There is a persistent perception that not only have the Broncos drafted poorly over the past decade or so, but that they also haven’t gotten much out of their rookies during their rookie year. Those who ascribe to this perception point to Matt Paradis, Connor McGovern and Paxton Lynch as recent examples of players who contributed little or nothing to the team as rookies. What’s the reality? To study this I used AV, approximate value, which assigns a value to every player on every team every year. While AV is far from a perfect metric, it is the best way to compare the contribution of an offensive tackle to the contribution of a wide receiver.
This adds the AV from all drafted rookies for every team in the league by year going back to 2008. Note that this does not include contributions from rookie UDCFAs.
Drafted Rookie AV by Team by Year 2008-2016
So we see that over this time frame of nine seasons (I don’t have easily accessed data that goes back further) the Broncos did not get very much from their drafted rookies during their rookie year. To make matters worse, the hated P*ts appear to be finding rookies who can contribute immediately. So let’s look at the best two years of the past nine as far as rookie production from the drafted rookies on the Broncos and the worst two years.
In 2008 the Broncos drafted these players
We got a bunch of value out of Ryan Clady and Eddie Royal as rookies with some solid contributions from Peyton Hillis. Those three rookies accounted for 26 of the 30 AV units from our 2008 rookie draftees. This was the most contributions that we got from our drafted rookies.
We got close to the same contribution from our 2011 draft picks than we did from our 2008 draftees. Our 2011 rookies contributed 28 AV units as rookies.
Note that we also got 3 points of AV from UDCFA Chris Harris in 2011. I haven’t looked back to see if any of our UDCFAs from 2008 contributed to the team as rookies.
And now the two worst years for rookie contributions.
The 2015 Broncos got very little from drafted rookies. Max Garcia was the biggest contributor.
Shane Ray and Max Garcia played a combined 884 non-special teams snaps in 2015. This was the lowest drafted rookie total AV except for the season before where we get oven less out of our drafted rookies.
Only Bradley Roby played significantly of the 2014 rookies.
Roby did play 803 defensive snaps, but since he was not listed as a starter he was only given an AV of 2 that season (he only started 2 games). This is despite having 14 passes defended, two INTs, one sack, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries and 67 total tackles. If you focus on the only his stats, his rookie season was Roby’s best year. The other rookies combined 194 non-special teams snaps that year - Corey Nelson had the majority of that with his 108 defensive snaps.
It’s interesting to note the highest drafted rookie AV during this whole time period came from the 2016 Cowboys - 44 AV units. This came mostly from Dak Prescott and Ezekial Elliott who accounted for 32 of that 44. Four of the Cowboys rookies didn’t even play last season: Jaylon Smith, Charles Tapper, Darius Jackson and Rico Gathers. I guess it could be worse though. Denver was in the middle of the pack looking at the whole 9 year time frame. The Saints, Steelers, Jets, Giants and 49ers were all significantly worse. The 49ers had the season with the least contribution from their drafted rookies with a total AV of 1 from their 2012 drafted rookies. That one unit of AV came from LaMichael James who only appeared in 4 games for them as a rookie.
If you focus on the last four drafts, the Broncos have gotten the lowest AV from their drafted rookies in the league - 36 - over four seasons, or less than the 2016 rookies earned for the Cowboys. It not even close, WAS, second from last, got 47 total AV out of their rookies during the same time frame. CHI got the most production out of their rookies over the past four seasons was a total AV of 93.
Will the Broncos have a bunch of starting roles filled by rookies in 2017? Probably not, but there is a possibility that we could draft a ILB, TE, DT/NT, DE, LT, RT and RB who could all start or play a lot even if they don’t start. If I were two guess, I would wager that we have two rookie starters out of those seven positions. That however would be a large number of rookie starters for the Broncos as we have not had many since the 2011 season saw Von Miller (15), Orlando Miller (16), Quinton Carter (10) and Rahim Moore (7) all starting 7 or games as rookies. If you include the 4 starts from out rookie TEs, Virgil Green (3) and Julius Thomas (1), the 2011 Broncos saw 52 starts from rookies drafted that year. I doubt we see anything close to that this year.
I don’t want you to conflate lack of rookie production with poor drafting. Many believe that it is a good thing the Broncos have enough talent and luck with UDCFAs that we can allow our drafted players a year or more to develop before they are thrown into the fire. Matt Paradis got a year on the practice squad. Micheal Schofield was on the active roster, but was never a game-day active as a rookie. Julius Thomas got a couple of years to learn the game of football (he never learned how to block). Jeff Heuerman got a medical red-shirt if you will. Brock Osweiler got three years to sit and learn. Connor McGovern got a similar year to acclimatize like Paradis and Schofield. So many of these Denver draftees who did not contribute to the team as rookies did contribute later.