It’s a cliche to say that the NFL stands for Not For Long. It’s also true. The majority of the league’s 32 teams have turned over their front office staff since John Elway became General Manager in 2011. The only exceptions are the Patriots, Bengals, Cowboys, Steelers, Falcons, Saints, Seahawks, and maybe Washington. The Broncos GM has been on the job long enough that it’s fair to take a real look at how he’s done mining and developing talent.
This list will be comprised only of rookies who came to the Broncos, whether that be via the draft or afterwards. No free agents or veteran trades. I’ll attempt to make a starting offense and defense in order to best provide a look at where the Duke has excelled (or not) at finding talent.
Let’s do it.
Edge - Von Miller
This one’s a no-brainer. Selected 2nd overall in Elway’s opening draft, 58 will one day make the Broncos Ring of Fame and should wind up enshrined in Canton. He’s currently 2 sacks away from 100, with 196 official QB hits, 26 forced fumbles, and 125 tackles for a loss to his name. Miller has been a 3-time First Team All-Pro and has made the Pro Bowl every season of his career except 2013 due to injury.
One of my favorite Von Miller sacks of 2018. The #Broncos are facing 3rd and 3. He bursts off the snap, dekes outside only to power through Penn's inside shoulder to take Carr down before he has a chance. pic.twitter.com/mWmn7D5syN— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) May 23, 2019
Edge - Bradley Chubb
It’s really early to declare brilliance for Chubb. However, it isn’t too soon to say he’s shown more promise than Shane Ray or Shaq Barrett did during their 4-year tenures. There’s more room to improve on his 12-sack rookie season than some would have you believe, but he has the potential to be an eventual heir to Von.
Bradley Chubb is a bully. He wins with his hands, can run through OTs and long-arm his way to the QB.— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) May 20, 2019
He needs to win with more consistency and perhaps add an explosive outside move to his arsenal to take his game to the next level, but his floor is really, really high. pic.twitter.com/lYVGeg0jyr
iDL: Derek Wolfe
2012 was an interesting draft for Elway, as he traded out of the first round. It remains the only time he’s ever completely punted on Day 1 of the annual talent fair. At the top of the 2nd round, he selected a 6’5, 280 lb Bearcat by the name of Wolfe. Elway doubled down on his identity as a dog person when he handed the 5 technique a 4-year, $36.7 M extension during the 2015 campaign.
He isn’t flashy, garnering only 26 sacks over his 7-year career. Where Wolfe proves his importance is in both the pressure he creates (17.5 hurries by Sports Info Solutions, better than Everson Griffen, Larry Ogunjobi, and Anthony Barr), as well as what he does for his partner in crime. I’ll freely admit I’m as guilty as anyone of underestimating the impact Wolfe has had on Von Miller’s production. Doubt him no longer.
The #Broncos' man doesn't get enough credit. 3rd & 6 with the 49ers marching. Von is freed up for the sack here by Derek Wolfe's dirty work. pic.twitter.com/CgG9Parp9i— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) May 24, 2019
iDL: Malik Jackson
Coming out of college this 5th round pick, Jackson was lauded for his multi-sack game against Alabama as a senior and he’s proven it no fluke through his career to date. He’s notched 34.5 sacks, 26 passes defensed, 6 forced fumbles, and 3 recoveries during his career. I’ll best remember him for his Super Bowl touchdown.
When Elway handed the extension to Wolfe, it set an expiration date on his round picks stay in the Rocky Mountains. Following the 2015 season, Malik signed a 6-year, $80 M deal with the Jaguars. After three years and 18 sacks, he was released. This off-season, he signed a 3-year, $30 M deal with the Philadelphia Eagles.
ILB: Danny Trevathan
A 6th round pick in Elway’s second draft, the current Bear was a key star on the 2015 Broncos unit. He finished tenure in Denver with 302 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, and 5 interceptions. If anything, the stats fail to properly capture what an impact he had coverage. Following Super Bowl 50, Chicago offered him a 4-year, $28 million contract.
Never! In fact, we'll start going after players now. I made this photoshop of what Danny Trevathan may look like in a Bronco jersey. pic.twitter.com/MWjZvfIM3e— Broncos Reddit (@Broncos_Reddit) January 16, 2019
CB: Chris Harris Jr.
