ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- After months of travel, countless hours of meetings and still a few football miles to go before they sleep, the Denver Broncos will begin their selections in the 2017 draft Thursday night as the first round unfolds.
If the Broncos don’t trade out of the No. 20 spot, a tough deal to make given there has to be a player compelling enough for someone to want to trade up to land him, here’s a look at some of the players who could be available when they’re formally on the clock Thursday:
Wisconsin tackle Ryan Ramczyk: He is almost certainly the top-rated tackle on the Broncos’ board given he played in a pro-style offense at Wisconsin. Overall, the Broncos will not feel nearly as compelled to take a tackle with their first pick as most people think they should be given they like Ty Sambrailo's potential to play left tackle. But Ramczyk, if the board falls a certain way, could be the best player available when the Broncos make their selection. He is coming off hip surgery, so he may not be able to participate fully until the regular season nears. But he is well-schooled enough to play as a rookie, especially with free-agent signee Ronald Leary expected to line up at left guard.
Miami tight end David Njoku: He isn’t as polished a receiver as some would like -- some of his routes weren’t always the sharpest, and he drops a few too many passes he shouldn’t -- but he is an elite athlete who will be a matchup problem for defenses the moment he arrives. He’s raw -- he played just two seasons at Miami with 43 catches in 2016 -- but averaged more than 16 yards per catch in both of those years.
Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers: Peppers now carries some off-the-field baggage given he will reportedly enter the NFL already in Stage 1 of the league’s drug program because his test at the combine was a diluted sample, which the league treats as a positive test. It means he is subject to increased testing immediately, and the next positive test would result in a suspension. He has tried to assure teams that the test at the combine was a result of trying to be hydrated for two sets of workouts; he tested with both the linebackers and defensive backs on back-to-back days. The Broncos and other teams have to decide if they’re satisfied with that explanation for a player who could line up all over the formation on defense as well as return kicks.
Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis: Some teams have quiet concerns about his ankle surgery, which kept him out of the combine workouts and could push him down the board some, even into the Broncos’ conversations. But a team looking for a No. 3 option in the passing game with as much intensity as the Broncos are would simply have to take a long pause for a player with three seasons of at least 1,408 yards receiving and three seasons with at least 12 touchdowns. Those totals include his 1,500 yards and 19 touchdowns to be the MAC’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2016.
Washington wide receiver John Ross: He missed much of two seasons in his college career with knee injuries, but he set the record for the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine (4.22 seconds), is a fairly polished route runner and could be an option in the return game. That checks a lot of boxes for the Broncos if they are comfortable with the medical reports.
Western Kentucky guard/tackle Forrest Lamp: There is no question many personnel executives believe a team should never take a guard in the first round of any draft. But Lamp is the best lineman in this draft, and while many evaluators believe he’s a college tackle who will have to move to guard in the league, he also deserves at least a look at tackle, just for what he did against Alabama this past season alone. And if, for some reason, he has tumbled down the board Thursday when the Broncos' pick rolls around, it is a good bet he would be the best player on the board.
If the Broncos are able to find a deal that works to get out of the first round and into the top half of the second round, Temple tackle Dion Dawkins and USC’s do-it-all guy Adoree’ Jackson fit into their plans as well.