Smoke or Fire? 5 Takeaways From John Elway's Pre-Draft Remarks

John Elway shared some thoughts in his annual pre-draft press conference. What did we learn? Chad Jensen breaks it down.

It's that time of year. The 2017 NFL Draft is just days away and general managers from around the league are putting the finishing touches on their team's respective big boards. 

Denver Broncos GM John Elway took to the podium on Monday, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs in his wake. Here's the problem with these type of pre-draft press conferences.

We have to read between the lines — deduce whether the signals being sent out are smoke or fire, and hope those breadcrumbs lead us down the right path. No NFL GM is going to hold court and reveal his team's intentions in the Draft, or talk about where specific players are on their big board. No, sir. Right now, guys like Elway are keeping the cards close to the vest, and throwing just enough scraps to the media and fans to keep them fed, while giving opposing GMs a little food for thought. 

However, that doesn't mean we can't glean something from Elway's remarks. There were some choice nuggs to digest. 

As we go through the takeaways, just mind my "smoke or fire" disclaimer. There's no way to know for sure how Elway and the Broncos are feeling on any specific topic. 

Here's what struck me. 

Denver Open To Trading Up Or Down

It's been a while since the Broncos had a pick in the top-20. This year, they're sitting right in that sweet spot where blue-chip talents are within striking distance of trading up, if Elway has his eye on a specific prospect sure to be in high demand. 

The Broncos have reportedly talked to Cleveland about trading down, but according to Elway, that conversation is likely one of many phishing expeditions the Broncos have had around the league. 

“Everybody is talking about moving up and down right now," Elway said. "It’s that time. In the next couple days, it will continue to go and you find out who wants to do what. Until we get to draft day, you never know how serious anybody is.”

Trading up or down is all contingent on how the board falls. If the Broncos have their eye set on Christian McCaffrey, or if an elite defensive prospect slips, or if there's a run on skill position players, leaving Denver with a multitude of options, they could choose to trade up or down. 

The conversations that have taken place are meant to feel out the opposition and perhaps structure some framework for compensation, should the right trade scenario come to fruition on Draft day. 

Real Interest In McCaffrey & Mixon

The Broncos are looking to add some "juice" to an offense that was among the league's worst in 2016. They have two of the best wideouts in the league but durability questions at running back and a lack of production at tight end could force Denver to partake in the 2017 Draft class. 

When it comes to difference-makers at running back, the Broncos have met with both Christian McCaffrey and troubled Oklahoma star Joe Mixon. Listening to Elway on Monday, he admitted to liking Stanford's Swiss Army Knife. 

"He’s a great kid," Elway said. "We like Christian a lot and we wanted to bring him in." Regarding Mixon, Elway talked mostly about the former Sooners' off-the-field troubles but reading between the lines, it sounds like he's a player the Broncos will be monitoring on early day two. 

“We’re still evaluating that [Mixon's character]," Elway said. "Obviously, that’s an issue and it’s something that we’re continuing to look at while getting as much background as we can on Joe to see where he may fall for us.”

If Denver wants McCaffrey, they'll likely have to orchestrate a trade on Draft day to move up. However, Mixon will likely fall to day two and if he's still on the board when the Broncos pick in the second round, don't be shocked if Elway pulls the trigger. 

The Broncos have taken a couple of high-round players with character/off-field concerns before — namely, Bradley Roby and Shane Ray — and depending on the severity of a prospects' issue, Denver believes in their team's culture and ability to insulate players from repeat offenses. 

This Is A 'Thin' Offensive Line Class

We've heard the drafniks, including Mile High Huddle's own analysts, say that this is a shallow and top-heavy O-line class. There are reasons for that. Our own Doc Bear has written about it on many occasions, how college O-line coaches are failing to put their players in the best possible position to succeed early at the next level. 

“I think technique and what they do offensively has changed over time, therefore it may be a cause as to why it’s a little bit thinner this year as it has been in the past," Elway said. "There is a lot of throwing the ball and the ball comes out quick, especially with different teams. The Alabama’s and those types of teams, the SEC teams still run the football, so you get a good evaluation of those people. When you’re talking about teams and how much they throw it, it definitely affects the offensive lineman.”

