Justin Jefferson contract a brutal reminder of Broncos horrible draft failure

The Broncos would love to be giving out record-setting contracts...but they aren't.
Denver Broncos
Denver Broncos / Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

It's easy to look at a massive contract being handed out to a player like Minnesota Vikings star wide receiver Justin Jefferson and think, wow, $35 million per year is a lot for a wide receiver. You can almost convince yourself you are glad your favorite team isn't the one making that kind of move. But in reality, the Denver Broncos (and most fans) would probably love to be giving out a $35 million per year contract to a wide receiver.

Instead, we've got to bring up an(other) NFL Draft failure by this organization in the post-Peyton Manning years.

The 2020 NFL Draft was John Elway's final NFL Draft class with the Denver Broncos as the team's general manager. George Paton took over in 2021. The Broncos had the 15th overall pick in that draft and a desperate need at the wide receiver position.

Luckily for them, that class was considered pretty legendary in terms of its wide receiver talent, and it's proven to have lived up to the hype. But not for the guy the Broncos picked.

Although he just received a new contract worth $52 million in total money and $41 million in guaranteed cash, Jerry Jeudy did not work out as a first-round pick for the Denver Broncos. Situations and circumstances matter. Jeudy was drafted to a team that was planning to start Drew Lock at quarterback in 2020. When Teddy Bridgewater came along in 2021, Jeudy missed a huge chunk of the season due to injury (and then was running sprints thanks to Pat Shurmur).

The arrival of Russell Wilson in 2022 boosted Jeudy's stock to the point that we've seen today, and Jeudy had the best year of his NFL career in 2022 with 972 receiving yards and six touchdowns. His production took a major step back in 2023 with Sean Payton at the helm, though it wasn't for a lack of the Broncos trying to scheme Jeudy open and get him the ball. Wilson was simply not seeing him open.

Jeudy's 47.4 yards per game last year was effectively the worst number in his four NFL seasons. After refusing to trade him for so long, the Broncos finally sent Jeudy to the Cleveland Browns for 5th and 6th-round picks in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Unfortunately, let's take a look at a list of some of Jeudy's peers in that 2020 NFL Draft class, players the Denver Broncos passed on despite selecting receivers with their top two picks in that class (Jeudy and KJ Hamler).

  • CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys
  • Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings
  • Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers
  • Tee Higgins, Cincinnati Bengals
  • Michael Pittman Jr., Indianapolis Colts

The only receiver selected before Jeudy in the 2020 NFL Draft was Henry Ruggs, who is currently incarcerated.

It's beyond a bummer that the Denver Broncos are not the team in position to be paying a receiver the kind of money the Vikings are paying to Justin Jefferson. The decision to pay him the biggest non-quarterback contract in league history is evidence that the Vikings drafted and developed a superstar, and saw the best in a guy who was sort of overlooked in his own draft class.

At least the Broncos have the guy in the GM seat who was part of drafting him in Minnesota?