John Elway reminded Broncos fans and NFL observers alike of his business acumen in last week’s NFL Draft. Denver clearly now values its rapidly-establishing system over draft hype.
Elway is setting a new standard for his Broncos by establishing a method for replenishment through the draft, and everything John has done so far in 2012 speaks of amazing maturity for such a new executive.
Even during Mike Shanahan’s years running the Broncos, questionable defensive selections made Denver a less than efficient NFL machine. While the Patriots were building their strength in the northeast on the strength of the draft, the Broncos were simply feeding Shanny’s offensive juggernaut – often sacrificing defensive consistency for that privilege.
This was just Elway’s second draft with the team, but he knocked it out of the park. Not that John’s first rodeo was a failure.
In 2011 John E teamed up with defensive-minded head coach John F to draft and develop pass-rush specialist Von Miller with their first pick. Von just so happened to end up the NFL’s defensive rookie of the year, and was as much of a spark during Denver’s big 7-1 run as the departed Tim Tebow.
In 2012, Denver’s first pick has ‘experts’ rating the Broncos’ entire draft poorly. For those addicted to the hype machine that promotes future draft busts, let’s try to clarify exactly what Elway & Company were doing not following the prescribed draft board.
After twice trading down from their original #25 pick the Broncos took Cincinnati DT Derek Wolfe early in the second round. Highly-touted defensive tackles Devon Still and Jerel Worthy were still on the board when Denver selected Wolfe, and ‘experts’ howled that the Broncos were ‘reaching’. But the two players they were supposed to be considering for that #36 overall pick kept falling. San Diego also picked a DT (Kendall Reyes) before either Still (#53) or Worthy (#51) went off the board.
To be clear: the Broncos avoided two players that were mistakenly anointed first round picks by the media, got the guy that best fit what they are trying to do with their specific defensive scheme, and were able to manufacture an extra 4th round pick by dropping down 11 picks to take Wolfe.
By the way, Derek Wolfe was the Big East Defensive Player of the Year last season, has been lauded for his aggressiveness, leadership and intelligence, and was rumored to be San Diego’s preferred selection as well. So any knocks on him as a player – within the Broncos system – and on the Broncos for taking him earlier than experts predicted that he would go are absolute nonsense.
The Broncos’ 2012 draft was a success because of Von Miller, but largely unfocused past that. This year’s draft was more rounded, with Denver casually filling needs after trading out of the first round to gain more late-round ammo.
The Broncos used some of that ammo to move up in the third round and pick running back Ronnie Hillman – a fantastic selection that netted the best open-field runner in the draft. Hillman helps Peyton Manning right away by giving him a set of good hands out of the running back position. If Manning can get Ronnie the ball in space the Broncos will have added a whole new dimension to their offense.
Meanwhile, Denver has already begun preparations for life after Manning. In a surprising move also termed a ‘reach’, the Broncos picked up 6’7” quarterback Brock Osweiler in the second round. Two rounds later Denver drafted mammoth center Philip Blake out of Baylor. Osweiler and Blake now have a chance to come up through the Denver Broncos organization together. With Manning expected to spend at least another three years in the league, Denver is taking two physically profound but raw players and giving them ample time to become NFL starters.
The rest of Denver’s draft was spent feeding the defensive standard that the Broncos are establishing under John Fox – a poignant contrast to Mike Shanahan’s strategy of drafting three guys at a single defensive position and hoping one of them panned out. Each of Denver’s other three 2012 draft picks is a defensive player coming from a different college system into the Broncos’ system to fill a different position, but each will have help finding a comfort zone.
Cornerback Omar Bolden will follow Osweiler to Denver from Arizona State. Defensive end Malik Jackson will sit behind fellow Tennessee Volunteer Robert Ayers on Denver’s depth chart before he gets a chance to play. And linebacker Danny Trevathan (the Broncos’ last pick of 2012) will try to learn from fellow Kentucky product Wesley “The Lumberjack” Woodyard (undrafted in 2008) how to survive in the NFL on less than premier talent.
The Broncos’ six-player 2012 draft was focused – something Denver fans have not been able to say for fifteen years. Every pick has a place, and the Broncos were able to fill their greatest area of need by finding a DT that they can build around. Denver now has their quarterback of the present (Manning), their quarterback of the future (Osweiler), and their “oh crap!” quarterback (Caleb Hanie) to bridge the gap if Peyton falls. Best of all, they are building a consistent defensive presence around a great defensive head coach and a draft strategy that emphasizes the system over the player.
So while draft critics are panning the Broncos for failing to follow the script carefully laid out for them by the all-knowing media over the last few months, rest assured that John Elway has been sleeping like a baby knowing he executed his draft strategy to perfection.