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Elway's first-round draft history says patience is best

Standing pat or trading back has delivered better results than trading up for John Elway.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Trader John Elway must feel surrounded.

The Broncos’ general manager has 14 teams picking ahead of him in the first round of the NFL Draft and there are 17 picks behind him.

What should Elway do from his squeezed draft position at No. 15? History will tell him patience has brought him greater reward than aggressiveness.

That may irritate every fiber of Elway’s brainwaves, heart and soul. Somewhere deep inside is a quarterback who would roll left and throw a screaming spiral on a rope downfield to his left for a game-changing play. But facts are facts.

In Elway’s nine previous drafts, standing pat or trading back have brought better players to the Broncos than in the two occasions when Elway traded up to get a player. The breakdown:

Year … Pick … Player, position

Stand pat

2011 ….. 2 … Von Miller, OLB

2013 … 28 … Sylvester Williams, DT

2014 … 31 … Bradley Roby, CB

2017 … 20 … Garett Bolles, LT

2018 …. 5 .… Bradley Chubb, OLB

Trade up

2015 … 28 to 23 … Shane Ray, OLB

2016 … 31 to 26 … Paxton Lynch, QB

Trade back

2012 … 25 to 36 … Derek Wolfe, DT, plus Omar Bolden, CB

2019 … 10 to 20 … Noah Fant, TE, plus a piece used to acquire Drew Lock, QB

The best players from this group are Miller and Wolfe. Chubb, Fant and Lock have a chance to eventually nudge Wolfe from his second-best spot but they are several more productive years away.

The biggest disappointments have been Ray and Lynch. As it so happens, those are the two players Elway traded up to get.

At the time, there were good reasons for Elway to trade up for Ray and Lynch. A look at each of those deals:

Shane Ray

The trade up for Ray. The pass rusher from Missouri was supposed to be a top 10 pick, but he got busted for marijuana possession three days before the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. As he tumbled into the 20s on draft day, Elway went up from No. 28 to Detroit’s No. 23 pick in return for a fourth and fifth-round pick, plus starting guard-center Manny Ramirez.

It wasn’t a bad price. Tight end MyCole Pruitt in the fourth round has been a role player but is still playing while the fifth-round pick, Antwione Williams, and Ramirez are no longer in the league.

But injuries slowed then thwarted Ray’s career. He hasn’t played in the NFL since 2018.

Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Shane Ray is introduced on Friday, May 1, 2015.

Paxton Lynch

The trade up for Lynch. A sequence of unfortunate events left Elway with little choice but to go get a quarterback. Within six weeks of the Broncos winning Super Bowl 50 to cap their 2015 season, the team had lost its two quarterbacks who led them there. Peyton Manning retired and Brock Osweiler left for free agency and what turned out to be a two-year, $36 million fully guaranteed contract with Houston.

Elway and head coach Gary Kubiak then spent nearly five weeks between free agency and the draft trying to recruit Colin Kaepernick away from San Francisco. When Kaepernick rejected the Broncos’ revised contract proposal that meant less guarantee, Elway had to find his franchise quarterback from the furthest point back in the draft.

Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Paxton Lynch is introduced Friday, April 29, 2016.

He had Trevor Siemian, a 7th-round selection from the previous year’s draft, and veteran free-agent Mark Sanchez in his back pocket. Elway knew the top two quarterbacks in the 2016 draft, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, would go 1-2.

Lynch was the clear, if distant, No. 3 QB prospect in the 2016 draft. From the Broncos’ final No. 31 spot in the first round (New England had to forfeit its pick because of Deflategate), Elway went up to Seattle’s No. 26 spot in exchange for the No. 94 pick in the third round.

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Which turned out to be tight end Nick Vannett, who just signed with the Broncos. The No. 95 pick in the third round that year was center-guard Graham Glasgow, who is also a new Bronco.

Again, the compensation wasn’t bad but Lynch didn’t work out. Siemian wound up the starter for two years and was better-than-serviceable with a 13-11 record for a Broncos team that otherwise went 2-6 in his non-starts.

Sanchez didn’t play well in training camp and was cut. Lynch lost his coach when Kubiak retired for health reasons after the 2016 season, then was cut after not progressing as hoped in his second season of 2017.

The Broncos continued their search for a franchise quarterback until Elway traded back from No. 10 to No. 20 in the first round last year. In exchange, the Broncos’ got the No. 52 pick in the second round, which they used, along with two later selections, to trade up to No. 42 and take Lock.

Because Lock played so well in the Broncos’ final five games last season, Elway does not need to trade up to find a first-round quarterback next week.

That doesn’t mean Elway won’t be tempted to move up from No. 15 to get Lock a new receiver or offensive tackle. But if he does Elway will be rolling against his personal historical trend, at least as a general manager. 

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