DENVER — The “No Fly Zone” has “the Astronaut.”
John Elway and the Broncos put their case in Case Keenum’s hands and selected the best defensive player in the entire NFL draft Thursday. They used the No. 5 pick on primo pass-rusher Bradley Chubb, who was shockingly made available when the Browns drafted a cornerback at No. 4.
The Broncos lucked out. Asked how many scenarios he had envisioned that would bring Chubb to Denver, Elway said emphatically: "Zero."
The Browns will be the Browns, and Elway continues his love-hate affair with Cleveland. “The Drive” now has “The Slide.” (By one spot.) A bunch of Broncos staffers played 18 holes on Thursday morning. They could've played 72. Chubb was a no-brainer, automatic, "press send now" pick for the Broncos.
On opposite ends of the line, the Denver ‘D’ now boasts Von Miller, the No. 2 pick in 2011, and Chubb, the No. 5 pick this year. Vroom, vroom. This Broncos pass rush was inevitable. Two-plus-five equals No. 7.
“We didn't think he (Chubb) would be there,” Elway said after drafting the closest thing to a sure thing.
The '15 Broncos were the first team in history with two cornerbacks named All-Pro (Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib). By using a top-five pick on Chubb, Denver believes it soon will have two All-Pro pass rushers.
“He’s Khalil Mack and Von Miller put together,” Von said of Bradley, his new dancing partner.
“If we could steal a player like that, I’m all for it,” Miller added.
Know who wouldn’t be? Patrick Mahomes, Philip Rivers, Derek Carr (and Keenum, in practice). Von can host his annual “pass-rush summit” strictly within the AFC West: Von, Chubb, Mack, Melvin Ingram, Joey Bosa and Justin Houston. That’s 53 sacks last season in the division. Plus Chubb.
Elway had said the Broncos labeled four quarterback prospects with first-round grades. Then the Broncos passed on quarterbacks Josh Allen and Josh Rosen. Woo, boy, for a minute there it was Mile High drama: when the Browns took Baker Mayfield (No. 1) and Denzel Ward (No. 4), that left Allen and Rosen right in front of Elway’s nose. It had to be tempting. He said it wasn’t. I don't believe him.
“When it was all said and done ... we felt pretty comfortable with Case Keenum,” Elway said.
"We still believe Paxton can be a good quarterback in this league," he said.
Other than let Lynch play another snap, there are two ways Denver's decision to pass on the quarterbacks makes the Broncos look foolish: if the Keenum era crashes and burns, or if Allen (No. 7 to Buffalo) or Rosen (No. 10 to Arizona) wins a Super Bowl and the Elway Broncos don’t.
“There were nine mistakes made ahead of me,” Rosen told reporters in the Dallas area. “I will make sure over the next decade or so they know they made a mistake.”
Chubb was a safe pick. And the right one. Chubb had 20 sacks and 44 tackles for a loss over his final two seasons against ACC competition. Chubb, whose brother nicknamed him “Astronaut Jr.,” is 21, 6-foot-4 and 269 pounds. He’s from Marietta, Ga., and last season passed former No. 1 overall pick Mario Williams as North Carolina State’s all-time sacks king.
"He's all football," Elway said. "He loves football."
Von Miller posted a video online of his wild-and-crazy reaction to the Chubb pick.
Harris, Bradley Roby and Darian Stewart — the remaining members of the original “No Fly Zone” — must love the pick. Many moons ago I asked Harris if Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware were considered part of the “No Fly Zone.” Harris said, “Definitely.” (He says "definitely" to a lot of things.) Once I dropped the voice recorder out of view, Harris laughed and added: “But it starts with us (the defensive backs).”
Now the Broncos will start the 2018 season with a turbo-driven pass rush.
Shane Ray should be worried. The Broncos have until May 3 to decide whether to pick up the fifth-year option on Ray, who is more luxury than need at this point. They should look to trade Ray for a second- or third-round pick on Friday. The Wade Phillips’ “NASCAR” package is gassed up and can move with the size and speed of Miller, Chubb and Shaq Barrett.
"We have to make sure that we have the most dangerous pass rush in the NFL," Chubb said.
The Broncos still have needs at running back, cornerback, tight end, offensive line and linebacker, in order. With the 40th pick, the Broncos should look long and hard at Georgia running back Nick Chubb.