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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – When the Denver Broncos’ general manager George Paton looks at how the NFL draft could develop next week, he knows pass-rushers can be close to the top of his to-do list.
For that they must be. In the AFC West, Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Derek Carr are quarterbacks that the Broncos face twice a year, and the AFC is filled with other frontline throwers like Joe Burrow, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson.
But in a draft where the Broncos are not scheduled to make a pick before No. 64 – the last pick in the second round – but still have five picks among the 116 best picks, the edge rusher happens to be one of the deepest positions on the board.
“I think the edge class is really strong,” Paton said. “Everyone needs pass-rushers, and I think there are quite a few pass-rushers in this draft … There are other positions that are strong, but I think Edge is No. 1- the force. “
The Broncos signed Randy Gregory to a five-year, $ 70 million free agency deal, with Bradley Chubb playing in the fifth and final year of his rookie deal, re-signing restricted free agent Malik Reed and selecting Jonathon Cooper in last year’s draft.
But Paton is still looking for more.
“You just can not have enough pass-rushers,” Paton said. “You know, if we take a pass-rusher, it has nothing to do with Bradley, we can not get enough, Randy Gregory, Malik Reed, Jonathon Cooper, that’s how you win. You get a wave, you get a wave of rushers and you have an offense that can score points and you get leads and then you throw this pass-rush after them. “
Sacks are not everything, but the Broncos have not stressed the opposing quarterbacks nearly enough during much of their current six-year playoff drought. Much of it can be traced to the hoped-for combination of Chubb with Von Miller, which was not a combination near enough of the time.
After Chubb was selected in the first round of the 2018 draft, he and Miller played in just 21 games together due to a series of injuries to both players. They had 30.5 combined games in those 21 games, but Chubb’s rookie year was the only full season the two played side by side in defense.
The Broncos were tied for 18th place in the league last season as Chubb battled ankle injuries and Miller was traded in early November.
Overall, Paton said the draft is solid through Day 2 and Day 3, with the Broncos currently having all nine of their picks, with tackling and wide receiver also being deeper positions on the board. There is also the case that this draft has followed two college football seasons influenced by COVID-19.
Several players used an extra year of eligibility to stay out of last year’s draft, which was considered thin through most of day 3 (round 4 to round 7), allowing them to participate in this draft. As a result, a player like Cincinnati cornerback Coby Bryant played in unprecedented 63 games over the course of his career with the Bearcats.
The Broncos had Roman Phifer, a senior human resources manager for the team, on the move last fall to scout college players in addition to all of the team’s scouts. Broncos assistant general manager Darren Mougey called it “an extra set of eyes” because of how big this class is.
“We were expecting it last year, almost like a double class this year,” Mougey said. “We had conversations after the draft last year … how are we going to solve this?”
“It’s an older class,” Paton said. “… More guys to evaluate are likely to think it will be a deeper later round class than it was last year.”
Paton said it would be difficult for the Broncos to put any kind of deal together to move all the way from the last pick in the second round back to the first round. But after a series of trades over the past year, highlighted by the blockbuster to acquire quarterback Russell Wilson, the Broncos have only four picks in the 2023 draft.
Paton said if he saw the right deal, or the board fell in a certain way next week, he would consider a deal or two that would add some elections next year.
“It’s fun working on the draft,” Paton said. “… We do not make trades just to make trades, we make trades to build this thing the best we can do it … but if it shows up, we will not force it, but we would certainly like to add elections next year. “