The Denver Broncos just wrapped up their 2015 Draft, coming away with nine players. This class marks General Manager John Elway’s fifth in his tenure with the team. Although the Broncos traded back in the 2012 draft and out of the first round altogether, ultimately making Cincinnati’s Derek Wolfe their first pick, this year, they traded up for the first time in Elway’s career as an NFL front office executive, in order to secure a player whom they believed was a top-10 prospect—Missouri outside linebacker Shane Ray.
The Broncos shipped a 2015 and 2016 fifth round pick and offensive lineman Manuel Ramirez to the Detroit Lions, moving up five spots to acquire Ray. Elway tried to move up in last year’s first round, with his eye set on Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, but ultimately found the price of doing so to be too rich.
Over the last three drafts, the Broncos have been able to select a player they had rated much higher than the spot they were ultimately drafted. The team didn’t expect North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams to be there at pick No. 28 in 2013, nor did they think Ohio State’s Bradley Roby would still be on the board at pick No. 31 in 2014.
The Broncos patience paid off for them in ’13 and ’14, but it remains to be seen if their impatience in 2015 will pay off. Ray was widely considered a top-15 pick, at the very least, by most draftniks, before he got arrested and cited for misdemeanor possession of marijuana, just three days before the NFL Draft kicked off.
Ray fought the law and the law won. Had that not happened, he likely wouldn’t have been available at pick No. 23, allowing the Broncos to package a deal to trade up and get him. It could be divine serendipity inspired by the football gods that led Ray into the Broncos clutches. However he came to Denver, Ray has expressed resolve and repentance regarding the off-the-field incident that caused his draft stock to fall.
“I think in life everyone makes mistakes, and unfortunately I made a terrible decision on Monday which could have possibly cost me my career,” Ray said at his introductory press conference at Dove Valley. “But when that happened, I also realized that this can be taken away from me at any point in time. Just the feelings I had when I felt like everything was over, I never want to feel that again. I can assure people that I won’t jeopardize my career and I will continue to grow as a person, and also strive to be the best pro I can be on and off the field.”
Compounding Ray’s issues pre-draft was a toe injury he suffered at the Citrus Bowl, which prohibited him from working out at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. However, the toe injury, which he described as “a variation of a turf toe injury on the serious side”, shouldn’t hold him back from playing, once the regular season rolls around.
“From the reports that I’ve had from the doctors, they said that I didn’t need surgery,” Ray said. “The case of the injury was that I haven’t had time to heal. I’ve been trying to train for my pro day, the Combine and of course traveling and doing workouts for teams. I haven’t been able get myself the medical attention that I need. I think that being here I will receive that. I think I should be ready to go as soon as possible. I don’t even know the timeframe or how long it will take, but I feel like by the season I will be able to go out there and attack quarterbacks.”
On day two of the draft, the Broncos held the No. 59 overall pick. Hobart College center/guard Ali Marpet and Oregon center Hroniss Grasu were still on the board, but the team instead chose an offensive lineman from their own backyard—Colorado State’s Ty Sambrailo.
John Elway and his scouting department were on hand all week at the Senior Bowl to see how Sambrailo held up against the South Squad—the squad that featured mostly SEC talent—arguably the best in the country. I was there, watching closely and Sambrailo made it into my notebook on several occasions, earning high marks.
After the Combine, the team deployed a scout to attend Sambrailo’s Pro Day in Fort Collins, CO. By then, they had a pretty good bead on the ultra-athletic offensive tackle, so when it came time to make their selection in the second round, he was the pick.
The Broncos had some perceived holes on the offensive line, heading into the draft, but that perception came from outside the organization primarily. Internally, the Broncos felt confident in guys like Chris Clark, Michael Schofield, Ben Garland and Shelley Smith. Although the team wanted to get better in this area, it wasn’t exactly an emergency.
This confidence allowed them to stick to their board and draft the best player available, regardless of position. Ty Sambrailo was the best player available, according to their board, and he fits what the Broncos want to do on offense with the zone blocking scheme.
“I feel pretty good about all the different players that we had,” Elway said on Saturday. “I think that when we looked at the different options that we did have, obviously offensive line was a place that we needed to get better, and we feel that we really did with [T] Ty [Sambrailo] and Max Garcia. [They are] two players that can come in and compete for jobs right away.”
