Has John Elway Been “Average” In The Draft?


In a lengthy opus on the MMQB, Joan Nielsen describes John Elway’s track record in the NFL draft as being “average”. Nielsen said this:

"Perhaps the only criticism of Elway’s tenure in Denver has been the draft, which has been if not underwhelming, then at best average. Sure, the Broncos picked Von Miller second overall in the first months after hiring Elway, but since then, a star has yet to emerge. Monte Ball might be that guy—he’ll get reps as a starter next fall—and Elway still sticks by Brock Osweiler as Manning’s successor. But so far, there’s been no draft windfall. Elway did seem to be building for the future in 2014 when he selected receiver Cody Latimer in the second round, and Bradley Roby, the second-to-last pick of the first round, is shaping up as a steal. It’ll be awhile before any evaluation of Elway’s newest picks is due, and even his average performance drafting thus far shouldn’t be too pressing of a worry."

Up until this point in the piece, it’s actually a very interesting read. Nielsen dishes on some heretofore unknown nuggets involving former Baltimore Colts General Manager, Ernie Accorsi, and how he mentored Elway in the beginning stages of his career as an NFL executive.

But when she went way out on a limb and said that Elway’s drafts have been “at best average”, she lost all credibility as a football writer. She writes as if Von Miller just fell into the Broncos’ lap. In a sense, he did, as does any draft pick when they ”fall” to a respective team. But lest we should forget, there were myriad options available for Elway to choose from. Pat Peterson and Marcel Dareus, for example, were there for the taking.

Most draftniks at the time had the Broncos selecting Dareus. He probably would have been a solid pick, but nowhere near as impactful as Miller. It took 3 years for Dareus to make his first Pro Bowl.

Peterson would have also been a great pick, as he’s become one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. But at the time, the Broncos had Champ Bailey, who was coming off of another Pro Bowl season.

There were other guys to be had who were extremely talented, and who’ve gone on to have great success in the league. A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Aldon Smith, J.J. Watt, to name a few.

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Elway made the right choice. When you have the #2 pick in the draft, it is a huge, pressure-filled responsibility. The fate of the franchise hinges on making the right decision. Miller was the right call, despite his run ins with the Ginger Hammer. After two All-Pro seasons, Miller had to mature off of the field. By all reports, he has.

Oh, and by the way, Elway went on to draft 4 more starters in his maiden draft class of 2011. Rahim Moore, Orlando Franklin and Nate Irving are all first stringers with the Broncos.

Julius Thomas was selected in the 4th round. He went to the Pro Bowl last year. Average, right?

2012 saw Elway bring in another highly impactful draft class. Derek Wolfe, drafted in the 2nd round, was the Broncos’ first draft pick, after the team had traded back and out of the 1st round. He’s been a starter at LDE from day one.

Elway swung and missed on one player in this class. Phillip Blake, a center out of Baylor, was drafted in the 4th round, but he fizzled out and was released last year.

Omar Bolden, a defensive back out of Arizona State, was also selected in the 4th round and is still on the roster, but has yet to showcase what the Broncos hoped he would. However, he still has some time left to turn the ship around.

But what about Malik Jackson, a 5th round pick, and Danny Trevathan, a 6th round pick? Both players have been huge contributors to the Broncos’ defense.

Jackson started several games last year and notched 6 sacks. Trevathan started every game at WILL linebacker last year, led the team in tackles, forced 7 turnovers and made the defensive calls. How could you call that ”at best average”?

Brock Osweiler was a head-scratcher for many. Elway selected him in the 2nd round to be the Broncos’ QB of the future. But with the ink still yet to dry on Peyton Manning’s contract, many wondered if Elway had wasted a pick with Oz. The jury’s still out on that one. Because of Manning’s transcendent play, Oz has yet to see a meaningful down. But history will judge whether the Osweiler pick had merit. For now, it’s too early to call it.

In 2013, Elway picked Sylvester Williams in the 1st round. At pick 28, the Broncos scored a top-15 talent. Williams came on strong down the stretch and into the Broncos’ postseason run last year.

Montee Ball was selected in the 2nd round, and as Nielsen mentions, he could emerge as a star in 2014. Ball will be the Broncos’ primary running back. “At best average” picks don’t start for their respective teams, unless it’s the Raiders.

Kayvon Webster, a 2013 3rd rounder, contributed a lot more than the Broncos expected him to as a rookie, due to a rash of injuries in the secondary. He showed the expected ups and downs of a rookie defensive back. However, his raw talent was obvious. He could end up being a huge contributor to this defense, as his career matures.

Taverres King, like Blake before him, could be considered one of Elway’s few misses. He was picked in the 5th round out of Georgia, but with the Broncos being so stacked at WR, it made it very difficult for King to make the final roster. He was released, although the team hoped he’d make it through waivers so that they could stash him on the practice squad. He was claimed by Carolina, unfortunately.

The jury is still out on the majority of the Broncos’ 2013 draft class. With a roster as talented and deep as the Broncos’, it isn’t easy for young players to crack the starting lineup. Vinston Painter and Zac Dysert, for example.

Quanterus Smith carried a 1st round grade by many in the draftnik community, but his injured knee relegated him to the middle rounds. The Broncos scored him in the 5th and they expect him to rush the passer in spot duty this year. He has the ability to become a star.

Obviously, with the 2014 class yet to see any NFL game experience, it’s moot to defend, or decry them. But I think most people in the NFL world would say that the Broncos had a successful draft this year. Just getting Bradley Roby at pick 31 was major steal. Cody Latimer could very well be the next Demaryius Thomas, but we won’t know that for some time.

This is all without bringing up the studs that Elway has found in the undrafted rookie free agent pool, like Chris Harris, Jr. He’s performed like a 1st round pick. Aaron Brewer, a very capable long-snapper, Steven Johnson, and C.J. Anderson have all made the Broncos’ final 53-man roster. It’s not easy to find that level of talent off of the NFL Draft scrap heap.

I think that anyone who truly understands the NFL game can see that Elway has been very successful in the draft. He’s hit on all of his first picks and has found diamonds in the rough deep in the draft, the mark of a true draft virtuoso.

To say that his drafts have been “at best average” is at best, simply ignorant.