ENGLEWOOD – How much did the Broncos like Bradley Chubb?
They gave up a chance to acquire an extra, first-round draft pick to stay at No. 5 and select who John Elway believed was the best player in the draft.
After traveling thousands of miles to watch Senior Bowl practices, Pro Day and NFL Combine workouts, after spending days upon days of watching film, after allocating hours upon hours of visiting personally with college prospects, Elway, the Broncos’ general manager for going on his eighth season, had a firm plan going into the first-round of the NFL Draft.
Saquon Barkley, Sam Darnold, Bradley Chubb. Or trade back with the Buffalo Bills.
According to league sources familiar with the Broncos’ draft plan, the team had cooled on quarterback Baker Mayfield. Even had he slipped past the Cleveland Browns’ No. 1 overall draft selection, even had the New York Jets not taken him at No. 3, the Broncos were not going to take Mayfield at No. 5.
Darnold was Elway’s guy among the Big 4, a quarterback group that also included Josh Rosen and Josh Allen. But Elway was also high on Barkley, the sensational running back from Penn State, and Chubb, the pass-rushing defensive end with the revved motor from North Carolina State.
Elway didn’t just consider Chubb the best defensive player in the draft. He considered him tied with Barkley as the best player, period.
Elway would have been tempted to take Barkley or Darnold, if they were also there at No. 5. Offense had been the Broncos’ weaker side the previous three years. Yes, Darnold would have been tempting.
But as it turned out, we’ll never know. Barkley went No. 2 to the New York Giants and Darnold went No. 3 to the Jets.
Had the Browns with their No. 4 pick selected Chubb, the Broncos would have taken the Bills’ trade package. According to sources, the Broncos would have acquired the Bills’ No. 12 and No. 22 picks in the first round and one of their two second-round picks (either No. 53 or No. 56 overall) while Denver would have sent one of its third-round picks (No. 71 or no. 99) back to Buffalo.
In summary, the deal would have given the Broncos and one extra pick in the first round, and, in theory, a better player on Day 2.
But when the Browns took Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward at No. 4, Chubb was still available at No. 5.
Call Buffalo. The deal is off. Indianapolis with the No. 6 pick called the Broncos about moving up one spot to take Chubb. Elway decided to take tremendous quality – his guy -- over decent quantity.
The Broncos had no problem with the Browns’ selection. Mayfield is a good fit for a team coming off an 0-16 season. It was easy to understand why Browns’ GM John Dorsey wanted Mayfield’s edge, his uber-intense, highly-competitive, even combative personality to help change the culture in Cleveland.
And Ward was high on the Broncos’ draft board. The Browns had just taken the top pass rusher in Myles Garrett with the No. 1 overall pick in the previous year’s draft. Cornerback was a greater need for 2018 and Ward was unquestionably the top at this position.
Had Chubb been gone and the Bills pulled their trade offer? The Broncos may well have taken Georgia linebacker Raquan Smith, who went No. 8 to the Chicago Bears.
In other words, Smith would not have been there had the Broncos traded back to No. 12 with the Bills.
Nor would have Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson, another player who the Broncos long considered for their No. 5 pick.
After getting the best pass rusher in the first round, the Broncos immediately added much-needed offensive pop on Day 2 of the draft. With their No. 40 overall pick in the second round, the Broncos’ took tall, speedy SMU receiver Courtland Sutton, who had slid from a projected top 20 selection. With their first selection in the third round, No. 71 overall, the Broncos took running back Royce Freeman, a 230-pound bruiser with one-cut, zone-scheme agility.
Freeman broke all the rushing records at Oregon. When you break the rushing records for the pinball-scoring Ducks’ program, you know how to carry the rock.
All that preparation for the draft helped convict Elway of his final plan. He has broadly received high marks from the national draftniks.
It’s impossible to determine a class before one player takes an NFL snap, but the 2018 version has the potential to become the Broncos’ best draft since Elway’s first in 2011, when armed with the No. 2 overall selection, he wound up with starters Von Miller, Julius Thomas, Virgil Green, Orlando Franklin and Rahim Moore.
That draft class laid the foundation to the Broncos’ Super Bowl appearance two years later, and Miller and Green were huge contributors to the team’s 2015 Super Bowl 50 championship.
The Broncos were 4-12 going into their 2011 draft. They were 5-11 going into their 2018 draft. We’ll see.