John Elway is a good general manager. He built a Super Bowl champion and a Denver Broncos team that has been mostly fantastic with him in charge.
However, he’s not perfect (many people in Denver will gasp in horror at that suggestion). No general manager is. Bill Belichick has high picks like Laurence Maroney, Ras-I Dowling and Dominique Easley on his record. Former Packers GM Ron Wolf is a Hall of Famer, and he picked Jamal Reynolds (three career sacks, zero games started) 10th overall in 2001, his last draft. Every GM has some regrets.
But when we wonder how the Broncos’ offense has gotten so bad – Denver was shut out Sunday for the first time since 1992 and hasn’t scored more than 16 points in a game since Week 2 – it’s worth looking back at Elway’s recent history of drafting offensive players. Elway’s first draft, in 2011, was pretty good. Here are the offensive players Elway has drafted since then over the past six drafts, in chronological order. Shield your eyes:
QB Brock Osweiler
RB Ronnie Hillman
OT Philip Blake
RB Montee Ball
WR Tavarres King
G Vinston Painter
QB Zac Dysert
WR Cody Latimer
OT Michael Schofield
C Matt Paradis
OT Ty Sambrailo
TE Jeff Heuerman
C Max Garcia
QB Trevor Siemian
QB Paxton Lynch
RB Devontae Booker
G Connor McGovern
FB Andy Janovich
OT Garett Bolles
WR Carlos Henderson
TE Jake Butt
WR Isaiah McKenzie
RB De’Angelo Henderson
QB Chad Kelly
Six years, 24 picks, and a lot of misses. Elway has done OK on the offensive line. Paradis is a good starter at center, Bolles looks like a keeper at left tackle and Garcia is starting at guard. Osweiler helped the 2015 team tremendously, but he was also picked ahead of Russell Wilson and we all know Osweiler’s post-2015 story. Some players in this year’s class, like Butt coming off his knee injury or speedster McKenzie, still have time to develop.
But when you wonder why the Broncos’ offense isn’t better, let’s start with that list.
Quarterback is where everything begins. Siemian was a good seventh-round pick, but he’s still a seventh-round pick. He’s the one who draws a lot of criticism when the Broncos’ offense struggles. He can be a solid quarterback when surrounded by a great cast, which the Broncos don’t have. Denver is asking him to do too much, and he’s not that player.
Lynch, who Elway moved up to get in the first round in 2016, still hasn’t done enough to win the job. He’s currently injured. Maybe Lynch will put it together, but there aren’t many highly drafted quarterbacks who didn’t do anything for two seasons and emerged as stars in year three.
Elway hasn’t hit big on a running back, receiver or tight end in the draft since 2011 (though signing receiver Bennie Fowler as an undrafted free agent in 2014 was a nice move). His offensive line picks have been better, but the Broncos still had to overpay guard Ronald Leary in free agency and are relying on Raiders draft bust Menelik Watson at right tackle because valuable picks like Schofield and Sambrailo didn’t work out. And the offensive line as a whole is improved but not great. Siemian was sacked five times Sunday and the running game hasn’t been blowing anyone away.
The Broncos’ offensive issues are nothing new. Even when they won in 2015 they were well below average on offense but rode an amazing defense and some great luck in close games to a championship. Denver’s defense is still among the NFL’s best but they’re just a 3-3 team with a brutal schedule coming up. The offense could improve but by now we know its limitations. If the Broncos make the playoffs, it will be because the defense is phenomenal and the offense doesn’t screw it up.
We’re probably headed toward another offseason of everyone waiting on Elway to make a big splash move at quarterback, though that won’t be easy or cheap and it’s no guarantee he can pull one off.
Elway has gotten a ton of credit for what he has done as Broncos general manager and he deserves it all. He’s one of the best GMs in the game, and he is the first all-time great quarterback to have this level of success in NFL coaching or management. But with some better drafts, the Broncos wouldn’t be in this offensive mess. The Broncos are struggling on offense, there’s a lot of blame to spread around and some of it has to land on Elway’s lap.
Here are the power rankings following Week 7 of the NFL season:
32. Cleveland Browns (0-7, Last week: 32)
Either start DeShone Kizer and live with the rookie mistakes or don’t start him. Don’t pull him after two (admittedly bad) interceptions. I want to preach patience with this coaching staff, but instead of a few signs of optimism, it’s going the other way.
31. San Francisco 49ers (0-7, LW: 31)
So much for that run of competitive games. It probably shouldn’t be that surprising the offense struggled in rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard’s first start. He struggled against the Cowboys’ blitzes, and there were many of them. But it seems Kyle Shanahan is set to stick with him.
30. Indianapolis Colts (2-5, LW: 29)
T.Y. Hilton probably shouldn’t call out his offensive line teammates. But he was telling the truth. You watch Jacoby Brissett get sacked 10 times and it becomes more clear that Andrew Luck probably isn’t playing this season.
