Round 5, Pick 174: Daequan Hardy, CB, Penn State:
With Broncos wide receiver Marvin Mims Jr. expected to have an increased role as a starter in 2024, the Broncos have to decide what they are going to do at the returner position. Perhaps, Denver can continue forward with Mims Jr. as their returner, however, I doubt Sean Payton will keep him at that position much longer while he tries to develop him at the receiver position with an increased snap count.
Therefore, selecting Penn State cornerback/kick returner Daequan Hardy could be a smart pick for the Broncos. Besides, this wouldn't be George Paton's first time trading up in the fifth round for a returner.
However, this time around, the selection of Hardy in the fifth round would be a more wise move than the selection of Montrell Washington in 2022. Hardy, 22, earned second-team All-American honors as a return specialist in 2023 and third-team All-Big Ten as a cornerback. Hardy, at 5-foot-9, is definitely on the smaller side of cornerbacks but should not discredit his potential as an NFL corner.
In his four years at Penn State, he recorded seven and a half tackles for loss, five interceptions, 19 pass breakups, and an interception returned for a touchdown. Hardy also returned two punts for a touchdown and averaged an impressive 14.6 yards per punt return.
Hardy's raw ability is a bit concerning however, his elite speed and intangibles make him an intriguing prospect as a defensive back in the later rounds. The more speed in Denver, the better, because they are definitely lacking in that area.