Another no-brainer. Like Von Miller, Harris should be an eventual lock for the Broncos Ring of Fame, as he’s grown into one of the very best corners in the NFL. His chance at the Hall of Fame is a lot dicier, but not because of his own play, which has long been recognized by film and analytics nerds. “Strap” is the first superstar nickel defender in an era that’s proven how important they can be. While the 2019 contract impasse may cast some shadow over his time in the Rockies, let there be no doubt: the cap room his 5-year, $42.5 M deal gave the Broncos allowed Elway to pursue other key members of the eventual No-Fly Zone.
So a big part of the Houston game the #Broncos had Chris Harris follow DeAndre Hopkins around the field. The results:— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) May 18, 2019
With @ChrisHarrisJr on him: 3 catches - 18 yards
W/O: 7 catches - 87 yards, 1 touchdown. pic.twitter.com/jTGIMzp2CX
CB: Bradley Roby
Once seen as the heir apparent to Aqib Talib, the former 1st round pick out of Ohio disappointed Broncos Country last season. Elway traded the veteran Talib in part to afford Roby’s 5th year extension last year, and to also let him prove worth that he was worth it. However, the Buckeye was woefully inconsistent in a larger role. He’s since left for the Texans on a 1-year, $10 M deal. He locks up a spot on this list mostly because of his status as a key member of the 2015 No Fly Zone.
Spoke to Bradley Roby. He turned down 3-year offer from Steelers and 1-year offer from 49ers to take one-year, $10 Mil deal with Texans. Browns were also in for a while. Roby: "It's a prove it deal. I feel like I should go back in (the market) while I'm still young.'' #9sports— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) March 12, 2019
CB: Kayvon Webster
KWeb came to the Broncos as a 3rd round selection in 2013. Most of his time in Denver was spent as a depth player behind Champ Bailey, Chris Harris, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Aqib Talib. In fact, he only started 2 games for the Broncos over his 4-year career. He makes this list in no small part because he was a special teams Ace; Wade Phillips and the Rams thought enough of his play to sign him to start in 2017; and because his competition is Omar Bolden, Sly Williams, and Nate Irving.
He’s had a bit of a rough run since leaving Denver, rupturing his Achilles tendon with the Rams and winding up on IR with the Texans in 2018 with a quad injury. At the time of this writing, it looks like his NFL career may be over.
Adventures of Kim and KAy— kwebb (@kayvonwebster) May 23, 2019
Coming soon! pic.twitter.com/rPqYhf5H50
S: Justin Simmons
A lot has been expected of the 2016 3rd round pick. He played well enough in 2017 that the Broncos released T.J. Ward in the final cut down of training camp. Since then, Simmons has been closer to solid than superstar. As he enters the final year of his rookie contract, he’s expected to be a key contributor in the Fangio defense after being the only player on the Broncos to play every single defensive snap a year ago.
One player I really want to devote a GIF Horse to later this summer is Justin Simmons because I was so wrong about him. Far too often plays like this have peppered my looks at Von and Harris. pic.twitter.com/bT3psNYaEM— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) May 21, 2019
S: Rahim Moore
This pains me to write, but building a total defense of Elway picks either asked for Nate Irving (a solid, albeit limited player), Sylvester Williams (ultimately a pretty disappointing nose), or Moore. Once I looked past the Joe Fluke-O miracle game, it became an easy enough decision. Moore had a pretty decent career with the Broncos as a whole. Going into the 2015 free agency period, PFF had this to say about the free agent:
On the backend of the defense, Rahim Moore provided quality and quantity coverage, leading the league in coverage snaps (688) and Cover Snaps Per Target (31.1) and ranking third in Yards Per Cover Snap (0.27) and Cover Snaps Per Reception (40.5) among safeties with 500 or more coverage snaps.
He signed with the Houston Texans for $12 M over 3 years and made it halfway through the season. Once 2015 was over, he was released and last appeared in the AAF.
