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Nick Kendell's 2017 Broncos Draft Big Board: Top Prospects 11-20

Draft analyst Nick Kendell reveals prospects 11-20 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.

This board is not meant to be conducive for all 32 NFL Teams, but rather, a big board specific to the current roster state of the Denver Broncos and the current draft stock of 2017 NFL Draft prospects, based on film study and general draft buzz. Given that Denver selected a quarterback round one last year in Paxton Lynch and have stated repeatedly they like Trevor Siemian, there will be no quarterbacks on the big board. Positions of strength on the roster — edge rusher, cornerback, and wide receive — as well as positions of weakness — interior defensive line, offensive line — will have an overall effect on the big board. While best player available is often the best model to go by every April, I believe that the most reasonable model is finding that perfect balance of where talent meets need.

For example, while Denver may not need Ohio State free safety Malik Hooker, due to having just drafted two safeties last season and having just inked safety Darian Stewartto a new deal, if a top-10 level talent like Hooker fell to Denver at selection 20, the talent would be too immense to pass on.

Also, the board is not set in stone, but is always changing based on evolving roster needs and new evidence that can be used to analyze a prospect. Last week, we covered prospects 1-10 on the big board, and today, we will break down prospects 11-20. 

11. Solomon Thomas, Defensive Line, Stanford Cardinal

The draft media’s current flavor of the week is redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Solomon Thomas. After Thomas’ dominating performance in the Sun Bowl versus North Carolina's  potential first overall pick quarterback, Mitch Trubisky, it isn’t hard to understand the hype.

Thomas came to Stanford as one of the highest rated recruits in the country. While not looking like a typical defensive lineman who could play the interior and be productive in stopping the run, Thomas’ play on the field tells a different story. This past season Thomas led the entire Stanford Cardinal defense in tackles with 40 total.

While this may not seem like much of an accomplishment, being the team leader in tackles is extremely impressive and rare in it’s own right. To put that in perspective, there is only one defensive lineman in the entire NFL that is in the top 80 in tackles this season — New York's All-Pro selection Damon Harrison.

Pro Football Focus also recently selected Thomas as the best run defender in all of college football in their postseason awards. Some will detract from Thomas, saying that he's not a good fit for Denver being listed at 6-foot-3, 275 pounds. However, it has been reported that Thomas played this year closer to 290 rather than the listed 275.

While it is true that Thomas doesn’t have ‘prototype’ build that you would want from a 3-4 defensive end, his natural ability more than makes up for it. Thomas lives in the backfield, playing with tremendous leverage, hand technique, strength, and burst. When asked to attack a gap, there are few that are as good as Solomon.

However, when asked to improvise, Thomas seems to lack refined pass rush moves. This is not surprised for a young player who just turned 21, but Thomas will have to add a variety of pass rush moves to beat offensive lineman if he is going to succeed at the next level.

Thomas has recently garnered so much buzz and hype that he has been compared to none other than J.J. Watt and Aaron Donald. While those types of comparisons are frequent and exaggerated this time of year, Thomas has the ability to transcend any scheme he is playing in and be a dominant player on the defensive line.

Thomas would instantly step into the starting rotation and help add talent to the worst unit on the defensive depth chart. Expect Thomas to be in the top-10 in the next Broncos Big Board and for him to be long gone by selection 20 this April.

12. Tim Williams, Edge Rusher, Alabama Crimson Tide

The Denver Broncos potentially had the best group of edge rushers in the entire NFL over the last two years. Opposing offensive tackles have not had much sleep in preparing to go against these Denver's elite edge group.

While it is probable that DeMarcus Ware is not brought back next season, Denver does not need another edge rusher with the two younger guys ready to take a larger role on the defense. With that said, given the value of edge rushers in today’s game, John Elway and company would be silly not to consider a pass rusher at pick number 20.

