Taking an early look at the Broncos 2021 NFL Draft positional needs

After a successful haul in talent in the 2020 draft, it's never too early to take a look at the Broncos 2021 NFL draft positional needs.

The Denver Broncos have some significant time remaining before they are on the clock for the 2021 NFL draft, but it’s never too early to take a look at some of the team’s upcoming positional needs. In the 2020 NFL Draft, Denver addressed several of the team’s more pressing needs ahead of the upcoming season.

General manager John Elway bolstered the offense with key players at wide receiver like Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler, offensive lineman Lloyd Cushenberry III, and quarterback Drew Lock’s former college tight end Albert Okwuegbunam. They also addressed both the secondary and the defensive line with the selections of cornerback Michael Ojemudia and defensive lineman McTelvin Agim.

While the team made substantial depth additions on both sides of the ball, the Broncos still have some areas they’ll need to address in 2021. Looking ahead to 2021 can be difficult, considering that the 2020 season hasn’t even begun, and we don’t know for sure what every position group is going to look like. Let’s take a look at potentially some of the biggest Broncos 2021 NFL Draft positional needs.

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Building the Broncos offensive line

Denver’s forecast on the offensive line going into the 2020 season looks relatively clear so far. One of the Broncos more significant free-agent signings this off-season was interior offensive lineman Graham Glasgow. Glasgow spent his first four seasons in the NFL with the Detroit Lions playing both center and guard.

In addition, the Broncos also drafted LSU center Lloyd Cushenberry III to pair with their 2019 draft pick Dalton Risner. Glasgow, Cushenberry, and Risner are strong favorites to solidify the interior of the offensive line.

However, the offensive tackle position is a different story. The 2019 free-agent signing of right tackle Ja’Wuan James didn’t go as the organization had planned. James didn’t see more than 63 snaps on the field last season after suffering a knee injury in Week 1.

Entering 2020, his outlook is still up in the air. James is rumored to be healthy and ready to go as he’s been seen working with Drew Lock and his fellow offensive teammates at a local Denver area park.

Elijah Wilkinson and Garrett Bolles in 2019

Denver’s other option at tackle in 2019 was Elijah Wilkinson. Wilkinson filled in for James by starting 12 games and playing in 15 games in 2019. He stepped in and provided a serviceable job as a fill-in at the position.

Then, there is Garett Bolles. The former first-round pick has had his fair share of struggles during his tenure with the Broncos, even after the team brought in Mike Munchak to coach the offensive line unit.

However, even after those early struggles in 2019, Bolles appeared to turn it around late in the season. While these improvements were noticeable and he played much better with Lock at the helm, the team decided not to pick up Bolles’ fifth-year option, making 2020 a “make-it-or-break” season for him. Broncos head coach Vic Fangio has said that Bolles and Wilkinson will compete for the starting left tackle spot going into the new season.

Should the Broncos upgrade their offensive tackles in 2021?

Going into the 2021 NFL Draft, the Broncos should look to upgrade their tackle position on either side of the front. With a plethora of talented offensive tackles that are eligible for the 2021 class, Denver could have several opportunities to upgrade at the position with some quality college football players.

Players like North Dakota State’s Dillon Radunz, Notre Dame’s Liam Eichenberg, Alabama’s Alex Leatherwood, Ohio State’s Thayer Munford, and Texas’ Samuel Cosmi are all viable offensive tackle prospects that Denver should keep their eyes on to upgrade the tackle position in 2021.

Cornerback could still be important for Denver

If there’s one position group that genuinely struggled for the Broncos in 2019, it was the cornerbacks. After an offseason of hype surrounding the free-agent signing of Bryce Callahan, the hype fizzled out just as quickly as it had arrived.

Callahan would miss the entire 2019 season after his foot was stepped on during the team’s stadium scrimmage at Empower Field at Mile High during training camp.

The screw that was inserted into his foot after he had surgery in 2018 had bent around a bone, causing him extreme discomfort. He had surgery once again in 2019 and is on track to be full-go for training camp according to defensive coordinator Ed Donatell.

“On the medical side, he’s ready to go. He’s running full speed. He’ll be right in our camp and ready to go. He’s been totally engaged.”

A rotation of inexperienced cornerbacks for the Broncos

Outside of Callahan, Denver had a steady rotation of inexperienced cornerbacks that were thrust into significant roles quickly in 2019. Davontae Harris, Duke Dawson, and De’Vante Bausby played a combined nine games in 2018 with the only start coming from Bausby in Philadelphia. The only Broncos cornerback that was on the team in 2018 was a former third-round pick in Isaac Yiadom.

Fast-forward to the 2020 offseason, the Broncos still have a lot of questions surrounding the cornerback position. Long-time Bronco Chris Harris, Jr. entered free agency and signed with the division-rival Los Angeles Chargers, and the Broncos traded a fourth-round draft pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars for A.J. Bouye.

In the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft, Denver selected Iowa cornerback Michael Ojemudia, who looked to be a perfect fit for Vic Fangio’s scheme and had a 9.18 RAS score, according to PFN’s Kent Platte, which was good for fourth-best among cornerbacks in the 2020 draft class.

Should the Broncos upgrade their cornerbacks in 2021?

While Bouye and Ojemudia are substantial additions for this group, there are some prospects in the 2021 cornerback class that could take the Broncos defense to the next level. With the questions surrounding Callahan’s health and the inexperience of the backend of the group, the Broncos should look to continue to add top-level talent.

Ohio State’s Shaun Wade, Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley, Stanford’s Paulson Adebo, and Penn State cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields could all end up being quality additions to the Broncos secondary and could play exceptionally well in Fangio’s defensive scheme.

You can never have enough depth on the defensive line

As of today, the Broncos defensive line looks like it could end up being one of the better units in the league. Denver arguably made one of the better deals in the entire NFL offseason, acquiring five-time Pro Bowler Jurrell Casey from the Tennessee Titans for a seventh-round draft pick.

The Broncos also retained veteran defensive end Shelby Harris and 2019 newcomer Mike Purcell. So why is the defensive line a position group the Broncos should address is 2021?

Jurrell Casey isn’t a free agent until after the 2022 season, but the Broncos have a potential out after the 2020 season that could free up over $12 million in cap space if they wanted to. At the conclusion of the 2020 season, both Harris and Purcell will become free agents once again. If the Broncos elect to let them walk in free agency, they’ll be left with McTelvin Agim and 2019 third-round pick Dre’Mont Jones on the defensive front.

While Jones will likely become a long-term starter, the rest of the unit could look entirely different in 2021. LSU nose tackle Tyler Shelvin could be an exciting replacement if the team chooses not to extend Purcell to be their starting NT after 2020.

Should the Broncos upgrade their defensive line in 2021?

If the Broncos are looking to upgrade their defensive front seven in the 2021 NFL draft based on their positional needs, several prospects could fit the defensive scheme of Fangio and Donatell.

Florida State defensive lineman Marvin Wilson has already been labeled as one of the best linemen for the upcoming class as a first-round prospect and the rest of the class is littered with talented prospects like Pitt’s Jaylen Twyman and USC’s Jay Tufele.

Throughout the upcoming season, look for the Broncos to do their due diligence on the 2021 draft class as they look to identify future stars that can wreak havoc on opposing offenses.

Patrick Chiotti
Draft Analyst for Broncos PFN - Football Coach

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