Heading into the 2020 NFL draft, Denver Broncos’ fans needed, well, wanted GM John Elway to pick well, being it could very well be his second-to-last as head guy for Denver. Elways has been on a below-average run as a drafting GM. See examples OL Garrett Bolles & QB Paxton Lynch. Although, last season was a shining spot for the best and longest tenured QB in Denver history, fans still need and want more. Two years ago it was and still is WR Courtland Sutton as the big name in Denver’s draft. And last year see saw OL Dalton Risner and obviously QB Drew Lock the last five games in which he went 4-1 as the starter. So let’s dive into the 2020 selections for the Broncos along with their grades.
Round 1, pick 15: WR Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
A wide receiver was expected for the Broncos at this pick, but maybe not Jeudy. Henry Ruggs III was much tied to being taken by Denver, the other speedy WR out of Alabama, but he was selected three picks earlier by the now Las Vegas Raiders. Not to mention some nerves were felt after San Fran and Tampa swapped picks right before the Denver was ready to pick. Much thought, including myself, either team was going to go WR after the 49ers lost Emmanuel Sanders in free agency and maybe some more WR help for Brady in Tampa. But to the relief of Denver fans and media alike, the Buccs took some Brady protection help with OL Tristan Wirfs out of Iowa and San Fran went with DT Javon Kinlaw from South Carolina. So this left Denver with two options, the speed demon CeeDee Lamb from Oklahoma or another roll Tide threat in Jerry Jeudy. Much is made about a commentary piece for Courtland Sutton on Denver’s offense, and they decided to go with the better route runner in Juedy and Lamb ended up going two picks later to Dallas. Jeudy was one of the SEC’s top wide outs the last two seasons catching 24 TDs in just 28 games. If needed, the Broncos can also plug in the slot in certain offensive packages. His big play ability and length gives excited QB Drew Lock another weapon on the outside. Overall grade: A
Round 2, pick 46: WR KJ Hamler, Penn St.
This pick was a head scratcher…at first. Many in the mile high city expected and/or wanted the team to go offensive line at this pick, Elway had a different plan, obviously. Apparently speed is the game, as well as making big plays down the field, and getting those weapons for Drew Lock is essential. But how is he supposed to get the ball to said weapons without better protection you may ask? Well spoiler alert, we’ll discuss that soon. Back to Hamler, this is probably the quick-slot threat Elway has been looking for. This also most likely spells the end of DaeSean Hamilton’s time with the team and/or Juwann Winfrey from coveted CU, or is Tim Patrick the odd man out? Either way, this pick just adds more young speed and raw talent to the roster with Lock, Sutton and TE Noah Fant. Overall grade: B-
Round 3, pick 77: CB Michael Ojemudia, Iowa
Another eyebrow raiser. But maybe not, depending on how you look at it, and for Denver fans, trying to see what John Elway sees are on two completely different spectrums. But seeing as how the departure of Pro-Bowl (and undrafted) CB Chris Harris Jr. left a somewhat bittersweet taste in most people’s mouth, even though most those same people saw the writing on the wall. The injury that held CB Bryce Callahan out the entire 2019 season could be some reading between the lines with this pick, not to mention a younger talent opposite another newly acquired CB in AJ Bouye. A defensive backfield made up of Bouye, Kareem Jackson, Justin Simmons, Callahan (maybe) and now Ojemudia. Oh, and he also can provide some stability on special teams as a kick/punt returner, a position the Broncos haven’t had success in for a long time. Overall grade: C+
Round 3, pick 83: C Lloyd Cushenberry, LSU
Here’s where many fans got their wish. The anchor that held down the o-line for the National Champion LSU Tigers and first overall pick Joe Burrow. The broncos were forced to swap a couple different guys in the center position last year, most notably rookie Dalton Risner. This pick should let Risner go back to his natural position of right tackle, although even back at Kansas St. he started 12 games at center, the other 38 at right guard in his 50/50 games started for the Wildcats. “Bolstering” the offensive line was and should be a target for any team heading into the draft, and fans think a guy like John Elway should know this playing behind one of the best during back-to-back Super Bowl years. Others wanted the team to draft left tackle Garrett Bolles’ replacement, as the team has yet to pick up his fifth-year option. Although we still might see Bollsey trying his heart out not to hold, at least the line is somewhat solidified with the selection of Cushenberry, an anchor if there ever was one in this o-line heavy draft. Overall grade: A
Round 3, pick 95: DT McTelvin Agim, Arkansas
