Holding Firm: Even after an A+ draft, Elway is still betting on Garett Bolles

Sep 15, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos offensive tackle Garett Bolles (72) on the bench in the third quarter against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

For all intents and purposes, John Elway nailed the 2020 NFL Draft. As I wrote heading into Thursday’s draft, he had to “win” the draft – and he did. Everyone from Sports Illustrated to USA Today – and even the guys from Mile High Sports– was giving Elway’s latest draft high marks.

And deservedly so.

Elway’s draft was bold. He did what he said he would do, which was to build around Drew Lock, giving the young quarterback every chance possible to succeed. He was sturdy, too. Every draft has its reaches, but Elway never reached too far – nothing like a Ty Sambrailo or Brock Osweiler in the second. For the most part, he managed to meld “best player available” and “position of need” throughout the draft. Sure, some felt that taking a second wide receiver with the Broncos second pick was excessive – and I’m one of them – but the player he selected, Penn State’s K.J. Hamler, would be (in theory) a welcome addition to just about any receiving corps in the NFL.

But.

There’s always a but.

And part of the “but” goes with any NFL draft. A draft grade on April 25th is nice, but ultimately meaningless. A draft grade two or three years from the draft means everything. The draft is an incredibly inexact science, and immediate approval only means that more than a few agreed with any GM’s decision making “at the time.”

The other part of the but resides at left tackle. If there was (is) one complaint about the Broncos draft, it’s that it appears the team is content with seeing how the 20th pick in the 2017 draft plays out. It sure is nice to surround Lock with weapons galore, but holding penalties can shut down the likes of Jerry Jeudy better than any corner in the league.

I know, Garett Bolles “graded out” out better toward the end of the season – and credit Lock for some of that (not being a Flacco-esque statue back there). But if a quarterback is constantly on the run, or if a team is constantly in third-and-long because of penalties, weapons just aren’t as deadly.

Elway was confident in this year’s draft, but how confident is he in Bolles?

Confident enough to not draft a left tackle early on this year’s draft. Confident enough to take Jerry Jeudy – and not trade up in the first to select someone like Tristan Wirfs. Or confident enough to take a second wide receiver in the second round – and not trade up for someone like Georgia’s Isaiah Wilson, or swoop up someone like Boise State’s Ezra Cleveland without having to make a move.

Not confident enough to sign Bolles’ fifth year option.

Which is more telling? If the Broncos believe in Bolles, wouldn’t that option have been inked by now? After all, the deadline is May 3, less than a week away. If they believed in him, why would Elway suggest that he’s competing for the starting job against Elijah Wilkinson? If they don’t truly believe in Bolles, why not find a way to bring in a promising left tackle? It’s a mystery wrapped inside of a riddle inside an enigma.

Hamler may end up being a weapon that powers the Broncos offense for years to come. Then again, Bolles might be the guy who makes all of the fire power in Denver irrelevant.

Just three days removed from the 2020 NFL Draft, John Elway can – and should – bask in the glory of a draft class worthy of high marks. Whether this particular class gets an A+ grade a year or three from now might depend on Elway’s 2017 draft, or at least, the 20th pick.

If the Broncos have a competent left tackle throughout the 2020 season, then the Locked-and-loaded Denver offense should be well-worth the price of admission (assuming anyone is admitted at all). If they don’t, however, it won’t matter how good Jerry Jeudy is, or fast K.J. Hamler might be.

Drew Lock might not stand a chance.

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