It's because out of the 6 things you listed, 5 of them are heavily predicated on Rahim Moore screwing up.— Scott Kacsmar (@ScottKacsmarNFL) February 13, 2019
He wouldn't get much hate if he thrived after SB run instead of turning into one of the least effective starters (but among highest paid) in the league. https://t.co/Eic4cf5Wcx
S: Will Parks
It seems fitting that Elway’s best homegrown defense makes use of a dimebacker position. There’s already been some speculation among the MHR staff that Fangio’s defense may incorporate more sets with Parks in the role to make use of the talents on the roster in 2019. The 2016 6th rounder finished last season as one of secret stars of the defense, filling the role Su’a Cravens was brought in to address.
I see you @PhillyWill11 https://t.co/9Y5QGpZtXn— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) May 17, 2019
LT: Garett Bolles
This choice isn’t as controversial, as the then 24-year old was coming out of Utah in 2017. After all, the much-maligned first round pick has little competition for this position. Bolles is a natural athlete and strong run blocker who shines at the second level. He’s also a bit notorious for holding penalties. In 2019, there is hope that offensive line savant Mike Munchak can help him improve his technique to reach his ceiling.
From Weeks 1-9, Garett Bolles' pass-blocking grade of 67.1 ranked 49th among tackles with 100+ snaps, and his pressure rate of 6.0% ranked 37th.— PFF DEN Broncos (@PFF_Broncos) December 3, 2018
Since Week 10, his pass-blocking grade of 78.4 ranks 13th among tackles with 75+ snaps and his pressure rate of 3.5% ranks 8th. pic.twitter.com/B4goSig3m9
LG: Connor McGovern
This came down to playing McGovern at a position he hasn’t manned in the pros (he’s been a right guard or center for this career) or handing the keys to Max Garcia. I have a lot more faith in the Missouri Tiger.
Connor McGovern on the Broncos’ belly-less O-line: pic.twitter.com/YT2dDw5wOl— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) May 16, 2019
C: Matt Paradis
A 6th round pick in 2014 out of Boise State, Paradis won a competition with Gino Gradkowski for a starting job in 2015 and never let it go. For a large part of his time in Denver, he was considered one of the best centers in the league. He also lived up to the history of great Broncos lines passed with his durability and toughness. The 29-year old didn’t miss a start until breaking his leg against the Texans in November last season. Elway had enough qualms with the injury to low-ball him in free agency and now the 6-year pro will try to live up to the 3-year, $29 M deal given to him by the Carolina Panthers.
Matt Paradis doing a nice job scanning for threats and getting the peel back to spring the TD run: pic.twitter.com/Zqzz1xr459— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) October 2, 2018
RG: Michael Schofield
You could make a fair argument that McGovern has done more to earn this spot than the former 3rd rounder. Schofield makes this list in part because he’s a better player at right guard than Max Garcia is at left, which is a bit of a back-handed compliment. He earned himself a Super Bowl ring as the starting right tackle in 2015, but anyone who watched the Broncos that season knows he was a liability. He was eventually waived in September of 2017 and has now found a home on the Los Angeles Chargers.
I feel bad for Schofield he is completely over matched.— mark schlereth (@markschlereth) January 3, 2016
RT: Orlando Franklin
Elway’s 2nd round pick in his first draft, Franklin started 47 games at right tackle his first three years in the league before moving to left guard in 2014. If you stop and look back at the Broncos depth chart over the years since, you can point to Franklin as the last right tackle the Broncos have had that wasn’t a turnstile. Franklin played well enough at his new position inside to earn a 5-year, $36.5 M deal from the then San Diego Chargers. He made it two years with the division rival before being waived, and he’s now out of football.
Congrats to Orlando Franklin on his career! 4-time AFC West champ & 70-game Broncos starter ('11-14), inc SB XLVIII https://t.co/QCpUVyg0Tr— Patrick Smyth (@psmyth12) May 5, 2018
TE: Julius Thomas
A 4th round pick in Elway’s first draft, the former basketball star came into the league as an uber athletic raw mismatch weapon. After two seasons and 1 reception for 5 yards, Thomas exploded onto the scene in 2013 with 65 receptions for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns. He followed up his breakout campaign with another 12 touchdowns in 2014 before leaving the orange and blue for the Jaguars’ green. Like many receivers who made hay with Peyton Manning, Thomas found the going a lot harder in the aftermath. He never lived up to his five-year, $46 million contract, catching 12 more touchdowns over the entire length of his stay in Florida. He retired in 2017 to pursue a doctorate in psychology.
