Winning the Weekend: How much better are Elway’s Broncos?

Apr 27, 2018; Englewood, CO, USA; General view of the fifty yard line inside the Denver Broncos Pat Bowden Fieldhouse before the press conference for defensive end Bradley Chubb. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Are the Denver Broncos a better team today than they were last Wednesday?

That’s really the only question that matters. Draft grades, winners and losers, Mel Kiper – none of it means a damn thing. And truth be told, a draft cannot truly be measured until time passes. At the moment, every team in the NFL believes they’re better today than they were last Wednesday.

Nobody thinks their team is worse after the draft.

Reality, however, inevitably proves otherwise. It’s not mathematically possible that every team improves; the standings just won’t allow it.

The Denver Broncos are better today. I believe that. Bradley Chubb, this year’s fifth overall pick and your newest Denver Bronco, alone made that possible. Is there a quarterback in the NFL who’s excited to play the Broncos and that wave after wave pass rush? There’s not a tackle in the AFC West who hasn’t considered the challenge that lies ahead when the Broncos appear across the line of scrimmage.

I’m not the only one who believes that John Elway was pretty darn good over weekend. Almost universally, draft pundits rate Denver’s draft as a B+ or higher – plenty give Elway an “A.” Everyone loves the selection of Chubb. It’s a mixed bag on SMU wideout Courtland Sutton (some think he was a reach at pick No. 40; others say Sutton should have gone in the first round). And just about everyone likes the addition of Oregon running back Royce Freeman. After those three, opinions vary – but hey, that’s always the case by the time the third round is reached. Elway added depth and competition all over the roster, and that’s all anyone can ask.

Unless “anyone” is asking for an instant fix at offensive line.

That’s really the lone gripe with Denver’s draft – that the offensive line, a sore spot for the Broncos over the past couple of seasons – didn’t get indisputably better through the draft. Yes, Elway grabbed Arizona State OG Sam Jones with the 183th pick of the draft, but realistically a pick made that deep into the draft arrives without a ton of expectation. If Elway were to find another diamond in the rough (someone like, oh, Matt Paradis, who was pick No. 207) in Jones, then all is well. If Jones doesn’t pan out, well, he was a sixth rounder.

The game, “they” say, is won and lost in the trenches. The draft however, may not be (or at least that’s what Elway was hoping). Then again, once UTEP guard Will Hernandez was swooped up by the Giants with pick No. 34, was there another name that would have boosted the Broncos O-line immediately? Elway (and everyone else associated with the Broncos) is hoping that the line has improved “enough” this offseason. With the addition of Jared Veldheer and presumably better quarterback play, the O-line can’t be worse, can it?

Here’s what’s concerning though. Through all the euphoria surrounding the Broncos 2018 draft class (the high grades, the improbable nature of landing Chubb) the ultimate measure of confidence can only be found in Vegas. The early over-under number for the Broncos during the next season is typically between 7 and 7.5.

What (or perhaps who), is holding the Broncos back? Most agree the draft was a success, so where’s the weak link? From where does this lack of confidence stem? Are people yet to believe in Case Keenum? Do they buy into the notion that the offensive line still needs some major work. Is Aqib Talib worth two or three wins each season? Is that 7-7.5 number reflective of the Broncos head coach?

Whatever the reason, beyond the draft, the rest of the world looks at the Broncos as a team that won’t make the playoffs. For the previously 5-11 Broncos, might it take another draft to right the ship?

Let’s see what Von Miller, Shane Ray, Shaq Barrett and Bradley Chubb have to say about that.