Coming in as the 12th prospect on the Bronco Big Board is Alabama's Tim Williams. Many scouts consider Tim Williams to be in the conversation as the best pure pass rusher in this class and turning on the tape it is obvious to see why. Williams, at 6-foot-3, 255 pounds, displays one of the best bursts of any rusher in the country, bend and a repitoire of pass rush moves indicating immediately effectiveness in pass rush in the NFL, and consistent and proper hand technique which will immediately elevate whichever team drafts Williams this April.

So far in his career, Williams has a total of 19.5 sacks and 29.5 tackles for loss, all while playing a sub role for the Alabama defense. Williams displays a very solid motor, never giving up on a play and often playing similar to a cheetah chasing a gazelle on a hunt.

Williams is able to turn the corner and get to the quarterback quickly, while displaying great leverage and staying low. One thing that he will surely be knocked for is his run defense. When given the opportunity, Williams displays decent ability to keep the edge and not let running backs kick a run outside.

However, due to the wealth of talent at the disposal of Nick Saban and Alabama’s defense, Williams was not on the field on obvious run downs but used primarily in sub-packages as an edge rusher with one job — get to the quarterback.

Williams will have to prove he can stay on the field and be effective against the run on a consistent basis, but the tape shows traits of a player who could be an elite pass rusher out of the gate, and with Ware likely gone, that is a direction Elway could consider round 1.

13. Dalvin Cook, Running Back, Florida State Seminoles

Denver has a number of decent options at running back already on the roster. With high-paid veteran and locker room leader C.J. Anderson rehabbing and likely ready to start next year and promising young backs in 2016 fourth round pick Devontae Booker and undrafted but promising Kapri Bibbs, Denver is doing fine at running back heading into next season.

However, when you have an elite defense, weapons in the pass game, and young and relatively unproven quarterbacks, nabbing an elite level running back shouldn’t be ruled out. Dalvin Cook is an elite level running back prospect in this draft class and would provide an immediate spark to not only the Broncos running game, but also the offense as a whole.

At 5-foot-11, 215 pounds and a thick lower half, Cook has the look and build to be a bell-cow in the NFL. He runs very hard and fights for every yard. While he isn’t going to be mistaken for LeGarrette Blount, defenders are going to need to display proper tackling technique or Cook will make them pay.

Cook also has excellent vision, balance, and cut-back ability that would be an ideal fit for a zone-blocking scheme but could play in either scheme. He has the ability to turn what looks like a modest gain into a big gainer on any play and plays with quick feet and a high IQ, taking the proper hole when it develops, and setting up his blockers at the line of scrimmage and down the field.

Cook also shows soft hands and good concentration in the pass game, often making big catches down the field, which is rare for a running back, and holds his own when pass blocking. Cook is not the elite level athlete that Leonard Fournette is, but he is more than athletic enough to be great in the NFL.

Cook also can be careless carrying the ball, which led to six fumbles this past year. Denver hasn’t taken a running back round one since Knowshon Moreno, and normally a running back that early is not good value, but if Cook falls to Denver, Elway should consider it to jump start the offense and give the ground game a jolt in the arm.

14. Jalen "Teez" Tabor, Cornerback, Florida Gators

While the best player on Denver’s defense is absolutely Von Miller, the best unit on the Broncos is arguably the cornerbacks. While the safety group makes up a decent part of the No Fly Zone, it’s the cornerback trifecta of Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, Jr., and Bradley Roby that make the secondary the most feared in the NFL.

While hopefully none of the top cornerbacks leave the Broncos soon, it might be wise to plan ahead and nab an upper-echelon talent from the draft class that many are calling the best they have seen in a long time. One of many great cornerback prospects in this class is Florida’s Jalen ‘Teez’ Tabor.

This past season, Tabor consistently displayed that he was one of the most athletic corners in the country. Some of the plays he was able to make were downright physics-defying. Tabor has cornerback one size at 6-foot-0, 200 pounds, with excellent fluidity in his backpedal and in flipping his hips.

Tabor also has tremendous ball skills, playing the ball and making several game changing interceptions while at Gainesville. Tabor does have a tendency to be over aggressive in his route to the ball or with his eyes peering in the backfield, but normally displays enough make-up speed to cover up any issues as a result of his aggressive nature.

