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Denver Broncos general manager John Elway answers questions from the media during the NFL Scouting Combine on February 27, 2019 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
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For day one trade to make sense, Elway must solve day two riddle

(Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

When the Broncos traded the 10th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft to the Pittsburgh Steelers for Nos. 20 and 52 this season, plus a third-round pick next year, it left plenty of fans scratching their heads. In fact, many were booing at the team’s official draft party.

Why? Because a player who filled a giant need for the Broncos was still on the board at No. 10. Michigan linebacker Devin Bush was seen as a player who could immediately strengthen the middle of Denver’s defense, helping them improve against the run and be better equipped to cover opposing tight ends.

John Elway, however, didn’t see it that way. Instead, he sent the pick to the Steelers, who immediately grabbed Bush, and loaded up on additional selections.

How will this decision ultimately be judged? Well, that depends on the answers to three questions:

1. Does Bush turn into a big-time player? If the linebacker blossoms in Pittsburgh, a place known for developing players at that position, Broncos fans will always be thinking about what might’ve been.

2. Does Noah Fant become a play-making tight end? The player the Broncos grabbed with the 20th overall pick can help erase any thoughts about Bush if he turns into a dynamic part of Denver’s offense for years to come.

3. Who do the Broncos take at No. 52? This is really the key to the whole scenario, as this is the marquee additional asset that Elway accumulated for moving back 10 spots.

By most accounts, this year’s draft is loaded with second-round talent, but is a little thin at the top. Thus, moving out of the top-10 in a year when that’s not a very lofty perch in order to add an additional pick during the meat of the draft makes some sense. This gives the Broncos an opportunity to make the trade with the Steelers pan out.

In order for that to happen, however, Elway is going to have to do an about face. During his tenure as the Broncos general manager, the second-round has been his nemesis. Of the 10 players he’s drafted in round two since taking over in 2011, only a few have been even semi-productive in Denver, while most have been outright busts.

As painful as it may be to think about, here’s a reminder of Elway’s second-round work:

2011
» Rahim Moore (45th overall)
» Orlando Franklin (46)

2012
» Derek Wolfe (36)
» Brock Osweiler (57)

2013
» Montee Ball (58)

2014
» Cody Latimer (56)

2015
» Ty Sambrailo (59)

2016
» Adam Gotsis (63)

2017
» DeMarcus Walker (51)

2018
» Courtland Sutton (40)

Of that group, only three have been regular starters for the Broncos – Moore, Franklin and Wolfe. In other words, Elway started off well and has tapered off in recent years. And only Wolfe received a second contract in Denver.

Ball, Latimer, Sambrailo and Walker were outright busts, never doing anything of significance with the Broncos. Osweiler spent most of his time in Denver backing up Peyton Manning, but did play a key role in the team’s run to the Super Bowl in 2015. Gotsis has played, but never spectacularly. And Sutton has provided glimpses of greatness, but it’s still too early to tell what he will or won’t become.

Ten players is a big sample size. Batting well under .500 with those picks is a troubling pattern.

If the decision to pass on Bush is going to pan out for the Broncos, Elway needs to reverse that trend. Otherwise, day one of the 2019 NFL Draft will be a painful memory for football fans in Denver.