by NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein, but the Broncos picked up the versatile linebacker in the fifth, which could be seen as a reach.
A former defensive end before transitioning to linebacker in his junior year, it is easy to see why head coach Fangio wanted him for his defense. Can play inside and out, can rush the passer and play in coverage, and could make up for the loss of Shane Ray and Shaq Barrett to free agency if asked to play edge.
Hollins is a developmental player but has the perfect coach in Fangio to help him make it in the NFL.
Juwann Winfree, WR, Colorado
Winfree is a sleeper pick in a superb draft for the Broncos, who traded two picks to move up for the wide receiver.
Injuries — including a torn ACL in 2016 — derailed Winfree’s college career, which contributed to his fall, while he wasn’t targeted a lot at Colorado, but he should see some time on special teams as he tries to force his way into a receiver room led by Emmanuel Sanders, Courtland Sutton, DaeSean Hamilton, and Tim Patrick.
At 6-3, 210 pounds, Winfree ran a 4.5 40-yard dash, and his size and speed could make him a threat as a big slot receiver and a blocker, but he also possesses solid route running and an ability to make defenders look silly, as he did against USC in the video below.
Overall Grade: A
Despite drafting six players in the 2019 NFL Draft, the Broncos has a superb weekend, emphasized by the three first-round talents acquired on days one and two.
Fant and Risner will be day one starters, while Lock will have time to learn the intricacies of the NFL from Flacco and receive the keys to the franchise when ready.
For a second year, the Broncos selected high-character guys that will have an impact on and off the field.
The players taken in the later rounds will also get a chance to make it.
There are still some holes on the roster to be addressed, but there is a notable improvement to the offense.