Denver Broncos general manager John Elway has put together three consecutive draft classes that could push the organization towards contention in years ahead. Denver needed a variety of offensive weapons this previous draft and Elway went all-in with the Broncos 2020 draft class.
The Broncos had 10 selections in the 2020 NFL draft, and each player selected could play a significant role for the organization on the field in 2020 and beyond. We’re going to take a look at every selection and discuss what fans can realistically expect from them in a Broncos uniform.
Jerry Jeudy has a chance to be the biggest impact player
The Broncos first selection came with the 15th pick in the 2020 NFL draft. Month’s leading up to the draft, Denver didn’t shy away from the fact that they needed some more explosiveness at the wide receiver position opposite of Courtland Sutton. Even dating back to the NFL scouting combine in February, Elway gave the indication about the notably deep WR class.
“I think it’s always good to have some young, dynamic wide receivers. We’re always looking for all those. Obviously [WR] Courtland [Sutton]’s in that class. [TE Noah] Fant’s going to be better at the tight end position. Again, we’re always going to try and surround the quarterback with people that he can be successful with and also protect him. There’s a deep class at wide receiver this year so we’ll continue to hopefully get better there too.”
That’s exactly what the Broncos did. Denver selected WR Jerry Jeudy from Alabama with the 15th overall selection. Jeudy brings an explosive element to the Broncos offense with his ability to create separation as a route runner. Combine that with his 4.4 speed and his tendency to manipulate coverages, it’s easy to see why Jeudy was Denver’s number one target on their draft board.
In 2020, fans can expect to see Jeudy flexed inside the slot and on the outside in offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur’s scheme. Jeudy will be tasked with an important role to be a productive playmaker opposite of Sutton to help the Broncos establish offensive balance. In 2019, NFL defenses would cheat a safety over the top of Sutton’s side of the field in key passing situations in an attempt to take away the Broncos’ best-receiving threat.
Adding Jeudy into the mix will force defensive coordinators to play the Broncos straight up without having the ability to disguise coverages. His ability to do damage extends well beyond running deep routes. Jeudy possesses the ability to take a smoke or a hitch route, make a move, and get upfield to generate extensive yards after the catch.
Jeudy has the best chance to make the biggest impact immediately for the Broncos 2020 draft class.
KJ Hamler’s speed makes the Broncos offense even more dangerous
Just when you thought the Broncos 2020 draft class couldn’t get any more explosive, Denver double-dipped in the 2nd round to select Penn State wide receiver K.J. Hamler. A true burner at the position with anticipated 4.3 speed, the Broncos added a weapon who gives them the same threat capacity that the Kansas City Chiefs have with Tyreek Hill.
Hamler has the potential to be the jack of all trades for the Broncos offense not only due to his speed, but his unique ability to create separation vertically up the seams and inside-outside breaking routes. Despite being 5’9, Hamler plays bigger than his height and doesn’t shy away from being physical as a blocker.
He has a unique understanding of body positioning as a blocker and takes appropriate angles that allow his running back’s to read where to go upfield off his back-side. Defensive coordinators will need to be aware of where he’s lined up at which will allow the offense to play freely across the field.
Some criticism surrounding Hamler coming into the draft revolved around some dropped passes. When you reference the film, Hamler was on the receiving end of inconsistent quarterback play and ball placement and looking to get upfield before the ball was in his hands. These are areas he can improve on with every-day drills and coaching.
Why did the Broncos decide to go receiver with two consecutive picks? Broncos head coach Vic Fangio said that his evaluation of the wide receiver position came from his lens as defensive coordinator in regards to who would be the toughest for him to scheme against.
You can expect to see Hamler used inside the slot as well as being the team’s jet motion option. His speed will make it hard for opposing teams to cheat their coverage looks pre-snap. With both Jeudy and Hamler, these additions to the Broncos 2020 draft class added strength to a position of need for the team.
Michael Ojemudia could start as a rookie in Fangio’s defense
After the departure of long-time veteran cornerback Chris Harris Jr., the Broncos needed to focus on the future of the position. In the third round, the Broncos had three selections and a variety of prospects to choose from. Denver would select Michael Ojemudia from Iowa.
Ojemudia comes into 2020 eager to compete for the starting spot at the boundary (short field) CB. He’s an instinctual football player who excels in a zone coverage scheme, which is what the Broncos primarily run out of their 3-4 look. He’ll have some competition in training camp, but there is a growing sense that he could be an early-favorite with how fast he’s picked up the defensive scheme during the team’s virtual voluntary offseason program according to defensive coordinator Ed Donatell.
“Michael brings size, he brings speed and he can judge a ball down the field deep. Those are very important parts to a DB. He’s really on schedule as a tackler and a hitter, which we know is very important to the Broncos’ style of defense. How he fits in—we want him to do as much as he can as a rookie. Time will only tell that. What I can tell you is he’s really, really in the top part of the class as far as his learning curve. He’s picked up our scheme in a virtual sense and about as good as you’ll find in a rookie. He’s off to a good start. We’re just really eager to get him on the field and get started coaching him in a physical sense.”
He’ll be an exciting addition to watch throughout the preseason as he looks to secure a starting role on defense as a rookie. Fans can expect to see an aggressive young playmaker who trusts in his technique. If he starts as a rookie, you can also expect offensive coordinators to test him early and often to see how he responds.
Lloyd Cushenberry III is the early favorite to start at center
One of the more intriguing players for the Broncos 2020 draft class is Lloyd Cushenberry III. Coming off the heels of winning a national championship with power-house LSU, Cushenberry was responsible for being the anchor on the offensive line to help keep Heisman winner Joe Burrow upright on the interior.
