Welcome to the best time of the NFL offseason, the NFL Draft.
Tonight kicks off the three-day selection process which not only celebrates the college players’ careers, but also brings much excitement to NFL teams’ fanbases.
The crucial first round is a place where longtime stars should be found, but they can also be discovered later in the draft as well. Overall, during John Elway’s tenure calling the shots in the Denver Broncos front office, there have been more busts than stars taken in that first round, while he’s done incredibly well on Day 3, and Day 2 has been a toss-up from year-to-year.
After looking back on his previous eight drafts, there are three lessons Elway and the Broncos need to keep in mind this year.
Don’t take a quarterback in the first round
Looking back at the seven first-round picks during Elway’s time in the Broncos front office, two of the picks have turned into stars (Von Miller, Bradley Chubb) while three became busts (Paxton Lynch, Sylvester Williams and Sane Ray). Bradley Roby was somewhat an enigma, playing very well as a part-time starter but proved less than ready to be a full-time starter and make the big bucks last year. And finally, Garett Bolles continues to attempt to find consistency in his game while limiting penalties; he seems like a reach at this point.
But back to Lynch, who was taken at No. 26 overall in the 2016 draft. The 6’7″ gun-slinger not only possessed the massive size Elway loves in his quarterbacks, he was also incredibly mobile, possibly reminding the Duke of Denver a bit of himself.
When he got to the NFL, though, Lynch looked lost on the football field, resulting in a complete waste of that first-round pick. Beyond the first round, if we rewind all the way back to 2012, Elway and Co. took Brock Osweiler in Round 2 at No. 57 overall, and while he’s a better NFL player than Lynch, it’s not by much.
This year, Broncos fans are so desperate for a gun-slinger, they are hoping Denver goes QB in the first round at No. 10 overall. Instead, the Broncos would be wise to fill one of their other positions of need, either at inside linebacker or interior lineman on either side of the ball.
Devin White would be an ideal first-round pick, he’d be a third defensive star Elway’s discovered in the top-10, joining Miller and Chubb and he’d give Vic Fangio yet another explosive weapon on that side of the ball. Unfortunately, White will likely be gone at 10, so Denver could settle for Devin Bush — another stud of an inside linebacker — who will likely similarly develop into a star for years to come.
Don’t reach in the second and third rounds
Over the last eight drafts, the Broncos have consistently reached in the second and third rounds. That’s not too huge a deal if — and only if — the team lands a star in the first round. But, as we’ve seen, that’s been anything but certain, so this year, the Broncos should try to play it more safe on Day 2.
Let’s look at some of those reaches Elway and Co. can learn from, though. 18 picks after Osweiler went in 2012, there was Russell Wilson, the highest-paid player in the NFL and a longtime answer at the quarterback position. Adam Gotsis has started coming on and playing consistently, but when they took the Australian-born defensive tackle at No. 67 in 2016, it certainly screamed “reach.” In 2015 it was Ty Sambrailo at No. 59 overall, and in 2017 the Broncos took a trio of reaches in DeMarcus Walker, Carlos Henderson and Brendan Langley.
Even in 2018’s strong draft, Isaac Yiadom looks like a reach at No. 99 overall. He still has a long way to go, but he’ll also be given an opportunity to continue to grow, playing only spot duty in 13 games last year.
Instead of trying to make a square peg fit into a round hole and instead of trying to find something different like Henderson — who didn’t play a single game in the NFL — Elway and Co. should find some sure-fire players in those early rounds.
Continue to find diamonds in the rough on Day 3
Now, while the Broncos have reached consistently over the last eight years in the early rounds, on Day 3, they shine.
Malik Jackson, Danny Trevathan, Matt Paradis, Will Parks, Connor McGovern and DaeSean Hamilton are all players the Broncos have taken in the fourth round or later since 2011. All of them were starters at one point with the Broncos, and the last three names are continuing to grow into studs.
Of course, all those names don’t even include the undrafted players Elway and Co. have been able to discover after the selection process is over. Chris Harris Jr., C.J. Anderson, Shaquil Barrett and of course, Phillip Lindsay, were all undrafted diamonds Denver found after all seven rounds were concluded.
It seems the Broncos draft strategy is as follows: Shoot for the moon in the first round, reach for possible stars in the second and third rounds, and then play it safe but also find key contributors later in the draft. Overall, it’s not a bad strategy, and if Denver can continue to land great players late — while also finding studs early — it could be another sensational draft like we saw last year in the Mile High City.