MILE HIGH MONDAY

The Broncos missed the boat by not pursuing this free-agent wide receiver

Mar 20, 2023, 6:28 AM

We are in full pre-draft mode when it comes to the NFL. The sports world is focused on March Madness (I think the greatest event on the sports calendar), but the NFL is finalizing details on draft boards by traveling across the country to pro days.

I like attending as many pro days as I possibly can. This is the final moment when college prospects can put on a show for a large stage, and it’s a critical time when it comes to building the draft.

I also like contemplating life and sports when driving around with the top down on my old Jeep TJ! The following is a result of those trips during the week.

Buckle up, let’s take a ride through my thoughts.

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Hater or Motivator?

We’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Denver Broncos wide receiver Jerry Jeudy. There is no doubt Jeudy ended the 2022 season on a hot streak, recording 35 receptions for 459 yards and three touchdowns over his final five games. A primary reason why Jeudy finally started to play up to his potential was the team placing him as the “X” receiver and primary read for QB Russell Wilson.

With a larger role, Jeudy produced at a level that he hasn’t done for most of his pro career. Sure, there have been flashes with Jeudy during his Broncos’ career, but they have been brief and there was plenty of space between them.

Jeudy did not score a touchdown in 2021, but in 2022 he bounced back with six receiver scores (with three coming in one game against the Kansas City Chiefs). It’s a clear sign that when Jeudy is utilized the correct way, he’s going to produce at a high level. When he came out of Alabama in the 2020 NFL Draft, I felt Jeudy was the best receiver in the best receiving class in NFL history. So far, that’s been LSU’s Justin Jefferson (who is a bona fide superstar), but I think more is there for Jeudy.

So, why not create more for him in 2023? There has been buzz about teams calling to inquire about a trade for Jeudy. Before they added free agent WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, the New England Patriots were one of those teams. The buzz had the Broncos asking for at least a first-round pick for the former first-round pick. To me, that means they do have a plan for him this season – unless someone pays a hefty price. There’s still a chance that Jeudy (or Courtland Sutton) is dealt during the 2023 NFL Draft, but I would rather see him stay.

I’m not big on those who have the idea of trading Jeudy. I’d rather pick up his fifth-year option, make him the No. 1 receiver (X receiver) and see what he can truly be. The Broncos offense will be better with Sean Payton running the show, and Jeudy could be a big part of that turnaround in 2023.

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Another Big CB, Please

I like the makeup of the Broncos’ secondary. That being said, you should always be looking for skilled players – especially versatile players – who can play on the back end of the defense. Even though they are not scheduled to pick until the third round of the 2023 NFL Draft, I think the Broncos should have a specific player in mind – if they want the same thing in the secondary that I want.

The Broncos need to be considering LSU cornerback Mekhi Garner. He transferred from Louisiana-Lafayette and did not wilt under the pressure of playing against college football’s best competition. Garner had a breakout season for the Ragin Cajuns in 2020 as a sophomore, but in his final year of college football he continued to show quality play. There are two main reasons why I want the Broncos to target Garner in the draft – size and versatility.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before; the Broncos should be looking for long cornerbacks. Garner measures 6-feet, 2-inches but also has large hands and a large wingspan. Even though he’s not blazing fast (Garner ran a 4.55 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine), his length helps him make up ground and close on receivers when he’s playing trail technique. In addition to his size and length, Garner has the versatility to play safety at the pro level. Some teams, perhaps the Broncos, see Garner as a safety in the NFL. His size, length, and recovery ability could be a fine asset when facing some of the “F” tight ends who want to stretch the middle of the field.

We’ll see what direction the Broncos go in the draft, but I think teams can never have too many options at cornerback. To get Garner in the draft, the Broncos may have to move up. If they covet large corners the way they should, that will be an option for Paton. The Broncos are not done adding talent, and they are certainly looking for help in the secondary. Why not add a player who can be used as a versatile playmaker for your aggressive defense? Garner could be that guy.

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Know Him From Adam

I think Paton has done a good job in free agency this offseason. I would give him at least a “B+” for the job he’s done picking free agents for the Broncos. Paton has not always graded this highly, at least if you’re being honest. However, this offseason – with the pressure of performing for Payton – I think he’s crushed it.

Even though Paton has done a great job so far, he might have missed the ball when it comes to veteran WR Adam Thielen. It was announced on Sunday that Thielen had signed a three-year contract with the Carolina Panthers. After spending 10 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, Thielen was released and was free to sign anywhere. I think the Broncos should have made a push for Thielen – regardless of what happens with the likes of Jeudy, Sutton, etc.

Paton knows Thielen from his days in Minnesota when he was the assistant general manager underneath Vikings’ GM Rick Spielman. Thielen was undrafted in 2013 out of Minnesota State-Mankato, and he went from small-school/local hero to an All-Pro/Pro Bowl caliber receiver for the Vikings. He’s a seasoned veteran and not quite what he used to be, but Thielen has 30 touchdowns over the last three seasons. Over that same time, the Broncos trio of Sutton, Jeudy and Tim Patrick have a combined 24 touchdowns. It’s clear that Thielen can still put in work when near pay dirt. I would have liked to see him as a red-zone threat for Wilson and the Broncos offense.

The Broncos need to look for talent anywhere they can. Thielen would have played a very specific role for the Broncos, but that’s one I think he could’ve filled admirably. It’s a missed opportunity to not add a seasoned veteran like Thielen to the roster.

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Payton Exciting Fans

In football and in life, it’s all about connection. The key is finding what you love and doing what you love. For me, that’s football and comic books. I’ve loved both my entire life, and now I get to work in both fields professionally. This is season No. 20 for me covering the NFL as an analyst, and in the past year I (finally) started my independent comic book company.

Anytime I’m out and about, I like talking to fans about both of my passions. You might be surprised how many football fans or sports fans are also fans of comic books – or at least comic books movies. When I am at a public appearance or live broadcast in radio, fans will talk to me about both. When I am a featured artist or get a table at a comic book convention/swap, I get plenty of football questions in addition to questions about my company.

On Sunday, I was down in Colorado Springs at a comic book swap. I was constantly asked about Payton and the Broncos. There is a real sense of excitement for the Broncos this year. I believe most people (including myself) had hope for the Broncos. This year, that hope feels more tangible because of Payton. It’s cool when I see a person some would peg as a big nerd, complete with Venom hat and Superman shoes, talk more about football. Life is about passion, and fans are able to be excited about both football and the pop culture world of comic books (and comic book movies).

Do you feel real excitement for the Broncos this year? Hit me up on social media and let me know!

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