DENVER — The Broncos will be looking for their future this week.
The team’s brain trust, minus one important component, has flown off to Indianapolis in search of talent at the NFL combine.
And this much we do know about John Elway, the Broncos’ executive vice president of football operations, and his staff:
They will find NFL caliber-players.
In the six drafts since Elway took command, the Broncos have selected 46 players. All but one played in the league.
Thirty of those players started at least one game for the Broncos, and another is Riley Dixon, who made the all-rookie team as a punter after the 2016 season.
Elway’s first draft pick in 2011 was Von Miller, who was chosen second overall to Cam Newton. Nice pick, John. Miller is an annual Pro Bowl and was the MVP in Super Bowl 50.
However, it must be noted although the Broncos have been successful in the Elway Era discovering starters and backups, only one drafted player other than Miller has been named to the Pro Bowl – tight end Julius Thomas (twice).
In the 2017 draft, the Broncos will start off with 10 picks (including four of the compensatory variety), although Elway usually makes a trade or two. (He traded up in the first round last year in order to get quarterback Paxton Lynch).
The Broncos need a starter or four, a Pro Bowler or four, a future Hall of Famer or two.
The combine is the next step in the process. The Broncos’ executives have been studying films of hundreds of potential players, then looked at dozens of those at the Senior Bowl. Now, there 330 prospects have been invited to the annual Combine. The Broncos will interview 10 percent or so and examined the rest.
Historically, since Elway took over, the Broncos drafted nine players in 2011, seven in 2013, six in 2014, nine in 2015 and the eight last year. Because of the six playoff appearances, and two Super Bowls, their positions, after the Miller Time, haven’t been so lofty. In 2012 their first pick wasn’t until the second round – at 36 – and they opted for Derek Wolfe. Since, they’ve had No. 28 (Sylvester Williams), 31 (Bradley Roby), 23 (Shane Ray) and 25 (Lynch). Only Wolfe and Williams have become full-time starters, although Roby and Ray have been starter-like because of the nickel defense and an injury to DeMarcus Ware. Lynch was beaten by Trevor Siemian, one of three seventh-round selections in 2015, last season, but started two games because of Siemian injuries.
All nine picks in 2011 would hang with the Broncos, although linebacker Mike Mohammed would be cut during the season and Jeremy Beal would go on injured reserve – and never make it on the active roster. (Mohammed would go on to play for other teams for a couple of years.)
Miller, Rahim Moore, Orlando Franklin, Nate Irving, Quinton Carter, Thomas and Virgil Green would eventually have starting roles, but only Green remained in 2016. Moore, Franklin, Irving and Thomas became free agents and signed with other teams. Thomas was just traded from the Jaguars to the Dolphins. Franklin is a started offensive lineman for the Chargers, and Moore, Irving and Carter are out of the like.
All seven picks in ’12 stuck, but Philip Blake didn’t stay long. He now plays for Montreal in the CFL. Wolfe, Brock Osweiler, Ronnie Hillman, Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan would become starters, and Omar Bolden was a backup-special teams player. All but Wolfe signed as free agents with other teams or were cut. You know the story on Osweiler. Hillman is a free agent (after being with the Vikings and the Chargers in ’16); Jackson is a starter with Jacksonville and Trevathan with Chicago. Bolden is out of the league.
The Class of 2013 produced Williams as a starting nose tackle (he is a free agent now, and probably gone), Montee Ball (cut, signed by the Patriots and out of football), Kayvon Webster (free agent), Quanterus Smith (out of football), Tavarres King (Giants wide receiver), Vinston Painter (Patriots) and Zac Dysert (backup quarterback with Arizona).
From 2014, the Broncos have Roby, Cody Latimer (who has never fully produced as a wide receiver), Michael Schofield (starting guard in ’16), Lamin Barrow (Dolphins’ linebacker), center Matt Paradis (Pro Bowl potential) and Corey Nelson (starting linebacker in ’16 because of injury).
The 2015 draft gave the Broncos Ray (who will be a Pro Bowler), Ty Sambrailo (mostly injured), Jeff Heuerman (mostly injured), Max Garcia (starting guard), Lorenzo Doss (backup cornerback), Darius Kilgo (Patriots), Siemian (starting QB), Taurean Nixon (backup in secondary) and Josh Furman (the only player Elway drafted who never survived the cut or made the practice team).
Last year the Broncos picked Lynch, Adam Gotsis (rotational defensive lineman), Justin Simmons (backup safety), Devontae Booker (occasional starter at running back), Connor McGovern (practice squad-reserve guard), Andy Janovich (starting fullback until placed on injured reserve), Will Parks (secondary reserve) and Dixon.
Who’s got next?
The Broncos will be trying to figure out those players at the combine, at Pro Days and during individual invites to the Broncos’ facility before the draft April 27-29.
They’ll have to do it without Adam Peters, the director of college scouting. He will be in Indy with the 49ers as V.P. of player personnel.