ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Working under the premise that the Denver Broncos will not reel in their long-term solution at quarterback in free agency, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. continues to eye the same quarterback prospect in the draft for the Broncos.
In his second first-round mock draft, released Wednesday, Kiper has the Broncos using the No. 5 pick on USC quarterback Sam Darnold -- the same player he had going to the Broncos in his first mock draft.
ESPN’s Todd McShay had the Broncos selecting Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen and then Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, respectively, in his first two mock drafts.
Broncos president of football operations/general manager John Elway, director of personnel Matt Russell and Gary Kubiak (a senior personnel adviser for the team) were all in Arlington, Texas, Dec. 29 when USC faced Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl. Darnold finished with 356 yards passing in the game in a losing effort for the Trojans.
If the Broncos select Darnold, he would be the second 20-year-old quarterback Elway has taken in the draft during his tenure as the Broncos’ top football decision-maker. Brock Osweiler was 20 when Elway used a second-round pick on him in the 2012 draft.
Initial evaluations would seem to indicate Darnold, who played 27 games in two seasons at USC, would need some time to work his way into the starting job. His initial hurdle would be simply taking care of the ball given he had 13 interceptions last season to go with nine lost fumbles.
He threw an interception and lost two fumbles in the Cotton Bowl loss to the Buckeyes. But Darnold has the kind of athleticism, big-moment composure and room to grow that many evaluators like.