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Broncos coach Sean Payton on drafting Bo Nix: 'When you watch him, it's pretty calming'

In the lead up to the 2024 NFL Draft, the Broncos' brass made it clear that its first-round pick was a decision it had to get right following an offseason shakeup that included the release of quarterback Russell Wilson.

Denver went on to select Oregon quarterback Bo Nix with the No. 12 overall pick on Thursday night, and Broncos head coach Sean Payton detailed why he believes Nix is the ideal fit for his offense.

"He's extremely intelligent, really smart. He handled a lot of the protections," Payton said Thursday night, via the team transcript. "When you watch him, it's pretty calming. He's very efficient, and it's not just because of the [underneath throws]. You see a ton of NFL throws in their offense."

Nix, 24, enters the NFL with more experience than most QB prospects, having started 61 games at Oregon and Auburn across five collegiate seasons. He thrived in his final year in Eugene with 4,508 passing yards, 45 touchdowns (three interceptions) and a 77.4 completion percentage to become a Heisman Trophy finalist.

Producing such numbers in a quick-strike offense similar to that of Payton's made Nix all the more intriguing for Denver. But in a top-heavy draft that saw five QBs selected in front of Nix -- including the mock-busting selection of Michael Penix Jr. to Atlanta -- getting the chance to select him was a frenzied proposition.

"It got a little crazy there for a minute," Payton said of the sequences leading up to Denver's selection of Nix.

Yet, trying to keep Nix within Denver's sights was unnerving all along going into Thursday night, according to Payton.

"Once we knew this was our target, every time [NFL Network analyst] Chase Daniel or [ESPN analyst] Dan Orlovsky got on like, 'This is perfect!' I would be like, 'Shh! Can you be quiet?'" he said. "You can't control that. Look, I think that a lot of times the offense gets built around the player. So we moved in a direction for years relative to what [former QB] Drew [Brees] did, but when he wasn't starting it was [former QB] Teddy [Bridgewater] or [QB] Jameis [Winston]. So it wasn't like 'this guy fits our system,' because our system -- let's just say if it was another quarterback. We want the best player. We did our best to talk about other players and directions. It's difficult sometimes. You don't want everyone to know that this is the player. But I saw what you guys saw. I would cringe and (general manager) George (Paton) would cringe. We're like, 'Ah!' Those are things you can't control."

Nix is now set to be the first first-round rookie QB Payton will have under his wing, but he will have plenty of competition in Denver. Zach Wilson was acquired leading up to the draft, and the former No. 2 overall pick could very well thrive with a change of scenery and under a QB guru in Payton. Jarrett Stidham also remains in the room after he was handed the starting reins last season when Russell Wilson was benched.

But the investment in Nix is far greater for a franchise that's trying to quickly leave the Russell Wilson era in the rearview. As fate would have it, the Broncos got the ideal QB prospect for a head coach that has seen great success in the NFL. However, Payton is well aware their decision will merely be one of many that could bring that same kind of success to Denver.

"The challenge is exciting, but it's still you want good quarterback play," Payton said of mentoring a first-round rookie QB. "The two biggest allies to that I believe strongly are good defensive play and a running game. In other words, if you are a quarterback and you're having trouble running the ball -- or let's get worse -- if you're a quarterback and you're having trouble running the ball or stopping people, your job description becomes very difficult. When you're playing good defense and you have a running game, your job description is a little bit more palatable."

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