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Broncos general manager George Paton: 'Our first pick, we have to hit on'

The Denver Broncos might be likely to hop into the quarterback derby in the 2024 NFL Draft, but they say they're not married to one plan for finding one.

Move up, stay put, trade back – everything is on the table, the Broncos' brass said Thursday.

"Do we have to draft a quarterback? You'd say it sure looks like we have to draft a quarterback," Broncos head coach Sean Payton said. "And yet, it's got to be the right fit, the right one. And if we had the tip sheets as to who everyone else was taking it'd be easier to answer that question. And so, that's the puzzle here."

Denver currently sits with the No. 12 overall pick in Round 1 a week away from the start of the draft. The team already has spoken to other clubs picking above them and below them. Wherever the Broncos end up, they appear to know just how much is riding on their first selection, whether or not it's a quarterback.

Broncos general manager George Paton didn't rule out using their top pick on another position but made clear just how important that selection will be, whatever direction they go there.

"Our first pick, we have to hit on," Paton said.

Paton also understands the need to not panic and shoehorn the wrong pick – especially at the critical quarterback position – out of desperation. That could lead to compounding issues that take their toll on the franchise for the next several years.

"What you don't want to do here is force it," Paton said. "Otherwise you'll be in this position next year and the years after."

The 2024 QB class has four prospects who might not get out of the top five picks overall: USC's Caleb Williams, LSU's Jayden Daniels, North Carolina's Drake Maye and Michigan's J.J. McCarthy. After that, some observers believe the second tier is a two-man cluster with Oregon's Bo Nix and Washington's Michael Penix Jr..

As it relates to Denver, trading up is the headline-grabbing move, but do the Broncos have enough to slide up eight or nine slots to land one of the top four quarterback prospects? They don't own a second-rounder in 2024 and are not flush with future picks or other tradable assets currently, but that won't stop them from targeting a potentially special passer in their eyes.

"If it's a player you feel like can change the landscape of your franchise going forward," Paton said, "you do what you have to do to get him.

"We're wide open."

But Payton made a fair point: Wanting to move up and being able to execute it are two entirely different matters. It also doesn't help the Broncos' cause that there might be multiple quarterback-needy teams seeking to trade into the upper reaches of the draft, including a few that might have more draft-pick value than Denver does.

That could give the Broncos a little sticker shock when it comes to meeting teams' prices for a trade up.

"The hypothetical relative to what the compensation is, it's a lot of times driven by who else is interested," Payton said. "And then it's (a matter of) how much you can palate."

Payton is well aware of the other QB-needy teams around the league, which also complicates the matter. There will be heavy competition in this game of quarterback musical chairs.

"There's a handful of teams ahead of us where you'd see 'quarterback,' and then there's a team or two – Minnesota, ourselves, the Raiders – you could argue quarterback, and that's what makes this year a little interesting," he said.

If trading up appears too costly, the Broncos said they like several quarterbacks in this class – more than just the four QB prospects routinely populating the top of most mock drafts. But the further down they drop on that list, the less ready they might be to play early on.

"There (are) seven, eight quarterbacks that we like, that we think can play in the league one day," Paton said. "It is a good quarterback class. It's been fun getting to know them, seven or eight of them. So we think we can get a quarterback early, we think we can (in the) mid-rounds, we think there's going to be quarterbacks throughout the draft that are interesting to us."

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