Despite lack of picks, Denver Broncos likely trade up candidates

Denver Broncos Introduce Sean Payton as Head Coach
Denver Broncos Introduce Sean Payton as Head Coach / Matthew Stockman/GettyImages

Despite their relatively limited 2023 NFL Draft capital thanks to blockbuster trades for Russell Wilson and Sean Payton, the Denver Broncos might still end up being aggressive when it comes to moving up the 2023 NFL Draft board. Is that really possible? It absolutely is, and based on how Sean Payton has historically operated, it should borderline be expected.

While he was head coach of the Saints, Payton and New Orleans GM Mickey Loomis traded up in every single draft except their first one together in 2006. They have always been extremely aggressive bordering on having a one-track mind when it comes to targeting guys they had their sights set on. It didn't matter if they had plenty of picks to begin with or if resources were limited -- the Saints never really veered away from their style of operation.

Did they have some thin draft classes through the years? Certainly, but many of the Saints' drafts in the last 10 years have been high quality, including the absolutely legendary 2017 NFL Draft they had which produced:

- Marshon Lattimore, CB
- Ryan Ramczyk, OT
- Marcus Williams, S
- Alvin Kamara, RB
- Alex Anzalone, LB
- Trey Hendrickson, EDGE
- Al-Quadin Muhammad, DL

Every single one of those selections has panned out, which is about as rare as it gets for an NFL Draft class. In that 2017 Draft, though, the Saints had six of their seven picks in the first three rounds. This year, Payton's first with the Denver Broncos, they have just two picks in the first three rounds and five selections overall. Can he still operate with this same level of aggressiveness?

The answer to that question is yes, and there is plenty of precedence to point to. Let's look at one of the most recent examples of how Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis didn't only move up the board when they were loaded with draft picks.

New Orleans Saints NFL Draft model following Sean Payton to the Denver Broncos?

In the 2018 NFL Draft, the Saints moved up from the back end of the first round in order to select pass rusher Marcus Davenport. That trade cost them their 2019 first-round pick in the process. Going into the 2019 NFL Draft, the Saints did not have a first-round pick, and their top selection was not going to be until late in round two (62nd overall).

Sounds like a similar kind of predicament that the Broncos are currently in, doesn't it? Payton and Loomis still moved up in that 2019 NFL Draft from 62nd overall to 48th overall, surrendering a future 2nd-round pick to move up 14 spots for offensive lineman Erik McCoy as well as a 4th-round pick (116th overall).

Another thing worth noting? The Saints had already traded their third-round pick in 2019 (93rd overall) in exchange for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater the previous preseason. So not only did they enter this draft without a first-round pick, but without a third-round pick as well. Despite being limited in their capital, the Saints not only traded up in round two for a player they had targeted, but they also turned around and traded up a handful of spots again in the fourth round in order to select safety CJ Gardner-Johnson.

They gave up their fifth-round pick (168th overall) to make that deal happen.

This is just one example of the Saints' aggressiveness under Sean Payton coming into play, specifically an example of what Payton was willing to do with limited NFL Draft capital. You might want to chalk this up as a Mickey Loomis philosophy, but Payton has sort of always had final say in terms of personnel, especially in recent years. These moves don't happen without his ultimate approval. The guy even told the Broncos not to hire him if it meant giving up too many draft picks, because then that affected how he does his own job. He was already controlling the Broncos' draft capital before even getting hired in Denver!

Trading up is just how Payton operates during the NFL Draft. He and the scouts collaborate to target players, and they simply manifest those players when they begin to fall in the NFL Draft. Although it seems far-fetched to think the Denver Broncos' first-round pick in 2024 will be on the table for quarterback reasons, really nothing is off the table if you want to talk about what this team may or may not be willing to do to move up in this draft for a specific guy. Or any future Draft, for that matter.

If being aggressive is Payton's NFL Draft "MO", then what can we expect from the Broncos in this 2023 NFL Draft? George Paton's philosophy is the complete opposite of this. He has traded up, but selectively and seemingly on a "budget" with how much he's willing to pay to move up. Payton seems okay with four or five picks being his NFL Draft class while Paton's philosophy is to collect as many picks as possible, accumulating more "darts" to throw.

More darts = better chance of hitting a bullseye.

The good news is, it doesn't feel like either of these guys really cares to compromise quality for quantity, regardless of what direction they are moving on the board (up or down). Payton has a history of putting together outstanding yet limited draft classes, and Paton has an early history (and some hardware) of having a good draft with a wider variety of picks.

Will the philosophies of Payton and Paton clash during the 2023 NFL Draft? Perhaps. Or, perhaps, they both feel the same type of way about the roster and are ready to collaborate one way or the other. Perhaps this is the year we see Sean Payton finally trade down again, something he hasn't done in over a decade.

The next question is, who could the Broncos be targeting to move up in this draft?

Well, that answer is undoubtedly more nuanced than it seems on the surface. We've seen the team have a pre-draft visit with Oregon State tight end Luke Musgrave, whose current stock is about 20 picks or so ahead of where the Broncos are currently slated to select at 67 and 68 overall. We have seen this team do plenty of pre-draft interviews with tight ends, receivers, some corners, and plenty of other players who are probably priced out of their range. I think the question of what position they could move up to target has too many answers to narrow down, although cornerback, tight end, and offensive tackle might make the most sense right now.

The Broncos can find a variety of ways to make trades to move up. They could still try and trade Jerry Jeudy or Courtland Sutton if an opportunity arises, as unlikely as it feels right now. They could trade their 67th and 68th picks to move up into the top 50 overall. They could include their 2024 third-round pick in a trade, as unpopular as that might be. They could use a third and fourth to move up a handful of spots into round two.

There are plenty of options, it's now just a matter of which ones will actually be explored. Again, this has to be about specific players, not just specific positions. The Broncos still have some needs on the roster right now, but in the eyes of the team, it seems the "needs" are mostly for depth and future starters.

What price is Sean Payton willing to pay for those players? As we've seen in the past, he will really spare no expense.

Next. 5 draft moves to get the Broncos past the Chiefs. dark