After Week 4 of the 2019 NFL season, the Broncos sported a record of 0-4. The scorching hot take from everybody was “Fire John Elway! Elway has to go!”
Broncos Country wanted Elway gone. The 0-4 start was his fault.
The criticism of Elway had some merit to it. The Broncos have cycled through quarterbacks and coaching staffs the last three years and there were questionable personnel moves. The 2019 team started the season 0-4 despite changes at quarterback and head coach. Elway was the one constant. So it’s easy to point the finger at him.
That was two weeks ago. The Broncos are no longer winless and they are on a two-game winning streak. Optimism is high and many believe the Broncos might actually pull off the upset and beat the Chiefs on Thursday to kick off Week 7.
The chants of “Fire John Elway!” have cooled a little bit, but they’re not gone. What I find more interesting is that Elway is receiving absolutely zero praise for his role in the Broncos turnaround.
Let’s go back to April and the NFL Draft. The Broncos traded back and drafted tight end Noah Fant at 20th overall rather than staying at the 10th pick and drafting inside linebacker Devin Bush.
We all lost our minds. Judging by the reaction, you would’ve thought Bush was the greatest player in NFL history. The perception with Broncos Country was that the team was desperate for an inside linebacker and that Elway blew it by not drafting Bush.
As it turns out, the Broncos didn’t need Bush because they had an inside linebacker on the roster in Alexander Johnson.
Johnson was out of football for three years dealing with a serious court case. He was an afterthought. Elway gambled and brought in Johnson in 2018 and it has paid off. In just two games as the starter, Johnson has amassed 11 solo tackles, 1.5 sacks and an interception in the end zone.
Right now, Johnson is the most popular player on the team. Fans and media can’t get enough of him. Who’s responsible for the toast of the town? John Elway.
Say it with me: Elway was right to not draft Devin Bush and instead trade back and draft Noah Fant. That was probably hard for some of you.
Fant has had his ups and downs as a rookie, but he is on pace to have one of the more productive seasons for a rookie tight end. More importantly, Fant is showing promise at a position the Broncos have struggled to fill in recent years.
Free agent defensive back Kareem Jackson has been a game wrecker and the Broncos most-consistent defensive player this season. Jackson has 21 solo tackles, one forced fumble and one interception. Keep in mind that Jackson did not play Week 4 against the Jaguars. Had he been on the field, you could argue the Broncos defense doesn’t get torched and they win that game.
The signing of Jackson has been an absolute home run by Elway.
Before this year, raise your hand if you heard of Mike Purcell. If you raised your hand, you’re a liar.
Purcell is best described as a journeyman. In the last two years, I think Purcell played for every team in the NFL, AAF, Canadian League, XFL and World Cup soccer, and still couldn’t find a home. Yet Elway identified him as a guy that could play well when put in the right situation.
The increased playing time for Purcell the last two weeks has been a huge boost for the Broncos defense. It has provided stability at nose tackle, while freeing up Shelby Harris to play in his more natural position.
One of the major criticisms leveled at Elway has been that he struggles in the draft. Well, let’s look at the first- and second-year players for the Broncos that are contributing in a big way this season: Bradley Chubb (now injured), Philip Lindsay, Courtland Sutton, Royce Freeman, Fant and Dalton Risner.
Daesean Hamilton, Josey Jewell, Dre’Mont Jones, Justin Hollins and Malik Reed are all seeing regular playing time as role players on this team. That’s 11 players from the last two rookie classes.
Elway made changes to his draft approach and he deserves to be acknowledged for the shift. The 2017 draft belongs in the trash can, but that was more than two years ago and the problem looks to have been corrected. So get over it.
I’m aware it isn’t perfect with recent Elway moves. Both Ja’Wuan James and Bryce Callahan were signed to big contracts despite injury histories. As of now, we still don’t know what we have in either player.
James should be back soon, so we will get to judge him at that point. Callahan looks like a miss, at least for now.
However, do not overlook the solid job Elway has done at replacing Callahan. Devontae Bausby (now injured), Davontae Harris and Duke Dawson have stepped up and the Broncos have found ways to make it work.
I’m not saying Elway shouldn’t be held accountable for bad decisions. What I’m saying is that Elway should be judged fairly. We can’t tear him apart over mistakes and then refuse to praise him when he makes decisions that improve the team.
Giving Elway any credit for the Broncos recent success would require a bunch of people to eat their words, which as it turns out, nobody is brave enough to do. But I’m sure everybody will be ready to scream “Fire Elway!” the second things don’t go perfect.
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