ENGLEWOOD | For the Denver Broncos, long-shot projects are so last year.
Instead, long-term prospects are what dominants their 2018 draft class, players who spent four years in college and enter the NFL with degrees in hand.
Picking higher than they’re accustomed to also allowed the Broncos to land players that initially seemed out of reach. They were thrilled when North Carolina State pass rusher Bradley Chubb, the draft’s top-ranked defender, fell to them at No. 5 , and again when SMU receiver Courtland Sutton was there at 40.
Starting with those two surprising selections, nine of Elway’s 10 picks spent four years in college. Almost all were captains and all bring a shot of maturity to a team that was besieged by a generational divide last year when several exasperated veterans charged the 2017 draft class with wanting playing time based not on merit but on draft status.
Elway said Saturday he needed to inject a shot of maturity into a team that’s coming off a five-win season just two years after a Super Bowl parade.
“One thing we learned last year when you’re 5-11 and you’re in a losing streak, you need that maturity and that leadership to get things turned around,” Elway said. “So, these players have that ability.
“That’s why we decided to go more in that direction.”
Elway copied his cornerstone selection of Chubb on Days 2 and 3, beginning with Sutton, who took a medical redshirt his first year at SMU and graduated after his junior season.
“I stayed another year and I worked on those things that some people saw as my weaknesses,” said Sutton, suggesting that decision did wonders for his maturity and his game.
It wasn’t until the sixth round and their seventh pick — Arizona State guard/center Sam Jones — that the Broncos selected a player who left school before his eligibility expired.
Jones declared for the draft after Sun Devils coach Todd Graham was fired.
After Sutton, Elway’s next five picks — Oregon running back Royce Freeman, Boston College cornerback Isaac Yiadom, Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell, Penn State wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton and Wisconsin tight end Troy Fumagalli — all stayed through their senior seasons.
So did Denver’s last two picks, Washington linebacker Keishawn Bierra and Arkansas running back David Williams, who transferred with his degree in hand after three seasons at South Carolina.
Aside from Jones, the Broncos’ other nine draft picks have a combined 412 games of FBS experience.
So, unlike last year’s class, which has yet to pay dividends , this group is expected to make more of an immediate impact as the Broncos try to leave behind two disappointing seasons and return to the playoff picture for the first time since winning Super Bowl 50.
SNEAK PEAK: Fumagalli, Yiadom and Hamilton all caught the Broncos’ eye at the Senior Bowl, which was one bright spot from coach Vance Joseph’s dreadful debut season.
“It was huge for us,” Joseph said. “Coaching that game is a clear advantage going into the draft. We drafted three guys from Senior Bowl game. To have a chance to work with those guys for a week in meetings and on the practice field is huge. Taking three guys from that game proves it.”
Not that they want to go back to Mobile, Alabama, for the annual all-star game again any time soon.
“You don’t want to coach that for a long time,” Elway said. “We had a great time at the Senior Bowl, but we are good not coaching it for a while.”
KEEPING THE FAITH: The Broncos’ decision to bypass a deep class of quarterbacks shows how much faith Elway maintains in Paxton Lynch, whom he moved up to grab in the first round out of Memphis two years ago.
Lynch has only started four games in two years, but Elway keeps insisting he still believes in the raw quarterback even after signing Case Keenum in free agency and declaring him the starter in 2018.
“We are not kicking him to the curb,” Elway said of Lynch. “Paxton is going to compete with Chad (Kelly) for that backup spot.”
That marked the first time Elway has thrown Kelly into the mix publicly in the year since he drafted him out of Mississippi with the final pick in 2017.
HOMETOWN HERO: Among the Broncos’ undrafted signees is Colorado running back Phillip Lindsay, a Denver native who will compete in the backfield with Devontae Booker and De’Angelo Henderson to back up Freeman.