Vic Fangio mentioned in his post-draft press conference that Cushenberry would come in and compete at training camp for the starting center position against Austin Schlottmann, and Patrick Morris. We all understand coachspeak, but it’s hard to ignore Cushenberry as the odds-on favorite to win the job.
His athleticism and anchor will be useful for the Broncos establishing the run with both Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay. Cushenberry will also benefit from having two versatile guards next to him in Dalton Risner and Graham Glasgow. Fans should expect to see him have a significant role offensively right from the start.
McTelvin Agim will learn from the experience in the defensive line group
Vic Fangio loves finding himself players on the defensive line who could become future gems. Denver selected DL McTelvin Agim from Arkansas with their 3rd third-round pick. Agim enters 2020 with a chance to be a rotation player for the Broncos in sub-packages.
Agim has the ability to play a 5-tech (head up on the offensive tackle) but he’s more suited to play the 3-technique (outside shoulder of the offensive guard) in Fangio’s defense. He’ll learn from 10-year veteran Jurrell Casey alongside 2019 3rd round pick Dre’Mont Jones. With Shelby Harris and Casey projected to be the favorites to start, Broncos fans can expect Agim to rotate in on situational downs.
He’ll gain valuable experience working with position coach Bill Kollar who has transformed various others he has coached into Pro-Bowl caliber players. Agim is also one of my candidates as a potential steal amongst the Broncos 2020 draft class.
Albert Okwuegbunam could rekindle success with Lock at QB
Offensive speed appeared to be the theme for the Broncos in the 2020 NFL draft. Before Denver was on the clock in Round 4, GM John Elway called Drew Lock to inquire about Mizzou tight end Albert Okwuegbunam. After a ringing endorsement from Lock, the Broncos liked what they heard and drafted Okwuegbunam.
Reuniting never felt so good as the Broncos paired Lock and Okwuegbunam together again after the two played a hand in lighting up the SEC together in 2017 and 2018. The QB-TE duo combined for 17 touchdowns in those two seasons. He’ll compete for playing time in a loaded position room.
What can the Broncos expect from Okwuegbunam as a rookie? He’ll have a chance to come in and play in red-zone situations and on third down. The Broncos will use Noah Fant as their primary option in 11-personnel (1 RB, 1 TE) but you could see both Fant and Okwuegbunam on the field together when the team shifts to 12-personnel (1 RB, 2 TE).
Justin Strnad might be the biggest surprise defensively
As the Broncos embark on the final year of veteran inside linebacker Todd Davis’ contract, keep an eye on Justin Strnad emerging as a potential replacement in 2021. In the 5th round of the 2020 NFL draft, Denver selected Strnad from Wake Forest. Strnad stood out as an easy pick for the Broncos due to his level of explosiveness as a backer who possesses the ability to cover according to defensive coordinator Ed Donatell.
“The other thing, with Justin, you’re going to see the speed and explosion to the players that are in the coverage areas whether it be DBs or linebackers. He brings that coverage element and the adaptability to match up with some great offenses in our division.”
He was also a captain on defense for the Demon Deacons and stood out on film as a player who tracks guard pulls, reads quickly, and attacks downhill. This is something the Broncos will need once Davis decides to hang it up, or if the Broncos don’t extend his contract after this season.
Netane Muti has the potential to be a future piece on the line
In the 6th round of the 2020 NFL draft, the Broncos selected offensive guard Netane Muti from Fresno State. Muti is an exciting prospect who plays fast, physical, and instinctually aggressive. He was previously projected as a potential round one talent, but injuries impacted his overall draft stock. He suffered two Achilles injuries and a lisfranc injury that sidelined him a good portion of his collegiate career.
According to general manager John Elway, the Broncos had a round-three grade on him but Muti fell to Denver in round six. For Denver, he’ll be in the mix to be a depth player at the interior guard position, and potentially at left tackle. Muti played LT for Fresno State in the 2018 season before going down with one of his injuries.
With a clean bill of health ahead of 2020, Broncos fans can expect to see Muti play this preseason. How he plays in preseason action will provide the organization and fans with an understanding of what he could provide to the team going forward.
Tyrie Cleveland will be a critical developmental player
The Broncos entered the 7th round of the 2020 NFL draft with two selections. Their first would be Tyrie Cleveland, a wide receiver from Florida. Cleveland has a strong chance to make an impact for the Broncos in 2020, perhaps not right away on offense, but immediately on special teams.
Cleveland was a key role player for the Florida Gators and made the most of his opportunities in a talented and crowded WR room that featured players like Van Jefferson and Freddie Swain. He hauled in 25 receptions for 351 yards and 1 touchdown in 2019.
While the Broncos WR room is filled with youth and talent, Cleveland will have to fight and claw his way up the depth chart to see minutes on the field offensively. Many players get the chance to step on the field through special teams. I think Broncos fans can expect to see Cleveland take on a significant role being a special teams player at gunner on the punt team, and on kickoff.
Derrek Tuszka looking to establish a role on defense
To cap off the Broncos 2020 draft class, the team selected Derrek Tuszka out of North Dakota State. He’s an intriguing player for the Broncos ahead of 2020, and it’s unsure what his exact role will be. At North Dakota State, he played defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, for the Broncos he’ll either be a DE or a pass rusher.
Considering the Broncos depth at both positions right now, Tuszka may find himself in a similar role as his other 7th-round counterpart Cleveland. Historically, the Broncos defensive linemen that got on the field in 2019 started off as special teams guys. Malik Reed and Dre’Mont Jones both had primary roles on special teams and made consistent plays before getting on-field reps defensively.
It’s worth noting that Tuszka has the athletic potential to evolve into an effective pass rusher for Vic Fangio’s defensive scheme, but the journey will take some time unless he proves otherwise in training camp next month.
For the Broncos, having the opportunity to load up their depth with 10 picks will provide them with some immediate impact players and various developmental pieces for the future.