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NFL Draft: Denver Broncos Recap

Denver’s draft haul has to start with the addition of former Pro Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson. The Broncos gave up their first-, second-and fifth-round picks to acquire Wilson from Seattle.

The Denver Broncos didn’t make their first selection in the 2022 NFL Draft until the end of the second round.

NFL Draft: Denver Broncos Recap
Scott Taetsch/Getty Images/AFP

If not for the selections acquired when the Broncos dealt pass rusher Von Miller to the Rams, Denver’s first selection would have come in the third round.

Four of Denver’s first five picks came on defense while the Broncos moved down twice in the third round to acquire more selections.

The Broncos’ first three selections of Oklahoma linebacker Nik Bonitto, UCLA tight end Greg Dulcich, and Pittsburgh cornerback Damarri Mathis received positive grades from many draft analysts. Some of the later picks were not as fortunate. Two receivers and two tight ends were among the 13 undrafted rookie free agents signed by the Broncos.

Denver (+250) has the third-best odds to win the AFC West Division title.

Here’s a pick-by-pick look at how the Broncos drafted.

  • Pick 64 Nik Bonitto | LB, Oklahoma Sooners

Bonitto didn’t receive as much pre-draft buzz as some of the outside linebackers but he was expected to go in the first couple of rounds. The 240-pound Florida native was productive at Oklahoma with 32 tackles for loss and 18½ sacks over the last three seasons.

He had six tackles for loss and two sacks in his last three games including two contests against Top-10 ranked teams. Bonitto didn’t play in Oklahoma’s bowl game.

Bonitto had a strong showing at the NFL Scouting Combine with a 10-foot broad jump, 35.5-inch vertical leap, and a time of 4.54 in the 40. Nobody is expecting him to be the second coming of Miller but if he can add some pressure from the linebacker position and that is what the Broncos are looking for.

With Noah Fant heading to Seattle in the Wilson trade, the Broncos addressed the position in the third round. Dulcich was second on UCLA with 42 catches and 725 receiving yards while his 17.3 yards per reception was the top mark for the Bruins.

After not being utilized much in his first two seasons, Dulcich had 68 catches in 19 games during the 2020 and 2021 campaigns. He went from playing at 210 pounds as a freshman to 250 as a senior.

Dulcich is a former walk-on who put the work in to make himself an NFL prospect. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.69 seconds and had a 34-inch vertical leap at the NFL Scouting Combine so that was enough for the Broncos who took a tight end in the first five rounds in four of the last five NFL drafts.

Greg Dulcich | Justin Casterline/Getty Images/AFP

Mathis got plenty of action over his last two seasons as he had four interceptions and 16 pass breakups over his last 25 games.

Mathis helped himself by running the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine. The scouting reports on Mathis didn’t view him as a sub 4.4 guy in the 40 although playing in the ACC, he had plenty of chance to show his coverage ability.

He is considered a pretty solid tackler. Denver used four picks on defensive backs in 2021 including No. 9 overall on Patrick Surtain Jr.. Denver also spent a top-100 selection on Michael Ojemudia in 2020 so Mathis will be joining a loaded cornerback position with the Broncos.

With Davante Adams now in the division along with the Patrick Mahomes-led Kansas City passing offense to go along with Justin Herbert of the Los Angeles Chargers, the Broncos can’t have enough players with coverage ability on the roster.

Denver continues to add to its defensive unit with the 6-foot-6, 320-pound Eyioma Uwazurike.

After recording six sacks in his first four collegiate seasons, Uwazurike had nine during the 2021 season including 2½ in a win over Texas.

Uwazurike played a variety of positions on the defensive line for the Cyclones and it will be interesting to see where he lines up for the Broncos.

Eyioma Uwazurike | USA Today

The Broncos went with a Big 12 defender for the third time in the first five selections. Not as tall as some of the other safety prospects in the draft. He had 179 tackles over the last three seasons and showed off his ball skills with three interceptions as a senior.

Delarrin Turner-Yell had a chance to work out in front of scouts at the Senior Bowl and the combine. Denver saw enough to view him as a player who might be able to offer some depth at the safety position.

The 5-foot-10 Montrell Washington had nine touchdown catches, six scoring runs and scored three more times on either punt or kickoff returns at Samford in 2021.

Washington should be able to make an impact on special teams. He could be more of a developmental prospect as a receiver since he wasn’t utilized as the go-to option until his final season at Samford.

Seeing an offensive lineman selected should make Wilson happy. Wattenberg started five times at left tackle earlier in his career before moving to guard and eventually center. He made five starts at tackle, 27 at guard, and 16 at center at Washington. That versatility should serve him well at the next level.

Not the most touted of the later-round options on the offensive line but he’ll have a chance to prove he belongs in the NFL for the Broncos. Denver used top-100 picks to take interior offensive linemen in the last two drafts so there will be plenty of competition for Wattenberg.

Luke Wattenberg | Steph Chambers/Getty Images/AFP

Apparently, the Denver scouting staff loves former walk-ons who have worked their way into key positions for top college programs.

Henningsen started 10 games during the 2019 season but was limited to two contests in 2020 due to injury. He saved his best for last as he started 13 times in 2021 for a Wisconsin team that led the country in total defense in 2021.

With 9½ sacks in 42 career games, Matt Henningsen doesn’t offer a ton of upside as a pass rusher. When it comes to the intangibles, he was a 4.0 student at Wisconsin and a candidate for the Campbell Trophy which is often referred to as the Academic Heisman.

The Broncos double-dipped on former Wisconsin defenders.

Faion Hicks had more than 100 career tackles while nine of his 17 career pass breakups came during the 2021 season. His lone interception for the Badgers came during his freshman season.

Hicks had an impressive showing at Wisconsin’s pro day with a time of 4.37 seconds in the 40-yard dash, a 37½-inch vertical jump and solid efforts in the short shuttle and 3-cone drill.

Denver took a chance on his athleticism helping him to make an impact at the NFL level.

Grading the draft

Time will tell if the Denver Broncos overpaid to acquire Wilson. The deal cost Denver three draft picks this year including a first- and second-rounder. If not for the Von Miller trade, it would have been a very quiet first two days in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Denver worked on improving its defense with its early selections. That was an interesting way to proceed since the Broncos ranked eighth in the NFL in total defense in 2021.

It wasn’t until the Broncos made their sixth draft selection that they added a receiver. It could be an adjustment for Wilson who got to throw to Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf in Seattle and the Denver receiving corps isn’t at that level. It won’t help that Jerry Jeudy, Denver’s fourth-leading receiver in 2021, was arrested on Wednesday. Let’s check the Super Bowl odds.

Grade: B (for picks), B+ when the acquisition of Wilson is included.

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