Denver Broncos 2018 Draft Class Breakdown
The Broncos have garnered widespread praise for their 2018 Draft Class. Bradley Chubb seems like a complete steal after sliding to the fifth overall pick, and Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton are promising, young prospects who seem poised to revitalize Denver’s aging wide receiver corps.
Obviously, the impact of a draft class isn’t certain until its picks hit the field and contribute (consider, for example, the New Orleans Saints’ 2017 Draft Class, which was criticized heavily, but then went on to become one of the most impactful rookie groups in recent memory).
Several patterns stand out among the Broncos’ eclectic group of picks.
First, John Elway drafted players who exhibit strong character and leadership. Nine out of ten picks served as Captains during their college career. The only player who didn’t, Isaac Yiadom, was the recipient of Boston College’s Jay McGillis Memorial Scholarship — awarded to the player who most exemplifies team dedication and leadership. Indeed, many of the Broncos picks have been described as good leaders, teammates, motivators, and human beings. DaeSean Hamilton, in particular, has received a lot of positive press for taking care of his brother, Darius, who suffers from Autism Spectrum disorder. Selecting competitors with strong character and motivation was an important move for a locker room that was described last season as entitled and selfish.
Second, Elway appears to have shifted his draft strategy away from prioritizing raw, physical specimens (e.g. Paxton Lynch) towards players with strong fundamentals and consistent production. All of the Broncos’ picks are multi-year starters and many of them stayed in school to finish their senior year. As Elway said, “when you’re in a losing streak, you need that maturity and that leadership to get things turned around. These players have that ability and they have that maturity level. That’s why we decided to go more in that direction…” Hopefully, for the Broncos, their incoming draft class will bring the necessary motivation and experience for Denver to improve from its 5-11 record in 2017.
Let’s examine each pick in-depth:
Round 1, Pick 5: Bradley Chubb | DE | N.C. State
The Broncos play a 3-4 defense. Chubb played defensive end in the Wolfpack’s 4-3 scheme. The Broncos already have Adam Gotsis, Derek Wolfe, and DeMarcus Walker at defensive end, among others. So it is unsurprising that Vance Joseph has indicated that Chubb will transition to playing outside linebacker.
That transition didn’t go as planned last season for DeMarcus Walker, who was drafted out of Florida State’s 4-3 defense. Chubb will have to compete with Shane Ray and Shaq Barrett to start opposite of Von Miller. If he suffers similar growing pains to those DeMarcus Walker did (which wouldn’t be surprising, as Chubb is an extremely similar physical prospect coming out of college; though he is faster and more explosive), it could delay his development.
Chubb needs to improve his control and use his hands more to shed blocks, but he’s arguably a more complete prospect than Myles Garrett was (he’s more polished coming out of college, better at run blocking, and has a more advanced repertoire of pass-rushing moves at is disposal). If Denver is able to start all three of Miller, Ray, and Chubb on obvious pass plays, the Mile High pass-rush could be even more lethal than it was during the DeMarcus Ware years.
Fantasy Spin: it will take time to see where Chubb ends up on the Broncos depth chart, but he’s a good bet to rack up sacks early which is good value in shallow IDP leagues. Chubb is also an excellent source of tackles for a loss, his premier stat sheet filler at N.C. State.
Round 2, Pick 8: Courtland Sutton | WR | SMU
Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders both failed to reach 1,000 yards last season. They are also both over the age of 30 and prone to injury. What’s more, the Broncos lost Bennie Fowler and Cody Latimer to free agency this offseason. Wide receiver was a huge, though underreported, need for the Broncos coming into the draft.
John Elway and his team had a first-round grade on Sutton, and for good reason. He has a durable frame, exceptional size, wide catch radius, and can even block effectively. Sutton is also a diligent worker and a high character leader.
Unfortunately, Sutton was limited by poor quarterback play at SMU. He also struggled to extend plays after the catch and needs to improve his route running. Hopefully, Case Keenum is an upgrade for the safety-turned-receiver, as his aggressive offensively play caters to Sutton’s physical strengths.
Fantasy Spin: Elway picked Demaryius Thomas’ heir-apparent, here. They’re remarkably similar prospects and having Sutton learn under Thomas is a great investment. If Thomas or Sanders is hurt early, though, Sutton could easily start on the outside for the Broncos. If Case Keenum is anything like he was in Minnesota last year, Sutton could have high upside in the case of an injury. As a homerun hitter, Sutton gets a boost in non-PPR leagues.
Round 3, Pick 7: Royce Freeman | RB | Oregon
Freeman draws comparisons to C.J. Anderson, a cap casualty this offseason, for his “bowling ball” strength and quick cuts between tackles. He also went under the radar compared to other draft darlings such as Ronald Jones and Rashaad Penny. Make no mistake, though: Freeman was incredibly productive at Oregon. He led the PAC-12 in all-time rushing yards, Oregon in all-purpose yards, and is the sixth leading rusher in college football history. He’s a perfect fit for Denver’s zone rush scheme, and his natural power and shoulder strength will allow him to shed a lot of tackles.
That said, all of Freeman’s records correspond to a lot of carries. 947, to be exact. That figure also leads Oregon in all-time rushing statistics. NFL Scouts have therefore been concerned that such a prolific college workload could limit Freeman’s long-term production and durability. The Broncos will also miss C.J. Anderson’s dependability in pass protection, a skill that Freeman needs to improve.
