DENVER -- Mel Kiper Jr. boasts an encyclopedic knowledge of draft prospects.
On a Wednesday conference call with reporters, the ESPN analyst addressed projected first-round picks like Joe Burrow, late-round picks like Steven Montez and undrafted free agents with equal aplomb. He lives and breathes this process year-round. With the draft eight days away, I asked Kiper a hypothetical question on the minds of many Broncos' fans: If Alabama wide receiver Henry Ruggs III and Georgia left tackle Andrew Thomas are on the board at 15, who would he select?
"I think they would be better off taking a tackle first and a receiver in the second round," Kiper said.
The reason for Kiper centered on depth. This is considered the best receiving class since 2003. And Kiper believes the left tackle class is a little overrated. So, he explained, he would take Thomas (pictured), a road grader at Georgia as a four-year starter. The drop off becomes risky when weighing the second-round tackles available compared to the second-round receivers.
I respectfully disagree with Kiper on receiver in the first. Or a specific one. I have said repeatedly that if Ruggs is available, I'd take him. The Broncos desperately need more speed offensively. Ruggs is a blur (4.29 40-yard dash) who can run the entire route tree, opening up the field and forcing defenses to make difficult decisions on how to cover Courtland Sutton and tight end Noah Fant.
Interestingly, Kiper believes another receiver could be in play at 15.
"(LSU's) Justin Jefferson has moved up into that group. Ruggs or Jefferson," he said.
Let's say the Broncos take one of those players, what does that leave at tackle in the second round? Kiper, who thinks Thomas could be available at 15, listed Boise State's Ezra Cleveland, a player the Broncos have interest in, and Ben Bartch of Saint John's in Minnesota.
Cleveland makes sense. He has sound technique and could be a functional swing tackle from Day One, while possibly moving into a starting role in 2021. Remember, the Broncos have Mike Munchak as their line boss. He has a history of coaching guys up, so taking a raw prospect cannot be dismissed either.
If the Broncos go tackle in the first round, the options at receiver are more plentiful in the second.
The names Kiper rattled off were Texas' Devin Duvernay, TCU's Jalen Reagor, USC's Michael Pittman, Notre Dame's Chase Claypool and Penn State's K.J. Hamler. I would add Colorado's LaViska Shenault as well because of Denver's familiarity with him. But the injury concerns are real. He missed time in college, and underwent core muscle surgery after the combine. The Broncos shied away from players with injury issues in trades and free agency this offseason after suffering through the ghost years from Bryce Callahan (foot) and Ja'Wuan James (knee).
Reagor profiles well among the receivers. He is a burner. However, he has been moving up boards in recent weeks. He might go in the late first round. Duvernay owns a 4.39 40, but looks more like a running back than a receiver at times, meaning he could need time to polish his route running.
The beauty of the draft is how differently teams view players. It makes the process unpredictable, if not fascinating. The Broncos have enjoyed a strong offseason and have five picks in the first 100. For a team looking to snap a four-year playoff drought, finding three starters among that group remains critical.