Tabor’s aggressiveness in the pass game does lead to many takeaways, of which he has shown the ability to take back to the house on multiple occasions. While Tabor is bigger, he is also very twitchy and has been able to line up and cover big body wide receivers as well as quicker, twitchier slot wide receivers.

This versatility gives Tabor an excellent chance to see the field early for any team and makes him a great weapon to have in the secondary. Tabor is not a great player against the run currently, but made strides in that category this season. On and off the field, Tabor' demeanor compares to Aqib Talib, being he is aggressive and gets into opponents heads while sometimes making bonehead plays on the field himself, hurting his team.

However, his confidence is infectious and often spreads throughout the team. Tabor also may be bound to make mistakes away from the field, as his maturity has been questioned. The interview process will be important for him, but the tape displays a high ceiling corner, with the skills and swagger that would be a nice and fitting addition to the No Fly Zone.

15. Malik Hooker, Free Safety, Ohio State Buckeyes

Denver most certainly does not need a free safety. Darian Stewart just signed a big contract recently and is going to be with the Broncos for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, Denver just drafted Justin Simmons last season, who, while having played some strong safety and in box safety this season, looks to be a better free safety in the NFL — unless he continues to put on muscle and starts playing more aggressive closer to the line of scrimmage.

Even with the lack of need for a free safety on the roster, Elway would be foolish not to consider Malik Hooker if he fell into Denver’s lap. Hooker is a big, long and lanky, center field type free safety at 6-foot-2 205 pounds. Multiple scouts have compared Hooker to Ed Reed for his display of ball skills and propensity of taking interceptions all the way back for six points.

Hooker also is a tremendous athlete, displaying amazing ability to cover ground when asked to play deep zone and take away deep passes. Hooker is also instinctual with the ball in the air, displaying great timing in his route to the ball and his jump, often snagging the ball at points that Calvin Johnson would find impressive.

Despite his insane ability as a center fielder, Hooker has a fair amount of work to do in run coverage. He often takes zany and non-efficient routes to the ball, which he makes up for by being highly athletic. Unfortunately, that won’t cut it in the NFL.

Hooker also needs to work on his technique and consistency as a tackler, sometimes not breaking down the ball carrier and giving a weak tackle effort that the opponent easily defeats. Hooker also is rather inexperienced in many facets of the game, but he has as much upside as a safety as any in the last few years.

If Denver did need safety help, one could easily justify Hooker being in the top-10 on the draft board, as he will be for most teams. Odds are, Denver will not get the chance to select this ball hawk at the 20th pick this April.

16. Quincy Wilson, Cornerback, Florida Gators

What is that? Two University of Florida cornerbacks in the top 20? Not insane if you caught any Gator football this fall, as many considered their duo to be the best in the nation this past season.

While Teez Tabor was considered the best cornerback on the team, and in the nation, by many scouts going into the season, there is now an argument if he was even the best cornerback on his own team. Quincy Wilson is a giant boundary corner for Florida this year at 6-foot-1, 213 pounds.

Wilson regularly displayed excellent instincts in pass coverage and aggression against wide receivers that often disrupted routes enough to throw entire pass plays into chaos on his side of the field. Through Florida’s first seven games to start the year, opposing quarterback’s QBR was a putrid 0.4 when targeting him.

Along with his size, Wilson displays and plays with good length and very loose hips for a man his size. While he was often asked to jam wide receivers at the line, he showed a surprisingly smooth backpedal given his size and the level of physicality he used at the line. Wilson is a sound tackler who isn’t afraid to come up and make a hit or take on a running back if need be. Wilson also shows good ball skills and carries the constant threat to create turnovers and pass breakups. While Florida is a defense that mainly uses zone concepts, Wilson’s athleticism suggests he would be fine playing in a press man or zone scheme.

While Wilson’s aggression is a big plus for cornerback play, he often times will get a little grabby and will initiate or sustain contact over five yards past the line of scrimmage. Wilson was able to get away with it pretty well in the SEC, but he is going to need to hone in his aggression and not be so physical past five yards if he is to avoid being heavily penalized in the NFL.

