ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There are times when folks in the league say, almost out of habit, they couldn’t believe a player was still available when their turn in the draft had rolled around.
And there are those times when those same people really, legitimately, can’t believe a player they coveted is still on the board. Welcome to the fourth round of the 2016 draft, when the Denver Broncos' decision-makers saw Utah running back Devontae Booker's still available.
“We were happy that Booker was there," executive vice president of football operations John Elway said. “We didn’t think he’d be there in the bottom of the fourth, to be able to get him, a guy that we had second on our board at that position."
Elway later said Booker might have been the third-rated back on the team’s board, but no matter, he was available when the Broncos were set to use the 136th overall pick. A torn meniscus in left knee ended Booker's season last November, which may be why he was still there.
Booker topped 1,200 yards rushing last season to go with a 1,500-yard season in 2014. The Broncos believe Booker could be ready by June, which puts him in line to carve out some playing time.
“I believe that everything happens for a reason, and I wouldn’t really blame my injuries for me dropping," Booker said. “If they did then everything happens for a reason. I’m thankful for Denver picking me up in the draft and I’m going to come in and work."
The Broncos like Booker’s potential because while he has shown himself to be a decisive, one-cut runner, it’s his ability as a receiver and his willingness as a blocker that give Booker a three-down profile. Booker caught 43 passes in 2014 go with 37 receptions this past season.
So a backfield combination of C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman -- the Broncos matched an $18-million offer sheet from the Miami Dolphins to keep Anderson and signed Hillman to a one-year deal just before the draft -- is potentially a full-blown, carry-splitting competition.
“He is very thick, but I think he’s got a chance to stay on the field for all the downs," said Broncos coach Gary Kubiak of Booker. “Obviously he’s an excellent runner. I think he caught like 80 or 85 balls over a two-year period, (his) pass protection is very good ... We had him in here and got to spend some time with him. A very impressive young man."
Booker put his recovery at “90 percent" at the moment. The Broncos do have a rookie minicamp Friday and Saturday, and the rookies will be a part of the team’s offseason program moving forward from that.
“I’m just doing everything I need to do to get it back strong and it’s coming along great," Booker said.
The Broncos -- who took a fullback in the third day of the draft, too -- are poised to be a far more run-centric team on offense than they have been in recent seasons. And Booker is expected to quickly make himself part of that equation.
“He’s a guy that has got great ball skills, he runs very tough, a very tough runner and really does a nice job after contact," Elway said. “He’s a guy that I think was one of the top three as far as yards after contact. We’re real excited about him."