Grading the Denver Broncos’ 2022 NFL Draft class. Which selections project to be the best?

Pittsburgh Panthers defensive back Damarri Mathis (21) breaks up a pass intended for Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets quarterback Tobias Oliver (8) in the third quarter at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Nov 2, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers defensive back Damarri Mathis (21) breaks up a pass intended for Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets quarterback Tobias Oliver (8) in the third quarter at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

After months of preamble, the 2022 NFL Draft is finally in the books, and it’s likely to be one NFL fans and members of Broncos Country remember for a long time.

It was full of crazy and aggressive deals, and shocking moves, which is what we seek out in any draft.

Now that the dust has settled though, it’s time to analyze how the Broncos did in the 2022 NFL Draft in terms of adding talent that can push the team over the top as it pursues the franchise’s fourth Lombardi trophy.

What will each of these rookies bring to the team, and were they good selections? Let’s look.

Round 2, Pick 64: Nik Bonitto, EDGE, Oklahoma

Oklahoma Sooners linebacker Nik Bonitto (11) recovers a fumble during the second quarter against the Tulane Green Wave at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
Sep 4, 2021; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners linebacker Nik Bonitto (11) recovers a fumble during the second quarter against the Tulane Green Wave at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

This article is primarily focusing on the Day 3 players whom we haven’t been able to provide coverage of yet, so the sections here on Bonitto and Dulcich will be a little shorter in this article.

However, we already have articles out on both players that will provide a much more detailed look at the player, pick, and their fits with the team, before assigning the selection a grade.

Check here, for that in-depth look at Bonitto, but if you just want that broad strokes, you’re in the right place.

Bonitto is masterful in some aspects of the game, aspects Denver’s defense was previously lacking but doesn’t have the most diverse skillset.

His movement skills are terrific. He explodes off the line with lightning quickness, and has the flexibility to bend the edge with ease, affecting the passer and creating pressure in very little time. His lateral mobility is so good, he’s able to cross the tackle’s face and create interior pressure, and he even has the ability to kick inside to linebacker on occasion, if the Broncos want to blitz him up the middle.

That said, he struggles to win his reps through contact, and he’s presently a liability as a run defender. He’ll have to improve his hand fighting and add more strength to his game if he wants to maximize his potential, but in year one, he can be a valuable asset to the Broncos as a designated pass rusher.

The problem with that is, both Bradley Chubb and Randy Gregory have had injury issues throughout their career, and if Bonitto is forced to fill in early on, the glaring holes in his game might become more apparent.

Grade: B

Round 3, Pick 80: Greg Dulcich, TE, UCLA

UCLA Bruins tight end Greg Dulcich (85) runs the ball against Arizona State Sun Devils defensive back T Lee (26) during the first half at Rose Bowl.
Oct 2, 2021; Pasadena, California, USA; UCLA Bruins tight end Greg Dulcich (85) runs the ball against Arizona State Sun Devils defensive back T Lee (26) during the first half at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

For a much more nuanced look at the selection of Greg Dulcich, please read this articleΒ that’s already written, analyzing the player, pick and fit with the team.

Dulcich is a fast, athletic tight end who can attack defenses downfield and stretch the field vertically for the offense. He’s a natural catcher of the football who can make plays after the catch and projects to be a poor man’s Mike Gesicki.

None of his concerns are in regard to his talent, as he’s certainly worthy of a top-80 selection, but rather his fit with the Broncos.

Blocking is important for tight ends in this offensive scheme, and neither Dulcich or Albert Okwuegbunam are gifted in that facet of the game. Dulcich’s skillset is somewhat redundant alongside Okwuegbunam, which is another concern, as is Wilson’s past reluctance to target the tight end position.

Grade: B-

Round 4, Pick 115: Damarri Mathis, CB, Pittsburgh

Delaware wide receiver Thyrick Pitts has a long third down pass tipped away by Pitt defender Damarri Mathis late in the fourth quarter of Delaware's 17-14 loss at Heinz Field Saturday.
Delaware wide receiver Thyrick Pitts has a long third down pass tipped away by Pitt defender Damarri Mathis late in the fourth quarter of Delaware’s 17-14 loss at Heinz Field Saturday.
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Cornerback was arguably the most pressing need on the Broncos’ roster, and Mathis is an intriguing prospect at the position that should immediately help Denver from the slot.

