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.
I’m a big fan of Baylor safety Jalen Pitre. His tape vs. BYU is some of the best that I’ve seen from a safety this year. Instincts, A+ awareness, and makes plays happen behind the line.
Biggest question mark was his consistency in coverage. He answered that at the Senior Bowl. pic.twitter.com/ZAelzLdxVc
— Jordan Reid (@Jordan_Reid) February 20, 2022
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.
Jalen Pitre came out of freakin nowhere!!!!! pic.twitter.com/icSInwIRcL
— 🇺🇦Mike Spencer Hrynyshyn🇺🇦 (@MikeH_Draft) December 7, 2021
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.
Jalen Pitre just makes everything look so easy pic.twitter.com/lERqQEXpdy
— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) February 2, 2022
If Denver is able to coach up that area of his game, they could be handsomely rewarded.
Jalen Pitre is not going to let us lose this game pic.twitter.com/IO5CcGfUxK
— Defending🏀National Champion Barstool SicEm (@BarstoolSicEm) November 14, 2020
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.
My lord Drake Jackson pic.twitter.com/1F8s7cwk2T
— Ben Glassmire (@BenGlassmireNFL) August 31, 2021
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.
USC edge Drake Jackson – big time size/speed pass rush prospect, closing burst here is real pic.twitter.com/ti4jTIPKgv
— Connor Rogers (@ConnorJRogers) September 21, 2021
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.
Darrian Beavers 👀 👀 pic.twitter.com/2KxgbBYupA
— Cam Mellor (@CamMellor) October 31, 2020
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.
Darrian Beavers (#0) is an off-ball linebacker for the Bearcats but will occasionally be utilized as a pass rusher on third down.
Here he can be seen working around the Notre Dame left tackle, using his left arm to rip underneath for a sack. pic.twitter.com/E5DUp9j7Mt
— Nick Price (@PriceCheck3) October 3, 2021
Considering the Broncos’ need on the edge, they shouldn’t overlook Beavers’ ability to contribute there.
— Austin Mowell (@AustinMowellNFL) February 3, 2022
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.
— Ben Glassmire (@BenGlassmireNFL) February 2, 2022
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.
Here’s three-clip highlight on why @GoBearcatsFB LB Darrian Beavers, a throwback big ‘backer (6040v, 252v, 9 5/8 hand, 32 5/8 arm, 81 wing), is one of the most versatile defenders in 2022 NFL draft. First, he has frame to handle TEs in red-area.#TheDraftStartsInMOBILE™️ pic.twitter.com/TzXtDmr7WA
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) February 12, 2022
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.
Going back over some TE “tape” in prep for tonight’s show and my love for Washington #Huskies TE Cade Otton keeps growing.
Love this ability to reach inside, turn, and pancake this DL. Love to see it pic.twitter.com/3a8QSJnCbR
— Patrick Chiotti (@PatrickChiotti) February 25, 2022
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.
Washington TE Cade Otton (#87) is a certified badass!! Love this block from him in-line, as he smothers this edge from Utah. pic.twitter.com/BWjrUyuxpp
— Nick Price (@PriceCheck3) August 2, 2021
That mentality paired with his advantageous frame and solid movement skills makes him one of the better blocking tight ends in the draft.
— Joel Mann (@JoelMannCFB) March 8, 2022
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.
Cade Otton for six. The UW TE is a solid blocker and has reliable hands.
In four games in 2020, Otton had 18 catches/258 yards/3 TDs. Failed to build off that in 2021 as the entire UW offense STRUGGLED.
He's going to be a gem for whatever team takes him on day three. pic.twitter.com/DkprQfSm7W
— Brennen Rupp (@Brennen_Rupp) February 7, 2022
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.
Another big play for Wan'Dale Robinson. Trot out the 12 personnel and catch that single high in a really tough spot. Love the ball placement from Levis here. Pushed that a little more vertical and let Robinson run under it. pic.twitter.com/4SonKCgPVk
— Matt Alkire (@mattalkire) March 2, 2022
Robinson is an offensive weapon built for the modern age, with remarkable agility that allows him to rack up yards after the catch.
Wan'Dale Robinson, Wide Reciever
– Quick-Twitch athlete
– Electric with the ball in his hands
– Has the speed to be a burner
– Decent route runner that wins with his footwork
– Has vision of a running back in the open field
– Elite punt returner
Reminds me of Rondale Moore pic.twitter.com/TRBqVtk2jG
— Philly Nation (@Philly__Nation) March 3, 2022
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.
Why is Wan'Dale Robinson dangerous? Kentucky motions him strong side and runs him weak side. Block properly, and your "WR" has a 1 on 1 with a DS. 65 yard run. pic.twitter.com/djNMPz34hf
— Matt Alkire (@mattalkire) March 2, 2022
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.
*Pay attention to the situation in the game*. Wildcats score game winning TD two plays later
Wan’Dale Robinson does a good job slow playing his route. Good concept and good execution with the post and corner routes on a condensed set to beat cover 3
— Kendall Mirsky (@MirskyKendall) March 2, 2022
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.
It's one route, but seeing Wan'Dale Robinson run a whip is what we are waiting for. This is not the speed you want to see it at. Nothing sudden about that whatsoever. 😬 pic.twitter.com/JEnvzdZSiL
— Matt Alkire (@mattalkire) March 2, 2022
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.
One of my favorite under-the-radar OT prospects this year is #Louisiana RT Max Mitchell.
He’s athletic, aggressive and does a great job with his hand exchange. He has NFL starting potential – keep him on the radar. pic.twitter.com/Lb6wprS5R5
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) October 22, 2021
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.
Max Mitchell (Louisiana OT) was out here putting on a show, his anchor here is to die for… pic.twitter.com/ARY1nZ4jRX
— Ben Glassmire (@BenGlassmireNFL) February 2, 2022
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.
I know how some of you love those damn dots, but hopefully this real play of Zonovan Knight doing things dots can’t do will suffice.
Eyes-feet connection here is strong. pic.twitter.com/7GWFO7eHOx
— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) February 25, 2022
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.
Zonovan Knight has forced 95 missed tackles since 2020…
Most among ACC RBs 😤pic.twitter.com/35QvjlAfNb
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) February 4, 2022
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.
Zonovan Knight. 100 yards to the HOUSE 💨
NC State leads #11 Miami, 38-31 👀pic.twitter.com/tro5X5MKJM
— Sideline Views (@SideIineViews) November 7, 2020
Plus, as an added bonus, he was remarkably productive as a return man for North Carolina State too.
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) November 14, 2021