With the 51st pick of the NFL draft, No. 7 was looking for a change of fortune in his seventh season as architect of the Denver Broncos.
General manager John Elway has grabbed some first-round steals and some late-round gems.
It’s Round 2 that’s been his bugaboo.
] After starting his tenure with solid second-round picks in Rahim Moore, Orlando Franklin, Derek Wolfe and Brock Osweiler, Elway’s last four second-round picks proved more head-scratcher than headliner.
Adam Gotsis, Ty Sambrailo, Cody Latimer and Montee Ball have 11 combined NFL starts and Ball is out of the league entirely.
Elway chose Florida State defensive end DeMarcus Walker in the second round Friday night. Walker was a consensus All-American and the ACC’s defensive player of the year after piling up 16 sacks and 21 1-2 tackles for loss during a sensational senior season that began with 4 1-2 sacks in the second half of the Seminoles’ opener against Ole Miss.
“I’m just a relentless player with skills,” said Walker, whose Twitter handle is @livinglegend_44. “I’m all in wherever they want to play me.”
Walker’s selection came 24 hours after Elway bypassed some highly regarded defensive players to finally plug a persistent, gaping hole at left tackle with Utah’s Garett Bolles .
The Broncos used their third-round selections on Louisiana Tech wide receiver/kick returner Carlos Henderson and Lamar cornerback Brendan Langley, who’s also a return specialist.
Henderson can relieve pressure on Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Langley replaces free agent departure Kayvon Webster in the Broncos’ league-leading secondary.
Elway’s first draft, where he nabbed superstar Von Miller with the second overall pick, included Moore and Franklin, who combined to start 111 games in four seasons before leaving Denver as free agents following the 2014 season.
In his first three drafts, Elway had a five second-round picks and the only one who reached a second contract in Denver was Wolfe, the 36th overall pick in 2012.
Some teams who adhere to the mantra of picking the best player available in the first round tip the scales in the second round and give more credence to the voices of coaches than scouts, filling pressing needs they may have bypassed in Round 1.
Elway said that’s not the case in Denver.
“We stayed true to the board,” Elway said of his first draft alongside his new coach, Vance Joseph. “And I think that’s always been my philosophy. We did have discussions at every pick and we talked about three or four different guys. But ultimately, when it finally came down to it, we ended up taking the guy that was the highest on our board.”
One caveat: prospects have to be better somehow than some of the incumbents on the 53-man roster, a tough task on a team that’s played in two of the last four Super Bowls.
Elway spent free agency injecting venom into his offensive and defensive lines and continued toughening up his team in the first two nights of the draft, especially on offense.
Elway said he likes the doggedness of his defense, “so we want to have the same mentality on the offensive side.”
Among Elway’s second-round selections since 2013, Ball is the only one who got cut before his rookie contract was up and Latimer has never been able to transfer his playmaking skills from practice to game days.
The Broncos trust Gotsis and Sambrailo will go down as finds, not flops.
GOTSIS : The Australian was coming off a torn ACL when Elway chose him with the final pick of the second round last year. Gotsis played in 16 games but didn’t start any and finished with 14 tackles.
Elway insisted his selection of Walker had nothing to do with his assessment of Gotsis, who’s now healthy and had an impressive minicamp this week.
“We’re thrilled with where Adam is,” Elway said. “We just looked at DeMarcus’s production, you know, 25 sacks in the last two years.”
The Broncos sorely missed Malik Jackson last year but feel both Gotsis and Walker can stuff the run and push the pocket from the inside.
SAMBRAILO: Sambrailo won the starting left tackle job as a rookie in 2015 when Ryan Clady got hurt. He started three games there before going on IR himself (shoulder). Last summer he hurt an elbow in camp and made just seven starts.
He’s finally able to hit the weights and it shows in his upper body heading into an offseason that’s crucial for him.
Elway said in his pre-draft news conference that Sambrailo is a legitimate candidate to start at left tackle in 2017.
Joseph said that didn’t change with the selection of Bolles.
“Obviously, he’s a first-round pick and is going to come in and compete for that job,” Joseph said, “but he has to win that job and the best guy will play.”
So, now Sambrailo, Gotsis and Walker get the opportunity to change Elway’s second-round record.