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Nick Kendell's 2017 Broncos Draft Big Board: Top-10 Prospects

Draft analyst Nick Kendell reveals the top-10 players on his big board for the 2017 NFL Draft that would fit with the Broncos. He will release the next 10 in the coming days.

The 2017 NFL Draft is currently less than 120 days away, but who's counting anyway? With the Denver Broncos having played their last ‘meaningful’ game of the 2016 seasons, now is as good as of a time as ever to start looking ahead to the chaos and promises that unfold every April during the NFL Draft.

For many, the NFL Draft is a long ways off yet, NFL teams are still playing meaningful games and we are miles away from free agency, but those in Draft community, things are really starting to heat up. With the College Football Playoffs and other big bowl games looming and the senior bowl and Combine, the Draft landscape is starting to reveal itself.

While these events will obviously cause many players' draft stock to change leading up to April, the top of the Draft talents are becoming more apparent by the day and teams and fans alike are starting to get acquainted with potential fits for their first round pick. GM John Elway and the Broncos are no different. With this week’s tilt against Oakland looking more like a game played in August than the last regular season game of the season, the minds in Dove Valley are meticulously watching tape, taking notes, and evaluating draft prospects.

During evaluation, the Broncos brain trust will create what is known as a ‘big board’, which lists the prospects they value in order, based on talent, value of position, and roster need of position.

While some positions will likely be pushed up the board — due to need —such as offensive tackle and tight end, others will be pushed down due to a surplus of talent, such as edge rusher and cornerback, the Broncos’ big board will look different than other teams' throughout the league.

In an effort to shape the Draft for our readers, and a fun exercise, Mile High Huddle is diving head first into the offseason with our Denver Bronco Big Board 1.0. First, guys who might not be there but are worth mentioning; the top-10 players on the board.

1. Myles Garrett, Edge Rusher, Texas A&M Aggies

Myles Garrett is undoubtedly the top prospect in this upcoming draft class. Garrett has incredible tools, including insane speed and power for his size, and a good motor. He still is raw in his pass-rush skills because he has been able to get away with just running past guys in college, but that won’t cut it in the NFL.

When he does use proper hand technique or sets up the tackle opposite him, Garrett makes grown men look childish. Denver does not ‘need’ edge rusher, even with DeMarcus Ware likely moving on this offseason with to Shaquil Barrett and Shane Ray waiting in the wings.

That said, edge rusher is the second most valuable position next to quarterback itself and if an obvious talent is there round one, Denver shouldn’t hesitate to take them. Still, if I were Cleveland, I would take Garrett and worry about QB with the next pick. Barring a huge off the field issue, Garrett won’t be there for Denver to select.

2. Jon Allen, 3-4 Defensive End, Alabama Crimson Tide

Jon Allen was drawing comparisons to the great J.J. Watt at points during this season. While Allen is not Watt, he is still a great prospect. One of Nick Saban’s favorite kids he has ever coached, Allen wins with technique, motor, and athleticism.

He is stout against the run and anchors well, which is something the Broncos defensive line has struggled with this year, and can win on stunts and beat double teams. He is fortunate to be surrounded by other NFL talent, but Allen consistently flashes on tape that shows he is an elite prospect.

He would be an immediate starter in Denver playing along with Derek Wolfe on the interior. Alas, this is another player that I can comfortably say will not be available for the Broncos to pick.

3. Malik McDowell, 3-4 Defensive End, Michigan State Spartans

This is where myself and others start to differentiate in terms of value of a prospect. Malik McDowell is an elite prospect and should be selected in the top-10 of the NFL Draft.

He has the second highest upside of any defensive player in this draft class, and would help fill the void left by the other Malik (Jackson) that left Denver last offseason. McDowell has a huge frame that can still put on more muscle, a ridiculous wingspan, heavy hands, incredible closing burst for a man his size, and the ability to get to the quarterback from the interior, which is one of the hardest skills in the NFL to find.

There are times that McDowell just takes over games at the line of scrimmage and blows up run plays and pass plays in the backfield alike. He does have issues with double teams, leverage, and injuries in his career, but the talent-level is unquestionable. He is currently falling in mocks across the internet, but I don’t think he will in April —  he is just too talented. If McDowell is there when Denver is on the clock, Elway should sprint to the podium with the pick.

4. Leonard Fournette, Running Back, LSU Tigers

The conundrum of the running back position in the NFL has lead to the firing of many scouts. It is common belief that the running back has become a devalued position in today’s NFL, especially in Denver.

For years, Mike Shanahan was able to take late round running back talent and churn out one 1,000-yard rusher after another. While it is true the talent and work of the offensive line is more important to a ground game’s success than the running back, elite talent at the position should still be looked at and acquired if the draft falls that way.

