Denver Broncos: What went wrong in the 2018 NFL Draft?

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 15: Bradley Chubb #55 of the Denver Broncos is introduced prior to taking on the Chicago Bears at Empower Field at Mile High on September 15, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Timothy Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 15: Bradley Chubb #55 of the Denver Broncos is introduced prior to taking on the Chicago Bears at Empower Field at Mile High on September 15, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Timothy Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

Entering their fourth seasons in the league, respectively, it’s fair to take a bit of a reflective look back on the Denver Broncos‘ 2018 NFL Draft class and what went right — and wrong — with the class of players they picked.

The Denver Broncos made the decision in 2018 free agency to sign veteran quarterback Case Keenum, who was coming off of a tremendous season as a backup with the Minnesota Vikings.

The presence of Keenum apparently convinced John Elway to skip drafting a quarterback in 2018 altogether, and perhaps Elway had his eyes too set on some of the potential names in the 2019 class at the time.

We may never know.

Denver Broncos 2018 NFL Draft class

  • 1. Bradley Chubb, OLB
  • 2. Courtland Sutton, WR
  • 3a. Royce Freeman, RB
  • 3b. Isaac Yiadom, CB
  • 4a. Josey Jewell, LB
  • 4b. DaeSean Hamilton, WR
  • 5. Troy Fumagalli, TE
  • 6a. Sam Jones, OL
  • 6b. Keishawn Bierria, LB
  • 7. David Williams, RB
  • UDFA: Phillip Lindsay, RB

The Denver Broncos spent a ton of time in the 2018 offseason scouting the quarterback position. The coaching staff had the rare opportunity that year to coach at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL, and what made the opportunity even better than the Broncos could have hoped for was that they got the chance to work hands-on with two of the top quarterback prospects in the class — Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen.

At the time, many fans were clamoring for Mayfield and not for Allen as Mayfield had just won the Heisman Trophy, had a ton of charisma and attitude, and plenty of playmaking ability to translate to the next level.

Josh Allen was known for his inaccuracy in college and he did not play well in the games Wyoming had against some top FBS competition.

Despite having elite physical traits and one of the strongest arms talent evaluators had seen, Allen was considered a massive NFL Draft risk at the time.

The Denver Broncos only had the chance to select Allen in the 2018 Draft as Mayfield went first overall to the Cleveland Browns. It’s been rumored that Elway’s top quarterback in the class was Sam Darnold, whom the New York Jets acquired after trading up to the third overall pick.

With both Mayfield and Darnold off the board, the Broncos were content to pass on quarterbacks altogether. What they didn’t expect was for Bradley Chubb to still be on the board.

Considered the same caliber of prospect to players like Khalil Mack coming out of Buffalo a few years prior, Chubb was almost a can’t-miss player at one of the league’s most valuable positions who fell into the Broncos’ laps.

It’s crazy how much the 2021 situation with Pat Surtain II over Justin Fields mirrors the Bradley Chubb over Josh Allen situation in 2018, the more you think about it.

The Broncos opted for Chubb instead of trading down with the Buffalo Bills, who were targeting Allen all along.

Chubb suffered a season-ending injury four games into the 2019 season, but otherwise, he has been exactly as advertised for the Denver Broncos and is a key piece of the team’s future.

In the second round, the Broncos opted for SMU wide receiver Courtland Sutton despite, at the time, still having Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders under contract.

That decision was one of the best ones John Elway has made in some time.

Sutton has developed into a true WR1 and the alpha at the position for the Denver Broncos. He missed the 2020 season with a knee injury but broke out in 2019 in a big way and earned a Pro Bowl nod.

Sooner than later, he’s going to be getting a big-money deal or franchise tag from the Denver Broncos as a foundation piece of the offense.

The third round is where things started to get hairy for the Denver Broncos.

Royce Freeman looked like a legit RB1 early on in his time with the Broncos but an ankle injury in his rookie season derailed his progress and has seemingly stopped it altogether. Freeman has not established himself as the top back in Denver and is presently in danger of being cut or traded before the 2021 season.

Isaac Yiadom was a favorite at the 2018 Senior Bowl week of practices following a solid career at Boston College. Unfortunately, he could not find any consistency in Denver despite the team’s obvious need at cornerback, and he was traded in the 2020 offseason to the New York Giants.

He played a career-high 633 snaps for the Giants in 2020 but is in danger of losing his starting job in 2021.

Day three of the NFL Draft is all about dart throws, and as far as dart throws go, Josey Jewell has been a very good one.

A major theme for the Broncos in the 2018 NFL Draft was taking high character players after they could sense the 2015-17 classes failing before their very eyes because guys either didn’t love the game or weren’t willing to put in the work to be great.

Jewell has developed into a very underrated starting NFL linebacker.

Fellow fourth-round pick DaeSean Hamilton was a guy the Denver Broncos had high hopes for despite his draft status. Hamilton was known at Penn State for running great routes, having strong hands, and being deceptively great after the catch.

He unexpectedly struggled with drops at the NFL level as well as injuries, and just could never get anything really going. He got hurt in the 2021 offseason just before getting traded to the San Francisco 49ers, a deal that ultimately fizzled out.

Troy Fumagalli has been a decent backup option for the Broncos at the tight end position but the team let him walk twice in free agency, and he signed with the New England Patriots in the 2021 offseason.

Sam Jones and Keishawn Bierria are still floating around the NFL and David Williams is out of the league.

Ultimately, hindsight is always 20/20. The Denver Broncos passed on Josh Allen who looked bad through his first two NFL seasons before emerging as a legitimate MVP candidate in 2020. Is that version of Allen here to stay? Time will tell.

For the time being, it’s still tough to say the Broncos made the wrong choice picking Bradley Chubb, a superior prospect at the time regardless of position value, when Chubb has developed into a stud in his own right.

Courtland Sutton was another home-run pick, and with Josey Jewell, it’s possible the Broncos will have three second-contract players from this group.

At this point, the biggest whiff appears to be on Royce Freeman, though early on that did not appear to be the case. Freeman has steadily declined and the Broncos have replaced him with Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams.

What went wrong with this class? Many will argue it started with passing on Josh Allen or the Buffalo Bills’ trade offer to move down.

Ultimately, what went wrong with this class was more than likely the Denver Broncos slightly over-emphasizing character and slightly under-emphasizing athletic traits. In the three draft classes since this one, we’ve seen them start to really emphasize a combination of both of those things.

It could also be the fact that John Elway wrongfully anticipated that Justin Herbert would be available in the 2019 NFL Draft class, causing him to miss out on Josh Allen.

We may never know if that is actually the case, but it would be a reasonable assumption given Elway’s affinity for Herbert shown throughout the 2018 season.

If Elway convinced the rest of the front office and scouting department to wait another year on Herbert as opposed to taking a shot of Josh Allen, that makes the team’s 2018 NFL Draft class all the more intriguing.

Herbert obviously made the surprising decision to stay in school for the 2019 season and instead was a top-10 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. The Broncos didn’t make a move up in the draft and mortgage their future to get him, so now they get to deal with him for the next handful of years.

It’s a brutal exercise to go back and look at draft classes in hindsight. All told, the Denver Broncos got two cornerstone pieces in Chubb and Sutton along with a possible third key piece in Josey Jewell.

Beyond that, this class’s contributions will be limited to what they did within their four-year rookie contract, and that’s it.