As I sat down to watch the 2011 NFL Draft, it was a strange sight to see the Denver Broncos sitting on the number two overall pick. After an abysmal 2010 season that would see Josh McDaniels flame out in his time as head coach and main personnel man, the team would turn to John Elway to bring the organization back to prominence.
Elway wasted little time in putting his fingerprints on the franchise selecting Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller, bypassing notables like Marcell Dareus and J.J. Watt in the process. In selecting the cornerstone of a defense that would be one of the league’s best, Elway changed the landscape of football in the Rocky Mountains and built the team that would win five straight division titles, two conference titles and a Super Bowl Championship in 2015.
Just one year later, General Manger Ryan Grigson was at the helm of the Indianapolis Colts, tasked with drafting the next quarterback to be the face of their franchise. Among Grigson’s choices were Andrew Luck of Stanford, who was believed by many to be a once-in-a-lifetime talent, and the tantalizing Robert Griffin III, fresh off a stellar season at Baylor. In what amounted to a no-brainer, Grigson selected Luck and the Colts would make return to the playoffs that season.
Two teams heading in opposite directions will face off once again this Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Like the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots, both teams are among the upper echelon in the AFC. But with that, it also bears mentioning that both teams are trending in opposite directions.
Denver and Indianapolis each boast a superstar player; the Broncos' Miller and the Colts' Luck. However, in taking a closer look at each roster and how it was constructed, we begin to see the state of disarray the Colts are facing versus the prosperity that Denver currently enjoys.
From Grigson’s 2013 draft, there is just one pick still on the roster, guard Hugh Thornton, who is on injured reserve. His 2014 crop of picks would be slightly better by comparison with tackle Jack Mewhort and wideout Donte Moncrief being capable starters, but with only 3 remaining picks, Grigson fell short in finding any other major contributors.
2015 would see more of the same results. With four picks in the first four rounds, the team would only keep two players on their 53-man roster, wide receiver Phillip Dorsett and defensive tackle Henry Anderson, who will be unavailable going into the contest on Sunday. Neither players are starters.
While the 2016 class does look to be slightly improved from the previous year’s haul, only first-round choice Ryan Kelly is penciled in as a starter on the team.
Free agency has not been kind to the Colts, either. Puzzling signings like the aging Frank Gore and Andre Johnson were made last year to complement players like tight end Dwayne Allen and wideout T.Y. Hilton to give Luck more firepower on offense.
While Gore has been serviceable, he is nowhere near the player he was in his prime in San Francisco. As for Johnson, he lasted only one season before he and the team parted ways due to a lack of production, proving that no one can outrun Father Time.
On the flip side, it is truly remarkable to see what John Elway has done with his draft selections and how he has found talent with his early-round picks and solid contributors in the later rounds.
Elway still has two picks from his 2011 draft class on the team; Von Miller and tight end Virgil Green, a seventh-round choice from Nevada. Up until their departures this last offseason, Malik Jackson, Danny Trevathan and Brock Osweiler were all starters in 2015. Omar Bolden served as a solid return man and provided depth in the secondary, until his departure. The only pick that didn't pan out was late-round choice Philip Blake from Baylor.
2013 would be a top-heavy draft, but Elway still founnd a starter in defensive tackle Sylvester Williams in round one, to go with cornerback Kayvon Webster, who could potentially start for a team with a depleted secondary like the Colts, in the third round.
2014 would see an even greater haul, with three starters in lineman Michael Schofield and Matt Paradis to go with cornerback Bradley Roby. Contributors could also be uncovered in Cody Latimer, who plays a prominent role on special teams, to go with seventh-round choice Corey Nelson.
The 2015 draft saw all but one of Elway’s choices make the team, producing starters in guard Max Garcia and quarterback Trevor Siemian, a seventh-round compensatory pick. This year’s draft will produce two rookie starters in fullback Andy Janovich, and punter Riley Dixon. This will combine with the remaining draft choices, defensive tackle Adam Gotsis, safety Justin Simmons and running back Devontae Booker.
Elway has also hit home runs in free agency. There will be some critics who will point out it’s hard to fail with signings like DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib, but will forget to mention that he signed lightly-regarded names (at the time) like safety Darian Stewart, wideout Emmanuel Sanders and linebacker Brandon Marshall.
Another examination that can’t be overlooked during Elway’s tenure as Vice President is the signing of undrafted college free agents like cornerback Chris Harris, Jr. and running back C.J. Anderson, both of whom would be developed by the team into Pro-Bowlers.
Two of the AFC’s elite will battle it out on Sunday before going their separate ways. For the Broncos, led by John Elway and anchored by Von Miller, the future looks promising and bright with young talent brimming on both sides of the ball.
Much like the situation that John Elway was faced with early during his time with the Broncos, the Colts will leave a team with more questions than answers as they continue to search for pieces to surround Andrew Luck and form some semblance of a championship-caliber roster around him.
Adam Uribes is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @auribes37.
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