With K’Waun Williams and Essang Bassey — who missed all of 2021 after suffering an ACL tear in 2020 — as the only true nickel-corners left on the roster, investing more in the position was a necessity. That’s especially true when you consider how much the Broncos are projected to be in their dime package (meaning two slot cornerbacks will be on the field) under new defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero.

Mathis checks that box and has the talent to potentially develop into a key member of the secondary. He’s a tough and instinctive corner, who thrives in the more physical aspects of his position.

He’s a nightmare to work against in press coverage, where he can use his physicality to disrupt the route, and he takes pride in defending the run, even from his boundary alignment at Pitt. Mathis has also showcased an impressive understanding of offensive concepts, as he has excellent zone awareness and anticipatory skills.

Some concerns with Mathis are although he probably projects best playing inside at the next level, he has very little experience doing so for the Panthers. Also, despite being a thorn at the catch point, Mathis’ ball production is very pedestrian.

Lastly, although he tested very well athletically, those testing numbers don’t show up quite to that hyper-elite extent on tape. Meanwhile, his fluidity and length are aspects of his athletic profile that aren’t quite up to par.

Mathis has the traits and football IQ to be Denver’s dime-corner from Week 1 and could one day develop into a core starter secondary.

Grade: A-

Round 4, Pick 116: Eyioma Uwazurike, IDL, Iowa State

Iowa State defensive end Eyioma Uwazurike (58) pressures Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei (5) during a NCAA college football game in the Cheez-It Bowl, Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021, at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla.
Iowa State defensive end Eyioma Uwazurike (58) pressures Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei (5) during a NCAA college football game in the Cheez-It Bowl, Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021, at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla.
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Another area of need for the Broncos entering this draft was finding an interior defensive lineman who could help in the run game and add depth to the defensive line after the team lost Shelby Harris via trade.

Eyioma Uwazurike will help fill that void, but Broncos Country shouldn’t expect him to have a big role in 2022, as he has a long way to go in his development.

At times, Uwazurike looks the part of an explosive, disruptive, run-stuffing defensive tackle, but there are presently far too many concerns with consistency, as he’s a complete non-factor just as frequently, if not more frequently.

Once engaged with a blocker, he struggles to win the rep, as he lacks the high-end power to overwhelm his opponents and has a very limited move set. Considering his outlier length, Uwazurike has the potential to be much better in this area, but as of now, it’s fairly disappointing.

When Uwazurike is at his best, it’s an exciting sight to see. He’s a mammoth of a man, who can explode off the line of scrimmage when he times the snap correctly, creating backfield penetration and offensive migraines in a hurry.

In the future, he could recreate what Mike Purcell brought to the team when he was at his best, or maybe even improve upon it, but it’s hard to see him being ready to make that sort of impact in 2022. Expect him to see the field sparingly in a rotational role as he develops.

Grade: C

Round 5, Pick 152: Delarrin Turner-Yell, S, Oklahoma

Oklahoma Sooners safety Delarrin Turner-Yell (32) celebrates making an interception against the Baylor Bears during the first half at McLane Stadium.
Nov 13, 2021; Waco, Texas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners safety Delarrin Turner-Yell (32) celebrates making an interception against the Baylor Bears during the first half at McLane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Ever since the team signed him from the Houston Texans, Broncos Country has been infatuated with Kareem Jackson’s aggressive, nasty, downhill style of playing the position. With Jackson wrapping up the back-nine of his career, the Broncos found someone who can carry that mantle into the future, in Delarrin Turner-Yell.

Turner-Yell was a talented run defender for the Sooners, who excelled at quickly diagnosing the run and firing downhill to make a big tackle. When attacking the run, Turner-Yell naturally sifts through traffic to reach the ball carrier, and once he arrives, his excellent technique makes him a sure tackler. He consistently wraps and targets low, sweeping the ball carrier’s feet out from under them.

The fly in the ointment here is that Turner-Yell can often be caught playing overaggressive, as he’ll attack the play with a bad angle, leading to a missed tackle and a large gain, or be lured in by eye candy too frequently.

He’s capable of defending the pass but was also targetted by opposing offenses as a favorable matchup more often than one would like to see. He’s at his best in coverage when he’s able to sit back and keep everything in front of him, allowing him to operate in his aggressive, downhill style, but he’ll have to improve here, especially from a processing standpoint.

In year one, he should function as a special teamer that makes P.J. Locke and Jamar Johnson sweat for their roster spots and could potentially develop into a starter at safety. More than likely though, he’ll be used as a reliable backup who makes a consistent impact on special teams, during his rookie deal.

