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Denver picks Bonitto, Dulcich after sitting out 1st round

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)


AP Pro Football Writer

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) The Denver Broncos drafted a pass rusher and a tight end after trading away former first-rounders Von Miller and Noah Fant over the last six months.

With the first of two picks they obtained from the Rams in the trade for Miller last November, the Broncos selected Oklahoma outside linebacker Nik Bonitto with the 64th and final selection of the second round of the NFL draft Friday night.

They grabbed UCLA tight end Greg Dulcich in the third round after including Fant in the trade for Russell Wilson last month.

They also sent the third-round pick they obtained from the Rams in the Miller deal to Indianapolis in exchange for a fifth-rounder this year and the Colts' third-rounder in 2023.

Getting a Day 2 pick next year was high on general manager George Paton's wish list because he only had four picks in 2023.

Bonitto called Miller one of his idols, saying the pro pass rushers he looks up to begin with "one of the great ones that walked through there for sure" in Miller, who signed with Buffalo after helping the Rams win the Super Bowl.

The Rams sent their second- and third-rounders to Denver for Miller, a haul that helped the Broncos part with first- and second-round picks this year and next in exchange for Wilson, the first premier passer they've had since Peyton Manning retired in 2016.

Acquiring Wilson left the Broncos without a first-round pick for the first time in a decade. Paton swore, however, that he didn't care, suggesting he'd rather spend his Thursday night watching highlights of his new quarterback anyway.

And on Friday night, he obtained another big target for Wilson in Dulchich, who's 6-4 and 250 pounds.

"We're going to win Super Bowls," Dulcich exclaimed after the Broncos used the 80th overall pick on him after trading down five spots with Houston to obtain an extra mid-round selection. "I'm just excited about that. We're going to be such a successful team and I can't wait to go over there and get to work with him."

Dulcich, a former receiver, is more polished as a pass-catcher than a blocker with four 100-yard receiving games in the last two years for the Bruins.

Still, Dulcich insisted "I'm great at blocking. That's what I was mainly asked to do at UCLA - we're a run-first team, so I never shy away from that. I take pride in being a tough player that blocks at the point of attack. I'm nasty in the trenches for sure."

Bonitto (6-3, 248 pounds) is a better pass rusher than run stopper. He collected 18+ sacks over the last three seasons for the Sooners and had 32 tackles for loss during his career in Norman.

He should contribute immediately as a spot pass rusher on a defense that will feature free agent acquisition Randy Gregory and former first-rounder Bradley Chubb on the edges.

"Just getting to learn from those guys, It's going to be great for me," Bonitto said.

And vice versa, Paton said.

"We thought Nick was one of the better pass rushers coming out, just the bend, the speed, the burst. Very natural. At Oklahoma, he had a lot of production," Paton said.

Both of Denver's first two picks need to hit the weight room, Paton said, Dulcich so he can block defenders in the ground game and Bonitto so he can set the edge against the run.

New head coach Nathaniel Hackett called Dulcich a "threat down the field," like wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler, who are primed to benefit from Wilson's arrival.

"When you have a guy that can stretch the field like he can, I think it's really exciting," Hackett said.

The Broncos have eights elections Saturday, although Paton said he'd like to package some of them to add to the five selections he now owns in 2023. Atop his wish list for Saturday is a cornerback, he said, and maybe a tackle.

One of 10 teams that didn't pick in the first round Thursday night, the Broncos tweeted a faux video of the team drafting Wilson with the ninth pick that they dealt to Seattle.

"It was not a lot of fun last night," Paton said. "We got bored. But we did watch Russ a little bit."

Paton's first four picks of his first draft last year were productive rookies. Having given up so much draft capital this year, it might be harder to find immediate starters, but Paton said landing top-notch backups would also constitute a successful draft.

"Obviously we want starters, but we want good quality young depth," he said. "I think we have a chance to do that. We're off to a good start."


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Updated April 30, 2022

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