Let me preface this by saying I don't believe I have any idea what is going to happen. How can I sit here and tell you what will happen if the guy making the calls doesn't know what will happen? Drafting late in the 1st is an art. You have to be prepared for anything and everything, because there are so many variables that can happen before you are on the clock. You can't sit there and expect one or even two guys to fall in your lap. You need to be ready and prepared if a guy you don't expect falls or a guy you thought would be available at your pick goes earlier.
Enough of this though, I'm going to do my best to look at what the Broncos want to do at 31.
You know the saying "hindsight is 20/20." So it would be stupid not to use it. The past is the greatest predictor of the future. (I think I used up every lame cliche). With this in mind, let's try and find some common denominators with Elway's early picks. I won't go through all players drafted because I think Elway's strategy in the later rounds is much different then in the first 3.
The biggest problem with evaluating picks years after they were made is that you approach it with a different mindset. Our mindsets at these times are different now, and what was uncertain is now a certainty. I will do my best to recall what our mindsets and/or what the team's was at the time of the picks, but excuse me if there are some errors.
So let's look at these picks the time they were made. The strategy for the 2011 draft seemed to be BPA. When your picking high, you need to get the best players in the draft. You can't afford to take need over talent, especially in a stacked class like that one (look at that top 10, scary good). Also at the time to consider was this was a team coming off one of it's worst in franchise history, both in performance and embarrassment. This team needed a reboot, and sometimes the best way to do that is to draft the best players and build around them.
2012 was the opposite. The Broncos secured the prettiest date to the prom and needed to buy her the dress and corsage. While we did get a backup date early, we also beefed up the DL while getting Manning a playmaker in the backfield (or so we hoped).
2013 was more of the same. The defense and run game failed us in the disappointing playoff loss that year, so we beefed both up knowing Manning and co. would hum with the development of Thomas and the signing of Welker.
Now with that out of the way, let's look at the players and find the similarities. Is there a thread among them that shows what Elway looks for when he's drafting in the first 3 rounds? From a broad perspective, it looks like where they played means little. While some of these guys attended big time schools, there are a couple Big East prospects in here. I'm gonna go ahead and say there's little correlation between the schools they attended besides the fact they are all from FBS schools (as are most early picks).
Type of players? There's something there, but I don't think it's exactly a good predictor. The majority of the defensive players selected were made to have an impact on the pass defense (pass rushers and DB's), with the exception being Irving. On offense not so much. Ball and Hillman could not be more different in style. If there's anything to take from this, it's that if we go defense, he'll be a guy who can help the pass defense.
Production? Ding Ding Ding! If there's one thread among these picks it is that they were all big time producers in college, no matter if it was for USF, U of Cincy, or Miami. Miller had 17 sacks his junior season and 10.5 the next. The former was good for number 1 in the nation. Moore had 10 interceptions in 2009, and Nate Irving led the nation in tackels for loss (I can't find the numbers, if someone knows them I'd be interested) along with breaking the single game record for tackles for loss (8!!). Orlando Franklin's production is impossible to quantify given his position, so excuse him as the lone exception to my theory.
2012 draft picks also were big time college producers. Derek Wolfe was a jack of all trades and Cincy, but it didn't matter where he lined up as he racked up an impressive 9.5 sacks all over the line. Brock might have been a pick for the future, but he also put up numbers in spades, as he had over 4000 yards and helped the Sun Devils rank 8th in passing his final season. We all know Hillman and his legendary college production as well.
It's hard to determine production for DT's on stats alone, but Sly's 6 sacks in his final Tar Heel season is nothing to sneeze at. Ball's production might be the most impressive of Elway's picks, and it would take a whole fanpost to do him justice. Webster's production that caught the Broncos eye wasn't the standard interceptions and deflections we hear from CBs, but it was his team leading 82 tackles.
So with so much uncertainty in the first 30 picks, I think we have a good idea what kind of player the 31st pick will be. Barring a trade down, expect one of the draft's top producers to be wearing orange and blue in the Mile High City next season. And I know what some of you are thinking: Don't all teams draft producers early? One would think, but this isn't always the case, and it isn't always a bad thing. Chandler Jones was one such pick. While his talent is now obvious following an 11.5 sack season, his numbers in college did not show that, with 4.5 sacks his most productive season at Syracuse.
Now that we've established what the Broncos will look for, let's try and guess who will make it to this pick. Mock drafts are fun, but are hardly concrete. Most are good through the top 10 picks, but after that Mel Kiper is as accurate as my neighbor, who's a postman.
So I'm not going to give you which specific players will fall, because I don't know. But I think a helpful tool in this process is eliminating players we know we won't take at 31. I'm sorry to burst any bubbles, but we will not draft a QB at 31. Manning will be your starting QB this year, and Oz is being groomed to take over. The irony in this fact though is that the QB's are going to have the biggest effect on what the Broncos do at 31.
This QB class is really up in the air, with little definition of where each ranks among the other QBs as well as how they stack up to the great prospects at other positions. I think who picks QB's and where will be a shock to some people, similar to the Bills getting Manuel at 16. Beyond that, I have nothing for you.
But this uncertainty is why it will effect the Broncos pick. If there is a run on QB's early, with 3 going before the Broncos pick, I expect the Broncos to stay put at 31 and take a good player at another position who has fallen as a result. However, if the first 30 teams avoid the QB's like they did last year, and take some great players at positions we want to address, I think there will be a solid market to trade back. Consider that 1st round picks get cheap 5 year deals as opposed to the 4 years of second rounders and there's some economical reasons to trade up to the back half of the first for a QB as opposed to sitting back and waiting for them to fall in the 2nd.
So there you have it. I promised you nothing concrete and fulfilled that promise by giving you a vague idea of what the Broncos will do. They will get a big time producer, no matter where he played. If the QB's go early, the Broncos will likely stay put and select a very good player who has fallen through the cracks. If the QB's don't go early, look for the Broncos to do all they can to get out of the round and look for a producer in the 2nd round. Oh, and if they go defense, he'll be picked to help the pass defense