Well, he wasn’t blowing smoke.
Here’s John Elway’s quote from Monday when I asked him about trading away the 25th pick in the NFL draft:
“We’re open,” he said then, at his pre-draft press conference. “I think that preferably, we’d like to go back. If there is somebody that likes somebody in our position at No. 25, we’re fine there, but we’re always open to go either way.”
Turned out that New England liked somebody at No. 25, Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower, so Elway moved back to No. 31, picking up a late fourth-round pick in the bargain.
Then it turned out Tampa Bay liked somebody at No. 31, Boise State running back Doug Martin, so Elway moved back again, to No. 36, trading in the late fourth-rounder he’d just obtained for an early fourth-rounder as part of the exchange.
“Well, we didn’t get anybody yet, but we will tomorrow,” Elway said when the long night was over. “When we looked at where we were, obviously we had some guys targeted that didn’t quite make it to us at 25, so we had some opportunities to move back with New England to pick up a fourth. We liked that, thought that was great.
“Then, when we had a chance to move back from 31 to 36 with Tampa again, our board looked the same. We thought we’d be able to get the same people at 36 that we could at 31 — or have the same pool of players there at 36 as we did at 31. By doing that, we moved up 25 spots to the top of the fourth.
“We really believe this is a deep draft. It’s not real thick at the top, but it’s pretty deep through the middle rounds. We thought by adding another good pick it gives us more options going into tomorrow. Plus we’ll still be able to get the same people that we had targeted that made it to us at 25, at 36.
“We’re excited about the day. Obviously, it’s a little bit of a downer when you don’t have a new player. But we’re excited about where we sit and the next two days are going to be exciting.”
So it sounds like everything went according to plan. Except you could make an argument that the Broncos should have taken either of the players taken in the spots they vacated.
Hightower is a 265-pound beast who was a team captain and called the defensive signals for Nick Saban at Alabama. Adding him to a linebacking corps that already includes Von Miller could have given the Broncos’ defense a muscular middle and a potential long-term leader. With D.J. Williams facing a suspension to start next season, adding a stud linebacker seemed to make sense, particularly one as talented as Hightower. Consider that the Patriots, who have made a habit of trading back in the draft, actually traded up to get him.
Martin is a versatile running back who could have served as the complement to Willis McGahee that everyone thinks the Broncos need.
So the players selected with the two picks the Broncos got in exchange — Nos. 36 and 101 — are likely to be compared to Hightower and Martin as time goes on to see if these moves were wise.
The bottom line is the Broncos traded out of the first round altogether, moving back eleven spots from 25 to 36, and received that early fourth-round pick (No. 101) in exchange. According to the draft value chart, No. 25 is worth 720 points and No. 36 is worth 540. So the Broncos lost 180 points by moving down, then regained 96 by adding No. 101. That’s a net loss of 84 points, although, if the Broncos actually do take the same player at 36 they would have taken at 25, the point loss is purely theoretical.
Going into today’s second round, the Broncos are holding two second-round picks (Nos. 4 and 25), one third (No. 25), three fourths (Nos. 6, 13 and 25), one fifth (No. 2) and one sixth (No. 18). Tracking the overall numbers, they hold Nos. 36, 57, 87, 101, 108, 120, 137 and 188.
When Elway said the Broncos’ board at No. 36 looks pretty much like the board at 25, he was also saying that neither Hightower nor Martin was near the top of their board at 25. When I asked if he knew that Tampa intended to take Martin at No. 31, he said he did not. If he didn’t ask, it seems clear he wasn’t overly concerned whether Martin would still be around later.
If he’s looking at defensive tackles, his statement about the board makes sense. Once Dontari Poe (No. 11, to Kansas City), Fletcher Cox (No. 12, to Philadelphia) and Michael Brockers (No. 14, to St. Louis) went off the board, the next group of interior linemen — Kendell Reyes of Connecticut, Jerel Worthy of Michigan State and Devon Still of Penn State — was available at 25, still available at 31 and remains available when the draft resumes Saturday evening with No. 33.
“Everyone saw the talent that we saw too,” Elway said of the top three defensive tackles. “When those guys started going like that, they went in a hurry. We thought we were going to have to get a little bit lucky for them to fall to us anyways. They’re good football players, and when they didn’t get to us that gave us the opportunity to start moving back a little bit.”
If Elway is looking at defensive backs, which he suggested Monday was a priority against the spread offenses that exploited the Broncos’ secondary last season, the top group of cover corners was also gone by the time No. 25 rolled around. Morris Claiborne of LSU went to Jacksonville at No. 5, Stephon Gilmore of South Carolina went to Buffalo at No. 10 and Dre Kirkpatrick of Alabama went to Cincinnati at No. 17.
Cover corners who remain on the board include Janoris Jenkins of North Alabama, Josh Robinson of Central Florida, Brandon Boykin of Georgia, Jayron Hosley of Virginia Tech, Trumaine Johnson of Montana, Leonard Johnson of Iowa State and Jamell Fleming of Oklahoma, although most of them would be considered reaches near the top of the second round.
Three offensive options worth considering near the top of the second round are Wisconsin center Peter Konz, Stanford tight end Coby Fleener and Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill.
One other note from the first round merits mention. When Indianapolis made Andrew Luck the first pick, he became the tenth quarterback in the last twelve years to be the first overall pick. That only confirms the primacy of the quarterback position in today’s NFL. So it’s worth remembering that whatever they do in the draft, the Broncos’ biggest offseason move by far remains signing quarterback Peyton Manning as a free agent.