DENVER -- One time the Broncos caught their whale in the draft. That was 2011, when general manager John Elway began his plan to build around pass rushers and cover corners. He came home from the first round with Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller as the second overall pick. Miller ranks as one of the greatest players in team history, and shoved the Broncos to a Super Bowl 50 title.
Drafting early in the first round serves as an indictment on the previous season. The Broncos find themselves on the clock with the fifth overall selection. This pick, with Miller as evidence, can not only change a team's culture, but its fortunes.
Speculating about which player fits best at fifth overall has become a cottage industry, blending the love of college football with the passion of NFL fans. The path with the least resistance remains quarterback. Take USC's Sam Darnold, UCLA's Josh Rosen, Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield or Wyoming's Josh Allen and let the kid's promise define the future.
The problem with the plan is that quarterbacks are more volatile than cryptocurrency. The Broncos experienced this firsthand with Paxton Lynch. While the Broncos could have been more flexible with their scheme to suit his skillset, Lynch proved incapable of unseating seventh-rounder Trevor Siemian in back-to-back summers, and experienced a lost season in his sophomore campaign because of shoulder and ankle injuries.
The quickest road to recovery remains signing a veteran quarterback like Kirk Cousins, the top priority, or possibly Case Keenum or Tyrod Taylor. Signing Cousins or Keenum opens up avenues with the fifth overall pick.
Could the Broncos go defense with that selection? It is not a crazy idea, despite the offense's desperate need for a jolt. NFL Network's Charley Casserly cemented the notion with his latest mock draft. He projects the Broncos taking University of Texas-San Antonio outside linebacker Marcus Davenport. I talked to Davenport at the Senior Bowl. He admitted to shaping his game after Miller. Davenport is a disruptive rusher and showed bursts of star talent in Mobile. He stands taller than I'd like, at 6-foot-6, making him easier to block at times, but figures to be a good NFL player.
I can follow Casserly's logic. I would, however, take a different defensive player in this scenario. Alabama's Minkah Fitzpatrick can play safety or cornerback, invaluable versatility in the modern NFL. I know Elway has no history of drafting Tide players, leaving this selection more unlikely.
Casserly's mock creates another intriguing alternative. He pegs the Colts as taking Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, which runs against the grain of most mocks. If Barkley goes off the board at No. 3, it leaves North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb available. The Broncos' defensive line took major steps forward last season with the additions of Shelby "The Big Germ" Harris and Pro Bowl alternate Domata Peko, and the improvement of Adam Gotsis. Chubb, however, could protect against Derek Wolfe's injuries. Wolfe remains an all-time tough guy, but he has battled elbow, neck and ankle issues the past two seasons.
The draft runs April 26-28, leaving endless hours of spouting, predicting and guessing. Free agency starts March 12 with signings permitted at 2 p.m. on March 14. What transpires during that feeding frenzy will shape what happens in the draft.
The Broncos carry a history of entering the draft without compromise. They like to keep depth at positions to prevent reaches with college players. Unfortunately, it failed to pay off last spring, with Denver whiffing on nearly every prospect, save for Garett Bolles. The development of undrafted free agents like safeties Jamal Carter and Dymonte Thomas and cornerback Marcus Rios could help cover those misses. However, it does not to diminish the significance of ths year's draft. The Broncos need a bonanza.
Miller changed everything. Not immediately. There were missteps. Yet, he evolved from a Pro Bowler to an All-Pro to a Super Bowl MVP. The fifth pick offers unique hope because of the talent available.
The Broncos could follow the league's worn path of drafting a quarterback. Still, the idea of going defense exists until the free agent picture provides clarity. The Broncos are 7-15 over their last 22 games. They need multiple strong players, and hitting on the fifth pick could represent the start of a revival.