Can John Elway rebuild the Broncos, or should Denver just move on?

John Elway was one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, but his tenure as general manager and president of football operations for the Denver Broncos has been sketchy.

The skinny: Since luring Peyton Manning to Denver and winning Super Bowl 50 over the Carolina Panthers, the Broncos have fallen into disrepair. Elway’s decision-making on the personnel side has a lot to do with that.

Building a team, it’s all about the draft. And when it comes to the draft, Elway has some big misses.

Before we launch into those, we’ll give him credit for his hits.

Success story: Elway has made some really smart draft picks that have paid off. Here’s a look at some of the best draft selections on Elway’s resume.

  • Von Miller (No. 2 overall in 2011): One of the best pass rushers in the league since he arrived on the scene.
  • Julius Thomas (Round 4 selection in 2011: For a time, Thomas was an elite tight end who made two Pro Bowls during the Manning era in Denver.
  • Derek Wolfe (Round 2 pick in 2012): Injuries have slowed him down, but Wolfe is still a very good defensive lineman when healthy and has 33 sacks on record.
  • Malik Jackson (Round 5 pick in 2012): Parlayed a strong Broncos tenure into one of the richest contracts in history for defensive linemen. Is still a force in the league.
  • Danny Trevathan (Round 6 pick in 2012): A force for Denver during its Super Bowl run, Trevathan is still playing at a high level for the Chicago Bears.
  • Bradley Roby (No. 31 overall pick in 2014): Somewhat inconsistent but still an elite playmaker, Roby has tallied nine interceptions and three touchdowns.
  • Matt Paradis (Round 6 pick in 2014): Rock-solid player who is among the best at his position and is now paid like it as a member of the Carolina Panthers.
  • Bradley Chubb (No. 5 overall pick in 2018): A dynamo off the edge, Chubb has the potential to become an All-Pro in due course.
  • Courtland Sutton (Round 2 pick in 2018): After a shaky rookie campaign, Sutton emerged as the best receiver on Denver’s roster in 2019 and appears to be a star in the making.
  • Josey Jewell (Round 4 pick in 2018): A rock-solid player for Denver the past couple of seasons, he was a great value as a fourth-round linebacker.

It’s too early to really comment too much about the 2019 NFL Draft class. However, it’s worth noting that the first three picks last spring appear to have been solid, with Noah Fant, Dalton Risner and Drew Lock all having played well during stretches during their rookie campaign.

Now comes the hard part: So, we’ve established that John Elway has made some savvy picks in the draft as a general manager. He’s also made some awful selections, as you’re about to see.

  • Brock Osweiler (Round 2 pick in 2012): Osweiler was out of the league last season and has been brutally bad as a starter at the NFL level at every stop.
  • Sylvester Williams (No. 28 overall pick in 2013): Williams is still in the league, but this big defensive tackle has been a role player since the start. A total bust as a first-round pick.
  • Montee Ball (Round 2 pick in 2013): Complete bust. Released by Denver in 2015 and has been out of the league since an off-field arrest and jail sentence.
  • Cody Latimer (Round 2 pick in 2014): Latimer is now with the New York Giants and never lived up to expectations in Denver.
  • Shane Ray (No. 23 overall pick in 2015): Had two okay seasons with the Broncos before injuries derailed his career. Ray did not play last season.
  • Ty Sambrailo (Round 2 pick in 2015): A backup for most of his career, Sambrailo was a disappointment during his tenure with the Broncos.
  • Paxton Lynch (No. 26 overall pick in 2016): Elway traded up to land Lynch, who has since become one of the biggest busts in the NFL.
  • Garett Bolles (No. 20 overall pick in 2017): Bolles had a strong rookie season but has since struggled as a pro and was highly criticized by his own teammate over penalties this past season.
  • DeMarcus Walker (Round 2 pick in 2017): Walker had four sacks last season and is a role player on Denver’s defensive line. However, he isn’t performing like you’d hope from a second-round pick.

Those are some awful picks by Elway.

It’s clear that he had a bounce-back couple of years from 2018-19 after a brutal three-year stretch from 2015-17. That stretch is a big reason the Broncos have gone 27-37 the past four seasons, missing the playoffs every year.

Though, every general manager has hits and misses.

Here’s why Elway and the Broncos are currently watching the NFL postseason from their couches for the fourth consecutive year.

It’s the quarterback, dummy: Everyone knows you have to have a top-tier quarterback to consistently find success in the NFL today. Elway landed one of those when he lured Manning to Denver back in 2012. But his track record since then is not great.

  • Paxton Lynch was a colossal bust: Elway traded up to land Lynch in 2016. An extremely raw quarterback, Lynch never developed the mental game to cope with the speed of the NFL. He started a grand total of four games, was eventually demoted to third string and then released.
  • Trevor Siemian was little better: While Lynch proved to be a huge disappointment, Denver turned to this seventh-rounder, who was beloved by Gary Kubiak. Siemian was inaccurate (59.3 completion percentage on his career) and barely passable. Eventually, he was traded to Minnesota.
  • Case Keenum was not the answer: Denver signed Keenum last spring in free agency, eschewing the draft. That proved to be a huge mistake. Keenum was barely mediocre, throwing 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in his only year as the starter.
  • Joe Flacco was (predictably) no better: After losing his job in Baltimore, Flacco was traded to Denver in a move that did nothing to help the organization. A season-ending injury may have been the last memory of Flacco in Denver.

John Elway may have landed one finally with second-round pick in 2019, Drew Lock, but that is yet to be determined.

The bottom line: Elway has influence around the league, to be sure. His ability to bring top free agents to Denver has been in play and likely will continue to be a strong aspect of him leading the Broncos.

Yet the overall draft history, and especially Elway’s history of picking quarterbacks, is very sketchy.

The thing is, Denver has already committed to Elway for the 2020 season, and if Drew Lock ends up panning out as a legitimate franchise passer, then Elway should remain entrenched as the president and general manager for the Broncos for the foreseeable future.

But if Lock ends up struggling in 2020 and the Broncos once again put out a mediocre (or worse) product, then it’s got to be time for Denver to send Elway packing and start from scratch.

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