ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — This isn’t John Elway’s first rodeo.
On Monday, the legendary gunslinger turned Super Bowl champion executive spoke to the media for the last time before the start of the 2017 NFL Draft. In that press conference, Elway addressed his team’s needs heading into the draft, the options they have at left tackle, and chances a couple of big name running backs find their way to Denver.
2017 will mark Elway’s seventh draft in his current role with the Broncos. That makes him among the league’s longest-tenured executives, and certainly among the most successful. However, even for him this process never stops being exciting.
“I think experience helps a lot, especially with trying to figure out where players might go, and then also moving around if you want to move around,” Elway said. “I feel much better this year than I did my first two or three years. Hopefully I get better.”
For as much success as Elway has had in the win/loss column as a GM, his draft record has been shaky at times. Since coming on the job in 2011, Elway has made 46 picks in the NFL Draft. Of those 46, exactly half are still with the Broncos. Most notably, his entire 2013 draft class is no longer on the roster.
This year, Elway obviously hopes to hit on more players than he misses on. At the top of the wish list seems to be a new starting left tackle. Alabama’s Cam Robinson and Utah’s Garett Bolles, two of this draft’s top prospects at that position, have both visited with Elway and the Broncos. If Denver decides to go with one of those two, or any other offensive tackle with their first pick at 20th overall, Elway said that player will come in to compete for the starting job.
“If that’s where we go he’s going to come in and compete for a job,” Elway said. “Just like all of the rookies that will come in, they’ll all come in and compete for a job.”
However, if the Broncos decide not to take a tackle early in the draft, Elway said they believe there may be options to start at left tackle already on Denver’s roster.
“A lot of people think we don’t have a left tackle on our team,” Elway said. “We have a left tackle on our team. Ty Sambrailo played left tackle for us two years ago and was playing very well, but hasn’t been able to stay healthy. That’s always an option for us.”
Sambrailo did indeed start the early part of 2015 at left tackle for the Broncos after being taken by Elway in the second round of that year’s draft. He played well in those few opportunities before a shoulder injury ended his rookie season. He dealt with another upper body injury during training camp last year.
As a result of those injuries, Sambrailo has been mostly unable to participate in the weight room. Thus, he’s looked physically outmatched at times during his limited opportunities as a starter. Elway seems to believe that Sambrailo can evolve into a legitimate option at left tackle with an offseason of training under his belt.
“Ty is a guy that can compete there,” Elway said. “With the way Ty was playing a couple years ago, we felt that he was going to be a very legitimate left tackle until he got hurt.”
Of course, tackle is far from the Broncos’ only need. Finding an additional offensive playmaker is on the top of several fan’s wishlists.
Hometown prospect and Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey came to the team’s facility on a visit not long ago. However, despite how much fans may want to see the son of Broncos’ great Ed McCaffrey play for his dad’s old team, it seems extremely unlikely the highly coveted playmaker slides into range for the Broncos.
“He was close and it was free,” Elway said, joking about why the team chose to bring McCaffrey in for a visit. “We wanted to meet with him. He’s a great kid. We like Christian a lot and we wanted to bring him in. It was one of those where he was in the area, so we wanted to take advantage of that to get to see him again. He’s a great kid.”
While McCaffrey isn’t likely to be available for the Broncos, controversial Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon probably will be. Mixon is regarded almost universally as a first round talent. However, in 2014, he was caught on video punching a woman in the face. As a result, he’ll probably be available for Denver.
The Broncos brought Mixon in for a visit earlier this month and Elway seemed to be impressed with the 20-year-old.
“We had a good meeting with him,” Elway said. “I didn’t get the chance to spend a lot of time with him, but I had a meeting with him. We went through the whole process and what happened. I’m sure he had been through it several times. But for us to be able to hear it from him, and what happened—we went through all that.”
This draft class has the chance to be a pivotal one for Elway and the Broncos. Thankfully, it’s a deep draft at a number of positions and this team will have options in each round when the festivities begin this Thursday night.