For John Elway, finding consistent success in the NFL Draft has been difficult. However, after stringing together what looks like two solid draft classes last year and this year, it looks as if he and the Denver Broncos have finally found the right formula.
In 2018, the right formula was to take the best player on their board in Bradley Chubb who surprisingly fell to them with the fifth overall pick. While this year, it was to trade down from the tenth overall pick to the 20th in order to stockpile Day 2 picks.
None of this would have been possible had Elway not made the trade for quarterback Joe Flacco. That fourth round pick they gave up allowed them to be patient in the first round and with the top quarterback on their board, Drew Lock.
In a recent ESPN piece, NFL insiders were asked to evaluate the Broncos decision making in the first two rounds.
”What happened to Joe Flacco the past couple years when he didn’t have a good receiving tight end?” an evaluator asked. “Fant gives him one, which he needs. Then they get the big right tackle for the best offensive line coach in the league in [Mike] Munchak. If Flacco plays well, they will get more than fourth-round pick for him.”
Shoring up the talent around Flacco was clearly priority number one for Elway. The focus might be on the move for Lock, but the fact that the Broncos selected what looks like two offensive starters in their first two picks shows a tremendous focus on surrounding Flacco with the talent he needs to succeed immediately.
Immediately after the first round, Elway noted the importance of getting offensive weapons around Flacco, “We obviously want to get him as many weapons as we can. With weapons sitting like that on the board, we felt fortunate that he was there. Joe likes the tight ends and stretching the field and specially with what we’re going to do offensively, it’s a good fill all around.”
In tight end Noah Fant, the Broncos landed the kind of weapon that could open things up in the passing game in many different ways.
Getting Fant after trading down and Lock after trading up showed the Broncos were both patient and aggressive.
”Fant basically gives the fastest ‘F’ tight end who will be their George Kittle in that offense,” another evaluator said. “It was a good get, but what did you lose not getting a corner or inside linebacker?”
As for the defense, this evaluator must assume that Chris Harris Jr. won’t be with the Broncos this year, but the silence on those extension talks likely means progress is being made behind the scenes. The need for public positioning from either side has subsided and real work is being done. At least, that is my hope.
The cupboard was also a bit bare on offense, but over the last several free agencies and drafts it does seem like the Broncos have completely remade their offensive talent. They have young talent at all three skill positions at running back, wide receiver, and tight end now and have an offensive line that Mike Munchak can work with.
There will always be more needs, but it is clear offense was the focus in 2019 and Elway’s post-draft comments all but confirm it.
“I think that, first of all, we improved in the offseason with the addition of Joe Flacco and bringing him in, and Ju’Wuan James at the right tackle,” Elway said after the draft. “I’m probably forgetting somebody, but there’s been a lot of names at this point in time. Those two obviously coming in have helped us offensively. Then going with Noah [Fant] and Dalton [Risner] with the first two picks, we feel like they can come in and help us also. I think we’re a lot better on the offensive line. I think we continue to get better there, but I think we got better on the offensive line. Obviously, Noah can stretch the field. Joe’s going to—to me, we still believe he has tremendous upside in his career—so we feel a lot better about that. Then Drew [Lock] coming in and competing for the backup spot, it gives us some depth there. We feel much better sitting here now today than we did coming out of last season with where we are and the additions that we’ve made—not only as the players, but also with Vic and his staff. I think that it’s a good spot to be in, as we were talking about earlier. If we were to say before the draft that we’d come out with these six players, we’d be overjoyed with that, and we were able to get that. We feel like it was a good draft for us.”
The trade up in the second round for Drew Lock was probably the most interesting pick the Broncos made. It showed they are also eyeing towards the future as Flacco is nearing the end of his career in the NFL. The value they got by waiting for Lock’s fall out of the first round was tremendous.
The Broncos sent fourth- and sixth-round picks to Cincinnati in moving up for Lock. Of course, if the whole league loved Lock, the Broncos never would have been able to draft him with the 42nd overall choice.
”I thought Drew Lock was their best value pick,” an exec said. “Lock has an arm and he can throw from every angle.”
New Broncos offensive coordinator, Rich Scangarello, clearly has his marching orders now. He was brought in to resurrect the Broncos offense and work on developing Drew Lock into an NFL starter. By him sitting on the bench, he’ll be able to work on all of the things NFL evaluators said were of concern with Lock.
It’s also important to point out that the success rate in the NFL for second round quarterbacks is 50/50 at best. And, really, only a handful of those ever become long-term starters in the NFL. Lock will need to beat both of those odds, which is probably why Elway and the Broncos are sold on Joe Flacco being “the guy” for the foreseeable future.
Overall, the Broncos first three picks showed the franchise is both concerns about the immediate future and where they hope to be in 3-4 years. It was a good balance between the two.