Post-Russell Wilson trade 7-round Broncos mock draft. Who should Denver target with remaining picks?

Baylor Bears safety Jalen Pitre (8) celebrates after an interception against the Texas State Bobcats in the second half at Bobcat Stadium.
Sep 4, 2021; San Marcos, Texas, USA; Baylor Bears safety Jalen Pitre (8) celebrates after an interception against the Texas State Bobcats in the second half at Bobcat Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

The outlook of the Denver Broncos’ 2022 NFL Draft changed dramatically this week when they traded five picks (three of which came from this year) in exchange for star quarterback Russell Wilson.

Now that they have considerably less ammunition to fill the other holes on their roster, how should they attack the draft? Let’s take a look in this post-combine, post-blockbuster-trade Broncos Mock Draft.

Round 2. Pick 64: Jalen Pitre, CB, Baylor

Now that the Russell Wilson trade is finalized, everyone will shift their focus to edge rusher, offensive tackle, and tight end as the team’s biggest needs, but their need for a nickel-corner is just as severe.

Outside of Essang Bassey, who did not play at all in 2021, the Broncos don’t have a single nickel-corner rostered for 2022. Bryce Callahan, Kyle Fuller, and Nate Hairston all have expiring deals, and even if the Broncos bring one or two of those veterans back, the position will remain a need.

Enter Jalen Pitre, who might be listed as a safety by some services, but for our purpose, he’s going to play slot-corner.

Pitre’s playstyle runs in direct contrast to everything you assume about a cornerback. He absolutely loves contact and goes out of his way to seek it out. That’s demonstrated by the jaw-dropping amount of production he had around the line of scrimmage. Over the last two seasons, playing as a defensive back, Pitre tallied six sacks and 29.5 tackles for loss, in just 23 games.

He also generated 25 quarterback pressures, the most ever generated by a college cornerback since 2014, per PFF, across 14 games last season.

That is the type of physicality you need in a nickel-corner in this Fangio-style defense. You need someone with grit and a hot motor, and Pitre has both in spades.

Here, you can see those traits on full display, as he chases down a run play from the slot on the opposite side of the field.

That’s all remarkably impressive, but it makes more sense once you learn Pitre is a converted former linebacker.

That history also highlights the deficiencies in Pitre’s game. He’s somewhat underdeveloped as a cover corner, and so he’ll need some time to sit behind a Hairston or Callahan to make that transition at the next level.

That said, he shows the necessary flashes to make you feel confident he can make a sizable impact before long.

If Denver is able to coach up that area of his game, they could be handsomely rewarded.

Round 3. Pick 75: Drake Jackson, EDGE, USC

Whether or not the Broncos are able to reunite with franchise-legend Von Miller, Drake Jackson should be a target for them come draft day.

The Broncos ranked last in the league in pass-rush win-rate a season ago, and their lack of talent on the edge was a major reason as to why. A crippled Bradley Chubb was stuck leading a band of rotational pieces, and the results were about what one would expect. With Chubb’s future looking murky, and no other clear starter at the position, Denver will have to invest in that position early in the draft.

Jackson could be incredibly appealing, considering some of his high-end athletic traits.

Jackson has an electric first step, that allows him to beat tackles right off the snap at times, which Broncos fans saw frequently throughout Miller’s legendary tenure. That ability to explode off the line of scrimmage is paired with nice flexibility and bend, which makes Jackson deadly. His movement skills are so elite that USC would feel comfortable dropping him in coverage frequently and even matching up with slot receivers at points throughout his collegiate career.

The big concern with Jackson is that he’s relying way too much on those unteachable athletic traits to win his reps. His pass-rushing moves are very underdeveloped, and he lacks a lot of power in his game, making him a questionable run-defender.

It should also be noted that prior to this past season, Jackson was hyped up as a future top-15 pick, but after an unproductive year that didn’t see him take the developmental leap many were projecting, his stock plummeted.

Jackson will have to start his career as a pass-rushing specialist, considering his concerns against the run, but he has similar upside to some of this class’s first-round edge-rushers, making him a bargain here.

Round 3. Pick 96: Darrian Beavers, LB, Cincinnati

Recent reports suggest the Broncos are likely to bring Josey Jewell back to start alongside Baron Browning, but it’s unlikely he’ll be brought back on a long-term deal, meaning the Broncos are still in the linebacker market.

Beavers could be an excellent target who could sit and learn behind Jewell for a season, before eventually taking over in 2023.

He’s a large, physical, imposing, athletic linebacker who would beautifully replace Jewell’s role next to Baron Browning in Denver’s defense down the line and would make an immediate impact on special teams in year one. He also has showcased the ability to rush the passer off the edge as an outside linebacker at times during his collegiate career, which is another benefit to selecting Beavers.

Considering the Broncos’ need on the edge, they shouldn’t overlook Beavers’ ability to contribute there.

Beavers showcases a high football IQ and understanding of his responsibilities — whether it be what zone he’s responsible for covering or what running lane he’s charged with clogging — and executes consistently.

He also has the type of mentality you love to see an inside linebacker, especially in this scheme, as he thrives on contact and is one of the biggest tone-setters in this draft.

