By Chad Jensen
(247 SPORTS) – I look forward to the “Broncos Draft Rewind” series Mile High Huddle publishes, which breaks down each of Denver’s Draft selections one year removed. One year is almost never enough to time to be able to absolutely grade or evaluate a young player, or how good the Draft pick was for Denver, but it’s enough for us to pick up on patterns and project ahead.
Last season, the Broncos received very little production from their 2017 Draft class, with the exception of left tackle Garett Bolles. Drafted in the first round, Bolles quickly won the starting job, and went on to start all 16 games as a rookie, earning a place on the PFWA’s All Rookie Team.
Unfortunately, whether due to poor coaching decisions, the injury bug, or straight up incompetence and inexperience, the remaining rookies Denver drafted didn’t make much of a positive impact. Fifth-round wideout Isaiah McKenzie made an impact as a special teams returner, but it was a negative one, as he muffed six punts before being benched.
Second-round defensive lineman DeMarcus Walker was poised to start helping to replace the interior pass rush that departed the year before with Malik Jackson, before the Broncos coaching staff decided to stand him up, ask him to lose weight and play him on the edge at outside linebacker.
Acclimating to the NFL comes with an enormous learning curve in it’s own right, but asking a young player, especially a highly-drafted one, to learn a new position as a rookie borders on dereliction of duty.
Despite some hiccups in learning the playbook, third-rounder Carlos Henderson was poised to make an impact as Denver’s third wideout, before the injury bug cost him his entire rookie season. Fellow third-rounder Brendan Langley earned the No. 4 cornerback job by mid-season, but eventually was benched for an undrafted rookie due to failure to perform.
Two of Denver’s 2017 Draft picks entered the league by way of ambulance, recovering from significant ACL injuries. Tight end Jake Butt, however, was excellent value for the Broncos in the fifth round, as he was viewed by many in the scouting community as top-60 talent were it not for the knee injury he suffered in Michigan’s bowl game.
The same can be said for quarterback Chad Kelly, whom the Broncos took with the last pick in the Draft. Mr. Irrelevant was widely viewed as having first-round caliber tools, but with a pugilists’ head.
However, had Kelly not been recovering from a knee surgery and a wrist injury, he likely would have been selected somewhere within the first four rounds, based on talent alone. His character concerns would have seen him fall down the Draft, but it was the injury bug, combined with the off-field issues, that saw him plummet all the way to the bottom of the seventh round.
Both Butt and Kelly started the year on the Non-Football Injury list, and finished it on injured reserve. The Broncos ultimately chose to play it safe with their valuable Draft investments, and red-shirted them both.
All this is to say nothing of sixth-round running back De’Angelo Henderson, who made huge waves during preseason action, earning a spot on the 53-man roster. Alas, despite an impotent offensive attack, Henderson was a healthy scratch for most of the season, but when he was finally given some playing time in Week 17, he responded with some big plays.
It’s easy to understand why the 2017 class is viewed as a failure by many in the fanbase, but I would pump the brakes on such a characterization. At the very least, the jury’s still out on the 2017 class, and I have reason to believe that they will collectively take a quantum leap forward in 2018.