DENVER — John Elway began Day 1 of the NFL Draft with two strategies.
According to league sources, one, involved staying put with the Broncos' No. 15 overall pick should receivers Jerry Jeudy or CeeDee Lamb remain available. The other involved Jeudy and Lamb getting selected before No. 15. Had that happened -- and many if not most mocks had Jeudy and Lamb going before No. 15 -- the Broncos' adjustment would have been to trade back a few spots with sights set on snagging either linebackers Patrick Queen or Kenneth Murray. In that order. And pick up a receiver Friday in the second round or third rounds.
Elway did not want to trade up from No. 15 and sacrifice draft picks because he wanted to save them as bait to move either back into the first round or get another pick in the second.
As it turned out, Elway's patience was rewarded.
The Broncos were pleasantly surprised their top-rated receiver, Alabama’s Jeudy, was still available by the time they were on the clock with their No. 15 overall pick.
“It was probably less than 50 percent,'' Elway said in a Zoom press conference. "I think that when you look at it he was there a couple of times. We really kind of worked off our mocks with him not being there, and in the situation, he wasn't there, which direction would we go. It was a lot less than 50 percent and that's why when he was there, we were thrilled that he was there.”
The Broncos took Jeudy, who should in short order should go into the starting lineup opposite Courtland Sutton at the two receiver positions. Second-year quarterback Drew Lock will now have tight end Noah Fant, a first-round pick a year ago, running back Melvin Gordon, a first-round pick with the Chargers in 2015, Sutton, a second-round pick by the Broncos in 2018, and Jeudy as his primary targets.
There is also running back Phillip Lindsay, who was undrafted two years ago but is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
"I don't really know too much about the Broncos,'' Jeudy said. "I just want to thank the coaching staff and the organization for believing in me and putting their trust into me to go out there and be part of the locker room.
I feel like I'm a first-round receiver because I've got the ability to separate.''
Jeudy celebrated by arranging for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to join him in a Tiktok social media video dance. Jeudy showed the rhythm befitting the second receiver taken in the NFL draft; Goodell showed the moves of someone who was not drafted.
More than Jeudy’s 4.45-second/40 speed is, as he said, his ability to separate from coverage. In his sophomore and junior seasons for the Crimson Tide with 68 and 77 catches for 1,315 and 1,163 yards and 14 and 10 touchdowns. He turns 21 on Friday.
He became available when the receiver-needy New York Jets at No. 11 took offensive tackle Mekhi Becton, the Raiders at No. 12 took speedy receiver Henry Ruggs III and the San Francisco 49ers, who moved back one spot to No. 14, took defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw. The move was made even though Elway said Kinlaw was not in their plans. (Defensive tackle was down on the priority list after the team last month acquired 5-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jurrell Casey from Tennessee).
That left both Jeudy and Lamb available for the Broncos. Jeudy was the choice in part because Lamb is similar to Sutton in style. Lamb went two spots later to Dallas at No. 17.
"I expected to go a little bit higher but at the same time every year the draft is crazy,'' Jeudy said. "You never know what's going to happen with the draft.''
The Broncos went into their offseason stating a need to bolster their offense as their 17.6 points per game average last season ranked 28th in the 32-team NFL -- a long way from the AFC West dominant Kansas City Chiefs, who are the defending Super Bowl champs largely because of quarterback Patrick Mahomes II and their explosive offense.
"Correction, we only scored 9 points (in two games) against the Chiefs,'' Broncos head coach Vic Fangio deadpanned in a Zoom interview with 9NEWS after the draft Friday.
Day 1 almost added a second player for the Broncos. They were trying to make a trade back in toward the end of the first round to nab Queen. The LSU star went instead to Baltimore at No. 28 where defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has coveted speedy linebackers.
It's the second year in a row the Broncos almost took an inside linebacker in the first round. They nearly took Devin Bush at No. 10 last year before making a trade back that eventually netted Fant and Lock.
In Day 2 of the NFL Draft on Friday, the Broncos have a one pick in the second round, No. 46 overall, and three in the third round -- No. 77, 83 and 95 overall. They are expected to seek a cornerback and center. Inside linebacker?
Maybe. Or maybe they'll try again next year. Jeudy was too good to pass up.
"The more weapons an offense has whether it be multiple receivers, a tight end, running backs, a quarterback that is a good quarterback and moves too—the more of those that you have to defend, the harder it is on a defense,'' Fangio said. "We’re looking to make our offense a little bit more stressful for people to defend.”
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