Denver Broncos | News

What John Elway's trade history could tell us about the 2020 NFL Draft

There's no telling exactly what John Elway has planned when the 2020 NFL Draft begins on April 23.

Will he and the Broncos stay at the 15th-overall pick and add a wide receiver to the roster? How about a cornerback? Or an offensive lineman or linebacker?

I've already taken a look at the type of impact player Denver could add at No. 15, and I've also evaluated the benefits of both trading up and trading back.

But what is the likelihood that Elway and Co. execute a trade on draft night?

During his nine years leading the Broncos' football operations, Elway has completed 20 draft-day trades.

I evaluated each of those 20 trades and tried to find trends that could help explain when and how the Broncos may make a move.

One note: These figures only include trades made during the draft. Other deals — like the ones that brought A.J. Bouye and Jurrell Casey to Denver — are not mentioned. The goal of this exercise is to figure out how Elway may operate during the seven rounds of the draft. That means it's best to leave out those prior trades.


Elway has made an average of 2.2 trades per year during the draft, but that average has jumped to 3.0 during the last three seasons. In 2019, he made the most trades of his career as he and the Broncos executed four trades over the course of the seven-round draft.

The Broncos have made at least one trade every year that Elway has been in charge, but they only made one deal in both 2013 and 2015.

2019: 4 trades

2018: 2 trades

2017: 3 trades

2016: 2 trades

2015: 1 trade

2014: 2 trades

2013: 1 trade

2012: 3 trades

2011: 2 trades


More often than not, Elway has preferred to move down in the draft and stockpile picks. He has moved down 10 times out of 20 and moved up on eight occasions. Two of the trades — including one in 2019 for Dekoda Watson — were pick-for-player deals.

Elway traded up twice in 2019, as he and the Broncos moved to get Drew Lock in the second round and then Juwann Winfree in the sixth round. The trade for Lock already appears like it may be Elway's most successful trade up. That won't be a question if Lock becomes the team's franchise quarterback. For now, it competes with a 2011 deal with the Packers for a fourth-round pick that the Broncos used on tight end Julius Thomas.


Elway isn't afraid to make a splash on draft day. Of his 20 draft-day trades, five of them have come in the first round. That's more than any other round except the fifth.

In 2012, he made a pair of first-round trades — twice moving down — to accrue an early second-round pick and an early fourth-rounder. He turned those selections into Derek Wolfe and Omar Bolden.

He then traded up in consecutive years in the first round, sending the 28th pick, Manny Ramirez a fifth-rounder and future mid-round pick to Detroit for the 23rd-overall pick in 2015. Elway used that selection to pick Shane Ray. A year later, he sent the 31st-overall and 94th-overall picks to Seattle for the 26th pick and drafted Paxton Lynch.

Then, last year, Elway picked up an extra second-round pick in a trade with the Steelers. The Broncos later used that pick to grab Lock.

If not in the first round, Elway is likely to make his move in the fifth. He's completed six trades for fifth-round picks in his nine years on the job.

Round 1: 5 trades

Round 2: 3 trades

Round 3: 1 trades

Round 4: 4 trades

Round 5: 6 trades

Round 6: 1 trades

Round 7: 0 trades


When in doubt, call the NFC West. The Broncos have completed draft-day trades with three of the four NFC West teams over the previous nine years, including four trades with the San Francisco 49ers. The Niners, who also made a deal with the Broncos during the 2019 regular season, have made two of the draft-day deals with Denver since John Lynch was hired in 2017.

The Broncos have traded more with the NFC West (seven trades) than any other division.

The Packers have also been a frequent trading partner, as Denver has worked with Green Bay three times to get deals done.

It seems unlikely, though, that the Broncos will turn to a divisional foe for a trade. In nine years, Denver hasn't executed a draft-day trade with the Chargers, Chiefs or Raiders. In fact, Elway hasn't made a deal with those teams outside of the draft, either. The AFC West and NFC East are the only divisions with which the Broncos haven't made a draft-day trade.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Broncos have been more likely to trade with NFC teams as opposed to their AFC competition.

The 49ers currently sit at No. 13 and are reportedly interested in a wide receiver, which could make them an unlikely trade candidate in Round 1. The Browns, however, could be an option at No. 10 if the Broncos want to move up.

Four trades: 49ers

Three trades: Packers

Two trades: Seahawks, Browns

One trade: Rams, Patriots, Steelers, Bengals, Lions, Bears, Titans, Panthers, Bucs

Zero trades: Chiefs, Chargers, Raiders, Cardinals, Cowboys, Eagles, Giants, Redskins, Bills, Dolphins, Jets, Ravens, Vikings, Colts, Jaguars, Texans, Falcons, Saints

Trades with AFC teams: 6

Trades with NFC teams: 14


Only twice have the Broncos made a draft-day swap for a player (excluding the 2015 trade that included Ramirez). In 2017, the Broncos sent Kapri Bibbs and a fifth-round pick to San Francisco for a future fourth-round pick. Then, last year, the Broncos traded another fifth-round pick for Dekoda Watson and a sixth-rounder.

Elway has been cautious with his use of future picks, as he's dealt just two picks in future years during draft-day trades. Those selections were never higher than a fourth-round pick.


These trends can give us an idea what will happen on draft day. Based on his history, it appears near certain that John Elway will execute at least one draft-day trade. The last several years suggest we could see two or three.

Though Elway has tended to trade down in general, he has an even split in the first round, which means it's tough to rule anything out with the 15th-overall pick. With 10 selections — including five in the first three rounds — Elway certainly has the capital to move up, if he so chooses.

History suggests those trades will be completed with NFC teams and that he won't make a deal with a divisional opponent.

Come April 23-25, we'll see how history matches up with reality.

Related Content