We’re starting to hear the comments from training camp.
“The Broncos don’t have enough dynamic players.”
“These injuries are leaving them thin.”
“Denver’s special teams have been poor.”
These are all the symptoms of a team that lacks depth. These are the symptoms of a team that is relying too much on undrafted free agents and other team’s castoffs.
This is what happens when a team drafts as poorly as John Elway has in the last several years.
Consider the daunting evidence:
• Elway began drafting in 2011. He hit a home run right away with Von Miller. But between 2011-15, however, only three out of 38 players drafted are still on the team (Von, Derek Wolfe and Jeff Heurerman).
• 2016-17 has produced some starters (Connor McGovern, Adam Gotsis, Justin Simmons, Garett Bolles), but no Pro Bowl players.
• 2018 has some potential – namely, Bradley Chubb.
• 2019 is incomplete for now
What does all this mean? When a team misses as badly in the draft as Elway has, it has a ripple effect that impacts what we’re watching go on at Dove Valley. The offensive line is starving for backups. The wide receiver group is painfully young. The linebacker core ( a staple of Vic Fangio defenses) is already trying out former safeties like Jamal Carter.
Not only have Elway’s drafts failed to yield much in the way of game-changing star power, it has robbed the Broncos of the starters and key backups that all championship teams rely upon. That lack of depth is revealed when an injury occurs or when there are obvious special teams problems.
The Broncos have tried to fill these holes through free agency, but that is a losing gambit. Overpaying for players with obvious deficiencies that made them expendable in the eyes of their former team leaves a team like the Broncos with more misses than hits and a salary cap that carries too much dead money.
When a team has done its job in the draft, players can make the team based mainly on their special teams abilities. Those bottom-of-the-roster guys aren’t just fillers, they’re players who take great pride in their ability to change a game with a special teams play while also providing valuable positional backup support.
I know people hate New England Patriots comparisons. I’d be using the Colts if they had won six Super Bowls in the last couple of decades. New England avoids overpaying too many players because the feeling is if they put too much into the top half of their roster, it will rob the bottom half of the key role players they have proven over the years can make a difference in winning it all.
Now I wish the Broncos problem was they had too many good players to pay them all and they were forced to make hard decisions who to pay and who to send away. That would be great. Instead, the Broncos are desperate to find enough starters and decent backups to make a run at double-digit wins.
During the last two-plus years, the Broncos have gone 16-28 in their last 44 games. I’ve heard the excuses. Gary Kubiak’s health issues and archaic offense, and Vance Joseph’s all-around incompetence are at the top of most lists.
There has been a reluctance to really pin the blame on John Elway. I get it. It’s John Freaking Elway. There’s no doubt the first half of his GM tenure was outstanding.
However, like water dripping onto drywall, or a deck left untreated, rot will eventually start to take hold. It doesn’t happen overnight. But, eventually the damage is done for all to see.
The Denver Broncos current predicament is painfully obvious. As is the person responsible for it.