What role will Bronco recruits play in the first year?


ENGLEWOOD, Colorado – The Broncos 2020 NFL Draft class is brought together, and with that we can start looking to the future.

As we do, there are many questions about how Jerry Jeudy and Co. will fit in, how recent choices have an impact on the status of veteran players and how the Broncos can meet other needs.

I take a crack at these questions and a few others in this post-project mailbag.

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Are the Broncos considering veteran free agents? Logan Ryan or Prince Amukamara maybe? – Timothy P.

After picking up Iowa cornerback Michael Ojemudia, they now have several options for third cornerback position. Ojemudia, Duke Dawson Jr., De’Vante Bausby, Davontae Harris and Isaac Yiadom are all expected to compete for this position. I think Bausby has the leg right now, but head coach Vic Fangio has said he expects at least two of these players to emerge. I think however that you are on something. All of the players vying for third place are young and do not have much experience. Although this youth may be good for the future of the group, it worries me a little before the season. I think the Broncos would be well placed to bring in a veteran cornerback, especially since we haven’t seen Bryce Callahan play in a year and a half. Amukamara knows about Fangio’s system in Chicago, so it could be an option that makes sense. Ryan is likely to require a larger contract, which can be difficult for the Broncos to do work given the salary cap constraints. No matter who it is, however, I would feel more comfortable entering Week 1 if another veteran was on the list.

How likely are Patrick, Heuerman, Butt and Hamilton to be on the list? – Caleb S.

Let’s start with the wide receivers, Tim Patrick and DaeSean Hamilton. In short, I think they both have a decent chance at making the list. Most teams carry six wide receivers, and it is a lock that Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler will form the team. Fangio spoke enthusiastically about Diontae Spencer after the draft, so I think he is also likely to be the team’s return specialist. Patrick, Hamilton, seventh round pick Tyrie Cleveland and 2019 sixth round pick Juwann Winfree are fighting to be on the list. I expect Patrick to be the fourth receiving option as he has shown flashes in the past two years and is also a big physical receiver. The Broncos don’t have that outside of Sutton. Hamilton may have a steeper climb. Although he has come a bit in the last two games with Drew Lock, he projects himself as a slot machine player who is a good runner. Jeudy and Hamler also matched this bill, which could make Hamilton the strange man. It depends, I think, on what the Broncos see from Cleveland. If he makes waves during the training camp, he could grab this last place. As it stands, however, I guess Cleveland starts on the training team and Hamilton holds onto a spot on the list.

In the end, I think Jeff Heuerman and Jake Butt have more difficult paths to alignment. Noah Fant, Nick Vannett and Albert Okwuegbunam are all locks – and sometimes the teams only wear three tight ends. If the Broncos wear four, I would expect Andrew Beck to have the first glimpse. He was a pleasant surprise last year in place of Andy Janovich, and I expect there will be a place for him even if the Broncos should not use a rear. Heuerman faces a challenge because he and Vannett are almost identical players. Butt, meanwhile, still hasn’t been able to stay healthy and now has two other dangerous receiving threats that he has to compete against. I think it would be a little overwhelming for either player to list the 53 men.

Why didn’t we write a tackle? Did we not see it as a need or did we not like those who were available? Also, what do we do if Muti is healthy and as good as I read / saw? Who is the strange man inside? Is there a chance that Risner will push to attack? – David H.

David, sometimes the board doesn’t fall like this. First, let’s recognize that there were probably only a few plug-and-play boards in this project. Andrew Thomas and Mekhi Becton are two of them, and the two players finished ahead of Denver’s 15th selection. Tristan Wirfs and Jedrick Wills Jr. are also in this conversation, but the two players mainly worked in the right tackle, so it would have been a bit risky. And these players were also gone.

Josh Jones of Houston was available in the second round, but the Broncos preferred KJ Hamler in this situation. Keep in mind that the Broncos also didn’t give up on a third and fifth round pick for a one-year rental to Trent Williams. So maybe the Broncos don’t consider tackling as important as fans of the Broncos. Although Bolles is far from perfect, he never missed a game and only allowed one bag in five games with Lock as quarterback. There was only one penalty for detention during this period. I don’t expect the Broncos to pick Bolles’s fifth year option, but I think it’s likely he’ll win the tackle on Elijah Wilkinson. Let’s see what’s going on in year 2 under Mike Munchak before showing the door to Bolles.