We assume the pick of 6’3”-309 pound Agim is the draft-and-replace for the since departed Derek Wolfe, who found a new home in Baltimore. Agim had 39 tackles last season for the Razorbacks, and putting him next to and/or spelling Shelby Harris at times, those are pretty big bodies to try and move to create space. The Brocnos’ d-line did get bigger but agile because of the way Harris, newly acquired DL Jurrell Casey and Agim can move. Overall grade: C
Round 4, pick 118: TE Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri
Reuniting this tight end with former teammate at Mizzo QB Drew Lock can be a great thing. Not to mention adding another young TE to the squad that already had Noah Fant, who besides his dropped passes last season, was the best rookie TE in the league. This pick also represents another weapon added to the Lock arsenal. Obviously time will tell if Lock and Okwuegbunam will have the same chemistry in the pros as they did in college, which by the way he caught 17 TDs from Lock while at Mizzo, he’s also regarded as the fastest TE in this year’s draft, so a steal perhaps. This was another position of need for Denver as not only adds another target for Lock, but also can provide o-line blocking when needed. We are still unsure of the status of other TE's Jeff Hauerman, the writing is pretty much all over the wall with his injury history and the ever-so-absent Jake Butt. Overall grade: B
Round 5, pick 178: LB Justin Strnad, Wake Forest
It’s no secret that the Broncos have struggled at being able to cover tight ends from the linebacker spot. Sure Von Miller is listed as a linebacker, but let’s face it, he’s an edge rusher. Strnad showed flashes of his speed while in college, and Denver hopes that his speed can go from sideline-to-sideline and being able to cover those pesky TE’s. While Todd Davis is still listed on the roster, as well as Josey Jewell, this was a big postion that also needed to be addressed in this draft, and the team got a solid pick with Strnad. Overall grade: C+
Round 6, pick 181: G Netane Muti, Fresno St.
While Denver needs depth on the o-line like we’ve been harking on for months, Muti is actually a gamble. He only played in 19 games in four years due to injury. The cliché saying is always “when healthy” and when healthy, Muti can provide a big, bolstering body to help block with a 6’3”-315 pound frame. His injury history is perhaps why he fell to the sixth round, but he is versatile and can play either guard spot. His doubters have and still call him “raw”, with still some bad coordination between body, feet and hands. You’ll see why this is a below average grade because of the injuries, the time it will take him to adjust to the pro game. But still in the average grade arena because of depth he could provide on the o-line. This will most likely be a project for a year or two with OL coach Mike Munchak. Overall grade: C+
Round 7, pick 252: WR Tyrie Cleveland, Florida
In a widereceiver heavy draft, John Elway decided to take his third WR. A big dude, 6’2”-209, who made most of his highlight-reel worthy plays actually on special teams. Maybe he can ask HOFer Terrell Davis about starting his career on special teams as a gunner and knocking a guy off his feet just to make the team. Not saying that Cleveland will have to do that, but the inconsistency he showed on offense as a Gator could have him on the return/kickoff teams. In all fairness to Elway and Cleveland, you can never have enough WRs, with speed to burn, fans will most likely see him use that speed on special teams. Overall grade: C
Round 7, pick 254: DE Derrek Tuszka, North Dakota St.
Well, maybe this’ll be Derek Wolfe’s replacement, they even share the same name. but in the seventh round? That’ll either be a steal if there ever was one or not amount to much. But we’re being pessimistic here so at beat we’ll say sure, he could be. Scouts have dubbed Tuszka as one of those guys who have a lot of heart, don’t know about you but most athletes never want to hear that, but that’s how he got by for most of his days as a Bison. Like the WR and O-line positions, you can never have enough depth, hopefully Tuszka can provide that to a defensive line that saw zero players in double-digit sacks. Overall grade: C
Undrafted free agent signees: RB LeVante Bellamy, Western Michigan; S Douglas Coleman III, Texas Tech; QB Riley Neal, Vanderbilt; WR Kendall Hinton, Wake Forest; WR Zimari Manning, Tartleton St.; T Hunter Watts, Arkansas; DB Essang Bassey, Wake Forest.
So, was this Elway’s best draft? I’m on the fence of undecided and yes. While a lot of the grades were right around average, Elway did fill needs and add depth to the positions that needed- WR, O-line and LB. This was an above average draft for Elway and the Broncos. Obviously Jerry Jeudy will make an immediate impact and will start from day-one. Along with an injury-plagued James on the o-line and Ronald Leary not returning, the line could have three to four new starters, depending on the future of Bolles. Overall draft grade: B-