ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — George Paton’s first draft for the Broncos won an award.
Best draft of 2021. The Denver general manager has very little shot of repeating in his second draft.
Imagine last year’s draft without Pat Surtain II and Javonte Williams. This is what the Broncos’ draft looks like this year after they surrendered their No. 9 and 40 overall picks to the Seattle Seahawks as partial compensation in exchange for star quarterback Russell Wilson.
Quinn Meinerz and Baron Browning in the third round, Caden Sterns in the fifth round and Jonathan Cooper in the 7th round were solid picks that made the Broncos’ draft productive from top to bottom last hear. But Surtain and Williams were the difference-makers.
The Broncos don’t select until the No. 64 pick overall next week – or the final choice in the second round. Then they have No. 75 and 96 in the third round and No. 115 and 116 in the fourth round.
The further back into the draft the Broncos go, the more evaluation work Paton and his staff must do on the prospects. The Broncos brought in roughly 25 or 26 prospects this offseason from their allotted 30 in-person visits. 9NEWS has confirmed 23 prospects who brought in to team headquarters for top 30 visits, including local-boy-makes-good Chad Muma, whose visit didn’t count against the top 30 because he came in from right down the road. (Note this story has been updated to include USC edge rusher Drake Jackson, who bumped the list from 22 to 23 prospects)
Of the 23 prospects known to have visited Broncos' headquarters, seven were offensive linemen, five were cornerbacks, three were running backs and one was the best lacrosse player in the nation two years ago.
Only 9 of the Broncos' 23 known top 30 visits have gone undrafted through the first three rounds. Here’s a updated look the confirmed list of Broncos’ top 30 visits (and Muma) as the draft moves through Day 3, rounds four through seven:
Braxton Jones, OT, Southern Utah (No. 168, fifth round, Bears)
Athletic at 6-5, 310 pounds, Jones was All Big Sky last year for the small-school program that went 1-10 last year. Ran his 40 in under 5.0 seconds at the Combine.
Matt Waletzko, OT, North Dakota (No. 11, fifth round, Cowboys)
Long and relatively lean at 6-8, 312, an All American small-schooler.
Tyler Smith, OT, Tulsa (No. 24, first round, Cowboys)
Figures to be gone by the time the Broncos pick at No. 64. Enormous at 6-5, 332 pounds with a 5.02 time in 40. Could project as guard.
Abe Lucas, OT, Washington State (No. 72, third round, Seahawks)
Another large human being (6-6, 315) who ran a sub-5.0 second 40 (4.92) at the Combine. Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett is looking for agile offensive linemen who can comfortably get to the second level for his outside zone West Coast blocking scheme. Expected to go from middle of the second round to somewhere in the third so there’s a chance the Broncos consider him with their No. 64 or 75 picks.
Dylan Parham, OL, Memphis (No. 90, third round, Raiders)
Started every game one season at left guard, then every game another season at right tackle, and then last year every game at right guard. A guard, maybe even center may be his spot in the NFL. He doesn’t have the tackle-build at 6-3, 311 but he’s another lineman who broke the 5.0-second 40 at the Combine (4.93). A former junior Olympic triple-jump participant, there is little question the Broncos are looking for dancing-bear types.
Cam Jurgens, C, Nebraska (No. 51, second round, Eagles)
Guess what the 6-3, 303-pound Cornhusker ran the 40 in at the Combine? Yep, 4.92. Started all but one game at center the previous three years at Nebraska.
Cole Strange, G-C, Tennessee-Chattanooga (No. 29, first round, Patriots)
Used the COVID-19 exemption to start five years in college, mostly at left guard, but some at left tackle and center. He’s 6-foot-5, 307 pounds who ran his 50 in 5.03.
Tyquan Thornton, WR, Baylor (No. 50, second round, Patriots)
The uncertainty of KJ Hamler’s return from ACL surgery – his injury was more complicated than just to the vital ligament – makes a receiver deep threat a sleeper need for the Broncos. Thornton ran a 4.28-second 40 at the NFL Combine – just off the all-time record of 4.22 set by receiver John Ross. A projected mid- to late-round pick. Had nice senior year with 62 catches, 948 yards (15.3 yards per) and 10 touchdowns.
