ENGLEWOOD, Colo.—Thursday, Denver Broncos Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager John Elway conducted his annual pre-draft press conference and shared numerous valuable gems within a span of 21 minutes. Not only do Broncos fans have an astute leader in charge of the on-air product, he doesn't mince words either.
Last season, the Broncos reportedly attempted to trade up to select Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley. It didn’t work out and he was eventually drafted by the Baltimore Ravens. Will Elway follow suit in 2014?
“We think about everything,” Elway said. “I think you look at all of the scenarios. We'll look at all of the different scenarios and look at all the possibilities. It's always expensive going up though.”
Quarterback Peyton Manning's health is paramount to the team’s fortunes and offensive tackle has been something the Broncos have been heavily scouting in the pre-draft process. And there’s no doubt the team needs a right tackle. Elway talked about whether a team-need can be filled by taking the best player available.
“There are a lot of good tackles in the draft,” he said. “I think that is one area of the draft that it does have some depth, especially at the top. There is a possibility for that.”
Including the four compensatory draft picks the Broncos received this year, the team has ten selections to use in the upcoming draft. Even if they used every selection on a player, and didn’t trade a single pick, there is a concern whether the Broncos would have the salary cap space to sign them all.
“I think the key thing is you look at every scenario, but I will say this: It's not as easy to move picks and to move around,” he said. ”You just don't do it. It's not as easy as everyone thinks. We do have a lot of picks and we do have a good football team. That is a challenge, but the key thing is that we still have to continue to build through the draft.”
Each draft class has it’s unique strengths at specific positons. When asked where the 2015 draft is the deepest, Elway gave a real answer.
“There are a lot of wide receivers,” he said. “I think running back is definitely deeper this year. There are some corners. I think the offensive side is probably a little bit deeper than the defensive side. There are still a lot of good football players.”
Elway, as a former quarterback, is an expert on the position, and talked about whether it is more difficult to scout a quarterback playing in a spread system, compared to a pro-style system.
“It makes it more difficult,” he said. “There is no question. (Oregon QB Marcus) Mariota is in the same situation, the fact that he hasn't been under center very much, but I think there hasn't been a lot of success with guys that have been in a shotgun offense all the time that has had a lot of success. There have been a lot more guys that haven't made the transition than have made the transition.”
Elway was then asked whether Colorado State quarterback Garrett Grayson, a signal-caller who ran a pro-style offense for head coach Jim McElwain, who is now at Florida, has an advantage over his peers. His answer was revealing
“I think he's probably more ready,” he said. “I think there is an adjustment to go in, but any time you spend time underneath the center as well as back in shotgun (you have an advantage). When I look at that transition, the biggest thing is probably being able to see because one thing shotgun does do is allow you to see better. If you haven’t been under center, there is an adjustment to being able to come out and you’re more limited to what you can see because the big guys are right in front of you. I think that is the biggest adjustment that they have to make.””
The Broncos currently have Brock Osweiler and Zac Dysert, two quarterbacks drafted over the last three seasons, under contract, but Osweiler, the guy the team has talked about being the future, is in the last year of his rookie deal. When asked whether Elway would consider drafting a quarterback, he would not rule anything out.
“We are wide open to everything,” he said. “We never really lock into anything. I think that as much as we go with a plan, that plan always changes because of the different things that go on during the draft. If they make our football team better—we'd rather be real strong at a position and not as strong at another one, but be able make sure we know we've got a good football player—we'll do that.”
With the only one of the Broncos top three selections in last year’s draft impacting the roster (Bradley Roby), Elway has taken some heat from some in the media for a swing and a miss, as premature as that assumption is. He talked about whether he expects highly-drafted players to contribute immediately.
“I think you want those players to contribute on the special teams,” he said. “You'd rather have them play offense or defense, but I think the contribution is on the special teams side and that's important. We want guys that not only are going to help us and be good football players, whether it be on offense or defense, but especially when they are young, they've got to be able to contribute on the special teams now. That gets more difficult when you have a better football team. Hopefully, we have guys that can come in here and not only compete for jobs, but make the guys that are here, better too.”
