Who are the most valuable young players on the Denver Broncos?

Patrick Surtain picks off his second pass of the game. Credit: Isaiah J. Downing, USA TODAY Sports.
Patrick Surtain picks off his second pass of the game. Credit: Isaiah J. Downing, USA TODAY Sports.

The Denver Broncos have one of the NFL’s most exciting young cores of talent thanks to experiencing some awesome success in recent drafts.

With that in mind, how do these young, burgeoning talents stack up against each other, and which are most valuable to the Broncos’ long-term future? Let’s take a look, and for a more nuanced discussion of these players in the form of a fantasy draft, check out the podcast below.

Note: Only players aged 25 and under will be considered. The player’s current existing contract will also be taken into account.

Tier I: Face of the franchise

Patrick Surtain II: Denver’s first-round pick from a season ago is in a tier of his own, as it should be. Every single other player we will discuss in this exercise has some lingering concern, and that just isn’t the case with Surtain.

There’s no concerns about injury; if he can handle a bigger role; if he has an elite ceiling; if he can produce enough value from his position; if you’ll have to pay him soon; or if he’s mature or intelligent on and off the field. He checks every single box you could possibly want a young player to check, and is set to ascend to superstar status this season.

Remember, people were excited about Jalen Ramsey and Jaire Alexander’s rookie seasons because they were just ok, and that’s difficult to do as an inexperienced corner. Surtain was straight up great as a rookie. The sky’s the limit.

Tier II: Foundational pieces with few concerns

Dre’Mont Jones: Some may be upset that Jones isn’t in the same tier as Surtain in this exercise, as he also seemingly checks every single box imaginable. However, he does come up just short in two departments.

First off, he’s on the final year of his contract, meaning the Broncos don’t have long-term control as of now, and Jones will soon be expensive. Second, he has quite taken the leap towards superstar status many have been projecting, though he has improved every season. These are ultimately minor nitpicks though, as Jones is a terrific player with multiple years of sustained high-end play, and the potential to continue to get better.

Quinn Meinerz: Maybe these flowers are being awarded too soon, but what Meinerz did as a rookie was phenomenal. He was remarkably underdeveloped when he arrived in Denver, but nonetheless was thrown into the starting lineup after Graham Glasgow suffered an injury, and thrived. Now, he has a full offseason under his belt, is transitioning to a friendlier scheme, and is beloved by his teammates and coaches.

The only marks on Meinerz’s case are the fact that he hasn’t even started 16 games yet, so there’s some uncertainty about keeping this up, and the positional value of the guard position.

Javonte Wiliams: As is the case with Meinerz, the only concerns here are sample size and positional value. Williams made it very clear to everyone in the NFL last season that he’s already one of the more talented ball-carriers in the sport, and his status should only continue to grow. Running backs typically take over the NFL early in their careers, and Williams is perfectly situated to do just that over the remainder of his rookie contract.

Tier III: High-upside players with something to prove

Bradley Chubb: Chubb, just like every other player in this tier, has the potential to be a star, but he also carries some pretty serious concerns with him. Two of his four seasons in the NFL he has failed to produce and has been hampered by injuries. That said, for the other two years Chubb was a Pro Bowl-caliber player at the league’s most important position outside of quarterback. Only having one year left on his rookie deal is another concern, but the upside of Chubb is too much to ignore.

Caden Sterns: This one might surprise some, but it really shouldn’t. Throughout last season and this offseason, Sterns’ teammates and coaches have gushed about the young safety’s hard work, development and intelligence behind the scenes, and his work on the field was remarkable too. Sterns has the makings of being a long-term co-star next to Justin Simmons, and has the talent to maybe reach similar heights one day, he just has to prove he can handle a larger workload and more important role.

Remember, this was a safety that was once hyped up as a top-10 draft pick, which is rarified air for the position. The beloved Kyle Hamilton just went 14th.