From the football field to the classroom. @Julius_Thomas retired from the NFL to begin his studies towards a PhD in psychology. His goal? To assist those who may be suffering from CTE. pic.twitter.com/Yt8AedZwyx— Bob Ley (@BobLeyESPN) August 29, 2018
TE2: Virgil Green
I suspect some will be upset with me for passing on Andy Janovich here. While I do expect the Cornhusker to thrive in Rich Scangarello’s new offense, he also has to beat out George “Juggerneck” Aston for the job. We already know what Green has done for Denver. He had a peculiar career. In 2012 Rookie Scouting Portfolio’s Matt Waldman had this to say about the Broncos 2011 7th round pick:
Green may never have the frame to add enough muscle to become a great blocker at the position. Although Green is a willing and aggressive blocker and he should develop into a technically sound player, his lack of polish will initially limit his opportunities to see the field on an every down basis. That’s okay. If a team drafted Green as a blocker, the GM should be fired, because the Nevada tight end is much closer to Shannon Sharpe thanhe is Alge Crumpler.
He finished his 7-year career in Denver with 90 catches for 1,017 yards and 5 touchdowns. If that was the entire picture, Janovich would have been the easy selection for my flex. It isn’t though, as Green did enough as a blocker to earn a 3-year, $8.6 M deal from the Chargers in 2018. The numbers led me to believe they saw him as a receiving weapon, only for Los Angeles to dust off Antonio Gates once Hunter Henry suffered a torn ACL last year. Green’s first year catching passes from Philip Rivers looks a lot like his seasons with the Broncos: 19 catches, 210 receiving yards, 1 touchdown despite playing almost 700 snaps on offense.
X-Receiver: Courtland Sutton/Z-Receiver: DaeSean Hamilton
Both these positions come down to the fact that Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker were already here by the time Elway took the job, and Emmanuel Sanders was a free agent addition from Pittsburgh. The only real competition they have is from Cody Latimer, the 2014 2nd round pick who quietly goes down as one of the bigger busts of Elway’s tenure. He was picked before Jarvis Landry, Allen Robinson, Donte Moncrief, John Brown, and Quincy Enunwa. All have had single seasons with more receiving yards than the 635 Latimer has accrued through five seasons.
It’s very early, but the 2018 duo look like they could blossom into the next dynamic pair for the Broncos. Sutton has earned some publicity from CBS and others as a likely breakout star in 2019, while DaeSean Hamilton has received a lot of love from film analysts for his savvy route running.
‘Doug Baldwin and the Art of the Release’— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) February 3, 2018
This is also my Daesean Hamilton comparison... pic.twitter.com/ICZf9PvsTx
Running back: C.J. Anderson
Some would argue Philip Lindsay already deserves this spot. While the second year local star was electric as a rookie, I can’t ignore the bowling ball of power Anderson gave the Broncos over his 5-year career. He finished his stay with 4,315 total yards and 26 touchdowns, counting playoffs. Denver doesn’t make it to, much less win Super Bowl 50 without him.
Quarterback: Brock Osweiler
It isn’t hard to find the main reason Denver has missed the playoffs since Peyton Manning retired. The current hope is Drew Lock can succeed where Paxton Lynch failed before him. Prior to Lynch, there was hope for Brock Osweiler, who provided key play in relief of “The Sheriff” in 2015. The defense carried the eventual Super Bowl winning roster, but Elway thought enough of Osweiler’s pay to let Malik Jackson walk so he could offer Oz a contract averaging $15 M a year. However, Rick Smith and the Houston Texans offered more and Brock walked. The rest is history. Sometimes the long view makes you look lucky.
I did suggest that the Texans dump Osweiler’s guaranteed base salary on the Browns back in December https://t.co/Hwe1BzkcEr pic.twitter.com/uTLHXpB0LS— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) March 9, 2017
How many games would the All-Elway team win?
This poll is closed
11-16. Super Bowl Contenders.
8-10. Playoff Contenders.
5-7. That offense though.
< 5. No QB, no offense, and unproven talent at key positions.