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The Evolution of Evaluation

Posted Apr 27, 2013

Draft evaluation is equal parts science, intuition, patience and confidence in your draft board.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Some teams trust the tape. Others prioritize character and what they learn from interviews. Still others prize workout results above all.

In cobbling together their 2013 draft class, the Broncos were all of these and none of these. It depended on the player, his circumstances and where the Broncos saw him fitting in the overall roster.

With a pick like offensive tackle Vinston Painter, a 6-foot-4, 309-pounder from Virginia Tech, tape review had to be less of a factor because he only started one season -- and even that was viewed through the prism of his lack of offensive-line experience as a converted defensive tackle.

His NFL Scouting Combine workout, in which he finished in the top five offensive linemen in 40 time, vertical jump and bench press, proved crucial to his prospects -- but it wasn't everything.

"Sometimes height, weight, speed is a bigger deal than test scores," Elway said. "But the thing is, when it came to Vinston, you look at the numbers that he has plus his youth at the position and experience in that position."

Then, the final tiebreaker in the draft room: which position does the team need the most at that point? In the sixth round, it was offensive tackle. The Broncos hadn't selected an offensive lineman to that point; they were two picks from having their first draft without an offensive lineman in 11 years. But they wanted another backup who could play both right and left tackle, like incumbent utility reserve Chris Clark, and one who was raw enough to possess growth potential to become a starter.

"It was a position of need for us," Elway said.

The challenge in looking at game footage of cornerback Kayvon Webster was different. His work was ample, but his team's fortunes, particularly his senior year, were poor. Players from struggling programs like Webster and Southern Miss linebacker Jamie Collins -- a second-round pick of the Patriots -- are often forced to do far more on their own than they will in the NFL, which means searching for different attributes from the tape.

In the case of Webster, what stuck out was his speed and effort. His combine 40-yard dash time of 4.41 seconds validated the quickness he showed on the tape, and the persistence he displayed as his team floundered was hard to ignore. Examined in this light, the tape enhanced Webster's reputation, and helped him become the Broncos' third-round pick.

Another question also comes into play: Is it possible to wait, maybe even trade down, and still get the player you want? At the 28th overall selection, the answer was no; they felt fortunate to have seen Williams fall that far.

But at the end of the fourth round, with Western Kentucky defensive end Quanterus Smith in their sights, the answer was the opposite. Green Bay called with a trade offer, the Broncos took it and still got Smith, adding a sixth-round pick that became Painter.

"It worked out perfectly," Elway said. "I think we wouldn't have gone back if we didn't think we'd have good options of guys that we thought we'd get there in that position."

Having plenty of options was due in part to the thorough canvassing job the Broncos' scouting staff did throughout the offseason of interviewing players -- either formally at the combine or in less formal sessions at the Senior Bowl, East-West Shrine Game and other postseason all-star games. It was nearly impossible to find a player at the combine who had not met or was scheduled to meet with at least one Broncos representative at some point in the pre-draft process.

One who met with the Broncos at the combine was Ball.

"I was very excited -- very excited -- whenever it was time to meet with the Broncos, because I knew who was going to be in the room," Ball said. "Growing up watching Elway and finally getting to shake his hand in the room was a very memorable moment for myself. Obviously, the interview went well. "

Among the players the Broncos brought in for interviews at team headquarters were first-round defensive tackle Sylvester Williams and quarterback Zac Dysert. At these sessions, players are guided around the offices to meet team executives. That part of the process similar to interviews at the Combine and Senior Bowl, where interviews take place with a combination of executives, scouts and coaches.

The difference in the Dove Valley visits is the time the players spend with coaches.

"It's really the coaches talking to them, getting them on the (white) board, seeing what they know, how much they know and their football intelligence, and where they are there," Elway said. "The coaches really spend a lot of time with them, and they report and come and tell us about the time that they had with the players."

Dysert said he also spent time meeting and watching film with the coaches who would be up the organizational tree from him: his position coach, Greg Knapp, his coordinator, Adam Gase and head coach John Fox.

For Dysert, the experience was "awesome." For the coaches, it was enough to convince them that Dysert was worth adding to develop and, they hope, eventually push Brock Osweiler as his progress continues.

Scouts, coaches and executives working together. With so many minds offering input, the Broncos won't be a team that becomes overly reliant on one particular aspect of player evaluation. It's more nuanced, more flexible and -- the Broncos hope -- more successful.

"It seems to get more and more seamless with each year," Elway said.

Now, the Broncos await the arrival of their draft picks -- and learning just how accurate their evaluations turn out to be.