ENGLEWOOD, Colo. —** For the past couple months as we tracked the trends of analyst predictions of what the Broncos would do in the first round, once free agency moves started shaking out the general consensus was that the Broncos would address the offensive line with their first pick of the draft.
However, mock draft predictions can be tossed out the window once the draft gets underway and the unpredictable becomes reality.
In short, the Broncos traded up to take outside linebacker Shane Ray because they valued him at a position much higher than where they were able to select him. Ray was their best player available and they wanted to ensure they got him.
But it also showed the coaching staff and front office have a good deal of confidence in the group they have, not to mention they could still find talented linemen beyond the first round.
Head coach Gary Kubiak and Executive Vice President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway have spoken at length about how they're looking for their young players to compete for open spots on the line this year, from Matt Paradis to Michael Schofield to Ben Garland to Paul Cornick.
"The key is going to be these young guys we have -- (Matt) Paradis, (Ben) Garland, can we get these guys playing at a bigger level as they move into years two and three, those types of things," Kubiak said in March from media availability at the NFL Annual Meetings. "We think a lot of the young guys, we really do. My history with [Offensive Coordinator] Rick Dennison—Rick and [Offensive Line Coach] Clancy [Barone] have worked together. I feel good about our ability to develop these young guys."
Elway agreed, saying in March, "As I've said, we don't draft All-Pros, hopefully we develop them. [...] I'm excited with [Rick] 'Rico' [Dennison] and Clancy going to the offensive line, the coaching that they're going to get, I think they really have a chance."
With a confidence not only in the players but the coaching staff to help them develop—and some skilled veterans in the mix—the Broncos clearly felt they were able to draft the best player available to them and that they didn't need to focus on just the offensive line.
Take a peek inside the Broncos War Room on the first night of the 2015 NFL Draft.
"Obviously, we just got through with a little mini camp, and yeah I feel very good about the guys that we have on the field and some of our young players," Kubiak said. "But, as far as how we went about tonight, our preparation over the course of the last four or five months, nothing changed because of something that took place on the practice fields. John and [Director of Player Personnel] Matt [Russell] stayed true to their board and the work they had done."
And when it comes to the rest of the draft, Elway said in his pre-draft press conference that he sees a great deal of depth when it comes to the class of offensive tackles: "There are a lot of good tackles in the draft. I think that is one area of the draft that it does have some depth."
In all, Elway and the Broncos moving up and drafting Ray was exactly what he said he would do.
"We are really trying to find football players that are going to make our football team and make us better regardless of what the position is," Elway said. "If they make our football team better—we'd rather be real strong at a position and not as strong at another one, but be able make sure we know we've got a good football player—we'll do that."