CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- George S. Patton once said, "Pressure makes diamonds."
If that's the case, John Elway played the role of Tom Shane on Monday. With the Broncos nearly on the clock for his seventh draft, Elway showed no hints of nerves or uncertainty. He built a Hall of Fame career on winning games when the fire alarms blared and breathing became difficult. This draft represents arguably the most important of Elway's seven-year tenure. The Broncos missed the playoffs last season. They don't possess an iconic quarterback. And the AFC West, partly because of strong drafts by the Chiefs and Raiders in recent seasons, features more parity than parody.
"This is our time of the year," Elway said referring to the front office and scouts, who completed their draft board last Thursday and are going over potential scenarios daily. "We have to be good."
The challenge remains real, if not enticing. Part of the reason the division drafted better is because the rivals chose earlier. That led to Oakland landing linebacker Khalil Mack and quarterback Derek Carr, and the Chiefs making a controversial, if not productive, selection in receiver Tyreek Hill. The Broncos pick before them this week, selecting at No. 20. It represents a spot to find a playmaker in a draft Elway admitted is deep in defensive backs, tight ends and wide receivers. Therein lies the issue. The Broncos' most glaring need, at least externally, is left tackle.
Unless you ask Elway.
"It's GM," he deadpanned.
Elway mentioned former Colorado State standout Ty Sambrailo as a potential starting left tackle for the Broncos, believing he could compete with Menelik Watson and Donald Stephenson based on potential he showed as a rookie before suffering a serious shoulder injury. Elway spoke with conviction, even if it made more sense as a smokescreen. The Broncos held official visits with Utah's Garett Bolles, Wisconsin's Ryan Ramczyk and Alabama's Cam Robinson.
Is there a starter in the first round?
"There could possibly be one. If that's where we go, he's going to come in here and compete for the job," Elway said.
Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey remains the people's choice. He ranks among the greatest Colorado prep football stars ever, and could help caffeinate a Broncos' offense that finished fourth in three-and-outs last season. He is projected to go as high as No. 8 to Carolina with the sweet spot at No. 14 with Philadelphia, No. 15 with Indianapolis Colts and Washington at No. 17. McCaffrey made an official visit to the Broncos, making the 20-minute drive from his house.
"He was close. And it was free," Elway said with a laugh. "We wanted to meet him. He's a great kid. We like Christian a lot, and we wanted to bring him in. It was one of those where he was in the area, so we wanted to take advantage of that and get to see him again."
Is he worried that playing at home would be too much of a burden for McCaffrey?
"No. My concern is if he can play football. That's our concern. And that he can do," Elway said.
Elway has shown a willingness to move up in the first round, pulling it off the past two years to land pass rusher Shane Ray and quarterback Paxton Lynch. He admitted it takes on a different complexion this season. The acquisition price for moving forward from No. 20 is much higher. Others have suggested he trade back and pile up picks in the second and third rounds given the depth of this year's class and negligible difference after the top 15 picks.
"That's why it always sounds like it's easy but until we get going and things start flying you never know if you can go up or what the cost will be," Elway explained. "And if you go back, is there a trade partner? So that's why there's a lot of smoke this week."
Elway declined to say whether controversial running back Joe Mixon is on the team's draft board. The former Oklahoma star, who was video taped punching a woman in 2014, interviewed with the Broncos.
"We're still evaluating (his character)," Elway said. "Obviously, that's an issue and it's something that we're continuing to look at while getting as much background as we can on Joe to see where he may fall for us."
Elway built a championship team on defense, reshaping the franchise after the Super Bowl loss to the Seahawks. The defense remains the team's identity, meaning Elway won't shy away from help with their first pick that has produced Derek Wolfe, Bradley Roby and Ray in years past.
"I don't want to go backwards on defense. And I've said that from the get-go," Elway said. "We're not going to go back on defense. If we have a great defensive player available, we'll go that direction."