Examining the Broncos’ options to add “juice” if Christian McCaffrey goes early

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It seems as if  no matter who anyone you ask around the Denver Broncos facility, whether it be management, coaches, or players, they’re all grinning as they give not so subtle hints about how a player like Christian McCaffrey would do wonders for the Broncos offense in the draft.

McCaffrey’s already been featured in our running back preview (among other places), but his skill set as a receiver, returner, and runner would easily fit on this list as well, making him such an appealing pick thanks to his versatility. But McCaffrey is far from the only offensive swiss-army knife in this draft. There are many weapons and athletes in this draft class who could become important weapons for the Broncos attack sooner rather than later. Fitting both C-Mac’s mold but also the versatile role that a Tyreek Hill filled stupendously for the Kansas City Chiefs last year.

With that, we’re focusing on receivers, but also speed demons who fit as returners and in the slot complementing Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. With that let's get into the best options for Denver in this draft.

Immediate game changers 

John Ross, WR, Washington

Ross is electric; we don’t need to tell you that, as his record breaking 4.22 40-yard dash at the NFL’s combine is enough proof. The Washington product needs to be more nuanced in his route running to become a pure slot, but he was very productive in the short area in red zone situations—17 touchdowns total, 12 of which were produced in the red zone.

Don’t discount Ross' ability as a jack of all trades, either, as his three career rushing touchdowns and 244 career rushing yards off of 16 carries (!!) can prove he’s simply a playmaker with the ball in his hands. A promising sign for him as a returner as well, where he really shined in his first few seasons at Washington. He also has some delicate hands and can make tough over the shoulder grabs or acrobatic catches.

His only big question is his injury history; Ross has already been through two ACL surgeries to both knees and has undergone the dreaded microfracture surgery. He’s also undersized at 5-feet-11 and 188 pounds, but that concerns the Broncos less as they’ve got some significant size in their receiver room already. As Denver searches for playmakers to use in creative ways, with a little coaching, Ross might just be the answer.

Curtis Samuel, WR/RB, Ohio State

Samuel is a better route runner as of now than Ross as he’s already very skilled in setting defenders up with subtle moves and fakes understanding how to get open. That would instantly give the Broncos a matchup nightmare in the slot and a nice safety blanket for their young quarterbacks. He’s also dangerous in space and with the ball in his hands, something he proved over and over last season and confirmed with his 4.31 speed at the combine.

Samuel is also a good runner and would make for a talented skat-back. He does lack power to his game, and there are a few drops too many—his only real issue as a receiver. At pick 20 he’s a reach, but it’ll be hard for him to drop to 51. If the Broncos really want him, they might just have to pull the trigger, or he’d be a great trade down candidate if the team missed out on McCaffrey and Ross.

Jabrill Peppers, DB, Michigan

Peppers is a jack of all trades player, not just offensively or in the return game but defensively as well, likely where he’d play most regularly as a strong safety. But his best asset might just be as a returner where his speed, change of direction and power make him phenomenal. In his first season in Denver where he’d only need to be a sub package player on defense and backup, he could be used primarily as a returner and could even be mixed in as an offensive weapon. It might not be the most logical fit, but few fit the bill of a jack-of-all-trades returning phenom than Peppers.

Sneaky game-changers for day two

Adoree Jackson, CB/WR/PR, USC

Jackson’s another playmaker from the defensive side, though, honestly, his best fit seems to be even more so oriented towards the offense than Peppers. Jackson played cornerback and has made big plays, but his athleticism combined with his ball skills have always been what’s stood out most. Put him on offense, and you have a Tyreek Hill type playmaker potentially. He’s the most dynamic and explosive returner of the class with legitimate Olympian-type athleticism.

Simply special with the ball in his hands, Jackson is a risk in the wrong hands, say someone who wants to pigeon hole him. In a creative man’s mind, he’d be absolute dynamite. A rare playmaker who could create big plays and touchdowns without needing any help from the quarterback or offensive line. Now that sounds like a quick fix.

Jackon’s stock is hard to gauge, honestly, as he’s a ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ type prospect. There’s about a 50-50 chance he’s around once the Broncos draft in round two.

