- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
As the guy at the top of the football flow chart for the Denver Broncos for the past three seasons, John Elway has now overseen three drafts for the team.
The Broncos have made 23 picks in those three drafts, found seven full-time starters with more expected to be added to that total this season if things go as planned inside the Dove Valley complex.
But let’s go inside each of those three drafts to see how things have gone and where they are headed.
First pick: Von Miller. Miller, at No. 2 overall, was the inaugural pick of the Elway/John Fox regime. In his 18.5-sack season in 2012, he was in the discussion for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year and had 30 sacks over the 2011 and ’12 seasons combined.
That’s elite, a foundation player in the making. And then things got off the tracks a bit in ’13 with Miller’s six-game suspension to open the season and his knee injury last December. The Broncos were productive with their picks after Miller that year, but Miller’s own long-term future still is a bit of a question mark.
The Broncos will face an enormous decision on whether or not to sign him long-term in the coming months -- barring a franchise player tag -- since Miller is slated to be an unrestricted free agent following the 2014 season. They want to see Miller become that special player again, not one unwilling to face what needs to be done as he appeared at times, according to some with the team, this past season.
Miller, safety Rahim Moore (second round), tackle Orlando Franklin (second round) and tight end Julius Thomas (fourth round) are front-line players on the depth chart. Moore projects, alongside free-agent signee T.J. Ward, as a starting safety again this time around. And Thomas is a budding star many personnel executives believe will have an even bigger role in the offense from a bigger variety of spots in the formation.
The Broncos will have to be ready to pay to keep him -- he’s slated to be an unrestricted free agent after the upcoming season.
Best value pick: That’s Thomas, by a country mile. After just one year of college football when his hoops career ended at Portland State University, the Broncos not only bet on Thomas’ athleticism, but that he would have the work ethic and mental toughness to learn on the job in the NFL.
He’s had all that and more. So much so the Broncos may have to make that whole "is he a wide receiver or tight end" argument when contract time rolls around.
Now’s the time: Linebacker Nate Irving (third round) has been a situational player on defense and a key player on special teams.
But he’s also a player who has been afforded the opportunity to win the middle linebacker job, or has at least been in the rotation for the chance, on multiple occasions and not come away with the job.
Though he plays with power and has strong hands to shed blockers in traffic, he doesn’t always square up on blockers in the middle of the field and leaves a running lane available from time to time because he has attacked one shoulder or the other of the blocker a little too aggressively. That showed on his game video in college as well -- some scouts said he routinely "ran around blocks'' -- but he was athletic enough to get away with it then.
He has played far better on the outisde when he's had the chance, especially when he's played in Miller's strong-side spot. But Miller and Danny Trevathan are inked into the two outside spots and while Irving will likely have to fill in some for Miller early on this season as Miller recovers from ACL surgery, in the long-term the middle linebacker spot is where he would have a chance to start.
Gone: Linebacker Mike Mohamed (sixth round) and defensive end Jeremy Beal (seventh round) are no longer on the roster. Beal did two stints on the Broncos practice squad, but simply could not overcome a speed deficiency to break through despite plenty of production in the pass rush at Oklahoma.
More to come?: Safety Quinton Carter (fourth round) started 10 games as a rookie before multiple knee injuries forced him on to injured reserve for back-to-back seasons. Fox has said Carter has a chance to contribute this year if the knee holds up.
But Carter hasn’t played since the third game of the 2012 season.
Tight end Virgil Green (seventh round) is a quality athlete, but he finds himself at a crowded spot in the offense and plays the majority of the time as the on-the-line tight end in the two-tight end look on early downs. Quarterback Peyton Manning does trust Green enough to throw him the ball form time to time. But the Broncos would have to trim from four to three tight ends on the roster for Green to get significantly more snaps.