Externally, most analysts see the left tackle spot as one of Denver's glaring roster weaknesses. If one of the top-3 tackles is there at pick 20, it's hard to see the Broncos not swooping one up.

However, if the Broncos took a tackle early, they would need him to make in immediate impact. Is there a tackle prospect in this class who could start day one? 

“Yes. There could possibly be one," Elway said. "If that’s where we go he’s going to come in and compete for a job. Just like all of the rookies that will come in, they’ll all come in and compete for a job.”

[Related: Don't Miss Our Entire 'Finding Broncos' Series, Scouting The 2017 NFL Draft Class]

Elway's words echo the recent remarks of Head Coach Vance Joseph, who intimated that Denver has it's eye on "a couple" of tackle prospects who could start day one. However, to me, it seems the closer we get to the Draft, the likelihood of the Broncos actually selecting a tackle in round one diminishes. 

Just a gut feeling. 

Denver Likes Sambrailo At Left Tackle

I know, I know. 

Although Ty Sambrailo has fallen out of favor with the fanbase, the front office still believes in him. I've been saying this for months, but no matter what Denver does in the Draft, Sambrailo will factor in to the competition at left tackle. 

"A lot of people think we don’t have a left tackle on our team," Elway said. "We have a left tackle on our team. Ty Sambrailo played left tackle for us two years ago and was playing very well, but hasn’t been able to stay healthy. That’s always an option for us."

As a rookie in 2015, Sambrailo was tasked with protecting Peyton Manning's blindside, after Ryan Clady tore his ACL. Sambrailo started the first three games of the season, and played remarkably well, before injuring his shoulder on the road in Detroit and ending up on injured reserve. 

I've always felt like Sambrailo fits better at left tackle. The Broncos, after investing money in Russell Okung, were adamant about Sambrailo playing on the right side last year. Ty was still banged up and got dominated by both power and speed rushers off the right side. 

"Left tackles are not easy to find, so again we go back," Elway said. "We thought Ty is a guy that can compete there. [Donald] Stephenson played a little left. Menelik [Watson] played a little left, so we’re not without there. It may not be ideal, but you never know. With the way Ty was playing a couple years ago, we felt that he was going to be a very legitimate left tackle until he got hurt.”

Sambrailo's performance at right tackle was an abject failure. Still, I like Sambrailo as an option — if healthy — to actually start at left tackle. He has the athleticism to contend there. The question of whether he'll ever truly be healthy again is a real one, however. 

But Sambrailo was a second round pick after all. And it takes most modern O-linemen a few years to acclimate to the pro game and develop the core strength needed to hold up against NFL-level linemen. 

Sambrailo will compete with Donald Stephenson, and any rookie the Broncos draft, for the left tackle job. If he gets and stays healthy, don't sleep on Sambrailo in 2017. Jeff Davidson could work wonders with him. 

Elway Sees 2017 As A Deep Tight End Class

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The Broncos need better production from their tight end corps. It's not like they've ignored the position. They invested a third round pick in Jeff Heuerman two years ago, and traded for A.J. Derby, but neither they, nor Virgil Green were able to make an impact in 2016 for Denver's two young signal-callers. 

The Broncos need an upgrade. 

This is the year to do it. Mile High Huddle readers know that this tight end class is deep, but there is a distinction to be made. A caveat, if you will. And Elway made it on Monday. 

“When we classify a tight end, the fact is you have ‘Y’ and an ‘F.’ It’s a deep ‘F’ class," Elway said. "Guys that are good routers and can move, not necessarily the strength of being an in-line tight end. There are a couple of good in-line tight ends, but for the most part they are ‘Fs.’ They are more scheme fits. That is why we say it is a deep class, but what happens is if that is where it falls to us in the third, fourth, fifth round, there may be a real tight end there that we can go ahead and get. Again, it goes down to a scheme fit. When we talk about tight end, we have to classify between the ‘Y’ and the ‘F."

Translation; unless Alabama's O.J. Howard falls, the Broncos probably won't look at tight end until the middle rounds. Because of the depth of the class, the Broncos believe they can wait and get an impact player later on. 

Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.

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