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Denver Broncos Need to Pack More Draft Punch

Recent Selections Have Produced More Questions Than Answers

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | With the Scouting Combine under way, that can only mean it's officially NFL Draft season.

And now that it's draft season, Denver Broncos backers need to be expecting more from the franchise's annual college selection process.

That's more impact.

More contribution.

More immediate and future starters.

This, of course, primarily falls on the still-broad shoulders of John Elway, who earlier this month had the general manager title officially added to his duties.

Since Elway joined the front office three years ago, the Orange and Blue have aced the tests on the field (three division titles, one Super Bowl appearance) and free agency (Peyton Manning, Louis Vasquez, Wes Welker).

But the three drafts under Elway have been a mixed bag at best.

Consider these quick facts and figures:

  • Of the 23 players the Broncos have drafted over the past three years, less than a third (seven) have developed into primary starters. And that list includes injury-addled safety Quinton Carter, who started 10 games as a rookie in 2011 but has only seen action in all of three games the last two seasons combined.
  • There were no primary starters who emerged from the Broncos' seven-man draft class of this past spring, with the group combining for a total of six starts (four by first-round defensive tackle Sylvester Williams and two by third-round cornerback Kayvon Webster).
  • Of Denver's 10 players selected in the first, second or third rounds over the last three drafts, only three (defensive lineman Derek Wolfe, safety Rahim Moore and offensive tackle Orlando Franklin) started at least half of the team's 19 games in 2013.
  • And of the above 10 high-round picks, only two (Franklin and linebacker Nate Irving) started for the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.
  • Overall, the Broncos' 22-man Super Bowl starting lineup featured as many players who entered the league as undrafted free agents (Welker, Chris Clark, Paris Lenon, Duke Ihenacho and Mike Adams) as were Bronco top-two round selections (Franklin, Knowshon Moreno, Demaryius Thomas, Zane Beadles and Williams).

Now sure, injuries have skewed a few of the above numbers, and it would remiss not to mention the seemingly promising futures of tight end Julius Thomas (4th round, 2011) and linebacker Danny Trevathan (6th round, 2012), who have the look of mid- and late-round steals.

Overall, though, it's too early to make long-term value assessments on players who have only been pros on a short-term basis, and there still are more questions than answers at this point. The blowout loss in the Super Bowl has only added emphasis.

Will 2011 first-rounder Von Miller, the draft's second-overall pick, be able to regain his 2011 and '12 form after a decidedly rough 2013 on and off the field?

Could the rare and mysterious ailments that befell second-rounders Moore and Wolfe this past season be career-threatening?

What if 2012 second-rounder Brock Osweiler doesn't prove to be Manning's heir apparent under center?

Can 2012 third-round selection Ronnie Hillman follow Moreno's lead and overcome early-career setbacks to become a reliable and productive NFL back?

At this juncture, heading into the 2014 offseason, these questions and more need to be asked.

And when it comes to the 2014 draft in May, more will definitely be asked of Elway and the Broncos' brass.

Ken Pomponio has spent the past 25 years as a sports journalist who has been published extensively in print and online. He's been an avid follower of the Denver sports scene since early childhood, and can be found on Twitter @kenpomp.

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