His biggest deficiency comes in man coverage, but he could still be an upgrade on Jewell in that regard given his athletic profile. He was originally recruited to Division 1 football as a safety and wide receiver. Also, he was incredible in one-on-one coverage drills at the Senior  Bowl, which fuels some optimism that he might not be as underdeveloped here as it sometimes appeared during his time at Cincinnati.

You can see that athleticism and safety background flash in a pair of reps here against the top tight end in the draft, Trey McBride.

Round 4. Pick 107: Cade Otton, TE, Washington

The Denver Broncos need a tight end now that they’re shipping Noah Fant out of town, and they need someone who can contribute both as a blocker and as a receiver in Nathaniel Hackett’s Shanahan-type offense.

There should be an emphasis from the Broncos this offseason on finding a tight end that can thrive as a blocker in this scheme, and Otton could be exactly that.

He uses his impressive length to keep outreach opposing pass rusher and is one of the rare tight ends that truly loves blocking. Like Beavers, he loves contact and makes a point to seek it out. He wants to embarrass opposing defenders physically and takes pleasure in doing so. His motor also never runs cool.

That mentality paired with his advantageous frame and solid movement skills makes him one of the better blocking tight ends in the draft.

Otton can also be a threat as a receiver, even though he’s nowhere near as dynamic as Fant. Otton uses his size (6-foot-5, 250 pounds) and long arms to win on contested catches and pluck the ball out of the air. His hands are also especially strong, as he shows the ability to consistently come away with the ball in tight windows, and hang onto the ball through heavy contact.

He’ll offer you very little as a runner after the catch, but to be fair, Fant wasn’t great in that department last season, despite his athletic potential.

Round 4. Pick 113: Wan’Dale Robinson, WR, Kentucky

Denver’s wide receivers should finally be able to live up to their potential now that the team has a star quarterback in the building, but the Broncos would be wise to make a solid investment in the position nonetheless.

Losing the speed element K.J. Hamler provided crippled the offense last season. Hamler’s return timeline is still murky, and we also don’t know if he’ll still be the same player once he is back. Plus, given his injury track record, even if he’s back to 100 percent in time for Week 1, the Broncos should invest in an insurance policy.

That’s especially true when you consider that their primary slot receiver, Jerry Jeudy, has been disappointing so far.

Enter Wan’Dale Robinson, a twitched-up former running back who thrived in his first season as a full-time receiver at Kentucky.

Robinson is an offensive weapon built for the modern age, with remarkable agility that allows him to rack up yards after the catch.

Robinson is a natural-born playmaker, and as a result, was used in a variety of different roles by Kentucky and Nebraska (where he played before transferring). As a result, he’s incredibly versatile and could be a gadget weapon for the Broncos as they incorporate more modern concepts into their attack.

He doesn’t have the same physicality or contact balance to his game as someone like Deebo Samuel, but he still has a good amount of those traits in his play. His role in the NFL will likely be very similar to Samuel’s, though it’s unlikely he ever reaches those same peaks.

Presently, the big holes in Robinson’s game are the technical aspects, which shouldn’t be too surprising, as he’s still learning the position. He struggles to beat press off the line due to an underdeveloped release package and he fails to consistently run crisp, nuanced routes, often rounding off his breaks.

Robinson’s versatility also extends to being an excellent returner, which should make him extra appealing to Denver.

Round 5. Pick 151: Max Mitchell, OT, Louisiana-Lafayette

Getting Max Mitchell this late in the draft would be a remarkable steal for the Denver Broncos.

At 6-foot-6, 300 pounds, Mitchell has a rare frame for a tackle which is combined with high-end movement skills that can’t be taught. He’s a strong pass protector and shows the potential to be a quality run blocker too.

However, Mitchell will have to add power to his game in order to succeed at the next level. At his current weight, he’s bullied by more powerful edge rushers far too frequently, as he fails to anchor against them past the initial contact and gets driven back towards the quarterback.

He did show signs of growth there at the Senior Bowl.

All that said, he could be a really nice right tackle at the next level, and that’s hard to find at this stage in the draft. If you want to know more about Mitchell’s play and his fit with the team, Joey Richard’s tackle preview is an excellent resource.

Round 7. Pick 247: Zonovan Knight, RB, NC State

With their last pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Broncos look to add a long-term co-star for Javonte Williams to their backfield.

Melvin Gordon was fun the last two years, but his play should drop off a cliff soon considering his age, usage, and position. Denver would be wise to avoid playing the dated ‘pay an old running back’ game, which is only rivaled by Russian Roulette in terms of foolishness.

Instead, search for the flash to Williams’ lightning with Zonovan Knight.

Knight is a natural fit for Hackett’s offensive scheme, as he has showcased impressive vision skills and excellent explosion from the running back position. He’s a natural runner and fluid athlete, who can shift gears in a hurry.

Knight will have to improve as a pass-protector and as a route-runner to reach his potential at the next level, but he would complement Williams’ skillset beautifully and should be able to thrive early on in this offense.

Plus, as an added bonus, he was remarkably productive as a return man for North Carolina State too.

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