Denver Broncos 2021 NFL Draft: Will George Paton trade up?

Denver Broncos 2021 NFL Draft: Justin Fields
Denver Broncos 2021 NFL Draft: Justin Fields /

The 2021 NFL Draft is now just over three weeks away, and new Denver Broncos general manager George Paton has big decisions on the horizon.

Over the course of the next three weeks, the rumor mill is going to be running rampant. Some rumors will have actual legs while others will be used as smoke in mirrors to try and deter other teams from the actual plan.

There are a few people you should actually be listening to at this time of the year when it comes to rumors, namely big NFL reporters like Adam Schefter of ESPN, Ian Rapoport, Tom Pelissero, and Mike Garafolo of NFL Network, and 850 KOA’s own Benjamin Allbright, to name a few.

These reporters are not typically “used” by NFL teams to blow smoke up anyone’s rear-ends. These guys are as plugged-in as it gets, and they are also as accurate as it gets when it comes to reporting, not just fueling the rumor fire.

Teams are not exactly transparent about their NFL Draft plans, but that doesn’t mean information is incapable of being leaked from certain buildings. With that being said, the George Paton regime with the Denver Broncos has been quite tight-lipped.

Although Paton has been deliberate with what he’s said to the media about his plans to keep good players in-house, to be aggressive without being reckless, and about having a specific “plan” at the quarterback position, he’s not given much of anything away when it comes to the NFL Draft.

After the San Francisco 49ers traded up all the way to the third overall pick (from 12), the question now becomes, how aggressive will George Paton be about possibly moving up?

Paton has stated this offseason that the Denver Broncos will be “in” on every deal, and he’s made good on that promise up to this point. He made arguably his most aggressive play for quarterback Matthew Stafford, who ended up getting traded to the Los Angeles Rams.

Aside from Stafford, Paton has at least inquired on the price of a number of other guys, including Sam Darnold, who was recently traded to the Carolina Panthers.

Paton has been aggressive but not reckless, exactly like he said he would be. He’s also not made a move at the quarterback position whatsoever, including the option of cutting Jeff Driskel and adding more cap space.

What gives?

Will the Denver Broncos trade up in the 2021 NFL Draft?

The Denver Broncos have basically been the only team without a first-round draft pick or established guy that hasn’t made a substantial move at the quarterback position (depending on how substantial you view cutting Joe Flacco) in almost two years.

That’s not altogether shocking considering the Denver Broncos used a second-round pick on Drew Lock, who was almost unanimously expected to go in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft.

With Lock falling into their laps and a promising five-game finish to his rookie season, the team invested in him for 2020, which ended up being a disaster of a year for the team as a whole.

Although the circumstances were wild (for everyone), Lock did not perform up to the standard with which you can truly say that this guy is our franchise guy.

Lock has the traits and tools, as George Paton has stated, and he also has flashes of brilliance out there. He showed down the stretch of the 2020 season that he can be productive and limit mistakes more than he had earlier in the season, but was it enough?

Specifically, was it enough to prevent Paton from trading up in the 2021 NFL Draft in order to get a quarterback of his choosing?

That remains to be seen.

We can only read tea leaves at this point, and right now, it seems like Paton has a relatively clear direction in mind but no one knows if it’s Drew Lock or the NFL Draft.

Through free agency and trades (so far) we can see that George Paton likes Drew Lock on the final two years of his rookie contract better than the alternatives that have been available.

Through the pro day circuit, you could assume that Paton is at least willing to move on from Drew Lock for Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, or Justin Fields. Wilson will be going second overall to the Jets, however, so he’s out of the picture.

Paton attended Lance’s pro day in Fargo, ND, as well as Justin Fields’ pro day in Columbus, OH. He did not attend either of Mac Jones’ two pro days at Alabama, and because Paton said he likes to look at quarterbacks on the field to see how they work, it stands to reason he’s not as interested in Jones as the other guys.

Although the tide has shifted for Zach Wilson over the course of the last eight months, Justin Fields and Trey Lance were both projected top-five picks in the 2021 NFL Draft a year ago at this time who have done nothing to really make their stock decline, unless you really hated Trey Lance’s “showcase” game in 2020.

The case for trading up at the quarterback position is not hard to make, and it’s becoming more and more difficult to argue against that being the direction the Denver Broncos appear to be heading.

It could be argued that Justin Fields and Trey Lance have higher overall ceilings than Drew Lock. It’s inarguable that both of those guys are more dynamic athletically. Both Fields and Lance are younger than Lock and would reset the quarterback contract window for the Broncos by at least two years, if not three.

George Paton is not tied to Drew Lock by any means — Lock was John Elway’s draft choice.

Argue about Lock on the field all you want (love the highs or hate the lows to the extreme), but what you can’t argue is the fact that in his first two years in the NFL, injuries have been an area of concern.

This has to be a collaborative effort between Paton, the Denver Broncos’ scouting staff, and the coaching staff. The coaching staff needs to be involved because if you bring in a rookie quarterback, you have to reset expectations for those guys as well. If you stick with Drew Lock, does that keep even more intense pressure on Vic Fangio and his staff to get the team back to the postseason?

The Denver Broncos’ roster is presently set up for a quarterback to come in and have success. Drew Lock has a chance to grow and get better just like any other player in the NFL can overcome struggles to become better as time goes along.

With that being said, would you pass on a guy like Fields or Lance who might be the QB2 or QB3 on your board behind Trevor Lawrence in order to stick with him?

It will be interesting to see how other teams approach that very same question. The Carolina Panthers decided that Sam Darnold was a better option than whoever was going to be left after the 49ers’ pick at 3 overall, but that doesn’t mean the Denver Broncos share that same sentiment.

If the price is right, the Denver Broncos are set up well to trade up and put a quarterback like Justin Fields in position to succeed early on in his NFL career. The key is going to be whether or not George Paton buys his upside over the next four or five years more than he does Drew Lock’s upside in the immediate future.