John Elway was tabbed as President of Football Operations of the Denver Broncos in January 2011, and a few days later, Tim Tebow delivered a magical overtime playoff victory at home over the Denver Broncos.
A year later, Elway gained full control of the front office when then-GM Brian Xanders left. Days after that, Peyton Manning showed up in Denver. You know how that story goes – healed from the neck injuries, Manning puts up historic stats, then struggles in his final year, but wins a Super Bowl anyway, and the media goes wild for Elway.
But has John Elway really been a great GM in his tenure? The Super Bowl win obviously sticks out, but whoever won the Manning sweepstakes in 2012 was going to be a contender to win a Super Bowl.
A quick analysis of the 2012-2016 drafts (the 2017 class hasn’t played a snap yet) for Denver shows Elway has been terrible at drafting offensive players, but some of his defensive players have been direct hits. Let’s look at the most important position in sports, quarterback. Elway, a Hall of Famer who won two Super Bowls, knows the position as well as anybody. He’s drafted four QBS so far in Denver since 2012:
Brock Osweiler: 2nd round, 57th in 2012: Sat behind Peyton Manning, then filled in admirably for him in 2015. In the offseason, he took a 4-year, $72 million offer from the Texans. He was so bad in one year, they traded him essentially in a salary dump. There’s no telling if Osweiler will make the Browns roster.
Zac Dysert, 7th round, 234th in 2013: Is currently on his 7th NFL roster. Has yet to throw an NFL pass.
Trevor Siemian, 7th round, 250th in 2015: The best hit Elway’s had, even though Siemian is just going to be a career journeyman. He can be a solid starter on a team led by the defense. He can be a backup for a decade. But I can’t see him winning four playoff games, the way that Mark Sanchez (a Top 10 pick) did.
Paxton Lynch, 1st round, 26th in 2016: I was bullish on Lynch, a star at Memphis. But he looked wide-eyed in 2.5 appearances last year, but they were all against good defenses (at Tampa, vs Atlanta, at Jacksonville). And now Siemian has won the job for 2017, which is certainly not a vote for Lynch’s future. But where Elway really loses points is trading up for Lynch. Especially when 4th round pick Dak Prescott went over 100 picks later.
Lynch is only 23 so it’s not like his career is over or anything, but at this point, Elway’s 0-for-2 on 1st round QBs.
Defensively, Elway’s had several hits in the draft – Derek Wolfe (2nd round, 2012), Malik Jackson (5th round, 2012), Danny Trevathan (6th round, 2012) and Shane Ray (1st round 2015), but you could argue his 2013 and 2014 drafts are trending toward complete busts.
His 2013 1st round pick, Sylvester Williams, has moved on to the Titans; his 2014 1st round pick, Bradley Roby, has yet to distinguish himself enough to unseat the Broncos two high-priced star cornerbacks, though this could be a breakout season for the former Ohio State star.
Where it will get interesting for Elway is if they miss the playoffs again. What becomes of Elway the genius? The Raiders are ascending. The Chiefs may have found gold in future QB Patrick Mahomes. Elway’s surprising choice of rookie head coach Vance Joseph may come under scrutiny. A member of that great secondary, TJ Ward, will be a free agent.
Elway has bought himself years of equity with fans because of his Hall of Fame career, and lucking into Peyton Manning as his QB. But fans always ask, “What have you done for my lately?” and for Elway, the answer is …