Grade: C

Round 5, Pick 162: Montrell Washington, WR, Samford

Samford Bulldogs wide receiver Montrell Washington (4) makes a 98 yard touchdown return in the second quarter. The Florida Gators hosted the Samford Bulldogs at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium Saturday afternoon, November 13, 2021 in Gainesville, FL. during the first half of action. [Doug Engle/Ocala Star-Banner]2021
Flgai Ufvs Samford Football
The most under-the-radar prospect Denver selected was dynamic Samford returner Montrell Washington, who many didn’t even expect to get drafted.

Denver has clearly placed an emphasis on upgrading the special teams this offseason, and as they move on from Diontae Spencer, they’ll look to infuse some explosiveness into the return game with Washington.

Washington took several returns for touchdowns while at Samford, but it should be noted that he isn’tΒ justΒ a return man. Not only that, but Denver also likely views him as more than just a returner, based on the fact they invested a fifth-round pick in him.

With the Bulldogs, Washington was used as an offensive weapon, because they knew good things would happen when the ball was in his hands. He’s a fairly speedy player who can help stretch the field some for the Broncos, though they’ll have to have a good plan to get the ball in his hands considering his size.

He also doesn’t have K.J. Hamler-level speed, although he does play faster than he tested at his pro day.

Washington’s role on offense will likely be as insurance for Hamler, as the third-year receiver returns from a grisly knee injury. When Hamler suffered his injury last year, Denver’s offense lost its explosive element and couldn’t recapture it. Washington’s presence should hopefully make it so that doesn’t happen again.

Hearing the Broncos’ Assistant Director of College Scouting talk about how Washington’s coaches and SEC opponents viewed him bolsters confidence in the pick, but there are legitimate red flags with the pick.

However, considering Washington’s physical limitations, he might ultimately find himself relegated to just being a luxury return man, and if the Broncos wanted to pursue a luxury return man, they could’ve just waited and landed an even better option in Rutgers’ Bo Melton.

Grade: D+

Round 5, Pick 171: Luke Wattenberg, C, Washington

Washington Huskies offensive lineman Luke Wattenberg (76) pass blocks against the North Dakota Fighting Hawks during the first quarter at Husky Stadium.
Sep 8, 2018; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies offensive lineman Luke Wattenberg (76) pass blocks against the North Dakota Fighting Hawks during the first quarter at Husky Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos continue to look to upgrade their center position, this time targeting Luke Wattenberg to solve their woes on the interior of their line.

Wattenberg is a massive, imposing center who can play any of the positions on the interior of the offensive line, though his fit in the Broncos’ outside zone scheme is a curious one.

So much of Wattenberg’s game is based on his strength and impressive frame. He’s able to anchor well against heavy-hitting power rushers on the interior and uses that strength along with his nasty demeanor to punish defenders in the run game.

With that said, he has plenty of mobility concerns, as he enters an offensive scheme where mobility is key. He consistently struggles to reach the second level, and even when he does, his ability to block out in space against quicker athletes is unimpressive.

Perhaps the Broncos feel confident in their ability to develop this aspect of Wattenberg’s game, but for now, it’s hard to imagine him being a successful starter in this system and is likely more of a high-end backup with positional versatility. If the Broncos were running more of a gap-blocking or power-running scheme, this would be a more exciting pick.

With all that said, the BroncosΒ hadΒ to come away with an option at center in this draft, and they consistently had bad luck with having potential targets poached just before their pick, making the gamble on Wattenberg’s talent more reasonable.

Grade: C

Round 6, Pick 206: Matt Henningsen, IDL, Wisconsin

Wisconsin Badgers defensive end Matt Henningsen (92) sacks Eastern Michigan Eagles quarterback Ben Bryant (8) during their football game on Saturday, September 11, 2021 in Madison, Wis.Wm
Wisconsin Badgers defensive end Matt Henningsen (92) sacks Eastern Michigan Eagles quarterback Ben Bryant (8) during their football game on Saturday, September 11, 2021 in Madison, Wis.Wm. Glasheen USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
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After previously selecting the mountainous Uwazurike, Denver went in a different direction with their next pick on the interior of the defensive line.

Matt Henningsen is a little undersized but is a terrific run defender who should find his way onto the field quickly for the Broncos.

