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Broncos draft strategy in 2018 was more about the floor than the ceiling

The floor is better than the ceiling when it comes to drafting NFL talent.

NFL: NFL Draft Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s Note: Kelly Smith is a guest poster from He is an avid Denver Broncos fan and a new member of the Mile High Report community.

Think you see a new draft strategy coming from Dove Valley?

You can bet the house.

It’s easier to draft from number five than 31 (as the Broncos were in 2012), easier than from 28 (2013), from 31 (2014), from 28 (2015), from 32 (2016), and from 20 (2017), but I believe I can see a fundamental change in the thinking of the Denver Broncos draft team.

What’s the change you ask? It’s as easy to see as a ceiling and a floor.

Experts seem to agree that the 2018 Broncos draft was a particularly successful one, and my theory is that it comes from a fundamental shift in how they evaluate prospects. I believe that too many times in the past the Broncos have been guilty of optimistically trying to judge someone’s potential (their ceiling) instead of evaluating them solely on their accomplishments (representing their floor).

What’s wrong with evaluating draft picks based on their potential? Comedian Dylan Moran once said “(Potential is) like your bank balance - you always have a lot less than you think.”

For example, it was easy to imagine a high ceiling for Brock Osweiler. At Arizona State University he was younger, taller, and faster than the University of Arizona quarterback. But the better floor went to University of Arizona quarterback and Super bowl 52 MVP Nick Foles, who statistically out-performed Osweiler every year against the most similar competition possible. Which one would the Broncos rather have right now?

If you’re not mesmerized by the potential, you don’t draft Cody Latimer when Allen Robinson and Jarvis Landry are still available.

Even Garett Bolles was drafted as recently as last year for his ceiling. Is he going to become a great tackle? I certainly hope so, but you don’t draft one-year Utah starter Garett Bolles over Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk (taken 17 spots later by the New Orleans Saints) without envisioning a very high ceiling. It’s also interesting that lately no one is questioning New Orleans and their draft strategy (hello, Alvin Kamara).

With under-drafted NFL greats like Terrell Davis, Tom Brady, and Antonio Brown, and undrafted stars like Rod Smith and Chris Harris, Jr., it seems difficult enough just to decide WHOM to draft without trying to calculate the potential of each person.

How guilty are the Broncos of violating this fundamental strategy? Let’s look only at the first four draft rounds, allowing some wiggle room for potential to creep into the conversation late in the draft. That allows us to still pick up the Terrell Davis’ of the world if there are any remaining out there. In the John Elway era prior to this year, I would argue that fifteen of the draft picks in the first four rounds have been based on their perceived potential and eight strictly on their accomplishments.

This is in sharp contrast to 2018:

Bradley Chubb, DE, N.C. State

  • First-team All ACC, first-team All-America, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and the Ted Hendricks Award.

Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

  • He’s not a man, he’s a machine! Sorry, I think I mistakenly pasted an old scouting report on The Terminator instead of Courtland Sutton’s college highlights, but now that it’s here it seems to fit.

Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon

  • Career 5,621 yards rushing, 64 TD’s.

Isaac Yiadom, CB, Boston College

  • This one might be a bit of a reach, but the Broncos coached him at the Senior Bowl.

Josey Jewell, ILB, Iowa

  • Won the Jack Lambert Award, finalist for Bronko Nagurski Trophy, named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.

DaeSean Hamilton, WR, Penn State

  • Penn State’s all-time receptions leader with 214, only player in school history with 200+ catches.

Would you like a practical application of the new strategy? Let’s say the Broncos are leading the Los Angeles Chargers by six with thirty-five seconds left on the clock. It’s fourth and two, and the Chargers hand the ball off left tackle to Melvin Gordon. I really like the chances of Josie Jewell and his 437 college tackles bringing down Melvin Gordon in this situation. I like Jewell’s chances much more than someone that just has really good potential to make the tackle. Some say Josie Jewell is a little slow afoot. What is his ceiling? I really don’t know, but 437 tackles makes a pretty nice floor.

In the 2009 hit movie The Hangover, Doug (the drug-dealing one, not the missing groom) says about Rohypnol “I always wondered why they were called roofies. ‘Cause you’re more likely to end up on the floor than the roof.” To which I say exactly! It’s always easier to find the floor! Although I’d never recommend a weekend that gets you attacked by a Tiger, punched in the mouth by Mike Tyson, zapped in the personals, or married to a stranger, I appreciate any adage that helps us arrive at an NFL draft strategy based on merit and performance.

“The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior”, is a quote that’s been attributed to several psychologists and to writers such as Mark Twain. I certainly believe it applies to sports as much as any other walk of life. Find the best players (hello, Deshaun Watson) by finding what they have done, not trying to prognosticate something that they might.

And always remember this anonymous quote “You can’t fall off the floor.”

The great Mike Shanahan used to draft like he was holding three Aces, but in reality he was trying to draw to an inside straight. Marcus Nash? Nope. Willie Middlebrooks, Darius Watts, Maurice Clarett, Jarvis Moss? Wonderful potential. Cathedral ceilings with laminate floors. Ironically, two of Mike’s last three drafts (2006 and 2008) were good ones. He just didn’t have enough chips left at that time to push into the middle of the table.

Thank you, Mike Shanahan and John Elway, for building a winning tradition here in Denver, and thank you, John Elway, for signing Case Keenum. Otherwise Bradley Chubb would’nt have been available, and he has about the sturdiest, most attractive floor of any Bronco ever. But the Broncos would have been forced to draft a quarterback, and all the fans would have been speaking the “R” word that starts with RE and ends with BUILDING.

And we would have been examining a lot of ceilings and floors in the next few years.


Do you like how the Broncos draft strategy played out in 2018?

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