Broncos could turn the 2024 NFL draft on its head with a bold QB move


As we’ve learned, Sean Payton can sometimes be quite direct in getting his point across.

Intentionally or not, it may not be the right time.

Payton is a coach in a tight spot without a quarterback, or at least without a proven quarterback, as Jarrett Stidham (cool name, four NFL starts) takes the QB1 spot on the Denver Broncos depth chart after Russell Wilson was sent to the curb stepped.

How Payton, with the 12 in his hande overall pick right now, playing his hand is one of the most intriguing subplots of the NFL draft.

Is it a given that the Broncos will take a quarterback in the 12?e slot?

“Should we draft a quarterback? You’d say, ‘Man, it looks like we need to draft a quarterback,'” Payton said Thursday during a pre-draft press conference. “And yet it has to be the right fit and the right thing. If we had the tips on who everyone else was taking, it would be easier to answer that question. That’s the puzzle here.”

Sure, it’s that time of year. But that was certainly not a classic smokescreen. The truth is shrouded in what-ifs and fluid events that can quickly turn a fake design around. The quarterback Payton might end up with in the draft — he knows, we don’t, whether that prospect is Michigan’s JJ McCarthy — might not be available at No. 12.

Not with the Minnesota Vikings, who pick elevene, also in the hunt for a quarterback. And right behind Denver, with the 13e choice, is the Las Vegas Raiders. They too must strengthen their position.

In other words, given the way NFL teams tend to fall over themselves in pursuit of franchise quarterbacks, it’s a good bet that today’s draft order will be on or before the first round on Thursday night shaken.

If the top three quarterbacks – USC’s Caleb Williams, LSU’s Jayden Daniels and North Carolina’s Drake Maye – are drafted accordingly with the top three picks, the battle for McCarthy could intensify. And without a lot of draft capital (think the upside Wilson got in the trade and the compensation for Payton) the Broncos could have a hard time getting into that mix. Or so it seems.

George Paton, the Broncos general manager who traded away two first-round picks as part of the blockbuster deal to land Wilson in 2022, did not dismiss the idea of ​​negotiating with future first-round picks.

“If it’s a player that you think can change the landscape of your organization in the future, like a quarterback, then you do everything you can to get him,” Paton said.

Of course, that was Wilson’s thinking — the year before Payton arrived in 2023 — and now the Broncos are paying the now Steelers quarterback $85 million over the next two years.

“If there’s a consensus in the building, a love in the building, you’re aggressive and you try to get him. It doesn’t mean you’re going to get it, but you’re trying. So we are open to everything. We are wide open.”

Let the gamesmanship continue.

But what if Payton Michael Penix Jr. from Washington or Bo Nix from Oregon as a quarterback he can win with? Going even deeper, South Carolina’s Spencer Rattler could be in the mix.

After all, Paton said there are seven or eight quarterbacks in this draft class that the Broncos think can play in the NFL. The GM hasn’t stated that they all project as All-Pro players, but sometimes (hello, Tom Brady) you never know how these things will turn out.

History is awash with examples of lower-rated quarterbacks in the draft turning out to be gems. Or highly rated prospects who turn out to be questionable, or outright failures.

In 2018, Lamar Jackson was the fifth quarterback drafted (32NL overall) and now he is a two-time NFL MVP. In 2021, five quarterbacks were selected within the top 15 picks and just three years later, only No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence is positioned as the projected cornerstone.

And Payton can tell you all about the 2017 draft, when he and GM Mickey Loomis were working to move up to the 10 as coaches of the New Orleans Saintse slot to draft Patrick Mahomes, but was defeated by Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs, who executed their own plan to move up for the quarterback who has emerged as the NFL’s best. And hey, the record still shows that the Chicago Bears used the second pick in the draft on Mitchell Trubisky that year.

No, you can’t use AI to draft a quarterback. That’s why Payton can still get away with a promising quarterback if he doesn’t draft him in the first round. After all, he is the expert who sees and feels things in the evaluations that can make a big difference.

That he has a crying need to shore up his QB room isn’t a smokescreen. And this was a recurring theme long before Payton came to town. In the eight years since Peyton Manning retired, the Broncos have started a dozen different quarterbacks, including first-round flop Paxton Lynch and second-round picks Brock Osweiler and Drew Lock.

It was interesting to hear Payton share some of the evaluation process and how he gets insight into the quarterbacks’ ability to learn and retain. Of course, no two coaches and GMs do it exactly the same, which would also be a factor in the range of hits and misses for draft picks. Yet it is a crucial part of the evaluation, given the complexity the role entails, especially at the highest level.

“It’s funny, when we bring in some of these guys or when we go to the schools to visit, we always end up saying, ‘Hey, if we bring you, make your best play.’ The piece must come with you; you just love this piece,'” Payton said. “They’ll draw it up and I’ll say, ‘Well, what do you call it?’

“I’m always fascinated by their terminology because they often signal that there is slack. That’s the one thing that’s hard to predict when watching movies.”

But probably not as difficult as it is to predict what some teams will do to find a quarterback in the draft.