A Second Helping of John Elway’s early draft returns

Now that Denver has finalized its 53-man roster and is about to complete its practice squad, I had an urge to take a quick look at the two drafts overseen by John Elway’s front office group.

Elway has been very clear that this team needed at least three years to rebuild, and that he has planned to do so via the draft.

So far, so good.

They’ve achieved what seems to be an unusually high percentage of success so far. It’s early, though - drafts are usually best considered after three years.

What follows is just a glance at ‘so far’.

2011

1. Von Miller, Pick 2. The first pick of the Elway era was the DROY in 2011, starting Sam linebacker, and an amazing pass rusher who is working hard on his run defense and coverage skills. Miller is already a superstar.

2. Rahim Moore, Pick 45. After a tough rookie year, he’s in the mix to start at safety this season. Has built up his body and studied film incessantly, and it’s shown in camp and in preseason games. He should see plenty of playing time this year.

3. Orlando Franklin, Pick 46. Big O provides some badly needed toughness on the OL, currently as the starting right tackle. Perhaps eventually a better guard than RT, he had the team’s best offensive line run yardage in 2011 through his position at 6.0 YPC. An excellent starter with the potential to get even better, he showed that his technique has improved this preseason.

4. Nate Irving, Pick 67. Irving struggled in 2011 and like Moore, worked very hard in the offseason to improve his body and his film room work. Looks like a contributor in the 2012 season. He struggles to handle lateral movement, but he’s a good backup. I think that he will have to improve or be left behind in the next two years, though - the team is getting stronger and bringing in new options such as young middle linebacker Steven Johnson.

5. Quinton Carter, Pick 108. ‘Q’ started 10 games in 2011 and was a key contributor during the Broncos' winning streak. He had an arthroscopic clean-out of his knee while solving a hamstring problem during training camp; he should return and compete to start again in 2012. An easy roster lock, I look for him to settle into the safety rotation.

6. Julius Thomas, Pick 129. Relatively new to football, but has a possible upside. Has struggled with an ankle injury and is coming off surgery. Denver knew from the moment they drafted Thomas that he would a developmental talent, and they aren’t ready to give up on him just yet. Given that he hadn’t played organized football in college until his senior year, and is still coming back from an injury, the Broncos aren’t expecting more so far.

7. Mike Mohamed, Pick 189. Appeared in just two games in 2011 and failed to make the final 53.

8. Virgil Green, Pick 208. Started three games and garnered three receptions, but made his mark as a blocking TE, seeing plenty of snaps down the stretch last season and in the playoffs. Tough, tenacious young man. Will serve a four-game suspension that could hurt him in 2012. Excellent value last year from a seventh-round pick.

9. Jeremy Beal, Pick 247. A seventh-round developmental pick and 2011 practice squad player, Beal had a strong preseason, he appeared to have been on the roster bubble before a knee injury on Thursday night landed him on IR.

2012

1. Derek Wolfe, Pick 36. Starting at both DE (base package) and DT (nickel package). Will have typical rookie learning experiences, but will contribute immediately. He’s tough physically and mentally. His ‘can-do’ attitude is reminiscent of the graduates of our Armed Forces colleges.

2. Brock Osweiler, Pick 57. Listed at third on the depth chart behind Peyton Manning and Caleb Hanie, Waitaweiler is being groomed to start when Manning retires. An excellent performance in the preseason opener had Brock close to being the lone backup QB, and pushing Hanie off the roster. Since he’d be a true college senior this year and only started for one year, it’s normal for him to require plenty of coaching. Talk is that he’s adopting Manning’s throwing mechanics, but it’s no rumor that Peyton is joining in training Brock to be the Broncos' starting QB once he hangs up his cleats. Denver’s high on him.

3. Ronnie Hillman, Pick 67. Held out by a hamstring injury for much of the preseason, but is expected to get major carries in 2012. Hard working, coachable player who should see 10-15 carries per game as the season rolls on. Despite still not fully back from his injury, Hillman thrived in Thursday's game and showed flashes of the quick, surprisingly powerful moves that belie his smaller stature.

4. Omar Bolden, Pick 101. Tough and physical player, never shies away from contact: excellent in the run game, but has the speed needed for an edge corner. His kick-return touchdown against the Cardinals capped off a good rookie training camp.

5. Philip Blake, Pick 108. He’s still struggling to make the leap to the NFL, as you’d expect from a player who came late to the game in Canada. His film from 2011 shows a very powerful player who finishes his blocks well, and he's a developmental player at the NFL level. But while everyone will remember his whiff in Arizona, I watched a chunk of that film the other day, and he looks like a good kid who needs to develop an NFL body. His feet were somewhere between okay and good, and his strength and developing technique were evident despite the move to guard. Could be a good acquisition over time.

6. Malik Jackson, Pick 138. Being groomed at DT. Might get reps at DE with Jason Hunter’s season-ending injury. He’s considered a developmental player - most fifth round picks are - but already shows signs of having the skills to adjust to the NFL. His production in preseason was excellent. 

7. Danny Trevathan, Pick 188. Already turning heads with his intelligence, speed, and physicality. Expected to start at nickel LB right away and compete for a starting slot at Will in the next year. Has talent as a special teams player, speed and quickness laterally and in a straight line, coverage skills, and the physicality to play the run well. Tackles well, which  should earn him Jack Del Rio’s respect. If he continues to develop, I expect him to move from special teams and nickel to become part of the starting linebacking corps. There isn’t an outstanding Will ahead of him on the roster.

Conclusion

Of the 16 players chosen since John Elway took over running Denver's football operations, only Mike Mohamed is outside the team's current and future plans. Only Blake and Osweiler aren’t expected to contribute in the 2012 season.

To get that much quality in both starters and depth players who can contribute to the team out of just two years of drafting has left me with but one thing to say:

Thank you, John Elway.

Learn to laugh at yourself. You will be ceaselessly amused. - Sri Gary Olsen

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