By Chad Jensen
DENVER (SCOUT.COM) – The Denver Broncos are on the brink of a monumental decision that could have a trickle-down effect on the organization — for good or for ill — for the next decade.
Holding the fifth overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, GM John Elway has the opportunity to either come away with Denver’s next franchise quarterback, or a blue-chip player with the potential to impact the organization in the same way that Von Miller has.
With four selections in front of Denver — three of which are more than likely to be quarterbacks — the Broncos don’t have absolute control over which prospects fall to them. For a time, it seemed close to guaranteed that Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield would be the signal-caller most likely to remain on the board at pick No. 5.
But as we inch closer to the Draft, more buzz is circulating around the narrative that Mayfield won’t get past the New York Jets at pick No. 3. We might not yet know what the exact order will be yet, but within those first three picks — Browns (1), Giants (2) and Jets (3) — USC’s Sam Darnold and UCLA’s Josh Rosen are going to hear their names called.
Talking with sources around the league, the expectation is that both Darnold and Rosen will go before Mayfield, but still, the likelihood of all three of them getting Drafted in the top-3 remains high. Cleveland picks again at No. 4, and it’s sounding like the non-QB prospect the Browns have their hearts set on could be NC State edge rusher Bradley Chubb.
Chubb makes sense, as it would give Cleveland a ferocious pass-rusher to pair with Myles Garrett — the No. 1 overall selection in 2017. At that point, Denver’s choices would realistically come down to three players — Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, or Notre Dame offensive guard Quenton Nelson.
For a time, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that even if he wasn’t taken in the top 3, Barkley wouldn’t get past Cleveland at No. 4. But in a QB-driven league, where teams vy for the privilege of either drafting a franchise signal-caller, or getting the guys who can get after said QB, the running back position — even for a phenom like Barkley — could take second (or third) fiddle.
The Broncos could very well use the fifth overall pick on Allen, but considering the very recent plight the team has suffered at the hands of Paxton Lynch — an incredibly ‘toolsy’ quarterback who needed a lot of time and development at the next level — it doesn’t make a lot of sense.
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Throw in Allen’s “awe shucks” attitude and demeanor, which flies counter to the type of fiery spirit Elway is looking for (and felt the Broncos have lacked) at the QB position, and the fact that Case Keenum is under contract for two years, and it seems increasingly unlikely that the former Cowboy would be Denver’s choice in such a scenario.
As mean and dominant as Quenton Nelson is at the guard position, the choice for Denver at pick No. 5 would have to be Saquon Barkley. No matter how good Nelson might be in the NFL, elite offensive linemen rarely step in and serve as the fuel that’s going to move the needle for a team.
But as we’ve seen with Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette over the last few years, an elite running back can tip the scales in the NFL, despite the popular belief that the position has lost it’s value in the modern league, especially early in the Draft.
Saquon Barkley has the potential to be the next LaDanian Tomlinson, which, in tandem with the Keenum signing and the veteran talent Denver currently has at the skill positions, could catapult the Broncos back into Conference relevance in no time flat.
Josh Allen could be the next Carson Wentz, but he also has the highest risk of becoming the next Paxton Lynch. With the fifth overall pick, the Broncos can’t roll the dice.
The Draft card Elway turns has to be for a can’t-miss prospect. Up until recently, I never truly believed Denver would have a realistic shot at Saquon Barkley.
But it’s becoming more and more likely that he could be there for the Broncos, as the QB-starved teams of the NFL clamor for placement in the top-5. Fans might be pining for a QB early, but if Barkley is on the board at pick No. 5, Elway should run to the podium and Broncos Country should thank the Football Gods.