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Last year's thin draft overall leaves its mark: Broncos' entire undrafted class of 2021 is gone

Broncos won an award for the best collection of draft picks in 2021, but recent cuts of Mintze, Himmelman, Beyer cleaned out its post-draft supplement.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In another sign the 2021 draft class produced arguably the shallowest talent pool in, well, NFL history, the Broncos’ entire undrafted class from last season is now wiped out.

Outside linebacker Andre Mintze, tight end Shaun Beyer and offensive tackle Drew Himmelman were the last three undrafted players from 2021 who were waived off the Broncos’ roster this week. They were cut to make room for another batch of 2022 undrafted rookies.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic canceling or drastically reducing the 2020 college football seasons, more players than usual returned to play one more season for their schools rather than enter the draft after a year off. That meant 20 percent fewer prospects were available for the NFL Draft.

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Broncos general manager George Paton won an award for having the best draft in 2021 but that was primarily because of his top three rounds where he got premier players in Pat Surtain II and Javonte Williams in the first two rounds and starters Quinn Meinerz and Baron Browning in the third round. He also hit with Caden Sterns in the fifth round and Jonathon Cooper in the seventh.

Indeed, one reason why none of the undrafted players are still around is that more draft picks than usual – six -- made significant rookie contributions in 2021. 

Paton said he really started to notice the talent thin more than usual in the fifth round of last year’s draft – which is why he went back-to-back with safeties in that round and hit nicely with Sterns -- and the crop was all but dried up by the time it came to recruiting undrafted players.

That crop is now dust.

One of the better players from the Broncos’ 2021 undrafted class – cornerback Mac McCain III – was claimed and reclaimed off waivers by the Eagles in a season-long, tug-of-war battle with Denver. Inside linebacker Curtis Robinson played significant snaps against the Browns and Eagles – when the Denver D was steamrolled for a combined 398 rushing yards. He was cut and picked up by the 49ers.

Former Colorado State fullback Adam Prentice caught on with the Saints last year and played in their final seven games with three starts. Former Colorado State receiver Warren Jackson was waived early in training camp last year and wasn’t picked up until mid-January when the Los Angeles Rams added him to their practice squad. Just in time to get a Super Bowl ring.

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The most recent cuts of Himmelman and Beyer were somewhat surprising because they received six-figure guarantees to sign and were often listed on the Broncos’ practice squad protected list. And Mintze kept the Broncos’ undrafted run going of at least one college-free agent making their season-opening roster in 17 of the previous 18 years before he was hindered by hamstring and other injury issues.

The Broncos did bolster their roster last year by adding two undrafted players from 2020 in Jonas Griffith and Aaron Patrick. Griffith is now a starting inside linebacker and Patrick is a core special teamer.

The elimination of the entire 2021 undrafted class may send two more positive signals: One, it was a considerably larger group of prospects in this year’s draft class, and therefore had a much deeper pool of talent. Which in turn pushed out what was left of the 2021 undrafted class. And two, the Broncos have a much stronger, deeper roster in 2022 than they did last year.

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