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How John Elway has spent his draft capital and league comparison - position group analysis 2012-2019

How does John Elway’s use of his draft capital compare to the rest of the league from 2012 through 2019?

Los Angeles Chargers v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Here’s something to take our minds off the terrible news that our best player was just lost for the season to injury.

Every pick in the NFL draft can be assigned a value. Draftniks liked to discuss the “Jimmy Johnson” chart for a long time, but it has fallen into disfavor because it weights the first ten picks too heavily. Another value assignment system supposedly uses the averaged career total approximate value, AV, for every player taken in the spot.

So for example the average career AV for players taken with the fifth overall pick, like Bradley Chubb, is 24.3. Currently Chubb has a career AV of 10. I looked at the career AV for every #5 draft pick 1970-2019. The average is 47.7 with Deion Sanders (134) being the high and Mike Junkin (3) being the low. Four players in the Hall of Fame were taken with the number five pick during this time span: Sanders, Junior Seau, LaDanian Tomlinson and Mike Haynes. I’m not really sure where the 24.3 value comes from anymore, but that’s immaterial.

Before we get too hung up on the absolute numbers for the value of a spot in the draft.

Let’s think about the relative value. The curve above gives a good idea of the relative value of different slots in the draft. So let’s just call the absolute numbers units of draft capital.

From 2012-2019, which are all the drafts that John Elway has led, the Broncos had 337.0 units of draft capital to spend. The Browns had the most, 536.5 units, and the Saints had the least, 300.5 units.

Rank TEAM Draft Capital Units
1 CLE 536.5
2 SFO 428.2
3 JAX 422.0
4 TEN 398.5
5 CIN 398.2
6 TAM 398.2
7 LAR 391.3
8 NYG 386.8
9 BAL 386.3
10 OAK 385.4
11 NYJ 384.7
12 BUF 368.1
13 IND 367.7
14 ARI 364.4
15 MIA 360.6
16 MIN 359.3
17 DET 357.1
18 WAS 351.0
19 HOU 350.2
20 GNB 344.7
21 LAC 338.3
22 CHI 337.6
23 DEN 337.0
24 PHI 330.3
25 SEA 328.2
26 PIT 325.1
27 DAL 319.2
28 CAR 318.9
29 KAN 317.7
30 NWE 312.6
31 ATL 309.4
32 NOR 300.5

So how have the Broncos used their capital? See the table below for a breakdown of positional spend - noting that these are the positional designations from the in their draft page(s).

Position Spend % Spend
DE/OLB 51.4 15.3%
DT 44.2 13.1%
WR 36.8 10.9%
T 35.1 10.4%
QB 34.6 10.3%
RB 29.7 8.8%
TE 26.8 8.0%
DB 25.0 7.4%
CB 12.9 3.8%
OL 11.2 3.3%
LB 6.6 2.0%
G 6.4 1.9%
S 5.8 1.7%
ILB 5.4 1.6%
C 3.5 1.0%
NT 0.9 0.3%
P 0.1 0.0%

So John Elway has invested heavily in the front seven (28.4% total of our draft capital) and not very heavily in interior offensive line (only 2.9%). That being said, Dalton Risner is listed as a “T” in the draft so. We spent 11.0 units on him. So moving that capital to the IOL helps. It should also be noted that the players listed as OL are Michael Schofield, Matt Paradis and Philip Blake. Paradis and Blake were both drafted as IOL players. So we have another 5.5 total units that we can add to the IOL tally.

Overall here is how the league chose to spend their draft capital by position group over the last eight drafts.

Pos Full league
OL 17.3%
TE 4.9%
WR 12.1%
QB 7.1%
RB 7.2%
DL 19.0%
LB 12.6%
DB 19.8%

So let’s see the comparatives graphically for the whole league calling out Denver’s place

The Bronco draft capital investment on OL was about average for the league. The Jets invested the least in their OL and the Lions invested the most.

The Lions invested the most in tight ends while the Saints hardly used any draft capital on them (one seventh round pick - 231st overall).

