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Early in John Elway’s time as Denver Broncos general manager, he hit some home runs in the draft. That hasn’t been the case lately, especially when it comes to offensive players. As a result, the Broncos haven’t made the playoffs the past two seasons.
Say this about Elway’s 2018 draft class: It’s not short on star power.
The Broncos started the draft with three players who made names for themselves in college. In the first round, pass rusher Bradley Chubb fell to the Broncos and it became an easy pick. In the second round, Denver took SMU receiver Courtland Sutton, a big and athletic playmaker who might be a bit raw, but could be a No. 1 receiver at a discount draft price if he develops. And then the Broncos, who needed a running back after cutting C.J. Anderson, landed Oregon’s Royce Freeman in the third round. Freeman is big, fast, had a great college career as the Ducks’ all-time leading rusher. Their final third-round pick of the night, Boston College cornerback Isaac Yiadom, isn’t an instant star but he fills a need.
Nothing says any of those top three picks are going to work out. Shane Ray was a great pass-rushing prospect when the Broncos took him in the first round, and now he’s practically done in Denver. Montee Ball had a monster college career and was Denver’s second-round pick in 2013, and he flamed out fast. Cody Latimer was a big and exciting receiver when he was the Broncos’ 2014 second-round pick, and he ended up with 45 catches before he was done with Denver. We’ve seen exciting prospects bust with every team, at every position. Nothing is ever guaranteed in the draft.
Yet, this seems like a very good haul. If Chubb doesn’t work out, every draft expert will be wrong. Chubb seems as can’t-miss as it gets. Sutton could go either way, but his ceiling is tantalizing. If he develops, he can help right away and eventually take over Demaryius Thomas’ job as the top option in the passing game. And Freeman seems like the standard mid-round running back who ends up being very productive in the NFL.
Elway needs this draft to work out. The last skill-position player Elway truly hit on was tight end Julius Thomas, and that was 2011. As a result, the Broncos’ offense has fallen into disrepair. They hope that signing quarterback Case Keenum fixes one big problem. Perhaps Sutton and Freeman fix other issues on the offense. And Chubb and Von Miller should make a scary pass-rush duo.
It’s not like Elway is on the hot seat. He’s about 27 months removed from the Broncos winning a Super Bowl under his watch. And he’s an icon in Colorado. Elway has been a good GM, he has just had some whiffs in the draft lately. And Broncos fans are impatient.
This could be the draft that helps the Broncos bounce back. If not, we’ll have to start asking when Elway will finally hit some draft home runs again.
Here are some of the other winners and losers from day two of the NFL draft:
Washington Redskins: There were plenty of rumors and tales swirling around as LSU running back Derrius Guice slid in the draft. Perhaps in the days or weeks ahead, we’ll have a much better understanding of what happened.
But here’s what we know for sure: Guice was probably a first-round talent at running back, and the Redskins filled a huge need by picking him at No. 59 overall. That could be a steal.
Guice’s story seems similar to Dalvin Cook last year. Cook slid in the draft because of issues off the field. The Minnesota Vikings took a chance, and Cook played very well before he tore his ACL. That doesn’t mean Guice will also look like a good pick once the season starts, but he’s clearly talented enough to make that happen.
Guice ended up being the seventh running back drafted, even though he might be the second-best back in the class. Perhaps he’ll just be one of those players who never becomes a true professional, and the Redskins will regret taking him. But it seems like a pretty good gamble late in the second round, and it would fill a big need for Washington if they’re right.
Interior offensive linemen: It didn’t push television ratings, but NFL teams put a big emphasis on guards and centers in the draft.
Four of the first eight picks on Friday, after teams had about 20 hours to ponder their next move, were interior offensive linemen. The first two picks of the second round were guards: Nevada’s Austin Corbett to the Browns and Texas-El Paso’s Will Hernandez to the Giants.
It used to be that guards were pretty much afterthoughts. But that’s changing out of necessity. Some of the best players in the NFL are interior defensive linemen. Teams need good guards and centers to handle Aaron Donald, Gerald McCoy, Fletcher Cox and the other forces in the middle of opposing defenses.
On Thursday, guard Quenton Nelson went sixth overall, which is the highest a guard has gone in the draft since 1985. A pair of centers were picked in the first round. Isaiah Wynn can play guard or tackle, and will probably play tackle with the New England Patriots, and he was also a first-round pick.
Picks like Frank Ragnow to the Detroit Lions or Billy Price to the Cincinnati Bengals won’t thrill a fan base and won’t sell many jerseys, but teams are well aware how important they are.
Michael Gallup: Most third-round receivers just blend in. Some become good players right away, some even become stars, and others wash out without anyone noticing.
Gallup can’t blend in. It isn’t fair, but he’ll be viewed as Dez Bryant’s replacement with the Dallas Cowboys after they picked Gallup in the third round.
The Cowboys cut Bryant earlier this month, then came into the draft with an extreme need at receiver. Dallas passed on every receiver in the draft at No. 19 overall to take linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, which adds a layer to the pressure on Gallup. If Calvin Ridley or D.J. Moore become stars and Gallup doesn’t, he’ll be reminded of it.
Gallup could be a great pick. He has good size and athleticism, and was an intriguing day-two prospect. He might end up doing a great job replacing Bryant. But he’s under more pressure than most receivers taken in the third round find themselves in.
Arden Key: In a perfect world, Key would have never had any issues at LSU and he would have heard his name called in the first round Thursday.
Key’s path to being one of the stars of this draft went sideways, to say the least. He took a leave from LSU last year, and Pro Football Weekly reported it was to voluntarily check himself into rehab over marijuana use. Key had shoulder surgery when he was away from the team. When he returned, he was overweight. And his production dipped, from 12.5 sacks in 2016 down to 5.5 last season. Almost nothing went right.
That’s why Key was still available with the 23rd pick of the third round. The Oakland Raiders took him (an interesting move, considering on Thursday they traded a third-round pick to Pittsburgh for Martavis Bryant, who has had off-field issues of his own).
It’s a good gamble by the Raiders. If Key is right, he’s an amazing value. Oakland needs defensive help. But it is obviously risky. It might end up being a complete waste.
Key can still make up for the millions he lost during the draft due to a horrible 2017. If he stays out of trouble and plays like he did two years ago, he’ll cash in soon enough. But considering where he probably should have been going in this draft, it was quite a fall.
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