ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In just a few days George Paton will attend his first NFL scouting combine as the Denver Broncos' general manager.
He will arrive with plenty of salary cap space on his team's ledger to go with 11 -- count ‘em -- draft picks, five of those coming in the first three rounds. As Paton and the rest of the Broncos' entourage roams the halls of Lucas Oil Stadium and the Indiana Convention Center, there will be a long list of players who could, and should, be of particular interest given the Broncos' wants and needs.
With quarterback, edge rusher, defensive tackle, right tackle, cornerback and linebacker on their need list, the Broncos need a successful draft as part of their offseason makeover.
Day 1 prospects
Travon Walker, DE, Georgia
The lowdown: We haven't heard from Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero on whether the Broncos will go to a 4-3 or stick with the 3-4, but Walker is a still-ascending player with all of athleticism teams covet in a pass-rusher. Listed at 275 pounds, Walker reeled in Alabama wide receiver Agiye Hall to make a tackle 25 yards down the field during the national championship game. That effort shows an impact defender who will give a defensive playcaller plenty of options.
Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
The lowdown: The Broncos have three linebackers who are slated to be unrestricted free agents in Alexander Johnson, Josey Jewell and Kenny Young. Lloyd and Georgia's Nakobe Dean are two inside linebackers on the board who would be worthy of the Broncos' No. 9 pick. Lloyd simply makes plays all over the formation, has a big reach, plays with top-tier awareness and finishes with a flourish of speed to the ball. He's a walk-in tackle machine.
Jermaine Johnson II, DE, Florida State
The lowdown: As the season drew to a close the Georgia transfer was considered by many evaluators to be a middle to late first-round pick. He could now sneak into the upper half of the first round with elite athleticism and a growing résumé of pass-rush moves. He showed at the Senior Bowl practices that he's willing to challenge linemen to the inside shoulder already, which is a piece of the puzzle that comes more slowly for most rookie edge rushers and is imperative for NFL success.
Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
The lowdown: Gotta have a quarterback in the running here even if no quarterback on this draft board has a real top-10 grade by April. In fact, some in the league think some quarterbacks in this draft could be selected two rounds above their actual grades because the supply continues to be dwarfed by the demand. Willis has a combination of competitiveness, toughness, arm strength, mobility, with enormous room to grow that makes him unique in this quarterback class. He's going to need plenty of time and patience before being ready to play, but upside is the best side and, despite far too many sacks taken that were clearly on him and a big need for an off-speed pitch from time to time, he has plenty of upside.
Day 2 considerations
DeAngelo Malone, OLB, Western Kentucky
The lowdown: Played 62 games during his college career -- with the fifth season added for COVID-19 -- and closed out his senior year with 94 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, nine sacks and four forced fumbles. Might be a tougher fit if the Broncos go 4-3 on defense, but there's a lot to work with here.
Travis Jones, DT, Connecticut
The lowdown: A lot of a prospect's grade is in the books by the time the season is over, but Jones simply crushed it Senior Bowl week. He'll likely weigh in somewhere north of 315-320 pounds at the combine, so he's not what some evaluators are looking for on the defensive interior, but he is the kind of power player in the middle the Broncos could use.
Nicholas Petit-Frere, T, Ohio State
The lowdown: Bobby Massie and Cam Fleming, who each started games at right tackle last season for the Broncos, are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents. And Petit-Frere could certainly sneak into the draft's first day because of his athleticism -- a former prep basketball player -- but the Broncos will be on the hunt for linemen with his kind of movement skills. He struggled some against Michigan this past season, but his body of work is worth a long look.
Down the board
Marcus Jones, CB, Houston
The lowdown: Any position player with upside who also has kick return skills can, and should, be on the Broncos' radar. And Jones might be the best combination kickoff/punt returner in the draft (two kickoff returns for TDs in '21 to go with a career 16.5 yards per punt return average) with plenty of potential as a cover corner. Some will knock him for his size -- he'll likely measure in at 5-foot-8 or so at the combine -- but in today's league he fits in the nickel.
Isaih Pacheco, RB, Rutgers
The lowdown: There are some scouts who aren't extraordinarily fired up about him, but give me a player who's overcome so much -- he had two siblings murdered a year apart when he was in high school -- and still remained productive. He doesn't have the numbers of some others, but when the game video rolls there is just something about the way he plays.