Since high school, people knew Fournette was special. He is the closest thing to Adrian Peterson since… Adrian Peterson. Fournette’s power running style coupled with a huge frame and electric burst makes him one of the most intriguing running backs to come out of the college ranks in a while.

He does not possess elite lateral agility, but his other traits are so good that they outweigh this blemish. Fournette also has an ankle issue and is sitting out his bowl game, which will lead many to push him down their draft board.

Still, Fournette is elite and in Denver, with this defense and the putrid offense, Fournette would push Denver instantly back into Super Bowl Contenders year one.

5. Reuben Foster, Inside Linebacker, Alabama Crimson Tide

Inside linebacker is another position that seems to be fading in value across rosters in the NFL. With more and more teams playing nickel formation over base, the classic two-down thumper is a dying breed.However, there is still a demand and need for three-down linebackers.

From Luke Kuechly to C.J. Mosley, teams and fans alike fawn over the leadership, tenacity, and tackling that comes with an elite inside linebacker. This year’s consensus No. 1 inside linebacker is Alabama’s Reuben Foster, and its easy to see why.

This offseason, Foster made it a priority to lose weight and get quicker, and it showed up immediately in game-play this season. Foster is outstanding in run defense, athletic enough to stay on the field in coverage and cover running backs and tight ends alike, and deliver sacks and pressure when asked to blitz.

Foster does have a tendency to be a little slow diagnosing plays, causing him to be on his heels as run plays get to him instead of coming down hill and meeting the ball-carrier at the line of scrimmage. Still, his athleticism has made up for any time he has been slow mentally.

If Foster can get mentally quicker and have the game slow down for him, he has the ability to become the best inside linebacker in the NFL. Denver does have superb inside linebacker Brandon Marshall, but the defense obviously missed Danny Trevathan.

Adding a player like Foster makes the inside of the Broncos defense much more dynamic and athletic and will keep the unit dominant

6. Jamal Adams, Safety, LSU Tigers

Many in the draft community are in agreement that Jamal Adams is the best overall safety in this year’s draft class. Adams has not gotten the hype that other safeties have gotten this year, but on tape shows to have the skills that are the most transferable to being successful in the NFL.

Adams has the ability to not only play over the top as a deep rangy centerfield safety but he can also match up in the box or in the slot against running backs and tight ends. Adams can take the ball away and deliver big hits as well.

With many players being obviously a free safety or strong safety in today’s game, Adams’ versatility and ability to excel in both safety positions is a huge boon to a team’s secondary. Adams also displays plus instincts, in both pass coverage and run stopping.

Whether it comes from great film study or natural ability, Adams appears to know where the ball is going before the ball is even snapped. Add to that his solid frame, athleticism, and aggression and you have a dynamic safety.

Denver drafted two safeties last offseason in Justin Simmons and Will Parks, just re-signed Darian Stewart deservedly to a big contract, and still has T.J. Ward on the roster. However, if Jamal Adams is the top player on the board when it comes time to pick, Denver would be wise to pull the trigger.

7. O.J. Howard, Tight End, Alabama Crimson Tide

The last time a tight end was selected in the top 10 of an NFL draft was Eric Ebron by the Detroit Lions in 2014. Since his selection, Ebron has been oft-injured and has yet to live up to his draft stock. To add insult to injury, the next three players selected after Ebron were Taylor Lewan, Odell Beckham, Jr. and Aaron Donald.

Despite this starting to turn into a cautionary tale of not taking a tight end early, Denver absolutely should consider pulling the trigger on O.J. Howard. Howard is a monster of a man at 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds. Howard has always been a physical freak.

When given the chance to be involved in the passing game, Howard shows soft hands, long arms, and a my-ball mentality Denver has lacked in the red zone and over the middle this year. Howard is not ‘quick’ and does not cut on a dime in his routes, but he has the ability to turn on the jets once the ball is in his hands.

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What cannot be overstated is that Howard is likely the best blocking tight end in all of college football. He plays with tenacity, proper leverage, footwork, and hand technique. When watching him block in the run game, he is essentially a sixth offensive lineman.

Whether they are running plays with Howard creating seal blocks in the run game, or getting him out in space to block at the second level, Alabama constantly uses Howard as a tone setter in the run game. In Gary Kubiak’s system, having a strong run-blocking tight end that can create mismatch problems in the middle of the field and in the red zone is key to building an effective offense.

OJ Howard would be a welcome addition and would help the run game and whoever is playing quarterback for Denver next season.

8. Garett Bolles, Offensive Tackle/Offensive Guard, Utah Utes

Here is a shocker and a hot take: Denver’s offensive line failed to live up to expectations this season. Whether it was Ty Sambrailo getting destroyed by a speed rusher, Russell Okung drawing a poorly timed holding penalty, Michael Schofield getting blown into the backfield on a stretch run, or Max Garcia once again missing a block on a stunt, Denver’s offensive line struggled to establish themselves this season.

