Draft with Class: Lock, Fant and Risner make Elway look shiny in Houston

Denver Broncos general manager John Elway before the start of the game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports

John Elway has taken plenty of heat of late.

Some of it justified. Some of it, perhaps, not.

During his tenure as the man in charge of the Broncos, the biggest knock on Elway has been his ability – or inability – to draft. Outside of Von Miller, who was taken with the second pick of the 2011 draft, Elway has not drafted a single Pro-Bowler.

By and large, any recent, sustained success the Broncos have had, has been because of a handful of key free agent signings. Look no further than the team Elway fielded in Super Bowl 50, whose core featured the likes of Peyton Manning, DeMarcus Ware, TJ Ward, Darian Stewart, Aqib Talib, Emmanuel Sanders, Evan Mathis, Owen Daniels and Ryan Harris – none of whom were drafted by the Broncos.

Denver’s most recent teams haven’t performed up to franchise standards. Following Super Bowl 50 to now, where the Broncos will likely post their third straight losing season, has been a stretch dotted by early-round misses in the draft (see Garett Bolles), marquee free agent signings that haven’t worked out (see Case Keenum, Joe Flacco) and colossal busts at the game’s most important position, quarterback (see Paxton Lynch).

But.

Sunday’s unexpected win over the AFC South-leading Texans, a team that just whipped the Patriots, provided a different perspective on Elway’s most recent draft class. If the Broncos’ fortunes are about to turn around, it might very well be on the backs of the Class of 2019.

The Broncos first selection in the 2019 draft, Noah Fant, has been a lightning rod for controversy since day one (Why not take Devin Bush?), but his performance in Houston was nothing short of spectacular. On the day, Fant hauled in four catches for 113 yards and a touchdown. Only four times in the last 49 years has a tight end gone for 100 yards and a TD at age 22 years, 1 month or younger: Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Noah Fant and Noah Fant. While Fant has had his share of ups and downs, Sunday showcased the rookie’s potential and then some.

This Sunday looked like a lot every Sunday for the 41st pick of the 2019 draft, Dalton Risner, who is the Broncos best and most-dependable offensive lineman already. We already knew that, but he was again solid against the Texans.

And then there’s Drew Lock.

Two games do not make a career. It’s a sample size too small to truly assess a player, especially a quarterback. But two games is plenty to see that Lock has the most necessary tools – arm strength, athletic ability, pocket presence, and moxie; lots and lots of moxie – to compete at sports’ most difficult position. Lock, who strutted, yapped and celebrated like a kid playing Pop Warner, appears to be a gamer. On the day, Lock was 22 of 27 for 309 yards. He tossed three TDs to one interception and posted a whopping rating of 136.0. And oh by the way, the Broncos slapped 38 on the scoreboard, their best scoring effort of the season by far.

Tua who?

Fromm from where?

It’s just one game, but it was a performance that highlighted the Broncos newest set of rookies better than any game in recent memory. While much of the criticism endured by Elway for his lack of success in the NFL Draft is warranted, it must be noted that his Class of 2019 suddenly looks extremely promising.

It’s a class that currently looks pretty classy.

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