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The Importance of 'That Guy'


Editor's Note: Andrew Mason is a contributor to His views, opinions and analysis represent those of the individual author, not those of the Denver Broncos organization.

INDIANAPOLIS --John Elway doesn't need a quarterback -- and this is the first time that such a statement could be made at a Scouting Combine since he became the team's executive vice president of football operations nearly 26 months ago.

He doesn't need one because of his pre-emptive strike last April. That means he doesn't need to reach for a quarterback, as many teams will this year, where quarterbacks in Brock Osweiler's range -- and some below -- will be picked in the first round.

"I never want to be in a position where you don't have 'that guy,'" Elway said.

"That guy," of course, is a top-shelf quarterback. Not necessarily a future Hall of Famer, but one who's proficient and can play at an elite level. Of the eight quarterbacks who started in the divisional round of the 2012 playoffs, six had at least one Pro Bowl selection to their name, and the only exceptions were a quarterback who'd only started a spectacular half-season (Colin Kaepernick) and one who now has more playoff road wins than any other quarterback in league history (Joe Flacco).

You can win a few games without "that guy." You can get on a six-game winning streak without "that guy," as Broncos fans remember from 2009 and 2011. But true, sustained, lofty success will elude you in the NFL without him, and the Broncos' chances of finding one for the future in the draft if Peyton Manning stays healthy and their draft slots remain low was iffy.

Yes, you know Russell Wilson was a third-round pick. But he's the exception; other second- and third-round picks of recent years like Jimmy Clausen, Colt McCoy, Pat White, Brian Brohm, Chad Henne and Kevin O'Connell better reflect the scattershot nature of picking quarterbacks beyond the top of the draft.

Their best chance was a potential first-round talent who lingered into the second round because of the quality of his class and a relative lack of college starting experience. Many draft observers thought Osweiler turned pro a year too early, and that he needed more starts before turning pro.

Had Osweiler lingered in Tempe, Ariz., one more year, he might have been picked long before the Broncos' No. 28 overall selection. He might have even been the first quarterback off this year's board, since the names at the head of this year's class -- West Virginia's Geno Smith, USC's Matt Barkley, N.C. State's Mike Glennon -- appear to come with as many questions as attributes.

"Look at this year compared to last year," Elway said. "There's two or three guys in the draft last year that came in and made a huge impact, and now you look at it, and there's not one guy that's jumping out at everybody at that position."

Osweiler wouldn't be in Denver, wouldn't have a year of marinating in the Broncos' up-tempo system and the collected wisdom of Peyton Manning, and the Broncos would be no closer to having a succession plan after Manning; they would have been more likely to reach had they searched this year. Instead, they found a potential bargain who needed gestation time -- which is the best a team picking at the bottom of the round year after year could hope for.

"To have 'that guy,' you've got to develop him, because they don't show up every year," Elway said. "It's a hit or miss with everybody, who's coming out and who's not, and I don't want to be in that position. So with Brock coming in, and where we got him, we think that we can train him and be ready and when Peyton decides to hang it up, we can continue to play at the level we're playing now."

In 2008, Green Bay pulled off a near-seamless transition from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers. But that required picking Rodgers in 2005, years before they actually needed one. By jumping when the opportunity arose, the Packers found "that guy," and reaped a Super Bowl reward two years after Rodgers ascended to the top job. Osweiler gives the Broncos a plausible chance of repeating the feat and avoiding a long fall after Manning walks away.