Overall, there is a strong argument that Wilson is the best cornerback in this draft class and if Elway is uncertain about the future of Bradley Roby and/or Aqib Talib, drafting Wilson would ensure the elite level of cornerback play fans are becoming accustomed to in the Mile High City.

17. Zach Cunningham, Off-Ball Linebacker, Vanderbilt Commodores

The Denver defense is still extremely talented and will continue to be great as long as the secondary and pass rush has the level of players they do right now. However, if Elway wants the defense to be elite again, they are going to have to do something to shore up the run defense, which finished 28th in the league this year at 130.3 rushing yards allowed per game.

While the defensive line obviously needs to be addressed both in the draft and in free agency, Denver should also consider adding an off-ball linebacker early in the draft. While Todd Davis filled in admirably for the departed Danny Trevathan this year, Trevathan’s absence was obviously felt throughout the defense.

Is there a linebacker who could fill in and make fans forget Trevathan and strengthen the run defense? Zach Cunningham was arguably the best linebacker in football this year.

Cunningham is 6-foot-4, 230 pounds and a physical freak. While he doesn’t display the heavy hitting of consensus No. 1 linebacker Reuben Foster, he appears to play with better instincts, as he rarely takes false steps when diagnosing a player. Cunningham is awesome at sifting through the garbage of the line of scrimmage and finding the ball carrier for no to minimal gain.

Despite what his height and skinny frame would indicate, Cunningham does awesome and disengaging from blockers who try to pin him in the second level. Cunningham takes very efficient routes to the ball and shows good burst and closing speed to make the tackle.

Given his size, athleticism, and fluidity, Cunningham has plus-potential in zone coverage. However, he does tend to get crossed up in man and needs work refining his skills there. Also, Cunningham displays issues in wrapping up ball carriers, often times attempting arm tackles rather than breaking down and completing proper form tackles.

Cunningham is going to need to continue to add muscle to his frame if he is to live up to his potential in the NFL. Denver could do a lot worse at pick 20 then adding a great inside linebacker to the defense.

18. Ryan Ramczyk, Offensive Tackle, Wisconsin Badgers

Denver’s offensive line was not great this year, and Elway needs to continue to address it. While Russell Okung was mediocre if not solid, his contract is expensive considering his production this past season. Elway may decide to move on from him.

Furthermore, the other two tackles, Donald Stephenson and Ty Sambrailo, may have provided some of the worst offensive line tape produced this season in the NFL. Ty needs a healthy offseason to add strength and try again next season, but it would be surprising if Stephenson were back in Denver next season.

Given the slim pickings that appear to be available at tackle in free agency, Elway may elect to go tackle round one. Ryan Ramczyk, like Garett Bolles, burst onto the scene this year for Wisconsin after being relatively unknown this offseason.

While lacking the tenacity and run blocking strength that Bolles has displayed, Ramczyk instead wins with consistent technique and fantastic fluidity and athleticism for a man his size. At 6-foot-6, 315 pounds and long arms, Ramczyk has the frame to stick at tackle in the NFL.

Furthermore, he shows the fluidity in his movement and kick-step that indicates he is one of the rare ones in this class that may stick at left tackle in his career. Ramczyk does a good job keeping his hands inside and maintaining leverage while driving defenders back in run blocking. He also is fluid and athletic enough to be great at second level blocking, which is important in a zone-blocking scheme.

Sometimes in pass blocking, Ramczyk can get a bit high and lose his balance, but that looked to be improving over the course of the season. Ramcyzk does have his warts though. First, he needs to continue to add strength to his core and his game.

As of now, he will very likely struggle with bull rushes at the next level. This lack of strength in his game right now will limit him to left tackle early in his career. Furthermore, Ramczyk is having surgery on his left labrum soon, which is said to have a four-month recovery process.

This means that Ramczyk will likely miss the many of the postseason scouting events, further making this one-year starter a question mark. If Denver is able to fill enough needs and feels Ramczyk can be a top flight left tackle in the NFL, Elway shouldn’t hesitate to draft Ramczyk round.