Garcia, a center out of Florida, was drafted on day three in the fourth round and not coincidentally, also performed well all week at the Senior Bowl. He followed that up with a good Combine. More importantly, Garcia put up a lengthy reel of tape, competing at a high level for three years in the SEC, something that didn’t go unnoticed by Elway. On Saturday, he talked about what impressed him most about Max Garcia.
“Obviously he did his job in Indianapolis,” Elway said, “but his visit when he came here and sat down with [Offensive Line Coach] Clancy [Barone] and [Assistant Offensive Line Coach] James [Cregg], talking ball. As a center I think he has something around 40 starts—big time starts being in Florida running the show up front. I used the words ‘quick study’ on Sambrailo the other day. I’d use the same thing here; we think this kid will catch up very fast and be very competitive not only at center, but at the guard position and you’re always looking for swing people. I think his visit really swayed us, knowing more about him, what he stood for and knowing how important football was to him.”
Ultimately, the Broncos were bent on drafting guys to whom football was a priority—guys who loved to play and play hard. The Broncos also looked for guys with a certain mentality—physicality, toughness and a passion for the game. Elway is confident they picked the right guys.
“We felt very good about the draft,” Elway said. “Gary [Kubiak] and I were talking about it and we really feel good not only about the type of players we got, but the mentality of the players that we have and the toughness that they’re going to bring to the football team, starting with [Round] No. 4 [C/G] Max Garcia all the way through. Honestly, it never falls perfect for you, it’s always hard to say how it’s going to fall, but for the most part, it fell—in our minds—very well for us. We’re very excited about the nine players that we did get in the draft.”
The Broncos are implementing a paradigm shift within the locker room. As Kubiak talked about on Saturday, the Broncos are going to be a team that plays hard. The guys they picked up over draft weekend fit that mold, as Kubiak stated on Saturday.
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“I think the whole group kind of fits a mold of guys that just really love to play and guys that play extremely hard,” he said. “I got together with the team this week really for the first time. We had a little mini camp and one of the things we spent a lot of time on, talked to them about personality as a football team and the first thing we talked about was how hard we play. If you turn on the film, I want people to talk about how hard the Denver Broncos play and if you look at this group of guys that we’ve come out of this draft with, that’s a common theme amongst all of them.”
The Broncos third round pick—Ohio State tight end Jeff Heuerman—personifies playing hard. At 6-foot-5, 254 pounds, Heuerman is a hard-nosed former hockey player, who has converted his passion for playing physical into becoming an excellent blocker and leader inside the locker room. He helped lead the Buckeyes to national championship.
The Broncos fifth round pick, Tulane cornerback Lorenzo Doss, was described by Elway as “a good corner with tremendous ball skills.” Their sixth round pick, 6-foot-3, 319-pound Maryland defensive tackle Darius Kilgo, “brings some size at the nose [tackle] position.”
As for the other Tulane corner the Broncos drafted, seventh round pick Taurean Nixon, he was described by Elway as “a guy that’s tough, can really run.” The team’s last pick, Oklahoma State safety Josh Furman, was drafted to be a heat-seeking missile in the box.
"He is a box safety,” Elway said about Furman. “That’s what he played at Oklahoma State. He played a lot of nickel but really played in the box. But he’s a physical guy, really a height-weight-speed guy that we thought could continue to grow, whether it be at strong safety—and that’s where he’ll play.”
As for the developmental quarterback the Broncos drafted in the seventh round, Northwestern’s Trevor Siemian, Elway liked his mechanics and the fact that he competed in the dead of winter in Chicago—a feat not meant for the faint of heart. For a seventh round selection, Elway saw great value in Siemian.
“I think that’s one thing that we looked at with Trevor,” Elway said. “We looked at him on tape and as far as the quarterback position, he plays well, his feet, his technique and everything that he can do is pretty darn good. Obviously we took into account playing in Chicago in the wintertime.”
Again, the theme for the Denver Broncos as they approached the NFL Draft was to not only find scheme-fits, but guys who would also fit their new mantra of playing hard and playing tough. Elway wants his Broncos to play with their hair on fire and not go down without “kicking and screaming”—attributes that were sorely missing under the John Fox regime.
We won’t be able to grade this class of players until a few years down the road, but for the new mindset the Broncos are trying to cultivate in Dove Valley, they seem to have hit the mark.
In the video below Chad Jensen and Scout.com's Amy Campbell discuss how Von Miller can help Shane Ray on and off the field.
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