John Elway was one of the greatest QB’s to ever grace a football field. The 9-time pro bowler brought 2 Super Bowl’s to Denver, and was rightfully inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004. However, he hasn’t been quite as productive as a general manager. Elway’s track record drafting passers has been, to put it nicely… spotty. Brock Osweiler, Zac Dysert, Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Chad Kelly. These are the QBs that Elway drafted since being hired by the Broncos in 2011.
It’s an embarrassing list of players who flamed out of the league just as quickly as they entered it. The most successful of them was likely Osweiler, who played one half-decent season before getting benched in the Super Bowl for a 40-year old Peyton Manning. Osweiler parlayed that “success” into a ridiculously big 4-year, $72 million deal with the Houston Texans, which they almost immediately realized was a mistake. Safe to say it’s been rough for Elway.
He’s gained a reputation around the league for being, terrible at hand-picking quarterbacks for his team. The only way to get rid of such a reputation is successfully select a star. The book is still out on Elway’s latest protege, Drew Lock. Selected 42nd overall out of Missouri in 2019, Lock missed the majority of his rookie season with a finger injury. He did manage to get into 5 games, throwing for 1,020 yards and 7 touchdowns while leading the Broncos to a 4-1 record.
It might not be much, but it’s easily the most promise an Elway, quarterback draft pick has ever shown. Which makes the impending 2020 season one of incredible importance for Elway, Head Coach Vic Fangio, and the entire Broncos organization. Positive developments and clear improvement from Lock would set Denver up to be competitive in the AFC West for years to come, and more importantly cement Elway as one of the top GM’s in football.
However, another Paxton Lynch-type fiasco could persuade owner Pat Bowlen to blow it all up, and it could cost Elway his job. Luckily, it seems like the front office recognized this and responded by surrounding Lock with all the tools he needs to succeed in his sophomore season in the ‘Mile High’ city. First, the Broncos realized it was important to supplement Lock with a well rounded, and effective backfield. They already had un-drafted, back-to-back 1,000 year rusher Phillip Lindsay, and former 3rd round pick Royce Freeman anchoring a strong backfield.
Elway didn’t settle, and he proceeded to create the best running back trio in football, signing multi-time Pro Bowler Melvin Gordon II, away from the division rival Los Angeles Chargers; signing to a modest 2-year, $16 million contract. Gordon is a perfect complement to Lindsay, a terrific pass catcher out of the backfield, and a shrewd signing. Still, running back wasn’t the biggest of the Broncos’ needs.
Wideout Courtland Sutton was the only effective pass catcher for Denver last season. He broke out in a big way, hauling-in 72 catches for 1,112 yards and 6 touchdowns despite playing with an array of washed up or inexperienced passers; such as Joe Flacco and Brandon Allen. Tight end Noah Fant also had a decent rookie season, catching 40 passss for 562 yards and 3 touchdowns, while especially coming on late in the season. It’s clear they needed more.
Elway, to his credit, responded to this by grabbing his franchise QB not one, not two, but three new targets in this April’s draft. First, he nabbed former Alabama pass catcher Jerry Jeudy with the 15th overall pick. Jeudy is an incredibly polished route runner and the most complete receiver in the class. He’ll provide a go-to option for Lock along with Sutton. Elway didn’t stop there.
He used his second round pick on the electric Penn State speedster, KJ Hamler. He’s a dynamic talent that can be best used out of the slot, and possesses fantastic run after catch potential. As icing on the cake, Elway snatched up tight end Albert Okwuegbunam out of Missouri, who ran a blazing 4.49 second 40-yard dash time at the combine.
With each addition, you can see the framework of a loaded offense coming together. It’s fair to say that, Elway has done everything in his power to surround Lock with all the weapons he needs to take this Broncos offense to the next level. He’s stockpiled a cache of weapons in an effort to match the Kansas City Chiefs, in the nuclear arms race that is the AFC West. Before Denver can even dream of dethroning Patrick Mahomes and the reigning Super Bowl champions, Fangio and Lock must prove that they can work jointy, and put together this talent puzzle.
Sure, a passing game with Sutton and Fant stretching the field, Hamler working the middle of the field, and Jeudy serving as a go-to outlet sounds enticing. However, Sutton is the only one with more than a full season of NFL experience, including Lock. Talent is one of the most important aspects of building a winning team, but it means nothing unless it’s molded into a cohesive unit by good coaching.
Take last season’s Cleveland Browns as an example. All the talent in the world, but the pieces didn’t mesh and they limped to a measly 6-10 record. If the Broncos wish to avoid the same fate, they have to keep their egos in check and work together to find a winning method.
Brand new Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur, is being entrusted as the one to figure out how to make these parts fit together. The current Broncos front office, must make this team built around Lock work. Elway has done his job to put Lock, and the coaching staff in the best position possible, and now it’s up to convert on his vision.