The Lions actually invested the least in wide receivers while the Titans invested the most. The Broncos at 10.9 percent are a little below average, but we made up for that in 2020.

I was a little surprised by how much capital the Broncos have spent on running backs, but I had forgotten that we used a second round (58th overall) on Montee Ball. We also used third round picks on Ronnie Hillman (67th overall) and Royce Freeman (71st overall). The Giants have spent the most on running backs with the majority of that coming from taking Saquon Barkley second overall. The other team in New York has spent next to nothing on running backs investing three sixth round picks and one seventh round pick over the last eight drafts.

Again I was surprised to see how much capital the Broncos have invested in the QB position, but Paxton Lynch (26th overall) and Drew Lock (44th overall) are the vast majority of that spend. The Cardinals have invested the most with the 1st and the 10th overall picks being used on a QB in successive years. They also used a 4th round pick on a QB. The Browns and the Potatoes also spent a large amount of draft capital on the QB position. A number of teams have spent almost no draft capital on the QB position over the past eight drafts. The Falcons, Lions, Packers, Saints and Chargers all had their franchise QBs before the 2012 draft, while the Seahawks and 49ers did not.

Only the Seahawks and the 49ers have spent more on defensive line players than the Broncos. Remember that Bradley Chubb is listed as a DE. In addition to Chubb the Broncos used the 23rd overall pick on Shane Ray and the 51st overall pick on Demarcus Walker along with the 146th overall pick on Quanterus Smith. No players listed as OLB were drafted by the Broncos 2012-2019. Defensive tackles taken by the Broncos were Sylvester Williams (28th overall pick), Derek Wolfe (36th pick), Adam Gotsis (63rd pick), Dre’mont Jones (71st pick), Malik Jackson (137th pick) and Darius Kilgo (203rd pick). So overall the Broncos have used three first round, three second round, one third round, two fifth round picks and one sixth round pick on the defensive line over the past eight drafts.

I was rather surprised at how little that the Steelers have spent on their DL. Of course they more than make up for in how much capital they have spent on linebackers (see below). The Jaguars are similar.

The Broncos are the opposite of the Steelers with almost no capital invested in the LB position. Obviously this changes if you classify Chubb as a linebacker. The Giants have invested even less in the LB position than the Broncos. They have used exactly one pick on a LB (Ryan Connelly, 5th round, 143 overall) over the past eight drafts. Pittsburgh has invested more than one quarter of it’s draft capital on the LB position using three first round picks (Jarvis Jones, Ryan Shazier and Devin Bush Jr.) and a third round pick (Sean Spence) on LBs.

It has been argued that John Elway does not value the linebacker position, or at least, the ILB position. The Broncos have only used four picks on players listed as “LB” and none were taken higher than the fifth round (Danny Trevathan, Lamin Barrow, Corey Nelson, and Justin Hollins).

Over the past eight drafts Denver has the lowest spend on defensive backs. Only 13.0 percent of our draft capital has been spent on defensive backs. We have invested only one first round pick (Bradley Roby, 31st overall) and four third round picks (Kayvon Webster, Justin Simmons, Brendan Langley and Isaac Yiadom). Other teams are fairly close though. Washington (13.3 percent), Seattle and Tennessee (13.5 percent), Chicago (14.2 percent) and Carolina (14.7 percent) have all similarly neglected the defensive back positions in the last eight drafts.

On the flip side the Packers have spent a staggering 33.8 percent of their draft capital (more than one third) on their defensive backfield. They used four first round and five second round picks on the defensive backs.


What, if anything, surprised you about this data?

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    How little the Broncos have spent on defensive backs
    (62 votes)
  • 20%
    How much he Broncos spent on running backs
    (50 votes)
  • 10%
    How much the Broncos spent on defensive line
    (24 votes)
  • 25%
    How little the Broncos spent on linebackers
    (61 votes)
  • 4%
    How much the Cardinals spent of the QB position
    (10 votes)
  • 10%
    How much the Packers spent on the defensive backfield
    (25 votes)
  • 3%
    something else - say in comments
    (8 votes)
240 votes total Vote Now