ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — For General Manager George Paton, like Tom Petty, the waiting may be the hardest part.
After dealing the ninth- and 40th-overall picks in this year's draft as part of Denver's trade for Russell Wilson, the Broncos are slated to make their first selection with the final pick of the second round, and so Paton admitted Friday that over the course of the long wait, he and his staff will get "jumpy."
For months, more than a dozen front-office evaluators have worked toward the three-day draft that begins Thursday, and even though they won't have the top picks they previously expected, the team's philosophy will not change, as Paton and Assistant General Manager Darren Mougey said Friday.
"The process hasn't changed a bit," Paton said. "We're just focused a little later. We're not focused on the ninth [pick] — because [usually] you're always focused on that first pick. You want to hit on that first pick. But now we're just focused really on the second round and third. And those are really the ones you can kind of tell who may be there, the 10 players that could potentially be there, and we spend a lot of time in that area."
To prepare for that, Paton & Co. have recently spent time sorting through "clusters" of similarly rated prospects that could be available, collecting opinions from every member of the front office, and the group will begin conducting mock drafts perhaps as early as Monday to avoid any draft-day surprises that would leave them off balance.
And while getting ready for the No. 64 pick leaves a lot more uncertainty than gauging possibilities for the ninth-overall pick would, Paton said he still has confidence that their collection of picks will be able to give the team the kind of additional talent to improve the roster.
"I think there's going to be value in those rounds where we can upgrade our team, upgrade our depth, upgrade our speed, everything we need to do," Paton said. "We're fortunate that … in free agency we filled a lot of needs and throughout the offseason, so we don't need to reach for players. We're going to have flexibility. Again, I talk about flexibility all the time. But we can take the best player. And we can move up, we can move down. So I really think we're in a good spot heading into the draft."
However, come draft day, Paton said he will still entertain all options in front of him — whether that means trading up, trading down or standing pat. The only thing that may be too difficult to execute, he said, would be a trade into the first round.
"It's going to be tough to move up in the first," Paton said. "I wouldn't rule it out. I would say it's much more likely we move up in the second or we move back. It's going to take a lot of capital. We've gone through all the models to get up there in the first and so, you never rule it out, but I think it's more likely we move up in the second."
At the moment, the Broncos have not yet gotten a sense for a willingness to make a deal simply because the focus is on first-round positioning, but Paton noted that clarity will likely come when the second day begins.
Regardless, the potential for making a trade will remain. A year ago, Paton executed three trades on the second day, moving up to get running back Javonte Williams and moving down twice to acquire third- and fifth-round picks.
"I think it's really important to have flexibility in the draft," Paton said. "And I've said this before: the ability to move up, there's a rush in getting that player. Javonte Williams — when that trade was done, the room went crazy. There's also juice moving back, knowing … there's enough players, if you move back, you can still get one but get more picks to build your football team. It's always fun getting on the phone with other GMs and having fun with it and making trades. I just think it's fun to work the draft and to try to build your football team the best you can. We're not making trades just to make trades. We're making trades to build this thing the best that we can do it. …
"It's just hard to stand pat. I just think you need to push it every now and then. And that's kind of our philosophy."
That may not even be for this season. Asked whether the team would trade to add draft selections in 2023 (when the Broncos are currently slated to hold just four picks), Paton said they will "look into that if it makes sense."
No matter what happens, the work for this draft is coming to an end, and the antsy culmination will soon be here. And for that, Paton is at ease.
"I feel really good about where we're at," Paton said. "I feel good about our prep. The hay's not quite in the barn. We're getting close. We still have some clusters to sort through throughout our board, but we're getting through that this weekend. We'll start having some mock drafts early next week. Then we'll make our calls and we'll get a pulse for the league. And then, obviously, showtime."