Unfortunately, this class is being heralded as one of the weaker offensive line drafts in recent memory. While this is true, there is still valuable offensive linemen that would not be reaches in round one. The issue isn’t that there are zero round one offensive line talents, but rather when there is normally 5-to-7 in a class and there are just two or three in this class.

If Denver was lucky enough to have one fall to them, they should pull the trigger. Enter the first offensive lineman on the big board, Garett Bolles. Bolles was a relative unknown prior to the season to many in the scouting community.

As a 24-year-old JUCO transfer playing west coast time games for Utah in the PAC 12, Bolles as a talent was not at first obviously apparent. However, as the year went on and Utah continued running the ball as well any team in the country, left tackle No. 72 couldn’t be kept as a secret for long.

With a tough back story and a born again Christian, Bolles is an interesting comparison to The Blindside’s Michael Oher. However, Bolles is a better prospect. Bolles is tenacious in the run game, often driving his opponent back over ten yards before pushing them into the ground.

Bolles constantly looks to hit guys and establish physicality on the offensive line. He also is a tremendous athlete in space, with obviously apparent fluid feet and movement skills. Bolles also has an adequate frame that suggests he can stick at tackle in the NFL.

However, if moved to guard, Bolles could be an All-Pro caliber player, given how strong he is at the point of attack and how well he is in pull blocks. Bolles will drop some due to his age, but he still will end up being drafted round one.

Utah ran for over eight yards per carry this season behind Bolles, and he would be a welcome shot in the arm to an anemic Denver rushing attack.

9. Cam Robinson, Offensive Tackle/Offensive Guard, Alabama Crimson Tide

Cam Robinson is the other offensive lineman that has a round-one grade based on his film. While Robinson does not display the same anger in blocking as Bolles, he does play with a nasty demeanor and tremendous athletic ability.

When he puts it all together, he is technically as good as any tackle in football. He does a good job in space and is athletic enough to pull and reach as needed. He is dominant in the run game when his hand technique and footwork are coordinated.

He also displays a strong base and ability to anchor against bull rushers, while having enough athletic ability and wingspan with a strong punch to disrupt speed rushers. However, Cam Robinson consistently makes mental mistakes in pass blocking and run blocking that can result in negative plays that completely stall an offense.

In the NFL where every down is important, being mentally consistent is as important as having the physical ability. He does have a tendency to reach on blocks as well, which can get him off balance and hamper his technique. If these were the only issues, Robinson would be a surefire top-5 pick. However, Robinson has had his issues off the field. This offseason, Robinson was arrested when pulled over and found to be in possession of marijuana and possession of a stolen gun. Furthermore, having the gun with illegal narcotics is a bonus charge on top of the other two.

But the case was dropped and Robinson did not serve any sort of suspension for the incident. Robinson is also reportedly a nightmare off the field in terms of personality and many expect him to bomb in the interview process.

Still, in the right environment and given time to mature and age, Robinson could end up being the best prospect from this class. If he passes the background checks, Denver should absolutely consider selecting him.

10. Marshon Lattimore, Cornerback, Ohio State Buckeyes

Denver currently is home to the best secondary in the NFL, the No Fly Zone. This is due in large part to the three No. 1 corners on the roster. While all three of these players are going to be in Denver next season, it doesn’t hurt to look ahead at the position.

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Aqib Talib is getting older, has a history of injuries prior to his time in Denver and had a chronic back injury this season, and is one off-the-field mishap away from being suspended for a good chunk of games. Bradley Roby has shown to be an elite man-to-man cover corner as well, but has had issues with consistency this season, suffering mental lapses and technique issues that have hurt the Broncos defense on a number of occasions.

Furthermore, Roby is about to become very expensive. This year’s cornerback class is being called by many the strongest part of the incoming draft class, and Marshon Lattimore has higher upside than any of the rest.

Lattimore is just a redshirt sophomore in his first year starting, but he immediately made his presence felt. Struggling to overcome hamstring injuries in the past, Lattimore committed himself to better conditioning so he could stay on the field. The results have been outstanding.

Lattimore is a long, lanky cornerback with tremendous ball skills. Ohio State often uses him right up at the line of scrimmage to jam receivers, and then leaves him on an island after that. He is one of the few corners in college that cannot only do this, but do it well.

He has tremendously smooth hips in coverage, and can mirror receivers similarly to the best cover corners in the NFL. Lattimore not only is great in coverage, but also not a plus one at all in run defense.

Lattimore is currently one of only two corners in college football who has not missed a tackle. Not only is he solid in run defense, he appears to enjoy hitting, helping establish physicality in the secondary. Denver may not ‘need’ a corner, but Lattimore might be good enough to ignore that.

• Stay tuned for the next group of the top-30 big board for the 2017 NFL Draft. 

Nick Kendell is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ndkendell.

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