BRONCOS

Can the Broncos fill right tackle and backup QB needs via free agency?

Jan 25, 2023, 6:37 AM
Jawaan Taylor...
(Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
(Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

The NFL Draft is right around the corner. No, really, it is. I know it’s at the end of April, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in 17 years of professionally covering the draft, it’s that time flies by over these next few months. In less than a week, I’ll be on the road traveling to the Shrine Bowl and the Senior Bowl.

The Scouting Combine is in February after the Super Bowl, and then pro days begin after that. I plan on being done with my draft profiles by the beginning of April, so it’s a lot of work in a little bit of time. In addition to writing up players, I’m going to keep up to date on news and notes in the scouting community.

Here is some of the latest news from around the league and the NFL Draft.

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Free-agent RT?

The Broncos need a right tackle in a bad way. I believe the team needs to address the position in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. That’s one of the reasons, the main reason, why I’m “out” on head coach Sean Payton. The Broncos have too many needs, and their offensive line needs the most work, to give up a premium pick. However, the Broncos may decide to address the right tackle position in free agency. One of the best free agents who could be available is Jacksonville Jaguars RT Jawaan Taylor.

A second-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, Taylor is set to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. He’s mostly been their starting right tackle over the last four years, although Taylor does have experience lining up on the left side in the NFL. He’s been mostly inconsistent during his pro career, but Taylor did cut down on his penalties in 2022. Over four years, Taylor has been penalized 39 times but only seven times last season. Like many of the right tackle answers the Broncos have added in free agency, Taylor wouldn’t be a fantastic answer, but he could be a piece of the puzzle – plus, he’s got plenty of experience.

At his season ending press conference, Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson emphasized what Taylor means to the team.

“We know JT, what he’s meant to this team and organization and we’d love to be able to get that done,” Pederson said.

All the right things are being said – at the moment. Pederson said what he had to about the impending free agent, but that doesn’t mean the Jaguars are going to offer Taylor a new contract. Instead, they’ll likely let him explore the free agent market and let Walker Little (a second-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft) start on the right side. If Taylor is available, I’m sure the Broncos will consider him – but I’m not sure how strong their interest would be.

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QB-desperate league

I love new Tennessee Titans general manager Ran Carthon. A former running back in the NFL, Carthon was a tough runner in the pros. However, he had a dream to be a general manager from the moment his playing days were done. Carthon knew that in order to get there, he had to work hard, so he took his tremendous work ethic from the playing field to the scouting community. Carthon worked his way up the ranks from a pro scout (Falcons) to director of player personnel (Rams, 49ers) and now gets to work with Titans’ head coach Mike Vrabel to guide his new team.

Carthon has an interesting decision when it comes to Titans QB Ryan Tannehill. I love what he said about this league being a quarterback-driven league. I also love that Carthon said plenty of GMs have been fired because of what goes on at the position. A general manager that understands the importance of the position will let that guide him until he finds the right guy. So, is Tannehill that guy for the Titans’ future?

Tannehill is not the player he used to be, and the Titans may choose to go in a different direction in 2023. They did draft QB Malik Willis last year in the third round, but the rookie from Liberty did not look ready to start when he got in there this past season. Willis started three games for an injured Tannehill in 2022, completing 50.3 percent of his passes for just 276 yards with zero touchdowns and three interceptions – and that’s not just the three starts, that’s his seven-game appearances in total.

Tannehill has a cap hit of $36.6 million in 2023 with $18.8 million remaining in dead money. If Tannehill is on the open market, there is a chance some team would want him as a starter – but just as a “bridge” quarterback to a younger player. That’s not what the Broncos are interested in. However, if starting opportunities don’t materialize for the soon-to-be 35-year old quarterback, then perhaps the Broncos would take a look. No matter what, Denver needs a better backup quarterback behind starting QB Russell Wilson.

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Just like Dak

I love the pro comparison game. It’s the draft season, so I’m like a pig in slop most every day as I study film on the incoming crop of college talent. I know comparing a college player to a pro player is not a favorite for some, but to me it’s an easy way to convey what a player is – or could be – in the NFL. That’s why I take my time and really consider all options from the current game and well into the past before I start making comparisons.

Recently, NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah compared Kentucky QB Will Levis to Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott. I’m hearing some executives in the NFL like Levis more than us media types do, but I think everyone expects him to be a first-round pick in the 2023 NFL draft. With what I’m hearing from those in the scouting community, there’s a chance that Levis could be at least a top-10 pick, and some I talk to say he could go No. 1 overall.

That would be much different from where Prescott went (fourth round) back in the 2016 NFL Draft. We all know now that Prescott should have been drafted much higher, and he’s outplayed the three first-round quarterbacks from that year (Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Paxton Lynch). I had a first-round grade on Prescott, and I liked him coming out of Mississippi State more than I do Levis coming out of Kentucky. Levis has some skill as a passer, but his mechanics are inconsistent – similar to the way Prescott played when he came out of college.

I haven’t finished writing up Levis, and I’m not sure I would compare him to Prescott exactly, but I don’t mind the comparison. I’m going to really dig in on his film, as I do most quarterbacks, because of what my buddies in front offices are telling me. Levis isn’t exactly a media darling, but it sounds like the NFL has a higher opinion on him. I will be going through his game with a fine-toothed comb to see what my final grade is.

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Can the Broncos fill right tackle and backup QB needs via free agency?