Why Broncos' John Elway values defense, pass-rushers

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- John Elway earned the gold jacket hanging in his closet with passes thrown into the smallest of spaces in the biggest of moments. As a quarterback, he led two-minute drives and scored a pile of touchdowns on his way to the Hall of Fame.

In Elway’s work as a team executive, he has showed another side of his football personality. Elway has now led off the Denver Broncos' draft class with a defensive player in six of his eight years on the job, including the selection of Bradley Chubb with the No. 5 pick Thursday night.

In three of those drafts, including 2018's, that first pick was a pass-rusher, which continues to be one of Elway’s most highly valued positions.

“You can never have enough pass-rushers," Elway said. “In this league, the teams that can get to the quarterback can influence games."

It’s why Von Miller was Elway’s first draft pick -- the No. 2 overall selection of the 2011 draft -- in his current job as the Broncos’ top football executive. And it’s why the Broncos selected Shane Ray in the first round of the 2015 draft, when Miller and DeMarcus Ware were already on the roster. Ray was the SEC's defensive player of the year in 2014.

It’s why in a year when the pre-draft conversation around the league centered around the top five quarterbacks on the board, Elway was happy to swoop in to select Chubb.

“We thought that he was one of the best defensive players in the draft, if not the best defensive player in the draft," Elway said. “He really was the best pass-rusher, in our opinion. We really didn’t want to pass on him, so we didn’t."

Denver's Super Bowl victory after the 2015 season was fueled by the pass rush and an overpowering secondary. The Broncos were a migraine-in-waiting for opposing quarterbacks, as six players finished that season with at least four sacks and then-defensive coordinator Wade Phillips had a variety of options in lining up his personnel.

The Broncos see that potential with the addition of Chubb, who will line up at outside linebacker and join a position group with Miller, Ray and Shaquil Barrett.

“He fits perfect," coach Vance Joseph said. “He’s a good football player, obviously, a great rusher. Also, he’s a good player versus the run game. ... He’s a great fit. We have a plan for him as an outside linebacker, so we’re excited."

As an outside linebacker, Chubb will stand up and play out of two-point stance much of the time for the Broncos. And while game video at NC State showed he did that at times for the Wolfpack, he was primarily a defensive end who played out of a three-point stance.

But Chubb showed well-honed technique in the pass rush no matter how he began the play, closing out his career with 44 tackles for loss and 20 sacks over his final two seasons. He was also active when he wasn’t punishing quarterbacks, with three seasons of at least 56 tackles.

“I would describe myself as relentless," said Chubb, who weighs 268 pounds. “That motor came from always wanting to make plays. I always wanted to be around the ball. It was just something I was raised with."

Asked to name a play or two that would show the kind of player the Broncos have added, Chubb’s brother, Brandon, who is a second-year linebacker for the Detroit Lions, quickly cited a game against Louisville and Cardinals quarterback Lamar Jackson this past season.

“Lamar Jackson is the best athlete in the draft," Brandon Chubb said. “And Lamar is running out to Bradley, and Bradley outweighs him by 60 pounds and Brad’s tracking him down. He did it twice."

Elway has collected pass-rushers because he believes the Broncos have already proved what they can do when they follow that path.

“His motor is as big as anybody’s in the draft," Elway said of Chubb. “That’s definitely one of his biggest qualities, his motor, and also his strength, his ability to rush the passer and ... whip around the edge. He has that, and I think that what he’s going to bring [in] his leadership. ... He’s all football. He loves football, and he’s going to be a great influence on our football team."