In the NFL draft exists an opportunity unlike any other across all of sports. In no other league can a team improve its fortunes so drastically, and so immediately, as it can with one strong, consistent NFL draft. Expand that consistency out across more than even a few years and your team could become one of the league’s elite franchises.

On the other hand, the NFL draft has the power to disable a franchise with just one wrong move at the wrong time. Ask the Washington Redskins.

The NFL draft is that powerful a weapon.

So it’s not just nitpicking to look at the contributions of Denver’s recent early round draft picks and come to the conclusion that it’s a reason for concern.

John Elway took over as the primary decision-maker for the Denver Broncos in 2011. Since that time, the team’s picks in the second and third rounds of the draft have been of marginal effectiveness. Take 2011’s stock of Rahim Moore, Orlando Franklin and Nate Irving; none of them are still with the Broncos. Or how about 2012’s class of Derek Wolfe, Brock Osweiler and Ronnie Hillman? While any of those three could make their mark in this, their contract season, so far it would be difficult to rule any of their positive contributions in Denver thus far as much more than forgettable.

The more recent early draft picks by Elway entered this offseason with a ton of promise. Montee Ball had the inside track on a backup running back slot that figured to see plenty of touches. Kayvon Webster was tabbed in as the team’s fourth cornerback, Cody Latimer was poised for a breakout season and Michael Schofield was going to make a strong push to start at right tackle.

After the third preseason game, those same youngsters have a very different light cast on them.

“You just want to see him making plays,” Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak told ESPN last week of Latimer. “He’s a hard worker. He does the right thing. He’s in the right place, but it’s time for him to start making plays on the ball, coming up with big plays.”

Latimer’s best work of the preseason came against Seattle, where he had four catches on five targets for 49 yards. But that was also the game in which many starters for both teams, including the entire Legion of Boom, sat out the contest. Since then, the young receiver has managed just two catches for 12 yards in the preseason, despite being targeted six times and spending significant time playing with both the first- and second-team offenses.

Early Tuesday, there were even murmurs down at Dove Valley that if the season started today, Latimer would trail Andre Caldwell and even potentially Jordan Norwood on the depth chart, despite his extensive action with the starters.

Ball’s situation may be even more dire. While the coaching staff may have expressed mild disappointment with Latimer, they’ve all but declared that Ball will be auditioning for his job on Thursday against second-year, undrafted back Kapri Bibbs.

Reports have even circulated that Denver is shopping the Wisconsin product, begging the question: If this guy didn’t carry the tag of a second round pick around with him, would we even be having a discussion about him making the team?

It’s a fair question, and one that could also apply (albeit with a third round designation) to Michael Schofield. Sure, the team moved Chris Clark to the Houston Texans this week, “showing confidence” in Schofield’s ability to be a swing tackle. But it’s far more likely that the Broncos got a non-zero offer from the Texans for Clark, and moved him knowing that if things deteriorated that they could always sign a veteran if necessary. In the meantime, Schofield has shown very little to suggest that John Fox was wrong for not giving him a try out there, despite the notion that Fox’s refusal to play certain picks drew the ire of the organization.

In all, John Elway’s second and third round draft picks for the Denver Broncos dating back to 2011 will net the team one starter this year: the suspended Derek Wolfe. Another, Ty Sambrailo, picked in 2015, will man left tackle because of an injury to Ryan Clady. What’s more, Denver’s successful first round picks of the last two seasons, Shane Ray and Bradley Roby, only fell to the team amid concerns about their character. The Broncos deserve credit for making a wise choice with both, but it’s a dangerous way to live year after year.

The bottom line is that the track record of the Broncos with their early round draft picks is simply not good enough. Denver has been able to plug holes through free agency and the “scout picks” in the bottom half of the draft, but the former will dry up quickly once Peyton Manning leaves town and we’ve examined the effects of the latter phenomenon here.

The NFL draft is a valuable weapon, yet one is forced to wonder if the Broncos have fallen under the same spell that the Indianapolis Colts did towards the end of their time with Manning, counting on the legendary quarterback to Band-Aid it all.

Let’s hope that Ball, Latimer, and Schofield all make statements on Thursday night. If they continue to falter, it doesn’t bode well for the Broncos’ future.