DENVER -- After four months of speculation, consternation, and nervous optimism, the Broncos are nearly on the clock. The first round of the NFL draft -- the most important of general manager John Elway's tenure -- arrives Thursday at 6 p.m. The Broncos own the fifth pick overall, needing a home run in the selection process to provide rocket fuel for the race back to respectability.
The options remain tremendous, but the challenge is daunting. The Broncos have not selected a Pro Bowler in the past five seasons, joining only the Colts and Bills. The Broncos boast promising players from those drafts, like Bradley Roby, Shane Ray, and Justin Simmons, but no stalwarts.
A miss at the fifth pick could be devastating.
Players at this spot, save for a quarterback, are expected to start and star. The idea of running back Saquon Barkley, defensive end Bradley Chubb and guard Quenton Nelson landing in Denver makes a U-turn from 5-11 seem more realistic. However, this team requires more than one player for this fix.
With the draft approaching, a look a potential scenarios emerging with slightly more clarity:
Take a quarterback: It exists as a realistic alternative. Elway admits he has first-round grades on four signal-callers. The Broncos expect to narrow the list to two with Elway set to break any ties: "That's my job." Nobody can say with certainty who the Broncos rank as their top two, though multiple sources believe it is Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold with Josh Allen third. The Broncos know the most about about Mayfield and Allen after coaching them in the Senior Bowl and hosting them on visits. If Mayfield is available at No. 5, I expect the Broncos to take him even with Case Keenum and Paxton Lynch on the depth chart. He is a polarizing figure, but teams that like him, love him. The issue? I don't see Mayfield slipping past the Jets at the third spot.
As for Darnold, I expect him to go first overall to Cleveland. So where does that leave Allen?
Mixed signals surround his connection to the Broncos. Allen is a quarterback straight ouf of central casting. He's 6-5, 237 pounds, with a breathtaking arm. Allen could benefit from a redshirt season behind Keenum given Allen's accuracy issues dating to high school. But Allen's flaws also mean it's no lock the Broncos take him. I am sure Vance Joseph is not advocating for a quarterback -- he needs to win and win early to secure his job. And he already has a starter in Keenum.
It becomes hard to predict this draft given the secrecy and mixed messages provided by GMs from Cleveland and the Giants, who hold the Nos. 1, 2 and 4 picks, respectively. Follow me, here. If Darnold goes first, I can see Barkley or Chubb going second, Mayfield third to the Jets, Barkley or Chubb to the Browns, leaving Allen's name blinking. That means....
--Let's Make a Deal: Trading out of the fifth pick cannot be dismissed. Elway insists he is open for business, and I believe him. One juicy scenario: Allen is on the board, but Arizona comes calling and offers Denver its 15th pick in exchange for the fifth overall, while giving the Broncos a second, and two thirds or perhaps even next year's first-rounder. Could Denver turn its back on that haul given the holes in its roster? I don't think so. The Buffalo Bills remain a potential trading partner if they cannot move up to No. 2 overall for a quarterback. And many mock drafts suggest they prefer Allen. In that scenario, Denver could land Buffalo's No. 12 and 22 picks in the first round, ripe for selecting a linebacker like Roquan Smith or Tremaine Edmunds, defensive tackle Vita Vea or cornerback Denzel Ward, if he falls, and offensive guard Will Hernandez.
--The last option is staying at five and not taking a quarterback. I know the Broncos have not spent time talking with Chubb, a star defensive end. And I realize he played in a 4-3 scheme at North Carolina State. Still, if he's on the board at No. 5, he remains a realistic option. He is a disruptive player. The Broncos' 3-4 scheme would demand tweaks to maximize Chubb's potential, but Denver needs impact rushers to avoid wasting the prime of Von Miller's career. Will Denver pass on a trade if Saquon Barkley and Quenton Nelson are on the board? I like both, but this is where trading back becomes a viable scenario. Teams in this draft love the value of second and third-round picks, so hoarding those selections cannot be ruled out.
This much is certain: the Broncos need a bonanza in this draft to rebound next season. Tick, tock. They are almost on the clock.