ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Denver Broncos dove into their draft preparations with all of the prospects’ measurables at their fingertips. They judged the players' leadership potential and tried to gauge their ability to make the transition from college to the NFL.
But in the six drafts with John Elway as the team’s chief football executive, the Broncos have also tried to predict the medical future. Elway has selected players whose final college season didn’t end with awards and bowl games, but rather crutches and surgeries.
He's learned not all injuries are not created equal.
“It’s part of the information,’’ Elway said. “You really look to the doctors, the medical people will give you the report and project and make the calls. You gather what you can and make decisions, but the medical people are going to lead the way.’’
Two of the eight players in the Broncos’ draft class this year did not finish their final season in college because of injury. Defensive lineman Adam Gotsis tore his ACL on Halloween, and running back Devontae Booker suffered a torn meniscus in November.
The Broncos selected Gotsis in the second round and Booker in the fourth. Elway said Gotsis should be ready to fully participate in practice by training camp. Booker could be ready by June after having a second surgery on his knee.
“I’m doing well right now. I’d say I’m at about 90 percent,’’ Booker said. “It just wasn’t healing how it was supposed to. The first time I had my surgery was back in November and it was a repair. The repair wasn’t healing like it was supposed to … they went back [in February] … and now I’m doing better.’’
Booker, who had a second- or third-round grade from many teams, likely slipped during the draft weekend because of concerns about his knee. And there may be no part of the pre-draft evaluations where teams differ more in their opinions than on injury.
Some teams will fail a player medically and go as far as to take him off the draft board, while other teams will not hesitate to select the same player. Over the long haul, some work out and some do not.
In this year’s draft, UCLA’s Myles Jack (knee) and Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith (knee) were the most prominent picks who had missed time because of injuries. Smith suffered nerve damage as well and was eventually taken by the Dallas Cowboys, the team whose doctor had performed Smith’s surgery.
The Broncos have selected several players in recent drafts who were coming off major injuries in their final collegiate seasons. Omar Bolden had torn his ACL at Arizona State and was in the Broncos’ 2012 draft class. Quanterus Smith had torn his ACL at Western Kentucky and was in the Broncos’ 2013 draft class. And quarterback Trevor Siemian had torn his ACL in his final season at Northwestern before the Broncos selected him in 2015.
“With Trevor we just felt like we knew how he was going to come back,’’ coach Gary Kubiak said. “He wasn’t full speed when we worked him out, but you could see his arm and what he was bringing to the position.’’
Bolden became an option in the return game for the Broncos and played situationally in the defensive. And Siemian was the team’s No. 2 quarterback down the stretch last season when Peyton Manning was trying to recover from a foot injury and the Broncos like his trajectory as a long-term prospect.
Smith’s knee, however, never really came around and he couldn't carve out a role as he tried to return.
The Broncos will manage how Gotsis and Booker progress in the offseason, with an eye toward both playing key roles by the time the regular season begins.
“They’re putting together my training schedule and everything like that,’’ Gotsis said. “As for a timeline, it’s just day-to-day, week-to-week. It’s just coming into work every day. That’s really all you can do. You can’t put a date on it at the moment. Just meet up with those guys and they’re going to get me right.’’