Whoever is running the Denver Broncos scouting department and draft process has not been doing a very good job over the last five seasons.
This post may not make me very popular with some fans, but as a fan myself I cannot ignore a serious problem in Dove Valley when it comes to the NFL Draft - and it is a problem that has been brewing since 2013.
Looking back at the rosters between 2013 and 2017, the Denver Broncos have been one of the worst teams at evaluating and selecting talent in the draft.
No team has done worse over the five years in the NFL Draft than Elway and his front office staff. Using Approximate Value, only the Indianapolis Colts are even in the same realm of bad as the Broncos at drafting elite talent in the NFL Draft.
Using the @pfref Approximate Value metric, the total numbers of picks made over that span and sum of the AV of those picks. Hello, John Elway... pic.twitter.com/xlESo3lWSn— Rich Hribar (@LordReebs) April 23, 2018
To make matters worse, they are entering the 2018 NFL Draft needing to hit multiple home runs to right the ship that has been sinking since Peyton Manning retired in 2016 and DeMarcus Ware retired in 2017.
Before we get into what they need to do, let’s review the disaster that has been the Broncos’ draft classes over the past five seasons.
It’s always good to start with the worst draft class in the NFL in decades. It’s hard to fault the Broncos for how bad this class was since the entire NFL suffered through this debacle. Still, a pattern of folly has to start somewhere.
The Broncos were looking to the post Terrance Knighton future and focused on replacing him via the draft with Sylvester Williams in the first round. The idea of simply replacing a starter via the top end of the draft is a recurring theme for the Broncos since 2013.
The entire class was mostly a bust. Montee Ball struggled with alcoholism and was out of the league within a few years, Kayvon Webster never became more than a special teams contributor, and the rest of the class was a complete wash.
Williams made significant contributions to the Broncos’ Super Bowl 50 run, but he was not offered another contract and has since moved on to greener pastures.
2013 Draft Class Analysis: Disastrous.
Once again, the Broncos were faced with a need due to a lost player in free agency or retirement. This time, Champ Bailey retired from the game and though he struggled in 2013, he was an integral part of that defense.
Fortunately for Elway and the Broncos, they hit pay dirt on drafting a position need when Bradley Roby fell all the way into their laps at the 31st overall pick. Though they had picked up Aqib Talib in free agency, the Broncos were hedging on the position in case Talib didn’t work out.
Hitting on Roby was a huge win, but the rest of the draft was underwhelming outside of a steal of pick via Matt Paradis in the sixth round. Neither “hit” has made the Pro Bowl, as the Broncos are one of just three teams without a Pro Bowl draft pick over the last five years. The Buffalo Bills and the aforementioned Colts are the only other teams suffering under thst distinction.
Draft allocation per team over the past 5 years. Every team has selected at least one Pro Bowl player over that span except for BUF, IND and DEN... pic.twitter.com/AuAJz4wr3I— Rich Hribar (@LordReebs) April 23, 2018
Even so, Roby became a key chess piece in the Broncos’ No Fly Zone as they made their Super Bowl run in 2015, so he would be considered a home run of a hit in the first round. Paradis too played every snap and was one of the few decent linemen to bring a little stability to Peyton Manning’s offensive line.
2014 might be the best draft class during the last five years, but the misses are as glaring as the hits. Even so, let’s call this one a win for Elway and his lead draft man, Director of Player Personnel Matt Russell.
2014 Draft Class Analysis: Acceptable.
The frustrations with this draft class go beyond just the players the Broncos decided to draft. It goes to the players on the board when this front office decided the best course of action was to draft by position of greatest need.
The one good thing they did was go after Shane Ray who had fallen in the first round. DeMarcus Ware had not yet retired, but they knew he would not be long for this league in 2015, so the pick had more foresight than “Oh shit, we lost player X, and now need a starter at that position!”
The pick hasn’t really panned out, with undrafted free agent Shaquil Barrett being a much better player so far on the field, while Ray has struggled to produce even when healthy. The jury is still out on his career and he does have the talent to turn things around.
However, the Broncos then went after Ty Sambrailo and Max Garcia. Two players that did not provide much help to the team’s overall efficiency on the offensive line and, in fact, were major contributors to an offensive line that has been a complete disaster over the last several seasons.
The rest of the draft class contributed in various ways - mostly bad. This one rivals 2013 as the worst over the last five years, and sadly, there was actually talent to be had everywhere in the 2015 NFL Draft.
2015 Draft Class Analysis: Disastrous.
Oh noes! Peyton Manning retired and Brock Osweiler left in free agency. Get a quarterback in the first round at all costs! Except, the Broncos drafted last in the first round as defending Super Bowl champions and could not make the moves to get a legit top tier quarterback talent. Instead, they made the trade to secure the only viable first round talent left on anyone’s board, Paxton Lynch.
