DENVER — Since Peyton Manning retired, it changed how Broncos fans discuss the quarterback position. For four seasons, the mention of Manning followed with a reciting of wins, personal records and breathtaking moments. In the five seasons after his retirement, the topic centers on losses — 32-48 record compared to 45-12 for Manning — ugly milestones and depressing statistics.
The Broncos have started 10 quarterbacks since Manning, counting Phillip Lindsay in the wildcat against the Saints, and two boast winning records: Trevor Siemian (13-11) and Brett Rypien (1-0).
As such, with the draft three-plus weeks away, talk continues to swirl about the Broncos taking a quarterback with the ninth overall pick. I am not sure the Broncos will trade up for a prospect given the multiple needs on the roster, but if Justin Fields remains on the board I can't see Denver passing on him.
That said, what if all the quarterbacks are snatched up in the top eight picks — a realistic possibility if the 49ers take Mac Jones third but no longer a lock with the Carolina trading for the Jets Sam Darnold.
Does this mean the Broncos can get a QB at nine or will they look elsewhere and look to add someone like Carolina's Teddy Bridgewater as veteran competition? Bridgewater is fantastic character guy, and Broncos general manager George Paton knows him well from their time together in Minnesota. Statistically, however, he was Case Keenum last season — 15 TDs and 11 interceptions — leaving little upside in my opinion. Plus, the Broncos have not been interested to this point, in part, because Bridgewater is due a $17 million salary in 2021.
So will they trade for Gardner Minshew, with 37 TDs and 11 picks in career; Nick Foles, a true backup at this point; or sign Alex Smith, a mentor who, like Minshew, could beat out Drew Lock. A lot of possibilities.
For this exercise today, let's say Broncos don't go quarterback with the ninth overall pick. What are the options?
While it would sting for some to see the Broncos miss on a signal-caller, there will be a consolation prize. If five occupy the top eight draft slots — a team could trade with Carolina now for the eighth selection — there will be several highly ranked position players available much later than expected given their draft grade.
As we continue to march toward the Broncos being on the clock, let's look at some non-quarterback options at nine:
LB Micah Parsons, Penn State, 6-3, 246
Parsons brings unique athleticism. He ran a 4.39 40 at his pro day. He can range sideline-to-sideline, making him a three-down backer. He can rush the passer from the edge given his size. There is the question of what position fits him best. Sometimes a hybrid player can become a position-less player. Parsons would fit in coach Vic Fangio's defense as a run stuffer, rusher and in certain coverages.
The Broncos have two linebackers they like — Josey Jewell moved to the top of the food chain ahead of Alexander Johnson last season — but don't complement each other ideally. Parsons must be vetted after dealing with an off-field hazing issue in college. Would that prevent the Broncos from taking him at nine? I don't think so. But until they turn in the card, we will not know.
CB Patrick Surtain II, Alabama, 6-2, 208
The son of a former NFL standout, Surtain II is a technician. Few corners leave college this polished. He projects as a day one starter, though that would not be necessary in Denver if Ronald Darby, Kyle Fuller and Bryce Callahan are healthy. Fuller and Callahan are on one-year deals, so adding a corner remains possible, though trading back to 15 or so, taking CB Jaycee Horn and picking up a second round pick makes more sense.
LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame, 6-1, 221
Owusu-Koramoah brings energy, explosiveness and physicality. This guy likes to hit, even doing it on special teams when asked. At No. 9, he still feels like a reach. Getting Owusu-Koramoah fits better if the Broncos trade back. Finding a partner is the key and difficult if all the quarterbacks are gone.
Owusu-Koramoah aims to become the first Notre Dame off ball linebacker taken in the first round since 1982. He is a former safety who became a linebacker. He fits the NFL mold of a player big enough to tackle and fast enough to cover in short space in man coverage.
OT Penei Sewell, Oregon, 6-4, 331
Sewell should not be there with the ninth pick. But with the anticipated Black Friday run on quarterbacks, he might be if the Cincinnati Bengals take LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase fifth overall. Sewell is huge, athletic and strong, bench pressing 225 pounds 30 times at his pro day. He has some technique issues, but nothing that should prevent him from anchoring an offensive line.
The Broncos have a right tackle in Ja'Wuan James. However, he has played 63 snaps in two seasons — he opted out last year due to COVID-19 concerns — and the team is not sure of what condition he will be in when he returns for the offseason program. Starting left guard Dalton Risner told Denver7 that James is excited to return. But it represents an unknown until he practices.
OT Rashawn Slater, Northwestern, 6-4, 304
Not everyone thinks Sewell is the top tackle in the draft. Slater continues to receive buzz as a top 10 pick. He is strong and smart, showing good feet and recovery skills in pass protection. His arms are short for an NFL tackle, but he is a contender for the ninth pick. Which raises the question: Would Paton's former team, Minnesota, trade up to take him, allowing Paton to move to 14 and take Parsons or Miami edge rusher Gregory Rouseeau and add another pick for a safety or running back?
TE Kyle Pitts, Florida, 6-6, 246
Kyle Pitts looked like Darren Waller in college the past two seasons. He could look like Waller in the NFL. He is an absolute game changer, a matchup nightmare. The Broncos have Noah Fant and Albert Okwuegbunam, who's returning from a torn ACL.
They don't need a tight end. But if Pitts is on the board — that means quarterbacks and corners go early in the draft — you take him. He's that good.
DE Kwity Paye, Michigan, 6-2, 261
Paye is an upside bet based on his physical skills. He is freakishly stronger and runs a 4.52 40. The idea is that he hasn't played his best football. The concern is the lacking production in college — 11.5 career sacks in 28 games.