ENGLEWOOD, Colo. | John Elway has turned the Denver Broncos from riff-raff to royalty in three years.
He had the second overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft and chose Von Miller. He has the second-to-last selection this time around, and that could prove an enviable position, too.
Four quarterbacks are expected to hear their names called in the first round Thursday night. If Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles and Derek Carr all go before the Broncos make their pick, prime players at other positions will be pushed down the board, giving Denver added value at No. 31.
If even one of those four QBs, or maybe even a guy like Jimmy Garoppolo, is still available, Elway can expect some phone calls.
Because teams have a fifth-year option on first-round draft picks nowadays — a factor that’s especially enticing when it comes to quarterbacks and the millions of dollars a franchise can save if it hits the jackpot on a signal-caller — a late first-rounder could become a big bargaining chip.
“I think it makes the end of the first round more inviting than waiting and taking him in the second round, because it is a benefit for you to have that extra year,” Elway said.
In that case, it would be no surprise if Elway trades out of the first round for the second time in three years.
Of course, Elway would rather be in Seattle’s position and be picking dead last.
“I will say this, we’re proud, we’re thrilled to be picking 31. I wish we were picking 32 but we’re picking 31,” Elway said. “It’s not necessarily the best spot to be, but that means you’re a pretty good football team.”
Five things to keep in mind as Elway engineers his fourth draft and tries to find the right ingredients for a team intent on atoning for that 35-point loss to the Seahawks in the Super Bowl:
PLUGGING THE MIDDLE: The Broncos didn’t re-sign Wesley Woodyard or Paris Lenon. Elway insisted that doesn’t mean the Broncos will target that position in the draft.
“I don’t know that it’s necessarily a need. We feel pretty good about Nate (Irving), especially on first and second down,” Elway said. “When we look at it, we’re more concerned on third down, the nickel backer on third down.”
And he mentioned safety T.J. Ward, saying the recently signed free agent “can step down in the box, does a tremendous job in the box, so he could be that nickel backer.”
WIDE RECEIVER: The Broncos have a solid stable of wide receivers in Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Bubba Caldwell and newcomer Emmanuel Sanders. But they’re sure to take a long, hard look at this year’s crop of college pass catchers.
Elway said it’s a deep draft, and “the wide receivers are really what makes it deep.”
BIG O: Orlando Franklin tweeted last month he’s moving from right tackle to left guard. He had a poor performance in the Super Bowl, Zane Beadles left via free agency and Ryan Clady is returning from a foot injury. So it appears Chris Clark will be moving to right tackle.
Elway praised Franklin’s overall play last season, but the fourth-year pro and 2011 second-round pick might find himself fighting for snaps this season.
“If there’s an offensive tackle or an offensive guard that’s on the board that’s the best player up there, we’ll take him,” Elway said.
GRADING THE DRAFT: Elway said it takes two to three years to fairly evaluate a draft, but said the proper barometer isn’t Pro Bowls or All-Pros.
“I’d rather look at it as, ‘Have they been productive for us? Have they helped us win football games?’ and ‘What has the organization done over those years that he has been a part of it, and what has been his contribution to it?'” Elway said.
MAY DAY: Elway said moving the draft back into May this year didn’t adversely affect the Broncos.
“It kind of helped us because our season went so long,” he said. “It pushes everything back. So with the two extra weeks, it allowed us to really kind of catch up. So we’re fine with the extra two weeks.”
Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: https://twitter.com/arniestapleton
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