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Numbers say Elway's draft production among NFL's best

In his seven drafts, Elway’s 54 picks entering play Sunday have combined to average 32.2 games played, which ranks No. 4 in the NFL.
Aug 19, 2017; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Denver Broncos general manager John Elway prior to a game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Denver Broncos at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

It has become fashionable during this rare stretch of Broncos’ misery to blame John Elway for his draft-selection failures.

Closer inspection of his selections suggests such criticism is tossed around far more blindly than one might think.

Elway has been in charge of the Broncos’ draft since Pat Bowlen put him in control of the team’s football operations in 2011. In his seven drafts, Elway’s 54 picks entering play Sunday have combined to average 32.2 games played, which ranks No. 4 in the NFL.

Pretty good, considering the Broncos’ average pick selection in each round has been 18.1 (not including compensatory picks), which ranks 22nd in the league.

The only three teams who have averaged more games played per draft pick – the Buffalo Bills (34.9 games), Miami Dolphins (33.6) and Arizona Cardinals (33.6) – all picked higher, on average, than the Broncos did in each round.

The average number of games played includes draft picks like Malik Jackson, Danny Trevathan and Julius Thomas, who are no longer with the Broncos.

But the point here is Elway’s ability to find talent through the draft.

These aren’t opinions. These are facts.

Opinions might say Elway missed with Montee Ball and Ty Sambrailo in the second round or Michael Schofield in the third and therein lies proof of Elway's shortcomings as a talent evaluator. A radio talk show host might say Paxton Lynch hasn’t played yet like a first-rounder.

The truth is, every team misses.

The New England Patriots whiffed on first-round defensive lineman Dominique Easley (2014), second-round cornerbacks Cyrus Jones (2016) and Ras-I Dowling (2011), and third-round defensive end Jake Bequette (2012).

Bill Belichick’s 56 draft picks for the New England Patriots since 2011 have averaged 29.6 games played – 2.6 less than the Broncos -- which ranks 17th.

And yet the Patriots have averaged 12.5 wins a year since 2011.

For the first time in seven years, the Denver Broncos are consistently performing poorly, and there isn’t a person out there who hasn’t assigned blame.

The primary targets are Elway for building this 3-7 roster, head coach Vance Joseph for the team underperforming, any one of the Broncos’ three quarterbacks, or deposed offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.

Knocking Elway’s ability to draft, though, simply isn’t supported by evidence. OK, so games played may only measure a team’s roster depth, not quality.

Games started is a truer barometer of a player’s quality. But even here, Elway has fared well. Elway’s draft picks since 2011 have averaged 16.1 starts – 10th-best in the league.

The nine teams that have averaged more starts per draft pick? They all selected higher, on average, in each draft round than the Broncos.

The Patriots rank No. 22 in the league with 14.0 starts per draft pick. This is not meant to knock Belichick’s player evaluation acumen (OK, maybe a little). Belichick has been trying to tell people for years – through actions, not words – that the draft is overrated next to the sum of a team’s success.

If Belichick put his draft ego ahead of his team, he would not have discarded first-rounders Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins and Easley.

Would you rather be Buffalo, which ranks No. 1 in games played per draft pick and No. 2 in starts but is 47-59 since 2011? Or Tampa Bay, which ranks No. 1 with 19.4 starts per draft pick but is 36-70 in the past seven seasons?

Or would you rather your team be like the Patriots, who rank 17th in average games per draft pick and 22nd in starts, but are 83-23?

The Broncos, even with their ongoing losing streak that has doomed this season, are drafting better than most -- and are closer to the Patriots than most with a 70-36 record since 2011.

Several other perennial playoff teams with prominent general managers have not fared as well as Elway. The draft picks of Baltimore’s Ozzie Newsome rank 11th in average games played; 25th in average starts since 2011.

Green Bay’s Ted Thompson and Pittsburgh’s Kevin Colbert -- two successful GMs known for primarily building their rosters through the draft rather than free agency – rank 13th and 27th in average games played per draft pick since 2011; 27th and 29th in games started.

John Schneider’s draft picks for Seattle since 2011 rank 28th in average games played; 14th in average starts.

Great GMs all who have not drafted quite as well as Elway.

Yes, Elway as the man in charge deserves his share of blame for the Broncos’ struggles this year. But the Broncos are in position to get a top 10 pick in the 2018 draft, if not top 5.

The evidence – not opinions, but evidence based on facts – says bet on Elway to make the correct selections to get the Broncos turned around starting in 2018.


Team ................ Picks (Rk) . Avg. Pk. (Rk) ... Avg. GP (Rk) ... Avg. GS (Rk)

Buffalo Bills ............. 52 (22) .......... 12.8 (3) ............. 34.9 (1) ......... 19.1 (2)
Miami Dolphins ........54 (20) ........ 16.2 (14) ............. 33.6 (2) ......... 16.6 (9)
Arizona Cardinals ... 51 (23) ......... 16.2 (15) ........... 33.6 (3) ....... 15.2 (13)
Denver Broncos ...... 54 (21) ........ 18.1 (22) ............ 32.2 (4) ....... 16.1 (10)
Houston Texans ...... 55 (18) ........ 17.8 (21) ............. 32.1 (5) ......... 18.1 (3)