29. New York Giants (1-6, LW: 30)
Any hope of a miracle turnaround vanished when the Giants offense from the first five games showed up again. Now Ben McAdoo is answering questions about sitting Eli Manning (his answer: not happening). It’ll be a long second half of the season in New York.
28. Arizona Cardinals (3-4, LW: 25)
Let’s assume this season isn’t going anywhere without Carson Palmer. Will he be back next season? If not, what will the Cardinals do? All the years of putting off investing in Palmer’s replacement are catching up to them now.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4, LW: 27)
Credit to Jameis WInston for throwing 384 yards and three touchdowns with a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder. Here’s the bad news: That still wasn’t good enough to win. Now T.J. Ward is complaining about playing time and Chris Baker is agreeing with him. What a mess.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 22, 2017
26. New York Jets (3-4, LW: 26)
Although the Jets have been way better than anyone expected, this season should still be about finding building blocks for the future. They’ve found a nice tight end in Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who talked about turning his life around this offseason and it has shown on the field. He has 26 catches and three touchdowns in five games. He doesn’t have many yards, with just 173, but it’s still a promising start to the season. He’s a former second-round pick and is just 25 years old.
25. Cincinnati Bengals (2-4, LW: 24)
Joe Mixon wasn’t happy to get only seven carries, and it’s usually not a rookie’s place to complain about touches. But it was baffling. Why would the Bengals keep having Andy Dalton drop back and get crushed behind an offensive line that can’t block rather than ride the running game a little more?
24. Baltimore Ravens (3-4, LW: 23)
Joe Flacco had 186 yards on 39 attempts. This offense is hard to watch. They’re basically the Broncos but without the playmakers at receiver and a defense that isn’t on Denver’s level.
23. Chicago Bears (3-4, LW: 28)
I get every argument for why Mitchell Trubisky attempted only seven passes Sunday. The Bears still want to win games. They also have nobody at receiver. However, I’m not sure if it’s great for Trubisky’s confidence to basically tell him not to do anything because it’ll be bad for the team’s chances to win. Mike Glennon could have handed off every down, if that’s all you want from a quarterback.
22. Green Bay Packers (4-3, LW: 16)
The coaching staff will get more comfortable with Brett Hundley’s skills, and Hundley will get more comfortable too. This isn’t an offense that will throw for fewer than 100 yards each game, like it did Sunday. But it’s hard to get excited about what’s to come.
21. Tennessee Titans (4-3, LW: 19)
The good news is they are 4-3 even though they haven’t played well, aside from brief flashes against Jacksonville and Oakland. The bad news is they haven’t played well. Maybe the bye week fixes things, and getting healthier will help, but it’s hard to see them continuing with a winning record unless they play a lot better.
20. Oakland Raiders (3-4, LW: 21)
I’m curious to see what the Raiders’ offense looks like with Marshawn Lynch suspended. He hasn’t been great yet. Is it him, or has the offensive line fallen back? Assuming the suspension doesn’t get overturned on appeal, we’ll get a chance to find out.
19. Los Angeles Chargers (3-4, LW: 22)
Every NFL team can talk about what-ifs because the league has never been more competitive, but the Chargers are oh-so-close to being 5-2. If they make late field goals in Weeks 1 and 2, we’re having a much different discussion about them. But at 3-4, they’re not finished. It’s a heck of a rebound from 0-4. And a fantastic pass rush and talented offense means they’re probably not fading back to obscurity.
18. Miami Dolphins (4-2, LW: 20)
They should have started Matt Moore from the moment Ryan Tannehill got hurt. He has always been a capable backup, he knew the offense well and he wasn’t in retirement for months like Jay Cutler. Maybe the fourth-quarter rally was Moore catching the Jets by surprise and he’ll fall back to earth quickly, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he takes the job and never gives it back to Cutler.
17. Denver Broncos (3-3, LW: 10)
The key player for any Broncos offensive turnaround is probably Demaryius Thomas. He had a big game against the Giants, but sandwiched between that was a one-catch, 11-yard game against the Raiders and a two-catch, 9-yard game against the Chargers. The coaches have to get him the ball and Thomas has to produce more. Thomas is a true No. 1 receiver and the Broncos can’t allow him to disappear for full games like they have.
16. Buffalo Bills (4-2, LW: 17)
The Bills’ leading receivers Sunday were Deonte Thompson and Nick O’Leary, and if you’re playing in a fantasy league in which either of those two were starting, you need to cut about 10 teams from that league. Their only passing touchdown was caught by tight end Logan Thomas, who in an earlier life was drafted as a quarterback out of Virginia Tech. The Bills scored 30 points with some unlikely contributors. Give these coaches credit: They’re putting everyone in positions to succeed.
15. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-3, LW: 18)
It was just the Colts, but here’s why Sunday’s win was impressive: It wasn’t a game that the Jaguars could hide Blake Bortles. Not with Leonard Fournette out. And Bortles threw for 330 yards, and it didn’t all come with the Jaguars trailing by four touchdowns as it usually does for Bortles. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if the Jaguars looked terrible in their next game, because they’ve been teasing us all season, but the upside of this team is clear. The AFC South is competitive but the Jaguars should believe they can win it.