19. Jarrad Davis, Off-Ball Linebacker, Florida Gators

Again, Denver tremendously missed Danny Trevathan this offseason, so adding a strong off ball linebacker round one is absolutely in play. Some may say that Elway doesn’t value inside linebacker play, but his attempts to trade up to obtain Ryan Shazier and C.J. Mosley Jr. in previous drafts would suggest otherwise.

One of best and most aggressive off-ball linebackers in the draft class is another Florida defensive player, Jarrad Davis. Davis was the emotional leader that led the Florida Gators’ sixth ranked scoring defense this season.

Despite suffering an ankle injury that hampered his play midway through the season, Davis had a good senior year for the Gators. At 6-foot-2, 235, Davis isn’t your typical two-down thumper often seen in the 3-4 defenses, but offers sideline-to-sideline ability, aggression to come down hill and make tackles, and coverage ability.

Outside of being a great, passionate leader, which is a huge plus in a inside linebacker, Davis also displays great instincts and read-and-react ability that would instantly solidify Denver’s linebacker core. He glides to the football with tremendous closing speed and arrives with natural violence.

Davis relies on his instincts and quickness in the run game, often beating blockers to the spot and filling in running lanes. However, he does need to continue to get stronger and better at disengaging from blockers. Davis can get a little overaggressive from time to time which can lead to big plays for the offense, but it is rare.

Also, despite his obvious athleticism, Davis needs to continue to work in pass coverage, as sometimes he can get turned around or caught flat-footed. If Davis is healthy enough to have a good combine, I would not surprise if he rose up boards.

He is also the last good-to-great off-ball linebacker in this class. Elway may not take him at 20, but Davis falls to the second round, Elway would be wise to use some of Denver’s extra picks to go get this play-maker for the middle of the defense.

20. Carl Lawson, Edge Rusher, Auburn Tigers

Again, as previously stated, Elway would be wise not to discount edge rusher even with the quality the Broncos already have at the position. A team can never have enough quality guys who can get after the quarterback and disrupt the pass game. Furthermore, this year’s edge rush class appears to be one of the better ones in a few years, and talent will be available later than typical at the position.

One of the better 3-4 outside linebacker prospects in this draft class is Auburn’s Carl Lawson. The 6-foot-2, 255-pound Lawson entered Auburn as a five-star recruit. Unfortunately, things got off kilter early on with Lawson suffering a myriad of injuries, including an ACL tear in 2014 and a hip fracture in 2015.

Luckily for Auburn’s defense, Lawson was able to stay healthy in 2016, racking up 9.5 total sacks and being a constant threat off the edge in the pass game. When watching Lawson, his burst off the snap immediately jumps out. One thing that is often mistaken for burst and quick-twitch ability is good snap anticipation.

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While snap anticipation is an important trait that can help a lot of players, it is not easily projected from college to the pros due, to the added complexity of the snap cadence in the NFL. Instead, quick-twitch and burst upon the snap is a more important trait that projects better to the NFL.

Lawson also shows strong and heavy hands. Once engaged with a blocker, Lawson is able to use his hands to free and give himself room to find an angle towards the quarterback. While Lawson does not display incredible bend, he does enough to give tackles trouble when combined with his burst and heavy hands.

It is also obvious that Lawson is a very hard worker in the weight room, displaying an almost maxed out frame with broad shoulders and strong arms. Lawson also displays a variety of pass rush moves, displaying an effective spin move and setting tackles up from time to time. Lawson is also considered a leader on and off the field and a hard worker in the film room.

Lawson does appear to have less than ideal arm length, which will hamper his ability to disengage from some of the long, athletic tackles he will face in the NFL. His short arms also have lead to him having very little ability to raise his arms if he is stopped and disrupt the throwing lanes.

While Lawson is not a direct Bronco ‘need’, he would be an interesting and valuable player that the Broncos should consider at 20 or if they trade down. In today’s NFL, you can never have enough pass rushers.

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

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