ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As John Elway watched Drew Lock during the final five games of the 2019 season, he saw a player with the potential to revitalize the Broncos' offense.
Over the previous three seasons, the Broncos had missed that kind of player at quarterback.
Since future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning retired following a Super Bowl 50 season, the Broncos have tried to find a long-term answer. Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Brock Osweiler, Case Keenum and Joe Flacco all took cracks at proving they could be the answer.
For one reason or another, none of the above players found a way to solidify their spot as the team's long-term starter.
As the Broncos searched, Elway aimed to fortify the defense. Without the fireworks that were included with Denver's offense from 2012-14, the Broncos simply needed to slow games down and find a way to win tight games.
At times, that strategy has worked. The Broncos won nine games in 2016 with their Super Bowl 50 defense largely intact, and Vic Fangio led the Broncos to seven wins in 2019. That total was the Broncos' best effort since the 2016 campaign.
Most games, though, were slugfests rather than romps. Since the start of the 2017 season, 10 of the Broncos' 18 wins were by fewer than 10 points. Before Lock took over late in 2019, the Broncos scored more than 24 points just four times in nearly two and a half years.
"I think that as a quarterback, there's no question you always want to have great weapons around you, but I think the key thing is trying to figure out how to win football games," Elway said Saturday following the 2020 NFL Draft. "I think that when you look back over the last four years, since Super Bowl 50 when we really won it on the defensive side — then when Peyton [Manning] retired, we've been trying to find that replacement for Peyton since then. We've tried to concentrate on the defensive side with the idea that if we can keep the score down, we'll stay in football games and eventually try to find the quarterback we can replace him with and get the offense back on track. I think with the way Drew played at the end of last year, we saw the signs of a guy that has a chance to be very successful in this league, but to do that, he's got to have some good people around him."
Lock finished his limited action in 2019 with a 4-1 record, a 64.1 completion percentage and a 7-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
After fortifying the Broncos' defense in free agency, Elway found Lock weapons over three days in the draft to help the young quarterback take the next step.
In the first round, Elway added Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy. He tacked on a player with sub-4.3 speed in KJ Hamler. He nabbed a likely starter at center in Lloyd Cushenberry III. He snagged Lock's former teammate Albert Okwuegbunam in Round 4.
Noah Fant will lead the Broncos' tight ends again in 2020, and Pro Bowler Courtland Sutton will pace the wide receiving corps. The rest of those groups, though, could look completely different.
Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur could feature Okwuegbunam in two-tight-end sets, and Jeudy and Hamler are expected to become the second and third wideouts, respectively.
After the Broncos focused on defense in previous years, the 2020 NFL Draft was all about offense. And if they hope to fully take advantage of Lock's skill set, that was the pertinent move.
"I felt that offensively, for us to be able to compete and give Drew a chance to be successful and us to be successful on the offensive side ... we had to get some speed and we had to get some talent on that offensive side and some explosiveness on the offensive side," Elway said. "That's why we decided to go that way. We played good defense last year and we'll continue to play good defense this coming year, but we had to pick things up on the offensive side [with] that explosiveness and speed factor. We have some good players on the offense already, but we had to add to that. We were able to do that especially with Jerry, as well as KJ [and] the wide receivers, and then Albert O. today, with great speed at the tight end position. We just feel like we had to add that explosiveness, and we were able to get that done."
The Broncos now hope that impacts the team's scoring output. After the last few years, it would be a welcome respite.
"We've got to put points on the board," Elway said. "Seventeen points a game is not nearly enough, so the first step was this year in the draft."
The Broncos drafted Iowa's Michael Ojemudia with their first third-round pick, but they did not add to the group again on Day 3.
Following the addition of Ojemudia, though, Fangio seems pleased with the status of the group.
"I feel good," Fangio said. "Obviously, we added [A.J.] Bouye. We took the Iowa corner, Ojemudia. We have a bunch of young players that we acquired last year like [Duke Dawson [Jr.], [Davontae Harris], [De'Vante] Bausby. Those guys all need to develop. They are at that stage where they need to prove whether they are worthy or not to play in the NFL, and I think two of those guys will come through. We have [CB Bryce] Callahan coming off of the IR list, so we'll have a good group to play with."
LEARNING THE OFFENSE
Following the completion of the draft, the Broncos will begin their voluntary virtual offseason program on Monday. Fangio said he hopes to make the most of the unusual circumstances.
"They are going to start on Monday," Fangio said. "I'm sure there will be some trial and error with the total communication, because now you're communicating with a bunch of different players at one time and from all different locations. We're going to see how it goes, but we're going to be aggressive to push the limits of this teaching situation because it's critical, especially for our offense and quarterback ... with Drew [and] putting in a new offense. We're going to make the most of it. I'm sure some of it will be trial and error. We'll make adjustments as we get through these next three weeks, but I'm confident we'll get a lot out of it."
PASSING ON A TRADE
The San Francisco 49ers sent a 2020 fifth-round pick and 2021 third-round pick to the Washington Redskins for seven-time Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams on Saturday.
Williams missed the entire 2019 season after he refused to report to the Redskins.
Asked Saturday whether the Broncos were involved in trade talks for Williams, Elway said the compensation was too high.
"We had heard what was going on, but we also had heard what the compensation was," Elway said. "I think Tampa was in on it, Cleveland, several other teams were in on it, but where the compensation was, we didn't feel like it was something that we wanted to get involved in."
Elway said the Broncos have "great expectations" for Ja'Wuan James to return from injury and hold down the right tackle position. At left tackle, Elway reiterated that Garett Bolles and Elijah Wilkinson would compete for a starting job.