ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- After the Denver Broncos concluded their work in this year’s NFL draft, their plan could clearly be seen in the résumés of their 10-player class.
Yes, the Broncos wanted NFL-caliber athletes -- and certainly got one of the draft’s best overall at No. 5 in NC State defensive end Bradley Chubb -- but they also wanted some football maturity from their newest additions. That’s because if they’re really going to dig out from last season’s 5-11 finish, they need as many of the new arrivals as possible to be ready and able to do some of the heavy lifting.
The Broncos' 2018 draft class is filled with former team captains and multiyear starters who have game after game and season after season of proven production.
“There are lots of seniors in the group, so we’re excited about that maturity level -- all of them are that way," Broncos president of football operations/general manager John Elway said. “One thing we wanted to do going into this draft was get quality football players but also quality people, and that was an emphasis -- to have that maturity level.
"One thing that we learned last year when we’re 5-11, when you’re in a losing streak, you need that maturity and that leadership to get things turned around. These players have that ability and they have that maturity level. That’s why we decided to go more in that direction, to say that if things got tough for a couple weeks, we’ve got to get things turned around."
The Broncos leaned a little more toward athleticism in the previous two drafts with players who had flashed potential but may have been one-year starters who had some rough edges in their play. Among the 16 players from those two draft classes, just two -- safety Justin Simmons and tackle Garett Bolles -- were full-time starters last season. And of those two, only Simmons looked settled with that job.
“In this [draft] class, in my opinion, every guy on this sheet here will have a chance to compete," Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. “Again, every player develops differently. The guys from last year’s class, they have been in the league now for seven or eight months. They have a chance to come back this year and compete again and prove their worth.
"I think as you have your draft classes, some guys can play their first year, second year or even the third year. Just being patient with certain guys, having the coaches who coach those guys up and get them better every year is the key."
Last season, however, many of the Broncos’ veteran players, including defensive end Derek Wolfe and former tight end Virgil Green, talked about a growing disconnect between the team’s younger players, especially the last two draft classes, and the more experienced players. The word “entitled" was even tossed around.
And during an eight-game losing streak, the team’s longest in decades, those issues were evident at times.
Enter this draft class into the reconstruction. Chubb is one of the best players in the draft, but he is also a high-effort player who has been consistently lauded for how he carries himself. His father, Aaron, put it this way: “He was raised to treat people the right way, how he wants to be treated."
But pick after pick through the weekend, it was clear what the Broncos wanted. Linebacker Josey Jewell was a three-time captain at Iowa with three 100-tackle seasons; cornerback Isaac Yiadom won his team’s leadership award at Boston College; and running back Royce Freeman had returned to Oregon for his senior season rather than enter the 2017 NFL draft as a player who already had two 1,300-yard rushing seasons. “I felt like it was one of the best decisions of my life," he said.
The proof will be in what happens from here on out. But what the Broncos did this past weekend resembled what Elway did in his first draft class on the job in 2011. With the draft’s best pass-rusher on the top of that class in Von Miller, the Broncos chose plenty of proven players who had key leadership roles on their teams in the picks that followed.
To this point, that class may have also been the most productive with the team in the years that followed.
“I think they sensed that’s the type of guy I was, and I’m pretty sure I put that out there that that’s the guy that they’re going to get, a guy that comes in and he’s going to work not only on the field, but off the field," said wide receiver Courtland Sutton, the Broncos’ second-round pick. “He’s going to make himself the best version of his self as possible, and that’s what I do day in and day out."