Baron Browning: If not for the position change to pass-rusher, Browning might find himself in the second tier of this exercise, as he was a remarkable off-ball linebacker for Denver a season ago, and could become an elite player at the position. However, his ability rushing the passer off the edge at the NFL level is pretty unknown. The change does boost his positional value, but the uncertainty surrounding the change ultimately weighs him down here.

Jerry Jeudy: In terms of pure talent, Jeudy can toe-to-toe with just about any other player on this list, but after two disappointing seasons, concerns are beginning to mount. That said, arguably no position relies more on the performance of those around them than the wide receiver position, and in recent years, Jeudy was surrounded by problems at quarterback, along the offensive line, and in the offensive coordinator chair. Those problems seem somewhat remedied now, so a productive season from Jeudy better follow.

Albert Okwuegbunam: Down the stretch of the 2021 season, Okwuegbunam looked like the best tight end on the Broncos’ roster and one of the more deadly pass-catching tight ends in the league. Now set for a bigger role, he could quickly ascend up this list. However, Okwuegbunam was plagued by injuries throughout college and into the first year of his NFL career. Since graduating high school, Okwuegbunam has yet to play a season of football without missing at least three games, which is something for Broncos Country to monitor moving forward.

Jonas Griffith: The sample size for Jonas Griffith has been extemely small, yet tantalizing, landing him here. Griffith is an elite athlete for the position, and as he receives more playing time, his instincts and football IQ should continue to grow. If that happens, he could quickly become an upper-echelon linebacker, but his one-year deal means he might realize the full extent of his abilities elsewhere.

Nik Bonitto & Greg Dulcich: The major concern with these next two players should be fairly obvious — they’ve never even played a snap at the NFL level. However, both were widely viewed as nice bargains and talented players with a fairly high ceiling. Bonitto could very well be a Haason Reddick-type pass-rusher, and Greg Dulcich could be an offensive weapon from the tight end position similar to Mike Gesicki, making them a gamble worth taking.

Tier IV: Questions and talent aplenty

K.J. Hamler: The Broncos are in very similar situations with both Jeudy and Hamler, except Hamler has had worse injury luck, and has been even less productive when healthy. With that said, the early returns from last season were tremendously promising, and considering Wilson’s tendency to attack downfield, one could argue no skill-position player stands to gain more from Wilson’s arrival than Hamler. Now, the Broncos will have two seasons to determine if he can be the same player he was before the injury.

McTelvin Agim: As a result of his need to develop and his porous ability as a run defender, Agim hasn’t seen the field much at all during his first two seasons in the NFL, but in his limited playing time, he’s impressed. The only interior defensive linemen in the league with a higher pass-rush win rate than Agim in 2021 are Aaron Donald, Javon Hargrave, Jonathan Allen and Chris Jones, each of whom is widely viewed as an elite figure at the position. That said, he only played 60 defensive snaps last year, and with good reason, so he’s a far cry from that quartet, even if the potential is absurdly promising.

Michael Ojemudia: Ojemudia has a somewhat similar case to Hamler. After a pretty promising 2020 campaign, he was unable to next step in his development following a gruesome preseason injury that sidelined him for nearly the entire season. Ojemudia played in the final two games and wowed, especially against Kansas City, and has earned rave reviews from Patrick Surtain II for his work at OTA’s so far this offseason. Ultimately though, we’ve seen so little of the elite Ojemudia we saw for a minute last season, that we’ll have to see more before moving him up the rankings.

Jonathon Cooper: Unfortunately, Cooper probably won’t ever be more than a really high-end rotational pass-rusher, but that role still boasts considerable value and he’s a very cheap, high-character option with untapped potential to fill that role.

Kendall Hinton: After transitioning to the wide receiver late in his collegiate career, Hinton has gotten better and better every single offseason as he gains familiarity. He should see some work as a slot receiver this season, but he’ll probably max out as a high-character rotational piece.

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