ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When John Elway was hired as executive vice president of football operations in January, he spoke of working as a "three-legged stool" with Head Coach John Fox and General Manager Brian Xanders.
With the draft rapidly approaching, Elway and Xanders spoke Wednesday about just how successful that approach has been.
"It's been a great process in terms of all three of us having different experiences and perspectives," Xanders said. "John (Elway) is a Hall of Fame player who's been in great locker rooms and knows what the team should look like and where he wants it to go. He offers that experience and leadership. And then Fox has been excellent in terms of his knowledge of football and his defensive background. This is his 22nd year in the league and he came from some very good organizations. This is my 18th year and 15th draft, so I think we all have a bunch of different perspectives.
"If we have an opinion, we state it and voice it. That's what we're supposed to do, have discussion and debate as we stack the board. And we're not done yet."
That discussion hasn't been limited to Elway, Fox and Xanders. The general manager called the process "inclusive," as there have been a number of group meetings involving the personnel department along with position coaches as the draft board is whittled down.
"We go around the room and the position coach gets to speak first and state his case of where he thinks (each player) is and how he fits with the Broncos," Xanders explained. "Then anybody else in the room that's evaluated him gets to state their case. We watch a lot of tape -- usually over 150 plays -- and then we roll into the All-Star games and watch the combine and then we compare the numbers. So it's an intensive meeting. It's been very positive."
Through that process, along with bringing players to Dove Valley for interviews -- Xanders said the team met with four players this morning -- the draft board has been narrowed from 250 prospects at the end of February to 190.
In past years, Xanders said the board has been set at about 100 players.
"Maybe his is just a stronger draft," he said. "The 4-3 (defensive) shift allows more players to come onto the draft board."
For Elway, this process is new. He said he has acted as a student, soaking in all the advice Xanders, Fox and various scouts have given.
"I think the hardest part of being through this the first time is for me to stay on schedule and not get too far ahead of it," Elway said.
To this point, the goal has been to rank the players at each position. Next week, the players will start to be compared throughout all positions for a final draft order.
When it comes to draft day, Elway, Xanders and Fox will be surrounded in the "war room" by Director of Pro Personnel Keith Kidd, Director of College Scouting Matt Russell, Assistant Director of Pro Personnel Champ Kelly, Assistant Director of College Scouting Lenny McGill and Head Athletic Trainer Steve Antonopulos. If there are questions as to whether a player is the right pick, position coaches and more members of the player personnel staff will be invited into the room.
And what if there is still a disagreement on who to pick?
"Maybe he's not the right guy," Elway said. "I think we've looked at it and I think mine, Brian and John's relationship is so good that we'll come to an agreement that we all feel good about. With the amount of picks that we have and the experience that we have in that room, we're going to find the right guy to pick."
TO TRADE OR NOT TO TRADE
As for when they pick, the Broncos have four selections in the first 67 picks of the 2011 NFL Draft, including the second overall selection and two picks in the second round.
With that kind of firepower, the team knows it's in position to field some calls from teams looking to trade.
"I think (having) two second-rounders is a good thing for us," Xanders said. "We could get some calls there, but the biggest thing is to get four starters and build through the draft. Have a strategy of how we pick in the first round to the second round into the top of the third, have a strategic plan there and hopefully execute it. Depending on if we get calls -- we might get no calls -- we'll be ready for everything. We're excited about the players at the top of this draft, and really the entire draft.
One thing the Broncos won't be, Elway said, is desperate. If a team calls with an offer for a trade, it will have to be a good one for the team to leave its current draft position.
"We feel that there are four or five guys up there (at No. 2) that can really help us, and so it's not a big concern that the guy that we really want is going to be gone, that all of the sudden we'll take less value," he said. "It's all about currency and getting the value for that pick."
Still, Elway said the team will always field phone calls during the time allotted for each pick.
"We need a lot of good football players and so that's why were open to a trade back," Elway said. "That decision will be made of how far do we go back. What is the value, what are we giving up and how does that compare to what we'd be giving up if we were to take a dynamic player in that second position?"
"This is a strong year, but like John said, we still have to deliberate if there is a fall-off or if it's more of a gradual decline," Xanders added. "It really depends on what they're offering -- because a lot of teams will low-ball the offer -- and the magnitude of descent or how far we're going to drop. Would we still get one of those players that we like or is a big drop off?"
Each decision will have to be made on a case-by-case basis, and as Xanders said, the goal will be to stick to a draft plan that is in the best interest of the Broncos next season and even 10 years into the future.