Dede Westbrook, WR, Oklahoma

First things first, Westbrook has some character questions that have come up both from his past as a teenager and some mixed reviews from his interviews during the draft process. The team will have dig deep into those and feel comfortable with his character, something we can’t speak to. On tape, he’s a blistering receiver who was spectacular last season at Oklahoma. With his speed and skill as a receiver, the Broncos would open up lots of room underneath for the bigger DT, and the run game as teams would have to respect his speed.

He lacks physicality and would have to put some hours in the weight room, but the speed is certainly there. Westbrook could be a very talented returner too.

Carlos Henderson, WR, Louisiana Tech

Henderson is more quick than fast, but boy is he quick. You notice it on screen passes and returns when he gets into the open field. Put the ball in his hands, and he’ll make people miss, plain and simple. In many ways reminiscent of former Baylor and Browns first round pick Corey Coleman from the 2016 draft.

Henderson isn’t as explosive, or as physical on contested catches, as Coleman was but in day two hidden in this deep receiver class he’d certainly warrant a pick and fit what the Broncos are trying to add.

Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington

Kupp became a popular name after getting good reviews for his ability to get open regularly against the big school completion he faced at the Senior Bowl. But anyone who was concerned with Kupp’s small school status prior to that just wasn’t paying attention as he’s racked up 40 receptions, 716 yards, and 11 touchdowns in four games over four years against Pac-12 competition. After the hype train took off during the Senior Bow,  Kupp’s stock has cooled off some since putting up some less than stellar running times in his athletic testing at the combine. He did, however, put up a nice score on his three-cone drill, proving he’s got the athleticism and change of direction skills to play competently in the slot.

The Easter Washington product possesses some nice size at 6-foot-2 and 204 pounds, making him one of the bigger guys on this list and also a potential outside receiver when needed. The lack of speed will limit his impact in the return game but if Denver’s looking for a high-level slot receiver and an added target to the passing game Kupp would be a great option. His hands, ability to get open underneath, as well as his size— making him hard to bring down after the catch—would make him an intriguing and NFL ready weapon for the Broncos young QBs.

Gems for day three

Tarik Cohen, RB, North Carolina A&T

Watch Cohen, just watch his feet and his ability to change direction, and you’d be hard pressed to even believe he’s human as his moves are much more video game like than anything a mere mortal can do.

He’s extremely undersized at 5-foot-6 and 176 pounds, even within this list of speedsters. But his skills and ability to create big plays are absolutely insane so much so that he could go much higher than this.

If the Broncos missed out on some of the top targets on this list, Cohen as a returner and receiving running back specialist would be a splendid pickup. Adding some big time “juice” to the offense and special teams. The Broncos and Cohen have already met on a private visit.

Victor Bolden, WR, Oregon State

Bolden is another diminutive speedster though with a classic returner/slot receiver package. In the Pac-12 the last few seasons, he’s been one of the few weapons on a struggling Beaver offense, but his skills both in the slot and as a returner would make him a perfect candidate for this role.

Not a future star necessarily, but don’t overlook Bolden as a potential standout in the slot and significant contributor in the return game who’d be able to fit in the NFL much sooner than later.

T.J. Logan, RB, UNC

Logan is a lesser known name, as he wasn’t even the starting running back at North Carolina, rather being used as more of a change of pace third-down back.

In that role as a receiver out the backfield who can add speed to the running back department while also contributing in the return game, he'd be useful. In the later rounds, Logan would be an intriguing added weapon to Denver's attack.

Artavis Scott, WR, Clemson

Scott’s a fairly well-known name, though his past season at Clemson wasn’t his best. He’s another undersized player who’s quicker rather than fast, a skill that’s big time for a slot receiver and returner. In that role, he’d certainly find a spot to play in Denver. Think a less physical or speedy Eddie Royal.

Summing it up

First off, this should show that McCaffrey is far from the only option in this draft class as there are several intriguing offensive and special teams weapons who can be found in the 2017 class in all rounds.

The best McCaffrey clones or substitutes would be Samuels in round two (if still around) or Cohen in rounds three through five, depending on how high he could go. But the Broncos could also find a solution in the slot out of this draft and pick some returning specialist like Jackson who could really light up the scoreboard.

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