ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There are times when drafting for need and drafting the best player available mesh perfectly. One need look no further back than 2011, when the Broncos needed help all over the front seven -- particularly someone who could rush the passer with questions surrounding Elvis Dumervil, who was coming off a torn pectoral muscle. They got Von Miller, and the results have been splendid.
Not every team will be that lucky in its draft spot this year as Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway and the Broncos were in 2011. That list starts with anyone that needs a quarterback, where first-round value isn't there.
"It's not nearly as strong a class as it was last year," Elway said of the quarterbacks. "I'm just glad we're not in that market, let's put it that way."
The Broncos sit in a wholly different position this year. Their list of obvious, short-term needs is scant. The one that appears the most pressing is for a pass-rushing defensive end in the wake of Elvis Dumervil's departure, but Elway indicated that might not be as pressing as it appears.
"I feel pretty good about it," Elway said of the defensive line. "I think that Robert Ayers had a good year last year. He was coming on and he's the starter there at right end right now. I have faith that he is going to come in and have a good year."
Still, depth is scarce at defensive end, and at the minimum, a rotational defensive end would help, since Derek Wolfe, last year's second-round pick, splits his time between end and tackle, and Jason Hunter, a first-teamer in training camp, signed with the Raiders in free agency.
The value at defensive end appears strong, and a deep class grew deeper Saturday when Florida State defensive end Tank Carradine worked out and ran a 4.75-second 40-yard dash just five months after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, ending a season in which he averaged exactly one sack per game. The Broncos reportedly attended the workout, which Carradine delayed as long as possible to allow his knee to heal.
Carradine, FSU teammate Bjoern Werner, Texas A&M's Damontre Moore, UCLA's Datone Jones, SMU's freakishly athletic but raw Margus Hunt and Texas' Alex Okafor are among the defensive ends that could be on the board at the 28th pick, while the potential defensive tackles there include North Carolina's Sylvester Williams, Ohio State's Johnathan Hankins, Georgia's Jonathan Jenkins and Purdue's Kawann Short. That group represents an array of skill sets and body types that is unusual for a draft class on the defensive line.
"It really comes down to the flavor that you like," Elway said. "Is that going to be the best player available that we think is going to have the biggest impact on this football team? If there's a defensive end there that we feel fits that mode, then we'll pick one at 28. If not, we'll try to find the best football player."
And that's where Elway and his staff go into long-range, executive mode. More important than filling a short-term hole is a finding a long-term starter with the first-round pick, a point he repeated Monday.
"We want to find guys that are going to be 10-year guys, that are going to be good football players for the Denver Broncos for a long time. That's why it's so important," Elway said. "We can't make mistakes with that first-round pick. Because you've got to look at that guy as a guy that's going to be around that you're going to hang your hat on for a long time."
They will also account for expiring contracts and whether they expect to retain players or not. One area this could come into play is on the offensive line, where three of the five projected starters are only under contract through this season. One of them, left tackle Ryan Clady, has yet to sign his franchise tender, which will only cover this season; the others -- center J.D. Walton and left guard Zane Beadles -- are playing out their first contracts signed after being drafted in 2010.
"I think those are things that are brought up. Every different situation is brought up and where they fall," Elway said. "That's why it's important to go through these mocks, to try to get every different situation."
Elway remains optimistic that a long-term deal will eventually be struck with Clady -- "it's not a big concern of mine," he said -- but with seven projected returning starters eligible for unrestricted free agency in 2014 (Clady, Beadles, Walton, Ayers, Wesley Woodyard, Eric Decker and Mike Adams), the Broncos will go into their draft room considering long-term implications, knowing they may need to groom replacements at key positions.
Building a consistent, steady winner under the constraints of the salary cap necessitates such planning and player development. But the array of potential possibilities and contracts means that the Broncos can address almost any position -- really, anything but quarterback -- and fill a need. Those needs may not be obvious now, but some will be, and Elway knows the Broncos need to think several moves ahead.
"Those are the types of things we have to discuss, and when we get there, we make those decisions," Elway said.