"The bottom line is that we've got to grow through the draft," Elway said. "Obviously we can fill in a little bit in free agency, but the core group that we want to get that's going to help us win for a long time, consistently win, are those guys that we are able to pick up through the draft."
SETTING FREE AGENCY ASIDE
Ever the optimist, Elway has found a silver lining in the absence of a free-agency period so far this offseason. While free agents find themselves in limbo without a collective bargaining agreement, a new crop of future pros awaits an opportunity in the 2011 NFL Draft.
In Elway's eyes, that allows the Broncos to focus on executing a talent-based draft strategy instead of worrying about filling needs that had not been addressed by signing free agents.
"It actually helps us with the draft because now we can find the best players that are on that draft board," Elway said. "We now have the time in free agency, if we have some holes after the draft, to address those holes in free agency."
Xanders said the team is in good shape, as it has a relatively small batch of pending free agents. In fact, he said the club has been prepared for the start of free agency since December. When free agency actually begins remains to be determined. For now, Elway and Xanders will pour all their effort into acquiring new talent straight from the college ranks.
With or without a market of veteran free agents, Elway and Xanders emphasized the importance of building a team composed of players developed by Broncos coaches.
"We're excited about the players at the top of this draft, and really the entire draft," Xanders said. "The most successfully teams in the NFL over time, they draft well, they develop those players and they retain them."
With the second overall pick in the draft, the Broncos will have the option to select all but one player on their draft board. On Wednesday, Elway and Xanders shared their evaluations of many of the top prospects in the draft.
Marcell Dareus, Defensive Lineman, Alabama
"He's the biggest of them all. He's a massive DT that's versatile across the line of scrimmage. They play a 3-4 at Alabama. He plays anywhere from an eight technique on the tight end all the way down to nose. He's a disruptive player. He's hard to block when he's stunting. He's a physically strong guy. He's probably the strongest defensive lineman." -Xanders
Nick Fairley, Defensive Lineman, Auburn
"Nick Fairley is a pure three technique. He's a disruptive, productive, competitive three technique. He's a very tall, linear, athletic player. He's a former basketball player. He's got long arms and he has very good athleticism on the move. He's a disruptive guy and he's very hard to block. His production was very, very high for what he did. He was basically a one-year starter but he did very well with his opportunities. He's got a big upside physically because he's still developing." -Xanders
Da'Quan Bowers, Defensive Lineman, Clemson
"To me, in a 4-3 he's more a left end that can rush the passer. He had 15 sacks. He's very strong. He had a bull rush that was disruptive. He was hard to block and he made a lot of plays in the backfield." -Xanders
Patrick Peterson, Cornerback, Lousiana State
"He's a great kid. We met with him multiple times. He has a rare body type for corner, because he's 220 pounds and he runs a 4.32 (forty-yard dash) and he's a playmaker, he's got a big upside and he loves football." - Xanders
"He's got great measurables, plays great and is a big-time playmaker. So, he's a great football player." -Elway
Cam Newton, Quarterback, Auburn
"I'm trying to think if there's anybody in recent memory that's as athletic at that position as Cam was, as Cam is. We had him in here yesterday. He's a pleasant guy and a guy that obviously is another guy that had one great year, but is a guy that to me has shown a heck of a lot of resilience from what he did when he left Florida and went to Blinn Community College and then to Auburn. If you look at the way he plays -- and not only do we watch point-of-attack tapes on him, but also if you watch game tape of Cam -- he's a guy that has rare competitive instincts in the second half. A lot of those football games they were behind in that second half and the great competitor that he was, he got them back in and won all of those football games. He's got a lot of unique traits." -Elway
Von Miller, Linebacker, Texas A&M
"Well, Von, he's a guy that when you turn on the film you don't even have to know what number he is. That's how dynamic he is. He's a guy that's all over the field. He is a guy that is 250 pounds and runs a 4.5 (second 40-yard dash), or under a 4.5. His production has been unbelievable to have 17 sacks his junior year and 10 sacks last year even though he was a little banged up last year. His production was unbelievable last year, but (he is) a guy that was really a pass rusher, so you've got to do some projection there. We know he can rush the passer, but can he help us on first and second down and learn first and second down, where he's going to have to drop in coverage and cover some running backs and some tight ends? Each guy has a different equation. It's just a matter of -- once we get through that equation -- figuring out what comes out the other end that's best for the Denver Broncos. " -Elway