Muti, as you mentioned, is an interesting player. The Broncos had a third round score on him, and it’s likely he would have been drafted in the first two rounds if he was in good health. Certainly, it will be difficult to overcome a past that includes two Achilles injuries and one Lisfranc injury. The Broncos took Butt in the fifth round a few years ago with the same intentions, and it didn’t work. If Muti becomes healthy, can stay available, and is as good as he appeared in 2017, the Broncos must find a way to put him on the field. Dalton Risner, a former All-American right-hander in the state of Kansas, appears to be the most likely possibility of changing positions. I wouldn’t expect it to happen this year, but there is a chance it will happen. Again, we rely on a lot of “ifs”.

What role do you see recruits playing [in Year 1]? – Blake E.

Let’s review the class:

WR Jerry Jeudy: The first day’s starter will be the Broncos’ second choice behind Courtland Sutton. I set the first bar at 650 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Everything that should be considered a success.

WR KJ Hamler: Don’t start every game, but it should have a role. I would expect him to be somewhere in the 400-500 yard range and have a few touchdowns.

CB Michael Ojemudia: I expected him to initially play in special teams and get limited defensive snaps. I think it is unlikely to be a full-time starter in 2020, even if the Broncos open in nickel. It seems to be a good option as the fourth cornerback this year.

C Lloyd Cushenberry III: Some disagree, but I think he’ll be a Day 1 starter in the middle of the Broncos line. He can sometimes tackle defensive tackles athletically, but I think being between Dalton Risner and Graham Glasgow should help him a bit.

DL McTelvin Agim: I expect him to be a player in rotation on a very deep defensive line. I suspect he will face DeMarcus Walker for fifth place.

TE Albert Okwuegbunam: The Broncos’ third tight round and second option as a threat of receiving position, Okwuegbunam seems most useful in sets with two tight rounds. I wouldn’t expect him to go crazy as a rookie. A few hundred yards and a touchdown or two seem about right.

LB Justin Strnad: He should be an instant impact player in special teams and could push linebackers into the team’s sub-packages. If he is in good health, there could be an upgrade to the cover service. I wouldn’t expect him to be a player at all levels.

G Netane Muti: I suspect Muti will not appear in many games – if any – this season. The Broncos could and should be careful with the sixth round pick and put it back in good health. It could be a type of red shirt season for Muti.

WR Tyrie Cleveland: The Broncos are deep at the wide receiver, so it will be a battle for Cleveland to make the list. If he makes the list, I would expect it to be an option only if the injury bug hits the group. He could also be a player on the training team – and there is nothing to be ashamed of.

OLB Derrek Tuszka: I think Tuszka has a sneaky good chance of making the list. All-American FCS, Tuszka had 13.5 bags as a senior. The Broncos have a great opinion of reserve rusher Jeremiah Attaochu, and Malik Reed also proved himself last season. If the Broncos keep five linebackers, he could be part of the team. Maybe he will even push Reed to fourth place.

Also keep an eye out for free agents at RB LeVante Bellamy, S Douglas Coleman III and CB Essang Bassey colleges. All three players have a chance to make the list.

We have two excellent safeties but only one relief (replacement). I realize the corners or, perhaps, some linebackers could play it safe. Your thoughts, please. – Karin R.

I mentioned Coleman a moment ago when he was third in the country in interception as a senior at Texas Tech. This ability to play could help him gain a place in a relatively thin position. While Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson may be the best safety duo in the league, Trey Marshall is the only proven backup there. The Broncos will need one more to emerge, and Coleman seems to be a bet as good as any.

What will happen to Royce Freeman now that the draft is over? – Erich B.

I’m intrigued by the Broncos’ plan to back off. Melvin Gordon III and Phillip Lindsay are clearly options 1A and 1B, but I’m not sure what that means for Freeman. A year ago, he actually carried the ball more than he did as a rookie. In 2019, Freeman had 132 ranges and 50 targets as a receiver. Those numbers are sure to drop – Mike Clay predicts ESPN will only have 12 litters and 34 targets – but I think it is still a precious third. He could play a Devontae Booker role next year. If Bellamy impresses the Broncos as an undrafted player – he would have gotten a significant signing bonus of $ 25,000 – that could make a difference. For now, however, I still expected Freeman to contribute from time to time.


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