At this juncture in the pre-draft process, you can glean a little insight into a team’s thinking by perusing its prospect visits list.
Who they meet with at annual events such as the East-West Shrine Game, Senior Bowl, Scouting Combine and Pro Days displays a clear positional pattern and may suggest which way they’re leaning.
In the Broncos’ case, they seem to be targeting a pass-rusher. According to WalterFootball.com, Denver interviewed four outside linebackers during last week’s Senior Bowl: Louisiana Tech’s Jaylon Ferguson, Mississippi State’s Gerri Green, Northern Illinois’ Sutton Smith, and Notre Dame’s Drue Tranquill.
This, in addition to Brigham Young’s Sione Takitaki, whom they spoke with at the Shrine Game.
Smith and Tranquill are the best of the bunch, both projected as possible day-two picks. The former is a two-time (2017, 2018) consensus All-American and first-team All-MAC selection who notched 139 total tackles, 58.5 tackles for loss, 30 sacks and seven forced fumbles across three seasons for the Huskies.
Smith (6-0, 235), a defensive end convert, led college football with 15.0 sacks in 2018 en route to MAC Defensive Player of the Year honors.
The Draft Analyst’s Tony Pauline, a respected NFL evaluator, classified Smith as a fast riser up his big board.
“Smith was a player I spoke highly of during our NIU scouting preview last June, as he’s an omnipresent force on film,” Pauline wrote. “Despite size limitations (six feet, 235 pounds), he is constantly disrupting the opponent’s game plan, making plays behind the line of scrimmage and forcing the action. His stats this season include 16 tackles for loss, nine sacks, seven hurries and four forced fumbles. During the loss to Miami-Ohio last week he posted three tackles, one tackle for loss and two hurries. Smith is likely a mid-round pick when he enters the draft, and a creative defensive coordinator will find ways to maximize his talents.”
The Broncos are set for the next half-decade at OLB with Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, the wrecking ball duo who combined for 26.5 sacks this season. But depth is an issue with Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett scheduled to reach unrestricted free agency. Ray won’t return while Barrett is intent on landing a starting job.
Jeff Holland, a 2018 undrafted free agent, is tentatively penciled in as the direct backup to Miller and Chubb.
Expect Denver to nab an edge defender in the draft, giving new head coach/defensive play-caller Vic Fangio — who cut his teeth coaching OLBs — a shiny, new toy to build around.
“That’s my position of expertise when I’m coaching a position, and those guys are going to get coached by their position coach, but they’re going to get a little extra from me too,” Fangio said during his introductory presser.