DENVER — They can prevent us from walking into a convenient store without shoes, shirts and masks. They can halt restaurants from seating more than 50 percent capacity – leaving the other 50 percent of Valentine’s Day couples all dressed up with nowhere to go.
They can stop football and baseball from filling their stands, and they can even black out TV viewers from watching most of the local basketball and hockey games.
But they can’t stop Mike’s Mystery Mockster from picking the first four rounds of the Broncos’ 2021 draft a mere one week after Super Bowl 55 put an official end to the 2020 season.
New Denver Broncos general manager George Paton might not yet be familiar with the Mystery Mockster's draft acumen. But for all the help Paton will receive from the draftnicks in the next 2 1/2 months, he is sure to realize the Mystery Mockster is not one to ignore.
Round 1, No. 9: Patrick Surtain II, cornerback, Alabama, 6-2, 203
Mystery Mockster: The draft is going to fall perfectly for the Broncos, with four quarterbacks and three receivers (plus offensive tackle Penie Sewell) going in the first eight picks. This leaves the Broncos to choose from the two best cornerbacks in the draft: the Crimson Tide’s Surtain and Virginia’s Caleb Farley.
Both are outstanding athletes with great size and coverage skills, and either can line up outside on Day 1 of training camp and man the position for the next five years.
It doesn’t hurt that cornerback is a position of extreme need for the Broncos (before any trades or free agency). Whichever cornerback the Broncos choose, the other may go with the next pick.
Surtain gets the nod if for no other reason than the 6-foot-2, 207-pound Farley opted out of the 2020 season. There is simply more recent tape on Surtain, and he was outstanding. If Surtain is gone and the Broncos are unsure about Farley, the Broncos should consider dropping back a few picks and taking another former NFL player’s son, Jaycee Horn, a 6-1, 205-pound corner from South Carolina.
Mike: Cornerback is the Broncos’ No. 1 need following the release of A.J. Bouye, injury history of Bryce Callahan, ACL surgery to Essang Bassey and mixed rookie performance of Michael Ojemudia.
Round 2, No. 40: Baron Browning, ILB, Ohio State, 6-3, 240
Mystery Mockster: Elite athletic skills for a man his size. Browning’s calling card is versatility. He can stuff the run, rush the quarterback (5.0 sacks in 11 games as a junior in 2019) or drop into coverage -- whatever is asked, this high character player has been up to the challenge. Browning just might be that special inside linebacker the Broncos have been after for the past few years.
The second round may be slightly early for Browning. If it is, this would be the ideal pick to select Oregon safety Jevon Holland. Even after opting out last season, Holland is still in contention for the No. 1 safety in this class.
The hope is Justin Simmons is a Bronco for a long time, but the safety position needs shoring up behind the two starters, Simmons and Kareem Jackson.
If for some crazy reason the Broncos don’t go cornerback in round 1, Georgia corner Eric Stokes would be a nice pick here.
Mike: Broncos inside linebacker starters Alexander Johnson and Josey Jewell are instinctive, downhill, strong tacklers but neither has the type of speed to consistently keep up with the overload of elite receiving tight ends (Darren Waller, Travis Kelce, Hunter Henry) inside the AFC West. The Broncos have been seeking a speed inside linebacker for going on three years. They hope Justin Strnad, a fifth-round rookie last year who missed his entire first season because of a wrist injury, can fill this role.
One problem with this year’s inside linebacker class is the top guys have 4.6/4.7 speed. Last year, Kenneth Murray and Patrick Queen were 4.5 guys.
Round 3, No. 71: Dillon Radunz, OT, North Dakota State, 6-5, 304
Mystery Mockster: The Broncos are set with All-Pro Garret Bolles at left tackle (how good does that sound), but as every Broncos fan knows, there is a huge question mark at right tackle as well as swing tackle with Elijah Wilkerson entering free agency. Ja’Wuan James returns to right tackle, but he is a question mark after basically missing the past two years because of injury and opt-out.
Radunz is already a tremendous run blocker and with his size and athleticism, he should quickly develop into a quality NFL pass blocker.
This is a sleeper pick where I initially thought the Broncos could steal in a later round, but Radunz has been rising up the draft board to the point he might be gone by No. 71.
Plan B is Stanford’s Walker Little, a big (6-7, 304), strong offensive tackle who may have hurt his draft stock after opting out in 2020.
Mike: The Broncos would probably rather keep Wilkinson than James but their respective contract situations will make it difficult, if not impossible. The Broncos put in four years developing Wilkinson, who was undrafted out of Massachusetts, but they did such a good job he could well command a decent contract through free agency. Meanwhile, the team is still committed to James and his $10 million guaranteed salary for 2021. Calvin Anderson should be ready to become the swing tackle behind Bolles and James, but as Mike’s Mockster says, the Broncos need to develop a starting right tackle for 2022 if not at some point in 2021.
Round 4, No. 104: Quincy Roche, edge, Miami, 6-2, 243
Mystery Mockster: Roche had a stellar career at Temple (13.0 sacks as a junior in 2019) before moving up the competition ladder and transferring to Miami. Roach has the ideal size, smarts, athleticism and pass-rushing skills to play outside linebacker in the 3-4. He will need to get stronger in the run game.
If Roache is off the board, Notre Dame’s Adetokunbo Ogundeji, a 6-4, 253-pound edge/end would be the pick. A team captain, Ogundeji has developed into the type of versatile D-lineman the Broncos love. Without the bend of a prototypical NFL edge, Ogundeji can play end in the 3-4, move outside in the 4-3 and possibly move inside on passing downs.
Mike: If Von Miller doesn’t return – and it’s truly a 50-50 proposition – then edge rushing linebacker could well jump to the front of the Broncos’ list of defensive priorities.
Note: The Broncos also have selections in the fifth round (No. 135), sixth round (166) and three in the seventh round (199, 201, 213). The Mystery Mockster will get to them in his next installment, which will come after the second wave of free agency in late-March.
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