Did the Denver Broncos have the best draft in the AFC West?

Denver Broncos general manager George Paton during a press conference at UCHealth Training Center in Centennial, CO, January 19, 2021. Photo by Gabriel Christus

NFL Draft weekend was an entree’ of rumors and stories for Broncos Country, with a side of veiled intent, served up by General Manager George Paton. Rumors of Aaron Rodgers coming to town on top of narratives of young talented quarterbacks to be selected in the Draft to wear orange and blue, made for loud praise but with equally loud critique.

Let’s take a look at how the Broncos performed in the draft, and compare it to the other hauls around the AFC West.

Denver Broncos

  • Round 1, Pick No. 9: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
  • Round 2, Pick No. 35: Javonte Williams, RB, North Carolina
  • Round 3, Pick No. 98: Quinn Meinerz, OG, Wisconsin-Whitewater
  • Round 5, Pick No. 152: Caden Sterns, S, Texas
  • Round 5, Pick No. 164: Jamar Johnson, S, Indiana
  • Round 6, Pick No. 219: Seth Williams, WR, Auburn
  • Round 7, Pick No. 237: Kary Vincent Jr., CB, LSU
  • Round 7, Pick No. 239: Jonathan Cooper, DE, Ohio State
  • Round 7, Pick No. 253: Marquiss Spencer, DE, Mississippi State

When the dust settled, the Broncos made off with an impressive bounty of talent that has well received by national analysts and local analysts alike.

George Paton and company took the bull by the horns and selected a number of players that can come in and make an impact from the jump and their roster is exponentially deeper than it was just a few short days ago.

Patrick Surtain is a Pro-Bowler in the making, Javonte Williams will bring duplicity to the Broncos running attack, and who doesn’t love an offensive lineman nicknamed “The Gut”?

The question remains: How did they stack up against the other teams in the AFC West?

Las Vegas Raiders

  • Round 1, Pick No. 17: Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama
  • Round 2, Pick No. 43: Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU
  • Round 3, Pick No. 79: Malcolm Koonce, EDGE, Buffalo
  • Round 3, Pick No. 80: Divine Deablo, S, Virginia Tech
  • Round 5, Pick No. 143: Tyree Gillespie, S, Missouri
  • Round 5, Pick No. 167: Nate Hobbs, CB, Illinois
  • Round 6, Pick No. 230: Jimmy Morrissey, C, Pitt

There are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and the Raiders reaching in the draft.

Listen, I am willing to give them a bit of a pass with their first-round selection of Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama. Even if you do not think he was the best offensive tackle available (you would be correct) the positional value would be good for a team that had a gaping hole at right tackle, though many thought Leatherwood was more of a guard at the next level.

Now, the selection of three safeties in the second, third and fourth rounds requires a level of explanation that I cannot provide, and I am not sure has really been given by the organization.

Trevon Moehrig will likely get to compete for regular playing time against Johnathan Abram and Karl Joseph, and will most assuredly be the backup in case either goes down with an injury. He was a nice addition.

Divine Diablo was announced as a linebacker selection for the team, which is the saving grace for the three safety selections. He is large for a safety, so the transition to linebacker could be easier than anticipated from a physical standpoint, however, the draft grade on Diablo was generally determined as more of an early Day 3 grade than a mid-Day 2 selection.

If the idea is that Diablo will be able to be a coverage backer, then why not draft Baron Browning or Jabril Cox who are supremely athletic linebackers and have played the linebacker position at a higher level? That seems like it would be a natural sentiment.

Mike Mayock and company have had, what we could call, an unorthodox drafting method up to this point and this draft class has all but confirmed that. It’s one thing to be unorthodox, it’s another to be unorthodox and unsuccessful.

LA Chargers

  • Round 1, Pick No. 13: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
  • Round 2, Pick No. 47: Asante Samuel Jr, CB, Florida State
  • Round 3, Pick No.  77: Josh Palmer, WR, Tennessee
  • Round 3, Pick No. 97: Tre’ McKitty, TE, Georgia
  • Round 4, Pick No. 118: Chris Rumph II, LB, Duke
  • Round 5, Pick No. 159: Brenden Jaimes, OT, Nebraska
  • Round 6, Pick No. 185: Nick Niemann, LB, Iowa
  • Round 6, Pick No. 198: Larry Roundtree III, RB, Missouri
  • Round 7, Pick No. 241: Mark Webb, S, Georgia

Landing Rashawn Slater at thirteenth overall was an amazing selection for the Chargers. If there was one huge need for LA going into the draft it was the demand for a blue-chip offensive tackle, and they were able to get that without having to give up any assets.

Then they followed that up by getting Asante Samuel Jr. in the second round who, pound-for-pound, was one of the top cornerback prospects in the draft. If it were not for his slightly undersized frame, he may have been ranked up with the Jaycee Horn’s and Patrick Surtain’s of the world.

The Chargers made smart selection after smart selection, getting Josh Palmer, and Tre Mckitty who can both come in and contribute on offense on day one for their team.

Towards the end of the draft, they took some risks on some developmental players but never reached or gave away any capital. They let the chips fall to them and came out winners.

Kansas City Chiefs 

  • Round 2: No. 58: Nick Bolton, LB, Missouri
  • Round 2: No. 63: Creed Humphrey, C, Oklahoma
  • Round 4: No. 144:  Joshua Kaindoh, DE, Florida State
  • Round 5: No. 162: Noah Gray, TE, Duke
  • Round 5: No. 181: Cornell Powell, WR, Clemson
  • Round 6: No. 226: Trey Smith, G, Tennessee

When you are the defending AFC champs, it is tough to argue that your roster has too many holes. That being said, Kansas City had allowed some notable guys walk this off-season (Sammy Watkins, WR; Eric Fisher, OT; Mitchell Schwartz, OT) and needed to replace them with talent and depth.

Much of the Chiefs’ 2021 Draft capital was given up in the earlier acquisition of Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Brown, leaving them six picks to shore up their ranks, and they did just that.

With their first pick of the draft, they selected Nick Bolton the linebacker out of Missouri, who is a heady, instinctual defensive leader that plays with physicality. Even though he is likely to only play in base sets this season, Bolton will be the anticipated replacement to either Anthony Hitchens or Willie Gay Jr moving forward.

With their other second-rounder, they took Creed Humphrey, C, Oklahoma. Humphrey will be thrust into a training camp battle with a real shot to take over the center duties for Patrick Mahomes.

Arguably this was not an amazing pick taking positional value into consideration, but it does fill a definite hole and Humphrey has the potential to stick in this league for years to come.

Kansas City used four of their six picks on the offensive side of the ball, which makes sense with how the Chiefs operate, offense first. Their picks were neither overwhelming nor underwhelming but they filled their areas of need in able to keep them afloat as Superbowl contenders.

Final thoughts

George Paton did a masterful job getting the players he wanted at the price he wanted. Even though there are doubts that Patrick Surtain II was the right choice with Justin Fields being available, it would be tough to argue the Denver Broncos had anything but a great draft.

Paton will get the credit, but it sounds like this was a team effort from top to bottom.

“It’s been a great partnership with Vic and the coaching staff,” Paton said. “It’s been a collaboration all the way. We would sit in rooms for hours discussing players, how they fit, Vic’s vision and the coaches’ vision. That’s what it’s all about. When you’re in my shoes, when you’re with the scouts, you just want to be able to discuss and collaborate.”

On paper, the picks the LA Chargers made would make them the only real contender that could push for the best draft in the division.

Ultimately, Denver came away with more playmakers and higher upside prospects. The nod for who had the best class goes to the Broncos.