Jared Bernhardt, WR, Ferris St. (not drafted)
Was the best lacrosse players in the nation while at Maryland for four years and won the Heisman equivalent as a senior. A triple-option quarterback in high school, Bernhardt became a graduate transfer senior quarterback last season at Ferris St., where he completed 87 of 123 passes (70.7 percent) for 1,322 yards and 11 touchdowns against 5 interceptions. More impressively, he rushed for 1,421 yards and 26 touchdowns on 8.9 yards per carry in leading Ferris St. to the NCAA Division II championship. In the title game, Bernhard ran 14 times for 148 yards and three touchdowns – and never threw a pass in a 58-17 win against Valdosta State, which had edged the Colorado School of Mines the previous week in the semifinals.
Bernhardt also caught one pass for 33 yards – and receiver is where this incredible athlete may have his best shot to catch on in the NFL – as Chris Hogan did the previous nine seasons with five teams. Bernhardt worked out as both a receiver and quarterback at Maryland’s Pro Day three weeks go. His 4.7-second 40 was disappointing but he obviously has the quickness and athleticism to become an effective slot receiver.
Chad Muma, ILB, Wyoming (No. 70, third round, Jaguars)
Was a defensive back his junior year at Legend High School in Parker, then switched to linebacker as a senior – which speaks to his ability to run. He showed it at the Combine, too, with a 4.63, 40. Had 142 tackles as a senior with three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. At 6-3, 239 pounds, he could contribute as a third-down linebacker right away.
Tariq Carpenter, S-LB, Georgia Tech (No. 228, seventh round, Packers)
A tweener at 6-3, 230 as he’s somewhere between a strong safety and inside linebacker. A dime backer is what he is.
Nick Grant, S, Virginia (not drafted)
A Justin Simmons type at 6-3, 190 with range and projected to go in the mid rounds. A cornerback and receiver in high school who played 5 years at Virginia.
DeAngelo Malone, edge, Western Kentucky (No. 82, third round, Falcons)
Played five years and got five letters for the Hilltoppers with 25.0 sacks combined in the past three. He’s 6-3, 248.
Nik Bonitto, edge, Oklahoma (No. 64, second round, Broncos)
Came in at 6-3, 248 at the Combine. Ran an impressive 4.54/40. Named 2021 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year by Pro Football Focus. Had 16.0 sacks in 21 games the past two years.
Drake Jackson, edge, USC (No. 61, second round, 49ers)
Has bend, long limbs and flexibility at 6-foot-3, 254. Like most soon-to-be rookies, he could use a little more work in the weight room. Wasn't consistently turned loose as a pass rusher at USC but still had 12.5 sacks in 27 games. Projected as late-second to late-third-round pick.
Ja’Quan McMillian, CB, East Carolina (not drafted)
A smaller corner at 5-10, 183, had 12 interceptions in his three years at East Carolina. Projected as a late-round, nickel corner who was snubbed from the Combine.
DaRon Bland, CB, Fresno State (No. 167, fifth round, Cowboys)
Transferred from Sacramento State. He’s 6-0, 197 with a 4.48/40 time. A late-round to undrafted prospect who could have the type of special teams skills Paton is looking for.
Cordale Flott, CB, LSU (No. 81, third round, Giants)
Got good length but slender at 6-foot-1/2-inch, 175 pounds who ran the 40 at his Pro Day in 4.4 seconds. Can play inside and out.
Martin Emerson, CB, Mississippi St. (No. 68, third round, Browns)
If he’s there at No. 64, Emerson may be “best player available” on the Broncos draft board.
Big at 6-2, 200 but quick, instinctive and willing to tackle.
Entered draft following true junior season.
Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn (No. 35, second round, Titans)
Ran a 4.5/40 at the Combine which is good enough for the 5-11, 190-pound pound prospect.
Shemari Jones, RB, Coastal Carolina (not drafted)
A big back at 6-1, 220, Jones rushed for 1,040 yards on 6.5 yards per carry with 13 touchdowns as a senior last year. Transferred from Independence Community College (Kansas). Coastal Carolina went 22-3 in Jones’ two seasons there.
James Cook, RB, Georgia (No. 63, second round, Bills)
The younger brother of Vikings and Georgia running back star Dalvin Cook, James is 5-11, 199 pounds and ran the 40 in 4.42 at the Combine. A dual threat back in that he rushed for 728 yards on 6.4 yards per carry and 7 touchdowns last season and caught another 27 passes for 284 yards and 4 more TDs for the 14-1, national champion Georgia Bulldogs.
Zamir White, RB, Georgia (No. 122, fourth round, Raiders)
An impressive 4.4/40 with his 6-0, 214-pound frame. Rushed for 856 yards and 11 touchdowns on 5.4 yards per carry last year for the national champs.
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