Exhale, Broncos fans. They’ve got their guys. The NFL Draft is over – thank goodness.
The past three months have been one long, slow build-up to an isolated media event, where hundreds of the best college football players in the world wait by the phone to be told what city they will now call home. And for 22 young men, that place is right here in Denver.
From the moment that a whistle ended their last college game, the draft preparation began. That means no more football. Instead, it was time train to perform well on tests. Standardized tests. Things like the 40-yard dash, L-shuttle, three-cone shuttle, broad jump, vertical leap, bench press, interviews with team personnel during which you’re asked questions like, “Do you prefer Jell-O or pudding?”
Not one item on that list is ever performed on a football field. Scouts know it. Coaches know it. NFL players know it. And very soon, our 2019 Draft Class will know it, too. For Noah Fant, Dalton Risner, Drew Lock, Dre’Mont Jones, Justin Hollins and Juwann Winfree, plus 16 rookie free agents (as of today), it’s finally time to put away the measuring tape and the stopwatches and get back to playing football.
Don’t get me wrong, it was really fun hearing DMac talk about D.K. Metcalf and K’Neal Harry and T.J. Hockenson, and how if the Broncos chose a quarterback in the first round, it would be the stupidest move ever, but not as stupid as if they didn’t select one. Get it?
The confusion surrounding the NFL Draft makes experts of us all. But like most things in life, those who know aren’t talking, and those who are talking don’t know. Truth is, as of now, we have no idea who among this draft class will pan out, and who will disappear completely.
The questions for all of these men become clear: Can you fall in and become a part of this team? Can you perform every day? Can you be a reliable teammate? Can you execute the plan?
Time will tell. And it might be too early to call this – I know, it seems like I am biased to the period of time when I was a Bronco (2003-’08) because I am! – but this draft reminded me a lot of what Denver did in 2006. That year, Mike Shanahan selected Jay Cutler, Tony Scheffler, Brandon Marshall, Elvis Dumervil, Chris Kuper and Domenik Hixon. All were immediate impact players who became leaders for their team and had long, fruitful careers in the NFL.
Say what you will about Cutler’s time in Denver, but it could have gone much worse. And when looking at Lock’s demeanor, his quaff of hair and his physical attributes, it’s hard not to see a bit of Jay in Drew. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The difference is that Cutler came into a volatile situation. When he was picked, the Broncos were a team with an established coaching staff that was one win away from the Super Bowl the previous season. They also had a beloved quarterback (in the locker room, at least) in the prime of his career, which made it uncomfortable when Shanahan moved up to draft his replacement.
But the 2019 Broncos team are in a different boat. Instead of competing for a Lombardi Trophy last year, they were a win or two away from mediocrity. And now they have a brand new look – an all-new coaching staff and a new quarterback. But that quarterback isn’t entrenched.
Despite his stellar résumé, Joe Flacco has zero locker room equity going into mini-camps; he’s going to have to earn it. And the arrival of the young whippersnapper will bring out the best in Cool Joe, or he will be benched. That’s how football works.
In other words, everyone is on equal footing, everyone’s getting to know each other and no one has any room to relax. That’s the kind of pressure you need to make diamonds – tiny diamonds set tightly in a championship ring.
Now, it’s time to get to work.
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