The 2017 NFL Draft is in the books, and the Denver Broncos have added eight new players to their roster. After going 9-7 in 2016 and missing the playoffs, the Broncos are in need of some new talent to reinvigorate this team.
It would be easy to hand out some simple letter grades to each draft pick, but that’s boring and you can find that anywhere.
However, with all of the recent discussions about the current status of Broncos general manager John Elway, it seems we need to adjust our grading scale accordingly. Elway is currently in charge of keeping the Broncos playing at a Super Bowl level, but he has another contract to worry about sooner than later. His own.
Elway’s current contract with the team expires after the 2017 season. While both sides seem to want a new deal, it has yet to be completed. As we evaluate Denver’s 2017 draft class, Clint Daly set out to determine which picks give will Elway cause to show more of his famous smile (and also give him a little more bargaining power).
Round 1: Garett Bolles, OT, Utah
There is no question that the Broncos needed to upgrade their offensive line. They allowed 40 sacks in 2016, ranking them 24th out of 32 teams. Their 92.8 rushing yards gained per game was 6th-worst in the NFL. So, it is no wonder that Elway went on the hunt for an offensive tackle to beef up the offensive front.
Garett Bolles looks like the most athletic offensive lineman available in the draft. He has the quick feet that scouts love, and he should be able to get bigger and stronger in an NFL program. Bolles can continue to improve, as he gets more and more experience, and that could translate into a bookend left tackle for Denver.
That said, this was regarded as one of the least-impressive offensive line draft classes in years. In fact, it’s the first time since 2005 and only the second time in the 21st century that an offensive lineman wasn’t selected within the top 10 picks. Bolles was one of the top talents at his position, but he position group wasn’t very deep.
Were there flashier players on the board? Absolutely. But Elway saw a need, and found a talented player to fill that need. Now, let’s hope Bolles lives up to his potential.
Elway teeth showing: 3 out of 5
Round 2: DeMarcus Walker, DE, Florida State
The Broncos had to address the trenches on both sides of the ball, as the production of the defensive line slumped a little in 2016. With the loss of Malik Jackson last offseason, the leading tackler on the defensive line was Jared Crick with 53 total tackles and just three sacks. Walker is a pass-rush specialist, and he will put pressure on the offensive line to find him. In his past two seasons at FSU, he has accounted for 25 sacks. He’s been accused of not playing through the whistle and he will need to improve his endurance, but playing on this defense should help raise his level of play. Walker will provide depth along the defensive line, keeping pass rushers fresh, especially late in games. This pick gives the Broncos yet another pass rusher for opposing teams to worry about, and that can’t be a bad thing, can it?
Elway teeth showing: 3.5 out of 5
Round 3: Carlos Henderson, WR, Louisiana Tech
The Broncos get a ton of production from their top two wide receivers. After that? It is a serious drop off. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders combined for 169 catches in 2016. Meanwhile, Jordan Norwood, Jordan Taylor, Bennie Fowler, and Cody Latimer had just 56 catches combined last year. Carlos Henderson has the talent to push for a starting spot immediately. Don’t be fooled by his size. At 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds, he may look more like a running back, but he has excellent hands and is a strong route runner. He excels gaining big yardage after the catch, as evidenced by the fact that he broke an incredible 48 tackles in his final season. So, Elway found a wide receiver that attacks the football, isn’t afraid to be hit, gains yards after the catch and is capable of beating you deep. Oh, and he is also a dangerous kickoff returner. That has to make the Duke show his chompers.
Elway teeth showing: 4.5 out of 5
Round 3: Brendan Langley, CB, Lamar
I suppose you can never have enough talented cornerbacks, and Langley definitely has talent, but he will need to be developed. He started his college career at Georgia before transferring to Lamar to get more playing time. He didn’t get a ton of skill development at the smaller school, and his technique will definitely need work. You can’t deny his raw talent though, and at 6-foot and 200 pounds, he still turned in a 4.43 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine. A former wide receiver, he does also have experience returning punts. He may take a while to develop into starter (especially considering the talent ahead of him in Denver), but he does provide depth, and could even prove to be an effective replacement for Kayvon Webster as the gunner on special teams. The third round may have been a tad early for such an unpolished player, but Elway did pick Justin Simmons and Will Parks last year. So, we may have to give him a little leeway here.
Elway teeth showing: 2.5 out of 5
Round 5: Jake Butt, TE, Michigan
If not for a torn ACL in Michigan’s Orange Bowl game last December, Butt was being projected as a first-round selection. Instead, he slid down to the first pick of the fifth round. The Broncos needed to upgrade their tight ends after the entire unit had just 53 receptions in 2016, and Butt could prove to be an absolute steal. In his four seasons at Michigan, he compiled 138 catches for over 1,600 yards, and 11 touchdowns. Standing 6-foot-5 and weighing 245 pounds, he is capable of getting himself open downfield, and then uses his strong hands to rip the ball away from defenders. He is fearless going over the middle, and understands how to find gaps in defensive coverages. He will need to improve as a blocker, and his injury may keep him off the field for the preseason, but his future could be very bright. Finding Butt so late in the draft had to make Elway crack a big, big smile.
Elway teeth showing: 5 out of 5
Round 5: Isaiah McKenzie, WR, Georgia
He’s a little guy, but he is electric when he gets the football in his hands. The 5-foot-7, 173-pound receiver made 44 receptions in his final year and scored seven touchdowns, but the Broncos are hoping he can improve their return game. McKenzie returned six kicks for scores in his collegiate career, and he averaged a score every seven times he touched the ball. That kind of big play potential is something that the Broncos are sorely lacking. He isn’t a very refined wideout, but his return ability will give a chance to make the final roster. If he will work to improve, he could at least earn an Elway smirk.
Elway teeth showing: 2.5 out of 5
Round 6: De’Angelo Henderson, RB, Coastal Carolina
The Broncos running game was among the league’s worst in 2016, and while a good portion of that can be pinned on the offensive line, a lack of depth t running back was also apparent. When C.J. Anderson went down with a season ending injury in Week 7, the workload fell to rookie Devontae Booker and Kapri Bibbs. When Bibbs also went down with an injury the Broncos were forced to sign veteran Justin Forsett to take a few carries late in the year. Henderson should be able to fill out the depth chart. He isn’t as big as Booker or Anderson, standing just 5-foot-7 and weighing 200 pounds, but his running style is similar. A hard-nosed runner with surprising acceleration and the ability to slip through holes, Henderson averaged 128 yards per game as a senior. He plays bigger than his size, and is also a solid receiver out of the backfield. The Broncos needed another runner, and getting one on the sixth round had to make Elway pleasantly surprised.
Elway teeth showing: 3 out of 5
Round 7: Chad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss
This pick might be a little confusing, as the Broncos already have two young quarterbacks. Kelly is the nephew of former Buffalo Bills Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, who just happens to be a friend of Elway’s. Kelly started his collegiate career at Clemson, but was dismissed from the team for “detrimental conduct.” After winning a junior college naitonal championship, he ended up in Oxford, where he would eventually be named second-team All-SEC. He has a rocket arm, and can make some amazing throws, but his decisions both on and off the field make him a major question mark. In his two seasons at Ole Miss, he threw for nearly seven thousand yards and 50 touchdowns. Of course, he also he threw 21 interceptions, and his 15-10 record seems underwhelming. His poor choices aren’t just saved for the football field, as he had run-ins with coaches, altercations with bouncers and was involved in a fracas at a high school football game. It’s hard to imagine this pick paying any dividends, but maybe the idea that Elway is doing a favor for his friend will get him to show a single tooth.