It’s an argument that’s never been settled: Do NFL teams truly draft “the best player available” or do they draft for need? You can go up and down the list of first-round selections and you’ll probably find an equal number of picks carrying both labels. Going into the draft, every team guards their plans like they’re state secrets, merely mouthing their standard “best talent left on their draft board” lines over and over. But make no mistake, each team knows they have needs to fill and this limited opportunity to do so.

The Denver Broncos went into the three-day NFL Draft with needs. Serious needs. The consensus going in was that offensive line, middle linebacker and defensive line were the three biggest areas of immediate concern need for a team with Super Bowl 50 aspirations.

Yet John Elway and company elected to stick with the best player available approach and selected Missouri defensive end Shane Ray, the 2014 Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year. He’s a guy the Broncos had ranked 10th overall among all draft-eligible prospects, but who less than a week ago made the less than stellar decision to go speeding around Columbia, Missouri with marijuana on his person. His subsequent citation probably kept him from being drafted among the first dozen picks.

Ray’s issues did not dissuade the Broncos, who traded up with Detroit from pick No. 28 to pick No. 23 for a chance to draft Ray, giving up former starting center Manny Ramirez and a pair of fifth-round draft picks in the process. Denver has certainly dealt with their fair share of bad decision-making/character issues in the recent past. Standout defensive end Von Miller – a guy who might be instrumental in Ray’s on-field development since they play the same position – has had similar problems, and last year’s top pick, Bradley Roby, came with baggage, as well. And, of course, a couple members of Denver’s front office have gotten up close and personal with law enforcement in the same manner. So having to deal with Ray’s issues is nothing new for the organization.

We all know that nobody’s perfect, and young players deserve a second chance (okay, a third in Miller’s case.) You could even make the case that now that Ray is already enrolled in the NFL’s substance abuse program that he might be easier to keep on the straight and narrow with the figurative hammer hanging over his head. Suspensions and the loss of paychecks seem to be decent deterrents for most guys.

So while the questions surrounding Ray’s personal habits may have been answered to the satisfaction of the Denver front office, there are still legitimate questions about the Broncos selecting a player that can’t be seen as instrumental to next season’s on-field success. Unlike a lot of first-round selections, Ray does not figure to be a starter next season. And while he gives Wade Phillip’s defense some versatility and depth, he can’t protect Peyton Manning, open any running lanes for C.J. Anderson or clog any holes on the other side of the ball.

Denver could have snagged a high-quality tackle like Oregon’s Jake Fisher or Florida’s D. J. Humphries, a promising guard like Laken Tomlinson (whom Detroit picked at No. 28) or a run-stuffing defensive tackle like Malcom Brown. All were players mentioned more than once by experts and novices alike as guys who’d be good immediate fits for Denver, provided they were still available with pick No. 28. All were still available with pick No. 23. Yet Elway drafted for the future rather than the present. Will that come back to bite him?

Perhaps selecting Ray is a vote of confidence for untested second-year guard Michael Schofield and a former first-round pick, defensive lineman Sylvester Williams. Maybe both of those guys have impressed the new Denver coaching staff enough already that what we outsiders see as immediate concerns are not seen that way inside Dove Valley? Or maybe with Miller entering the last year of his contract – and he will certainly come with a high price tag as a free agent – the Broncos are preparing for life without Von?

In any case, drafting Ray is a high-risk, potentially high-reward deal for the Broncos. He’s got a very quick first step that led to a 14-sack season in his only year as a starter at Missouri (he backed up Michael Sam before last season.) Ray is a high motor guy, leading Elway to say he “plays with his hair on fire” when the selection was announced. You have to like that.

Yet scouts say Ray (currently listed at 245 pounds) needs to get bigger and stronger below the waist, that he’s not real strong at the “point of attack” and will need time to grow into an every-down role. So while he may be considered a steal by some, he’s not going to be a key cog in the coming season.

For the Broncos, every season is Super Bowl or bust. But for one night at least, they seemed more concerned about the future than the present.