DENVER — As Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur talked with Ohio State coach Ryan Day on Wednesday, my mind wandered. What would it be like if Denver landed quarterback Justin Fields in the first round?
Fields began the college season as the second rated quarterback behind Trevor Lawrence. If he becomes the fourth or fifth off the board, his upside and talent would intersect with tremendous value with the ninth pick.
And perhaps that is the only scenario the Broncos land Fields, North Dakota State star Trey Lance or Alabama's Mac Jones, the favorite to go third to San Francisco. The Broncos are expected to have a presence at Lance's second Pro Day on Monday, according to a source, though not GM George Paton as he leads meetings to set the draft board.
Scenarios exist — and it remains painful to consider for Broncos Country when looking at the quarterbacks in the AFC West with Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Derek Carr — that Denver does not take a QB in the first round.
For this exercise, let's consider the options if they remain at ninth overall or trade back.
Staying at Nine is Fine
So, quarterbacks go in the first three picks for the first time since 1999 with Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb and Akili Smith. Then, the Lions take Lance and the Patriots trade with Carolina to land Fields with the eighth selection. In this scenario, the Broncos have two options: take the best defensive player on the board or select a right tackle.
For me, Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons represents the premier defender. He stands 6-3 and weighs 246. He is capable of rushing the passer from the outside and playing inside as a run stuffer. He also is qualified in coverage. How? Well, what makes Parsons unique is his blend of size and speed. He runs a 4.36 40-yard dash. That doesn't mean he will match up well with Travis Kelce and Darren Waller from jump, especially since he played primarily zone in college. But he has the ability to blanket in space.
If not Parsons, cornerback Patrick Surtain II makes sense at nine. This pick could be rationalized even with the offseason signings of Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller. Fuller is on a one-year deal, and Bryce Callahan is in the last season of his contract. So Surtain could play in subpackages as a rookie then take over on the outside in year two.
The other option? Offensive tackle.
Penei Sewell and Rashawn Slater could be available. For Sewell, it would be a surprising drop since many mocks believe the Bengals will scoop him up with the fifth pick. He is a mammoth of a man at 6-4, 331 pounds. He opted out last season, but in 2019 showed burst, power and balance to suggest he could help anchor an NFL line.
The Broncos have a right tackle in Ja'Wuan James. However, he has only played 63 snaps in two years, and this could be his last season in Denver. To some talent evaluators, Slater is the top tackle in the draft. He is physical, smart and technically sound.
Move, get out of the way
Looking at the Vikings' draft history while George Paton was there, it's not a stretch to think the Broncos could move back in the first round. The Vikings collected picks, believing more quantity helped produce quality.
The reason for moving back would be simple: there are no quarterbacks left or no one the Broncos love, and they can fill multiple needs through a deal. Say the Patriots want to draft Justin Fields. They acquire the Broncos' ninth pick for their 15th and 46th selections. In this scenario, the Broncos could land an edge rusher, someone like Miami's Jaelan Phillips, Michigan's Kwity Paye or the Hurricanes' Gregory Rousseau.
Phillips was once the top high school recruit in the nation, signing with UCLA. Concussions derailed his career, leading him to briefly focus on a music career before transferring to Miami. He is long, smooth and athletic, but the medicals will determine if the Broncos take a chance. Paye is built like Von Miller. He is powerful and strong, but underdeveloped as a pass rusher. His 11.5 sacks in four seasons make him a projected player, not a finished product.
Rousseau opted out last season. In 2019, he showed natural pass rushing skills, netting 15.5 sacks. He has put on weight during his absence, reaching 266 pounds. He feels like a high-risk, high-reward choice.
Adding the Patriots' 46th pick to their own 40th selection, the Broncos have options. Perhaps they land University of Central Florida safety Richie Grant — he brings speed and ballhawking skills with 10 career picks — and North Carolina running back Javonte Williams. Williams is a fire hydrant with legs, powerful and difficult to bring down. He also caught 50 passes in his final three seasons, showing the type of versatility needed to play on third down.
Listen, quarterbacks will remain the topic until they are not. That is the nature of the draft. However, the Broncos remain open to all options — Fields, Lance, Jones — but must be at least prepared to move forward without one.