ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — During George Paton’s nine years as the Vikings’ assistant general manager, Minnesota didn’t make any draft-day fireworks.
The Vikings often traded back from their first-round selection to acquire additional selections, and they also traded from the second round back into the first round on three occasions. Minnesota, though, did not package picks to improve the positioning of their existing first-round picks. There were no moves up into the top five or even the top 10 — but that doesn’t mean Paton is opposed to that sort of big move in Denver.
“If we feel a player could help us, could upgrade us, and we feel he’s worth going to get, we’re going to go get [him],” Paton said Thursday at his pre-draft press conference.
Paton said there may be players in this draft “worthy” of that sort of trade, but the team has not yet made any calls to move up in the draft.
“This [would be] a draft-day trade, because you don’t know if that player’s going to be there,” Paton said. “Typically, these happen when you’re on the clock. Obviously we had a few trades early, but they knew they were going to get one of their players. If we were to move up, we’re not sure the player we’re moving up for would be there.”
If Denver indeed moves up, it could be for a quarterback. Paton said while the team is “really high” on Drew Lock, the Broncos will continue to evaluate their options in the draft and beyond.
While the Broncos have not yet tried to move up, Paton said the Broncos have received calls from other teams looking to move to No. 9. If Denver moved back, the team could acquire valuable picks in the early stages of the draft. As Paton explained, that would give the Broncos more chances to find impact players. The Vikings capitalized on this strategy often as they traded back to accumulate more picks.
“We just wanted to acquire as many picks as we could,” Paton said. “If the player was there, we were going to take him. But if there were three players we still liked, we were going to try to trade back, accumulate capital. I guess the philosophy is more darts, the better chance of you hitting the bull’s-eye. You know how it is: If you have seven picks and you hit on half, that’s not great. You’ve got three players. We always liked to get to 10, 10 plus — just more darts.”
Regardless of where the Broncos pick, Paton believes Denver will be in prime position to improve the team.
“Where we’re picking, at No. 9, I really like it,” Paton said. “I think we filled enough needs in free agency where we don’t have to reach for a player. We can take the best player within reason. We have the flexibility to move up. We can move back. We have nine picks, we have three picks in the first 75, so we’re really excited. If we stand pat, we think we’ll get an impact player at No. 9. We’re looking forward to it. We feel we’re in prime position to upgrade our football team.”
The attention at Thursday’s press conference was largely on the quarterback position, but Paton said he also expects to add competition along the offensive line.
“I like our offensive line,” Paton said. “I think we probably need a little more depth. I like the draft. I like the draft at guard and tackle. I think you’ll be able to get a good offensive lineman in the first three rounds, maybe even four through six. I think our offensive line is — if you had to rank them in the league — they’re in the top third. We just need to add depth. We need to add competition. I think we’ll do that.”
Oregon’s Penei Sewell and Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater are widely considered the top tackles in the draft, and USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker is expected to be the top guard off the board. Several other tackles are also expected to be drafted in the mid-to-late first round or early second round.
Tackle Ja’Wuan James could also provide an immediate boost to the unit. After playing in just three games in 2019 and opting out ahead of the 2020 season, James has been to UCHealth Training Center and “looks great,” Paton said.
“The expectation is he starts at right tackle and plays well,” Paton said.
Soon after the draft, the Broncos will need to make a decision on whether to exercise Bradley Chubb’s fifth-year option that will keep him in Denver through at least 2022. Chubb and wide receiver Courtland Sutton both became eligible for extensions following the end of the 2020 season, but Paton deferred a question about their contract statuses until after the draft.
“[They’re] two of our core guys, and we want them here a long time,” Paton said. “We’re not going to address that until after the draft. We’re strictly focused on the draft. But those are two of our guys.”
Paton has previously mentioned his belief in building a team through the draft and signing players to second contracts.