ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- With the NFL draft approaching, John Elway said he often thinks of one lesson he learned from his father, Jack, who once served as the Denver Broncos' director of scouting.
“His No. 1 philosophy was speed," said John Elway, the Broncos' head football decision-maker. “So I never forget the speed factor ... up and down the roster. And when I took this job [in 2011], one of my first goals was to improve our speed."
When the Broncos stare down their draft board this week, as the picks unfold around the league, Elway will clearly break some of the ties in the team’s final discussions about players with speed in mind. But, as Elway explained, it isn't just timed speed.
It’s more a combination of how quickly a player can process what he sees, how much he understands what he sees and then how fast the player can get from point A to point B.
“I think it’s all part of finding good football players for the Denver Broncos," Elway said. "… But I do think about what [my father] said about speed. You just shouldn’t leave that out of the discussion. It’s the speed as a player, how fast he gets things done, and that’s part of the total evaluation."
With running back C.J. Anderson’s release and a thin depth chart at wide receiver -- Cody Latimer and Bennie Fowler both left in free agency -- to go with Elway’s constant desire to stock up at cornerback, the Broncos have needs where some of the draft's fastest players will be targeted.
But it will likely take looking beyond the stopwatch to find the best fits. Cornerback Brendan Langley and wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie, the Broncos’ third- and fifth-round picks last April, were among the fastest players in the draft a year ago.
However, that elite speed didn’t help them in their transition to the NFL. Langley was one of the rawest defensive backs in the draft in terms of technique, and McKenzie was benched multiple times last season because of turnovers and decision-making issues in the return game.
“Some guys just need more time than others," Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. “When you look at some of our young guys, that’s what you see. We’ll continue to work with what they can do athletically and build on it. ... [Langley] has everything you want in a cornerback, but he just needs to keep working."
The running back class is particularly deep in this year’s draft, and after Penn State's Saquon Barkley is selected near the top of the board, players such as the Georgia tandem of Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, LSU’s Derrius Guice, USC’s Ronald Jones II and San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny will be available. Each clocked a 40-yard dash time of 4.52 seconds or better in pre-draft work.
At wide receiver, several of the draft’s fastest players are expected to be available in the first two rounds, including Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk (4.47), Maryland’s D.J. Moore (4.42), LSU’s D.J. Chark (4.32) and Clemson’s Deon Cain (4.43).
At cornerback, Ohio State’s Denzel Ward (4.32) is considered one of the four best players in the draft and is one of the fastest, while LSU’s Donte Jackson (4.32) is likely the most accomplished sprinter on the board. Louisville’s Jaire Alexander (4.38), Alabama’s Anthony Averett (4.36), Alabama’s Tony Brown (4.35) and Tulane’s Parry Nickerson (4.32) are in the sub-4.4 club and could hear their names called before the third round is half over.
“I think there are spots [in the draft] better than others," Elway said. “But you can find some speed at a lot of places. And you’re always looking for those guys, at every position, who move well, who are good football players and have that speed compared to other guys at those positions."