DENVER -- The risk remains real because of his age and inexperience, but the talent tempts even the most conservative general managers.
Trey Lance held his second Pro Day on Monday in Fargo, N.D. It seemed more like a personal practice for the 49ers with their fingerprints all over the workout. Lance teamed with QB coach John Beck to design drills to showcase skills required in coach Kyle Shanahan's offense. Can Lance do enough to override his lack of experience to convince the 49ers to take him at No. 3 over the more accurate and older Mac Jones?
If they do take Lance, it shows belief in Jimmy Garoppolo for one more season as Lance redshirts. Lance turns 21 on May 9. He ran the wishbone in high school and has 17 starts in his college career and one in 15 months. He can benefit from seasoning, learning the pro game without the pressure of performing as a rookie. Remember, Patrick Mahomes started only one game in his first year, the meaningless finale opposite of Paxton Lynch.
The reasoning that applies to San Francisco and Lance also fits well with the Broncos, though with slightly different circumstances. In his first draft as a general manager, I would be surprised if George Paton surrenders draft capital to move to fourth overall. That will likely involve surrendering multiple first-round picks, and a second and a third or fourth.
However, trading to seventh or eighth if Justin Fields, Lance and Jones are on the board would likely only only cost a third this season and a second and third in 2022. Something along those lines. I fully expect Denver to remain nimble and prepared to move to seventh if quarterbacks go in the first three picks. The Broncos have done their due dilligence, attending both Pro Days for Fields and Lance (offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur was at the second workouts).
That represents a reasonable risk if the quarterback Denver covets is available, and it would prevent the Patriots, Bears and Washington from snatching him up.
My Denver7 Mock 1.0 Top 10 is written on Etch-A-Sketch. However, it remains a fun exercise, and it does nothing to dissuade the idea that the Broncos will remain versatile in their quarterback pursuit:
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson, 6-5, 213
Easy choice. Joins John Elway and Andrew Luck as best college quarterback prospects I have seen in my lifetime. Elite talent. Elite IQ. Can work from pocket, extend plays, throw down field and does not shy from the big moments. Future All-Pro.
2. New York Jets: QB Zach Wilson, BYU, 6-2, 214
Ascending player after breathtaking jump in performance from 2019 to 2020. Shows shades of Jake Plummer with his swagger and mobility. Will likely need to improve discipline in pocket to reach potential and stay healthy with his build. Jets must add receiver help to give Wilson a fair chance to develop into a star.
3. San Francisco 49ers: QB Mac Jones, Alabama, 6-3, 217
In one season as starter Jones posted a Joe Burrow-type legendary season and won the national title. Encyclopediac knowledge of offense. Accurate passer, quick decision maker. Limited athletic talent – he’s not mobile – make some believe that 49ers’ interest is a smokescreen. Jones is considered a mid-to-late first round prospect. I like the player, but don’t see him as a star. I am not yet accepting it as fact the Niners take him. But a lot of people I trust have him as the favorite. The last time QBs went 1-2-3 in draft was Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, Akili Smith in 1999.
4. Atlanta Falcons: TE Kyle Pitts, Florida, 6-5, 245
Pitts became Darren Waller in college, blending speed and breathtaking athleticism. He is open when covered, and has a huge catch radius. He is plaid on stripes – a walking mismatch for safeties and linebackers. Tight ends are not drafted this high, but if there was ever a reason to make an exception Pitts is it. The issue here is simple: Will Atlanta trade out to acquire more picks? If they do, it could spoil Denver's plans to land a QB.
5. Cincinnati Bengals: LT Penei Sewell, Oregon, 6-4, 331
Reuniting Joe Burrow with LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase is tempting, but the Bengals need to keep Burrow upright after he tore his ACL last season. Sewell is a mountain of a man with good balance on blocks and mobility in space. He brings question marks after opting out. He projects as first day starter with Pro Bowl potential.
6. Miami Dolphins: WR Ja’Marr Chase, LSU, 6-0, 211
Every scout I talk to about receivers in the draft say it's Chase and everyone else. He features entire package. Fast, strong, smart. He can accelerate from defenders and finish plays.
7. Denver Broncos: QB Justin Fields, Ohio State, 6-2, 227
Trading up for a quarterback represents a huge risk for a roster that features multiple needs. This deal can be made, I believe, by surrendering a third this year and a second and a third in 2022. It stings, but not like losing a first rounder does. With Fields on the board, the decision is to whether take Fields over Lance or LB Micah Parsons. I give Fields the slight edge. Fields is a passing quarterback who can run. He is an elite competitor with toughness. Along with Lance, Fields has highest upside of any QB in draft if he can develop consistent field vision. He could push Drew Lock for the job or take over during the season. There are a lot of options available with Fields this year and several years to come.
8. Carolina Panthers: RT Rashawn Slater, Northwestern, 6-4, 304
The Panthers landed their quarterback in Sam Darnold, freeing them to address a leaky offensive line. For some, Slater is the best tackle in draft. For others, he is a better fit at guard or center in the NFL. With Lance on the board, the Panthers could take a QB or act like they will to get a haul of picks from the Patriots, Bears or Washington.
9. Detroit Lions: WR Jaylen Waddle, Alabama, 5-10, 182
Waddle makes plays others don't or can't. And maybe it's that simple with him. He is a playmaker and would give Jared Goff a chance to gain traction in his first season with the Lions.
10. Dallas Cowboys: CB Patrick Surtain II, Alabama, 6-2, 208
The Cowboys defense stunk last season. Surtain is the most technically sound corner in the draft. He might not have the upside of others, but he sure looks like a Day One starter.