The Denver Broncos are gearing up to make a big splash in the upcoming NFL Draft, as they hold 10 selections. They originally had six, but were awarded four compensatory picks by the league. General Manager John Elway will have plenty of capital to invest in young players.
In the NFL, two schools of thought prevail regarding the draft. The first ethos is to draft by position, or by need. If a team is weak at inside linebacker and it’s the biggest roster hole, the team drafting position will likely take an inside linebacker high—perhaps too high.
In the NFL, this approach is often manifested in the reaching for quarterbacks. Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, E.J. Manuel and even Johnny Manziel are the most recent poster children for reaching in need. Such a mistake can set a franchise back for years.
The second ethos is to draft the best player available (BPA), regardless of roster needs. A team will scout and study the draft class and based on the big board they put together, they’ll select whichever player is rated highest on their board. The best, most-well constructed rosters in the NFL, like the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots, take the BPA approach.
The Denver Broncos are one of the premier teams in the league for a reason. John Elway, although he’s missed on a handful of draft picks, has done a great job in drafting the best player available. Last season, the Broncos didn’t “need” another cornerback, with Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, Jr., Tony Carter, Kayvon Webster (a former third round pick) and Omar Bolden (a former fourth round pick), on the roster.
But Elway saw the value when Bradley Roby fell to them at the bottom of the first. Roby was a top-15 talent, who slipped because of character concerns. Roby played almost 1,000 snaps as a rookie and was arguably the NFL’s best rookie corner.
But choosing to draft BPA, in Roby’s case, could end up benefiting the team in ways they didn’t originally foresee. They drafted him to play corner—true—but because of the current juxtaposition of the roster, he might best serve the team as a free safety. They wouldn’t have the privilege of that option, had they drafted purely on need.
The Patriots originally drafted Devin McCourty to play corner but they eventually plugged him in at safety and he became one of the NFL's best at the position. If they would have targeted a safety when they drafted in the 2010 first round, they would have missed out on a guy who has become a cornerstone for them on defense. McCourty is a great example of how drafting BPA pays off.
In last week’s Owners Meetings in Tempe, AZ., Head Coach Gary Kubiak was asked about the Broncos roster needs and how they’re going to approach the upcoming draft. His answer reflected how Elway is perceived as a roster builder around the NFL.
“I think it’s a very good roster to begin with,” Kubiak said. “We’ve obviously got issues to address. John [Elway] and I were talking about this last night—I don’t think you ever stray away from making sure you’re getting the best football players. I’ve been doing this for a long time and have watched guys draft positions. The key is always getting the best player you can get. I know John [Elway] will be committed to that and always has been. Any time you get a chance to get your hands on 10 guys, that’s exciting. Hopefully we can get some guys that can help us very quickly.”
Teams who get caught up in reaching for need rue the move, more often than not. And it’s usually the teams at the bottom of the standings who make those fateful decisions. The Broncos, under John Elway, have done as they should and used veterans procured via the free agent market to fill roster holes and have used the draft to stock the roster.
The flip side to that coin is that even the best teams who utilize the BPA approach have “need” built into their decision at some level, even at its most basic—needing good players, no matter the position. The Broncos currently have needs on the offensive line, at defensive line, inside linebacker and safety—mostly they’re in need of depth. Their projected starters in these units have the team situated well.
Don’t be so sure the Broncos will draft an offensive lineman with pick No. 28. If the highest rated available player on their big board is an offensive lineman when they go on the clock, then the pick will be O-line. But John Elway and Gary Kubiak are not married to the idea. There are players on-roster who can step in if needed—Michael Schofield and Ben Garland.
With four consecutive AFC West division titles under his belt, there is little doubt that John Elway has taken the right approach in the draft. Of the 10 players the Broncos sent to the Pro Bowl last season, four came via the draft (or undrafted rookie classes) and another four came via free agent signings made by Elway. Only Demaryius Thomas and Ryan Clady were not brought to Denver by John Elway. He must be doing something right.
In the video below, John Elway talks about the Broncos future, including the draft, at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in February.
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