Next, Elway was questioned on whether spending a lot of money in free agency adds pressure to draft immediate contributors. He doesn’t see this as an issue.
“No, I think with each different year. In free agency we filled what we thought were some needs and thought we got some real football players in the areas that went to find those football players. I feel good about what happened in free agency. Again, it's all about creating competition. We each want to make it harder going into the draft. We look at free agency as separate from the draft.”
Second-year wide receiver Cody Latimer is expected to have a big year in 2015, after essentially red-shirting his rookie year. In speaking of the draft, Elway talked about what he expects from Latimer in year No. 2.
“I think that you want guys to contribute, but the bottom line is hopefully he contributes more this year,” he said. “When we project guys, we project guys in the draft if they are going to be starters in their second year. That's how we try to project guys. I think the expectations are that having a year under his belt, he should be able to contribute this year.”
Another 2014 draft pick, Michael Schofield, who was selected in the third round, has been projected as a potential starter at right tackle. When asked about this, Elway focused on competition.
“Obviously, there is a lot of competition there,” he said, “but that's what we drafted Michael for, with the idea that he has position flex because he's also played guard. He's bulked up quite a bit. He's gotten stronger and I think he's looking forward to competing this year.”
It’s no secret that the Broncos, under Gary Kubiak, are moving to the zone blocking scheme. Elway talked about whether offensive linemen are evaluated differently because of the offensive switch.
“It's hard because we do both and (head coach) Gary (Kubiak) does both,” he said. “He does some gap scheme stuff as well as a zone. We're always looking for athletic offensive linemen. The more athletic you are at a position, the better off you're going to be.”
After taking a $4M pay-cut, Peyton Manning returns to the Broncos for his 18th season. Manning fizzled down the stretch in 2014, largely due to a quadriceps injury. Elway gave his thoughts on how Manning looks and how he sees the offense coming together.
“I haven't been in the meetings but Peyton looks fine,” he said. “I think he's looking forward to working with (offensive coordinator) Rick Dennison and the offensive staff. You're talking about very smart people putting their minds together. They'll come out with the right solution.”
Although Elway has found many late-round diamonds in the rough in his years as a draft evaluator, he has also missed on a few players. But has he learned from the times he has swung and missed?
“The thing is that each draft is different,” he said. “Every year is so different. It's always a learning process because you're going to come out with so many different opinions.”
He was later asked about how much of an impact Combine/Pro Day numbers have in the draft discussion, to which he replied, “There are so many things that go into that. Speed is obviously a big part of it, but then again you can turn on the tape and a 4.7 guy will play faster than a 4.3 guy. You can see a lot of times on tape exactly how fast they play. Some guys don't play well when you put pads on. There are guys that are 4.7 that carry their pads well. That is all part of the discussion and the process that goes into the decisions on who to take.”
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Elway recently went through the process of hiring a new head coach and assistants. On working with Kubiak and his coaching staff, Elway reported, “It's been great. They've been working hard and trying to get the offense put in. It's been great having Gary back in the building.”
When asked if he expects to find immediate starters in the draft, Elway replied, “Yeah we do, it would be great if we have some guys. The defensive line is a rotation now, so you need depth at defensive line. We're talking about contributing. I think that we'll have guys coming out of this draft that are definitely going to help us this year.”
Additionally, Elway spoke about the injury status of linebackers Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan and what their chances are for being healthy by training camp.
“We think they're going to be,” he said. “'Greek' (Head Athletic Trainer Steve Antonopulos) says they should be ready for training camp. It's not going to help them missing the OTAs, but that is what it is. They should be healthy by training camp. Again, we're going to take the best player that is there. We really feel good that we have some good young linebackers. If there is a good one available, we'll take them.”
In closing, I was impressed with Elway's candor and bluntness. In 21 minutes, he distinctly articulated the Broncos plans and where he stands on a litany of issues. How much of that is pre-draft misdirection, we can’t know.
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