Henningsen is tremendously strong at the point of attack, despite his size, and his ability to anchor and hold his point, even against Big 10 double teams at times. When rushing the passer, or trying to create backfield penetration, he can create a good push on the offensive lineman. Combine that with his eternally churning motor, and you’ve got a player that’s a bear of an assignment all game long.

He’s also an astoundingly smart and instinctive player, as he naturally manipulates blocks to create opportunities for big plays in the backfield.

Henningsen even offers pass-rush upside, though he’s currently underdeveloped in his set of pass-rushing moves and will never have an explosive burst off the line of scrimmage.

Grade: A-

Round 7, Pick 232: Faion Hicks, CB, Wisconsin

Wisconsin Badgers cornerback Faion Hicks (1) defends the pass intended for Michigan Wolverines wide receiver Cornelius Johnson (6) during the second quarter at Camp Randall Stadium.
Oct 2, 2021; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers cornerback Faion Hicks (1) defends the pass intended for Michigan Wolverines wide receiver Cornelius Johnson (6) during the second quarter at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Faion Hicks is a classic seventh-round traits-based dice roll, that could contribute on special teams, so he makes sense at this stage of the draft.

The Broncos could easily move on from Ronald Darby after this season, and that would open up a void at cornerback opposite Patrick Surtain II, as Michael Ojemudia hasn’t shown enough to be fully relied on yet.

Hicks had a phenomenal testing day at Wisconsin’s pro day, which saw him rise up boards. You can see the traits on that chase-down tackle against Michigan. He also has good ball skills and consistently disrupts the reception, deflecting 12 passes across his final 15 games for the Badgers.

While he is a pretty inconsistent tackler, his game is predicated on physicality, both in coverage and in defending the run. He’s at his best in press coverage, where he can disrupt the receiver’s release off the line and feel the route develop, though his grabbiness might see him penalized at the next level.

An intriguing role of the dice if nothing else.

Grade: B-

Final Thoughts

Early on, the Broncos did a good job of finding value, in high-upside players at positions with some serious depth concerns.

Bonitto makes a lot of sense at the back of the second round, and if he’s able to operate as a designated pass rusher early on in his career, it should be a home-run selection that immediately helps Denver win games.

Dulcich is the type of field-stretching tight end that theoretically fits best with Wilson, and he’s likely one of the 80 best players in the class, but his fit in Denver’s offensive scheme, alongside Albert Okwuegbunam is curious.

Damarri Mathis makes a lot of sense as a long-term slot corner in Denver’s defense, and the team desperately needed him. He can make an instant impact in the dime package and should become a starter at some point on that rookie deal.

On Day 3, the Broncos took a lot of non-conventional, unexpected swings on players many thought would either be drafted later or not drafted at all. While it’s fair to critique these decisions and stand by pre-draft evaluations, George Paton has bought himself some benefit of the doubt.

Uwazurike is painfully inconsistent for now, but the flashes and unteachable traits are worth salivating over at that stage of the draft. Plus, the Broncos aren’t expecting an instant impact out of him.

It’s easy to imagine Delarrin Turner-Yell one day becoming a poor man’s Kareem Jackson at safety, but he’ll more than likely just be a high-end backup, special teamer, and valued friend to Bonitto, though those roles boast plenty of value in their own right.

Montrell Washington feels like an odd-ball pick, but he has the potential to be a game-changer as a returner. While the testing numbers don’t accurately reflect the explosive impact he can have on the game as an offensive weapon, they’re extremely concerning nonetheless. However, his physical limitations will be a lot to overcome, and may ultimately relegate him to being nothing more than a highly drafted special teamer.

Luke Wattenberg is a poor scheme fit, and his height makes him larger than Wilson would probably like, but he’s a really good football player that’s probably going to compete for the starting job in training camp. That’s impressive for a sixth-rounder, so it’s hard to be too mad at the pick.

Matt Henningsen was the best late-round pick by a wide margin. He’s a remarkably instinctive and intelligent defensive lineman who could insert himself into the rotation from day one as a gritty run defender.

Faion Hicks might not make the final roster, but he’s a fun traits swing that presents depth in an area where Denver needed it.

There are aspects of each of these prospects one could easily get excited over, and there are aspects of each of these prospects one could easily get pessimistic about.

All-in-all, it’s a fine draft, though it ultimately feels like the Broncos might’ve missed out on the opportunity to make a bigger splash that could’ve pushed them over the hump in the division.

Final Grade: B-

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