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Broncos follow board; find Plan B behind Manning

The SportsXchange

DOVE VALLEY, Colo. -- John Elway wanted immediate impact from his draft picks in the first three rounds. He'll likely receive that from two of them. He'd rather not from the other.

The Broncos' Friday night haul of University of Cincinnati defensive tackle Derek Wolfe (No. 36 overall), Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler (No. 57) and San Diego State running back Ronnie Hillman (No. 67) addressed three pressing needs.

Wolfe, a Big East co-defensive player of the year last year, logged 9.5 sacks as a senior and was "the most productive sack guy of all the defensive tackles in the draft," Broncos coach John Fox said. Hillman, a 5-foot-9 back who ran for 3,243 yards in two college seasons, can make moves in space and provides an immediate platoon for 30-year-old starter Willis McGahee.

But the need Osweiler fills is as an understudy to Peyton Manning. His apprenticeship could last four years; it could last four months. Its length depends entirely upon whether Manning's surgically-repaired neck holds up -- and how his 36-year-old body handles the hits that he will face as a Bronco.

When the Broncos signed Manning on March 20 to a five-year contract with only the first year's salary guaranteed, Elway was asked whether there was a backup plan in case Manning's health faltered.

"Plan B? I don't have a Plan B," Elway said then, laughing. "We're going with Plan A."

They have one now -- and it's 'B' as in Brock Osweiler.

"He is what you're looking for as a prototypical QB in the National Football League," Fox said.

If Manning remains healthy, Osweiler has an ideal profile for a developmental quarterback. His physical gifts are obvious -- a 6-foot-7 frame, a strong arm and footwork that was fluid enough for him to become a high-school basketball star who committed to play the sport at perennial power Gonzaga before turning to football full-time.

But his shortcomings are equally apparent. His accuracy is somewhat scattershot, evidenced by a 60.6 completion percentage at Arizona State. He also started just one season there, and needs seasoning and experience before he's ready to flourish as a pro.

If Manning remains upright, Osweiler will get that.

The Broncos had their eyes on Osweiler throughout the draft process -- and perhaps even before. They interviewed him at the Scouting Combine and privately worked him out at Arizona State on April 6. But the first exposure Broncos brass had to Osweiler actually came through Elway's son Jack, a former Arizona State quarterback who left the football program but remained at the school to complete his studies.

Osweiler's workout for the Broncos attracted all their decision-makers when it came to quarterbacks: Elway, Fox, general manager Brian Xanders, offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and quarterbacks coach Adam Gase. McCoy and Gase led the workout; Elway stood back and watched.

Both sides were impressed.

"It was hard to tell, but the one thing that I did truly feel from my meeting and workout with them was just a great connection with the coaching staff," Osweiler said. "I really felt like John Elway and myself just hit it off. I just got a great feel from being on the field with the coaching staff."

Denver locked in on Osweiler, who Fox said was the top player on their draft board when their turn at No. 57 arrived. But Wolfe and Hillman had little contact with the Broncos in recent months and expressed surprise when Denver called.

"It was kind of put under wraps; there was kind of a shock when they took me," said Wolfe.

Wolfe is the highest defensive tackle taken by the Broncos since Trevor Pryce was their first-round pick in 1997, and projects as a three-technique tackle in Fox and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio's 4-3 alignment.

That the Broncos picked him 36th instead of their original slot of No. 25 was the result of trades with the Patriots and Buccaneers that moved the Broncos back 11 slots but added the sixth pick in the fourth round (No. 101 overall). The extra fourth-round pick gave them the freedom to send their own fourth-rounder (No. 120 overall) to Cleveland to move up 20 slots in the third round to take Hillman.

"We stayed true to our board," Fox said.
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