ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos got some much needed draft help Monday, or at least the potential for some much needed draft help.
Or as the team's top football decision-maker, John Elway, has put it; "you want the picks, but then you have to hit the picks, you've got to make them count, find some good football players who can be productive Denver Broncos."
The Broncos were awarded four compensatory draft picks by the NFL for their net free agency losses in 2014, pushing their original total of six selections to 10 picks in this year's draft on April 30 to May 2 in Chicago.
Denver received a fourth-round pick, a sixth-round pick and two seventh-round picks. Denver now has the potential for the team's first 10-player draft class since 2009.
And given starters and key depth players can found all over the board in a seven-round draft -- the Broncos had three starters alone last year in cornerback Chris Harris Jr., running back C.J. Anderson and long snapper Aaron Brewer who were all originally signed as undrafted rookies -- the Broncos are at a point with the salary cap and on the depth chart they need to make them all count.
The draft is a decidedly inexact endeavor, but the teams that succeed at it season after season consistently find the "fit" players well into the second and third days of the draft.
In Elway's four previous drafts since taking his current job the Broncos have had some quality hits and also some misses from the fourth round on. They also have some players who they still believe, and hope, will grow into key contributors.
The Broncos have three players selected from the fourth round on in those four drafts who have been starters and are still under contract with the team -- tight end Virgil Green (7th round in 2011), defensive end/tackle Malik Jackson (5th round in 2012) and linebacker Danny Trevathan (6th round in 2012).
They have one other player – tight end Julius Thomas (4th round in 2011) -- who was a starter as well as a two-time Pro Bowl selection before he signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars earlier this month as an unrestricted free agent. Safety Quinton Carter (4th round in 2011) also started 10 games in 2011 for the Broncos before knee troubles derailed his career and he is an unsigned unrestricted free agent.
The Broncos selected five players form the fourth round on in those drafts who are no longer on the roster and didn't have a significant impact with the team while they were in Denver -- Mike Mohamed, Jeremy Beal, Philip Blake, Tavarres King and Vinston Painter -- though Mohamed did play in 14 games, with two starts, this past season for the Houston Texans.
The Broncos also have five other players still on the current roster who were selected from the fourth round on in those last four drafts who have not yet been starters, but the Broncos continue to hope they can carve out bigger roles.
In particular Elway has mentioned center Matt Paradis (6th round in 2014) as one of those players who could step forward for a far bigger role in the coming season. Paradis spent the 2014 season on the practice squad. Linebackers Lamin Barros (5th round in 2014) and Corey Nelson (7th round in 2014) each played a smattering of snaps on defense last season and each was a regular on special teams.
And Quanterus Smith (5th round in 2013) has potential to find some snaps in the new 3-4 defense if he can put his knee troubles behind him -- he has spent time on injured reserve in each of the last two seasons after an ACL tear in his senior season at Western Kentucky. Quarterback Zac Dysert (7th round in 2013) has spent the last two seasons, one on the practice squad and one on the active roster as the team's No. 3 quarterback.
In this draft the Broncos will have the newly-arrived fourth-round pick to go with two picks each in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. And since compensatory picks cannot be traded the Broncos' ability to make those picks count will directly impact how aggressive they feel they need to be in the free agency market in the seasons ahead.
As Elway has put it: "We want those homegrown players, we want to hit those picks ... to stack those drafts."