Lessons Learned from Denver Broncos', John Elway's 2012 Draft Strategy

Sigmund BloomNFL Draft Lead WriterMay 31, 2012

ENGLEWOOD, CO - MARCH 20:  Executive vice president of football operations John Elway speaks during a news conference announcing quarterback Peyton Manning's contract with the Denver Broncos in the team meeting room at the Paul D. Bowlen Memorial Broncos Centre on March 20, 2012 in Englewood, Colorado. Manning, entering his 15th NFL season, was released by the Indianapolis Colts on March 7, 2012, where he had played his whole career. It has been reported that Manning will sign a five-year, $96 million offer.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Trading Tim Tebow and signing Peyton Manning marked the strongest sign yet that Executive VP John Elway is the clear captain of the Denver Broncos ship. With the quarterback situation more in line with his philosophy, the 2012 draft would signify a clear sign of Elway's vision of the Broncos' present and future. What did we learn about the way Elway thinks?

Round Pick Name Position School
2 36 Derek Wolfe DT Cincinnati
2 57 Brock Osweiler QB Arizona State
3 67 Ronnie Hillman RB San Diego State
4 101 Omar Bolden CB Arizona State
4 108 Philip Blake C Baylor
5 137 Malik Jackson DL Tennessee
6 188 Danny Trevathan LB Kentucky


The Broncos Are Willing to Gamble That Other Teams Don't Think the Way They Do

The team traded down twice from No. 25 to No. 36, recouping only the 101st pick, when the dust settled. They ended up taking defensive tackle Derek Wolfe, missing out on potential blue chip fits at running back when Doug Martin and David Wilson went after their second trade from 31 to 36.


While Wolfe is a very solid prospect, the Broncos obviously felt confident that they could trade down and not miss out on him. So confident that they gave up 180 points on the Jimmy Johnson pick value chart and recouped only 96 when the two trades are added together. In other words, they were so sure that Wolfe would be there at 36 that they took less than market value for their picks on the clock.

Elway confirmed this after the first round:

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.

This approach came into play again when the team took Brock Osweiler to be their quarterback of the future in the late second round. Osweiler was speculated to be going as high as the late first before the draft. It's possible that Denver did not have 100-percent clarity that Osweiler was its target, but it's more likely that the Broncos correctly gauged the price that any other team would pay for Osweiler as lower than the 57th overall pick.


The Broncos Wanted a Smaller, Quicker Back Than Willis McGahee in the Peyton Manning Offense

Elway and company traded out of the 31st pick, which could have landed them Doug Martin, a true workhorse back. Instead, they traded up to the 67th pick, giving up the 87th and 120th (which is a 46-point win on the pick value chart) to get Ronnie Hillman. Hillman is a 5'9", 200 lb. back who relies on quickness. Martin is a 5'9", 223 lb. back who relies on power and balance between the tackles.

Isaiah Pead and LaMichael James, two other smaller, quicker backs, went in the second half of the second round. That probably gave the Broncos the sense of urgency to move up for Hillman, who Jeff Legwold of the Denver Post said was maybe the biggest reach of their draft when compared to where other teams probably had Hillman on their boards.

Only Lamar Miller, who went 97th, fit the bill as an explosive back among those left on the board that were worthy of a mid-round pick, but the Broncos might have had him as an injury red flag. It's likely that they had a short list of backs that fit in the Manning offense, and Hillman was the last one available. 

Elway said after the draft that they did not believe that Hillman would be there at No. 87. He added that phone calls made after the draft proved that belief to be true. He called Hillman "electric" and a "great change of pace from what we have."


The Broncos Rely on Previously-built Relationships in Trades and Player Selections

The Hillman trade was made with Cleveland, who also acquired Peyton Hillis and a pair of draft picks from the Broncos for Brady Quinn two years ago. The first trade-down in the first round was with New England, with whom the Broncos traded up in 2010 to get Tim Tebow. The two teams also swapped picks in 2010, with the Broncos getting Laurence Maroney as part of the deal.

The Broncos also drafted two players who match current players on their roster down to school and position. Fourth-round pick Philip Blake will compete with 2010 pick J.D. Walton to start at center. Blake succeeded Walton at the position at Baylor. Sixth-round pick Danny Trevathan is a clone of former Kentucky linebacker and current Denver Bronco Wesley Woodyard.