- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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If things were like they have been in recent years, the Denver Broncos would have wrapped up their 2014 draft last weekend.
But things are not that way, and in the NFL’s attempt to invade every page on the calendar, the Broncos are only in the homestretch of their preparation for the May 8-10 draft.
The Broncos are slated to pick 31st in the opening round. Their current regime of decision-makers, chiefly John Elway, has looked to trade out of that spot in the previous three drafts. But it all depends on how things go above that pick.
Often the thinking is to trade out of the lower end of the first round, get an extra pick or two and take a similarly graded player in the upper half of the second round. This draft, in particular, is considered deep throughout, so there are plenty of teams already looking to move in the opening round.
Sitting among the last eight picks of the opening round, Elway has lived in both schools of the stay-or-trade thought in the previous two drafts and ended up selecting players in the same position group each time -- defensive line.
In 2012, the Broncos made two trades to get all the way out of the first round. They initially moved from No. 25 to No. 31 in a trade with New England and picked up an extra fourth-rounder along the way. The Patriots selected Dont'a Hightower with the 25th pick, and he has started 27 games over the past two seasons, including a 97-tackle year in ’13.
The Broncos then torpedoed the local draft party scene when they traded that No. 31 pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with the fourth-rounder they got in the Patriots trade, for the No. 36 and No. 101 picks.
The Buccaneers took running back Doug Martin, who the Broncos also liked in the weeks leading up to that draft. When Martin plowed his way to 1,454 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie, the trade looked fairly lopsided against the Broncos right out of the gate.
But in reality, the jury is still out with the major players each recovering from a stint on injured reserve. The Broncos selected Derek Wolfe at No. 36 that year. As a rookie, Wolfe had the look of a longtime starter. Last year at this time, many with the Broncos, including some of his teammates, were saying Wolfe had both the look and demeanor of a future captain.
Martin tore the labrum in his left shoulder last season -- rushing for 456 yards in six games before the injury -- and had surgery to repair it. Wolfe ended up on injured reserve after seizure-like symptoms on the team’s bus just before a late November road trip.
With the 101st pick in 2012, the Broncos selected Omar Bolden. He has already been moved from cornerback to safety and is still looking to find his niche in the defense.
Last year, with the No. 28 pick, the Broncos dabbled with the idea of making a move but in the end stayed put and selected defensive tackle Sylvester Williams. He was a starter down the stretch as a rookie last season after Kevin Vickerson’s injury, and the Broncos see Williams as a potential impact player in the defensive line rotation this season.
In the end, many of the better personnel executives in the league -- the ones more proficient in the draft -- believe patience is indeed a draft virtue at the bottom of the opening round. They believe staying put, trusting their board and picking the guy they want will reap the best rewards. They don’t let the desire to get extra picks overshadow the ability to get a premium player.
Teams will make mistakes above you. A reach or two will be taken as the runs happen at one position or another. Some rush to fill needs they fear they won't find later. The result is often a highly graded player falling.
The Baltimore Ravens may have lived this life, with general manager Ozzie Newsome, better than most.
They selected linebacker Ray Lewis at No. 26 in the 1996 draft -- side note: they selected Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden at No. 4 that year, so the team’s first-round effort will have a nice slice of Canton in a few more years -- and picked tight end Todd Heap at No. 31 in 2001, safety Ed Reed at No. 24 in ’02, guard Ben Grubbs (one Pro Bowl) at No. 29 in '07 and safety Matt Elam (15 starts as a rookie in ’13) at No. 31 last year.
At the moment, the Broncos have seven picks in this draft, one in each round. The depth of the draft board would suggest their best play is sit, stay at 31 and take the highest-graded player on their board as the first round winds down.
Because that player is often one somebody else should, and could, have taken sooner.