14. Detroit Lions (3-3, LW: 15)
Sunday night feels like a big game for the Lions, and not because it’s on prime time. Either they make a nice statement with a win over a 5-2 Steelers team, or they lose coming out of their bye and it’s their fourth setback in five games. The NFC North is winnable, but the Lions have to get headed in the right direction.
13. Carolina Panthers (4-3, LW: 4)
Last week in this space we talked about how teams just change from week to week. There’s probably no better example than the Panthers. Carolina started the season a bit slowly, then looked like it was coming on. Losing to a good Eagles team in Week 6 wasn’t that bad, but the Week 7 performance against the Bears was. You have to try really hard in the modern NFL to lose by two touchdowns to a team that completed four passes. Now we’re left to figure out who the Panthers are.
12. Washington Redskins (3-3, LW: 7)
Josh Doctson started over Terrelle Pryor and out-snapped Pryor nearly 2-to-1. Pryor isn’t working out as hoped, and that’s not good news for him on a one-year deal.
11. Houston Texans (3-3, LW: 11)
Lamar Miller is having a solid season, with 372 rushing yards on 98 attempts for a 3.8-yard average. He has been more explosive as a receiver, with 175 yards on 15 catches. It would be great for the Texans’ offense to see a little more from Miller, especially with some explosive run plays. And it would be ideal if that could start at Seattle on Sunday.
10. Dallas Cowboys (3-3, LW: 14)
Let’s say Ezekiel Elliott hangs around for all 16 games this season. Maybe Sunday was just one game against a bad 49ers team and not a sign of things to come. But it was impressive, and Elliott finally played like he did last season. It’s not too late for the Cowboys to start their run, and the win against the 49ers made it look like that might be happening. Of course, the sunny outlook all changes if Elliott has to start serving his suspension.
9. Atlanta Falcons (3-3, LW: 8)
I don’t know what the Falcons do about the Steve Sarkisian situation. The Falcons’ offensive coordinator is under more heat than any other coordinator in the NFL. He’s also just six games into his new job. The Falcons had to know that there would be a breaking-in period with Sarkisian, who had spent all of one season in the NFL as a quarterbacks coach with the Oakland Raiders in 2004. They also don’t have time to be patient coming off an NFC championship. It was a risky move (in hindsight, maybe they should have promoted quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur, who is now the offensive coordinator with the Rams), and that gamble isn’t paying off.
8. New Orleans Saints (4-2, LW: 13)
OK, it’s time to take the Saints seriously. Even if it was Brett Hundley, holding a Packers team with some legitimate weapons to less than 100 yards passing says their defensive resurgence is real. This is the best team in the NFC South, right?
7. Minnesota Vikings (5-2, LW: 12)
Through Week 5 of his second season, 2016 first-round pick Laquon Treadwell had six catches. In his last two games, he has six catches. A couple three-catch games with Stefon Diggs out doesn’t mean Treadwell is becoming a star, but at least there’s positive movement that way.
6. Los Angeles Rams (5-2, LW: 9)
The Cardinals have their issues and losing Carson Palmer during Sunday’s game didn’t help. But the Rams’ defense was really good in shutting out Arizona. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is one of the best, and it makes sense if the Rams are starting to show signs of a big improvement on that side of the ball. (Yes, I’m surprised I have the Rams this high too, but who behind them deserves to be here?)
5. Seattle Seahawks (4-2, LW: 6)
If the Seahawks could get a running game together, that might allow them to hit the ceiling we all know they have. Seattle has been average in rushing, and it might not improve a ton because the offensive line is so bad. But if the Seahawks could get some balance in its offense, we could see them become dominant.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2, LW: 3)
So Martavis Bryant reportedly requests a trade, then complains about his role, had unkind words for teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster on Instagram, then misses Monday meetings to “go see the doctor?” All after the Steelers were patient with him through his suspensions? At this point I’d be surprised if Bryant plays for the Steelers again. If he does, it’s a sign the Steelers’ oft-noted standards might not be what they once were.
3. New England Patriots (5-2, LW: 5)
The Patriots’ defense didn’t get off to a good start. But let’s look at where the Pats stand now: They’re 5-2, tied for the best record in the AFC, and the defense nearly shut out a Falcons team that last season scored the seventh-most points in NFL history. If they’ve figured out their issues, the Patriots could still have the same type of season everyone expected from them two months ago.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (5-2, LW: 1)
It’s hard to ding the Chiefs too much when they lost a game that was as close as last Thursday’s thriller, especially with all the extra chances the Raiders got at the end. A lot of games in the NFL are coin flips. The Chiefs are still a very good team, though it’s disappointing for them that their lead in the AFC is gone already.
1. Philadelphia Eagles (6-1, LW: 2)
There should be as much excitement as possible about Carson Wentz, but the loss of left tackle Jason Peters is really tough. He’s going to be very hard to replace. Still, as the lone one-loss team remaining in the NFL, they deserve the top spot.
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