Fantasy Spin: I don’t think Devontae Booker will hold off Freeman, who is set to compete for the starting job week one. The Broncos see Royce as a potential bell-cow. He could be this year’s Kareem Hunt if all goes well in camp and the pre-season. Keep in mind that Denver’s offensive line should theoretically improve, too, with the progression of Garett Bowles, a healthy Ron Leary, and the acquisition of Jared Veldheer from Arizona. Downgrade Freeman’s ranking slightly in PPR leagues, as his receiving skills are average at best.
Round 3, Pick 35: Isaac Yiadom | CB | Boston College
The Broncos loved Yiadom when they coached him during the Senior Bowl in Mobile. He’ll have an immediate impact with his exceptional special-teams play, and his length, ball skills, and coverage tackle ability will give him a good chance to compete with Brendan Langley for the third starting Corner role in the Broncos press coverage defense. Langley was abysmal filling in at Corner during Aqib Talib’s suspension last year, and Yiadom’s special-teams skills could help ensure him a roster position after camp.
Fantasy Spin: Bradley Roby was the main beneficiary of the Broncos trading Aqib Talib to Los Angeles. Look for Yiadom to make his way up the depth chart and potentially start halfway through the season. If your league rewards special-teams, Yiadom is a very good cover specialist and gunner.
Round 4, Pick 6: Josey Jewell | LB | Iowa
Jewell was legendary in pure tackling for the Hawkeyes, finishing fourth in all-time tackles at Iowa. What he lacks in speed and combine performance, he makes up for in instinct, consistency, and a relentless motor. Jewell was an incredible tactician, film student, and leader during his time at Iowa, and could eventually captain the Broncos defense if he’s able to overcome the physical hurdles to transitioning to the NFL.
Also, one underrated aspect of Jewell’s otherwise mediocre combine: a 6.80 second 3-cone time. That’s faster than Rashaan Evans (6.95) and Leighton Vander Esch (6.88), who were both taken in the first round, and was the second-fastest time recorded by a linebacker at the combine. An elite 3-cone time like Jewell’s is critical at the linebacker position, where quick directional movement is essential.
Fantasy Spin: Don’t expect Jewell to start soon ahead of Brandon Marshall or Todd Davis. His college career also indicates he won’t be good for much more than racking up tackles and passes defended. This was a leadership and tactical investment for the Broncos, not a day-one impact move like taking Bradley Chubb. I characterize Jewell as a poor man’s Sean Lee based on his locker room presence, wisdom, and dedication.
Round 4, Pick 13: DaeSean Hamilton | WR | Penn State
This was my favorite pick, especially as a quasi-Penn State fan. DaeSean Hamilton is an exceptional human being with an impressive backstory and a lot of humility. He’s also a very polished wideout. The Broncos have lacked a competent slot receiver since Wes Welker left Denver, and Hamilton is the perfect replacement.
What Hamilton lacks in shiftiness, he compensates for with crisp and disciplined route running. He was also Penn State’s primary third-down target, converting a stunning 80% of his catches for first downs. That’s largely due to Hamilton’s ability to cut and break on a dime, add yards after the catch with his strength and quick movement, and his surprisingly good record snagging 50/50 balls.
Hamilton will need to improve his blocking ability to start for the Broncos. He’ll also need to eliminate the drops that sometimes plagued him at Penn State. Frankly, though, the Broncos don’t have many options in the slot ahead of Hamilton, and I think his hallmark work ethic and drive will help him run away with the starting job by the pre-season.
Fantasy Spin: like Courtland Sutton, Hamilton is one Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders injury away from a lot of targets. I also think Hamilton is likely to start earlier than Sutton due to positional need and the raw physical tools that need to be developed with Sutton. In PPR, Hamilton could one day be a bigger, scarier Jarvis Landry.
Round 5, Pick 12: Troy Fumagalli | TE | Wisconsin
Fumagalli, a former walk-on, has exceptional hands despite only having nine fingers. He’s an average athlete, as evidenced by his relatively pedestrian career stats at Wisconsin (1627 yards, 7 TDs). Before the draft, scouts worried about his speed and flexibility. Now, I’m more worried about his run blocking, which was poor despite Fumagalli being the cornerstone of a run-heavy offense. Denver needs to replace Virgil Green’s blocking ability, and Fumagalli may not have the skills necessary to do so.
Fumagalli is not without his strengths. He’s good at tracking the ball and has a very wide catch radius. And he’s a seasoned veteran who is beloved at Wisconsin. It makes sense that the Broncos picked a high character, reliable tight end to start Day 3 of the draft.
Fantasy Spin: Jake Butt is still the future of Denver at the tight end position. Fumagalli could be good, but he’s buried on the depth chart behind Butt and Jeff Heuerman and has a far lower ceiling than either of them. Remember, this offense has yet to deliver good fantasy tight end production since Julius Thomas.
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Round 6, Pick 9: Sam Jones | OG | Arizona State
Huge, homegrown physical specimen who will develop at Guard behind Connor McGovern. Could also fill in at Center in the case of a Matt Paradis injury, but doesn’t have the tools to be a tackle. Jones has already been training with the Broncos offensive line in the offseason, so he could gel faster than predicted. He needs to improve his strength substantially, though, or he’s unlikely to make the opening day roster.
Round 6, Pick 43: Keishawn Bierria | LB | Washington
Lacks athletic and playmaking ability, but he’s consistent and a good leader. Sensing a theme? He could make a splash on special teams, but I don’t see him making the roster.
Round 7, Pick 8: David Williams | RB | Arkansas
This was mostly a depth move and camp body pick. I could see Williams being eclipsed quickly by UDFA Phillip Lindsay as the Broncos’ return specialist and third down back. Williams himself is more of a bruising, early-down back who probably can’t beat the athleticism displayed by Freeman, Booker, and Henderson.
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