5 prospects the Denver Broncos could target with the No. 9 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft

Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) scrambles against Michigan Wolverines linebacker David Ojabo (55) during the third quarter in the Orange Bowl college football CFP national semifinal game at Hard Rock Stadium.
Dec 31, 2021; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) scrambles against Michigan Wolverines linebacker David Ojabo (55) during the third quarter in the Orange Bowl college football CFP national semifinal game at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Unfortunately for Broncos Country, draft season is once again beginning early in the Mile High City. Fortunately, however, the Broncos have a premium pick that they can use to add a high-end young talent in the draft.

Who are some of the most likely candidates to be selected with that pick? Let’s take a look at five likely answers now, before looking at five more next week.

David Ojabo, Edge, Michigan

For a more in-depth look at Michigan’s second star pass-rusher, make sure you check out the venerable Joey Richard’s latest scouting report.

It’s very easy to see why David Ojabo is so beloved by J.R., as he’s a super-productive, toolsy freak at a premiere position of need for the Broncos. He’s also fairly new to the game of football, living in Nigeria and then Scotland before eventually moving to the states in high school and picking up the game of football.

That reflects in some aspects of his game being underdeveloped, but nonetheless, his development trajectory is wildly promising when paired with his traits and his floor is pretty high too.

Aidan Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux won’t be on the board for the Broncos, so Ojabo might be the realistic best-case scenario at edge-rusher, and it’s not unrealistic that he ends up having the best career of that top three.

Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi St.

The Broncos are going to need to find a tackle this offseason, and Charles Cross boasts a lot of high-end traits that could make him a quality NFL tackle.

His movement skills for a tackle are elite, and those skills are highlighted further in Mississippi State’s offense that utilizes wide sets along the offensive line. His ability to get into his pass sets with lightning quickness makes it nearly impossible for lighter, speed-based rushers to beat him. He’s also a surgical technician with his hands, particularly in pass protection.

The big concerns with Cross are the lack of power in his game and that he probably projects more naturally to the NFL as a left tackle, when the Broncos need a right tackle. Despite standing at 6-foot-5 — relatively tall for a tackle — Cross is super light at 305 pounds, and as a result, he struggles quite a bit with more physical pass rushers. He often loses a lot of ground before eventually recovering, and he’ll have to add weight and strength to stand up to stronger NFL pass rushers.

Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson

Some folks might guffaw at the notion of taking a cornerback with the ninth overall pick two seasons in a row, but the Broncos have a need at the position with Nate Hairston, Bryce Callahan and Kyle Fuller all facing some form of free agency this offseason.

Booth stands out as an athlete at a position that produces more high-end athletes than any other. Those athletic traits up show in his sticky man coverage skills, his exceptional ability to attack the football at the catch point to create big plays for the defense, and his knack to deliver devastating hits. That physicality is a rarity in cornerbacks but is highly desirable.

His translation to a zone-heavy scheme might be awkward, as he shows limited understanding of zone concepts, and although he loves contact, his tackling technique needs quite a bit of work as he whiffs far too often.

He could form a lockdown, turnover-creating duo with Patrick Surtain II that makes the lives of the AFC West’s elite quarterbacks hell for the next five-plus years.

Evan Neal, OT, Alabama

It would take some extreme luck for Evan Neal to be available for the Broncos when the ninth pick comes around, but he would be a dream pairing for a team desperate for a right tackle.

He has a rare 6-foot-6, 360-pound frame that appears to be sculpted entirely out of muscle. His athleticism and explosiveness at that size are particularly impressive traits of his, and that combination of explosion and mammoth like size and length makes it almost impossible to get around him with a pure speed rush. Also, with his size and his impressive anchor, good luck getting through him with a bull rush.

The concerns for Neal are that his balance and change of direction is pretty poor. This shows up in space in the run game, as he gets out over his skis too often and can whiff, like a frustrated bull losing to a matador, as defenders sidestep the charging menace. In the pass game, this shows up as he struggles to mirror and redirect his momentum. He’s such a freak he can often contort his body to continue to hold-up a block as his balance collapses, but that’ll be more difficult to pull off against NFL pass-rushers.

Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh

The Broncos need a quarterback, and if they choose to target a quarterback in the draft, it would be hard to do much better than Kenny Pickett, who seems to be emerging as the favorite to be the top player at the position selected.

Pickett is a heady, experienced quarterback that looks ready for the NFL game. Pittsburgh’s offense asks a lot of Pickett mentally and often puts him in empty sets where he’s required to beat the defense with his mind, which he does frequently. He’s also got an excellent grasp on timing, anticipation and delivers the ball with accuracy consistently

While Pickett does appear to be extremely pro-ready with a high football IQ, but the athletic upside is lacking. He can create off-script as he’s mobile enough, and his arm appears strong enough to make most NFL throws. That said, he would certainly remain among the bottom-third NFL starters in terms of physical talent for almost his entire career.

Believers will highlight Joe Burrow and Mac Jones as success stories that were similar types of prospects, but Pickett doesn’t have their poise. He looks scared at times and sees ghosts when pressured early. Lack of poise and scared are not words that come to mind with the walking ball of confidence that is Burrow. Plus, he’ll be 24 before the start of his rookie season, meaning he probably has less room for development than the other top quarterbacks in the class.

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