Fortunately, that bust of a pick didn’t ruin the draft as Elway and Russell put together their finest mid-round class of talent of all of these five draft classes. This class might be the only reason to justify saving jobs in Dove Valley if performance was actually being used as a measuring stick for their scouting department.
Adam Gotsis and Justin Simmons look like premier starters in the NFL, while Devontae Booker, Connor McGovern, and Andy Janovich are all capable rotational players. Will Parks has had some rough outings on defense, but he plays excellent special teams. These are all wins at each of their drafted positions.
2016 Draft Class Analysis: Outstanding, provided we ignore the quarterback.
Trevor Siemian was battered and bruised by a poor Broncos offensive line, but rather than understand that a lot of that was on Siemian and his inability to step into the pocket the Broncos panicked. They apparently blamed the tackle and never thought twice about drafting a 25-year-old rookie in Garett Bolles. Bolles played OK, but was a bit of a holding penalty all season long and Siemian continued to back peddle right into the pass rush. So problem not solved.
Literally none of the other picks did anything positive for the season. Brendan Langley struggled badly when pressed into service, and Isaiah McKenzie became a nightmare of a meme for fans everywhere. It is too early to call this draft class a bust, but a lot will be determined by how well Carlos Henderson and Jake Butt return from injury in 2018.
It’s impossible to judge a draft class this year, but it’s not hard to judge the lack of contributions by the draft class last season. While guys like Kareem Hunt were running wild for the Broncos division rivals in the Kansas City Chiefs, McKenzie was fumbling away opportunities.
2017 Draft Class Analysis: To Be Determined.
How well do the Broncos draft?
Since 2013, the Broncos do draft best player available, but they do so at a position of great need that they decide must be addressed immediately. The results have been nothing short of catastrophic for the franchise.
To see how well each pick was made in a vacuum, I put them in a table and sorted by pick. Then pulled the Pro Football Focus grade for each and assigned my own fan-driven arbitrary analysis of each pick ranging from terrible, poor, average, good and great.
Only three “great” picks came over the last five years and almost all of the “good” picks come from later rounds, which means they were “good” picks because they played in some games and didn’t get cut right away.
I know my pick rating is totally arbitrary, but I did it more as a sanity check from myself against the PFF Grades. I watch every game too, so I trust I can judge a pick as fairly as any third party.
My focus really is on the first three rounds because that is where teams likely find the most talented players in the draft. In five years, the Broncos have “hit” on just three players out of 15. Bradley Roby, Adam Gotsis and Justin Simmons all look like big-time starters. Ray is technically a starter, but his liability in the run game as a first-round pick downgrades him a bit, while Bolles had quite a few holding penalties last year. Unless he can clean up his penchant for holding calls, he grades out as a poor pick as well with the caveat that he could get better with more experience.
Out of 38 total draft picks in five years, the Broncos have selected players who ended up being poor or terrible on 20 of them - including eight of the 15 picks they made in the first three rounds. This is one of the highest whiff rates in the NFL.
It’s no surprise that PFF also graded the Broncos as the second-worst five-year draft success rate in the NFL. And they included 2012, which was actually a solid draft class in hindsight.
31. Denver Broncos
Derek Wolfe and Matt Paradis are the only current Broncos to squeak into the top 100, ranked 90th and 91st, respectively. Wolfe has posted 18 sacks and 98 total QB pressures over the past two seasons combined, and Paradis’ 90.4 overall grade last season ranked No. 2 among all NFL centers.
Who is to blame?
The buck stops with John Elway, but does anyone think he is making these decisions unilaterally? Elway has always given the impression that he is a delegating leader. Which means he delegates roles, let’s his team work those roles, and then makes decisions based on their work. As someone who has worked for a lot of different people, those are the best kinds of leaders to work for - unless you are bad at your job...
Which brings me back to the blame game. I don’t know exactly how the Broncos internal front office works, but there is someone who is in charge of the scouting department, the organization and structure of big boards, and the players the team ends up being very interested in on draft day.
Looking over the past drafts, there is clearly a major problem in that department. To have this many misses and no one seemingly held accountable year after year is very troubling. The head of scouting department and the scouts making the recommendations on these poor and terrible picks should ultimately be held accountable. Shouldn’t they?
If winning from now on is truly the franchise mantra, they cannot keep screwing up their draft picks year after year and expect to compete for championships. Elway’s success in free agency has been the only thing keeping them going, but at some point they have to hit on their draft picks.
The 2018 NFL Draft is their most critical draft since Elway made the move to select Von Miller in 2011. This is a cannot miss draft class and history suggests they may do just that.