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Woody Paige: Denver Broncos hope to do flips over some players at Senior Bowl, maybe even a quarterback

January 16, 2018 Updated: January 17, 2018 at 4:00 pm
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Broncos head coach Vance Joseph walks the sidelines during the fourth quarter against Kansas City Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

When the Broncos were designated to coach the North in next week's Senior Bowl, John Elway and Vance Joseph could be excused for doing somersaults, back flips and tequila shots at Dove Valley.

It was the best occasion for the Bad News Broncos since the September 42-17 blowout against the Cowboys.

"We jumped at the opportunity,'' Elway said. And, literally, they did.

As a result of the "honor,'' which now is given to two of the lousiest franchises in the league that didn't change head coaches immediately after the season, the team's somewhat revised coaching staff and personnel department will have the opportunity "to meet these prospects and get to know them on and off the field,'' the Broncos Boss said.

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) attempts a pass during an NCAA college football game against Kansas at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, Kan., Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017. (Ian Maule/Tulsa World via AP) 

Especially Baker Mayfield, the game's most phosphorescent, and polarizing, player. The Broncos reportedly begged Senior Bowl executives to put the Oklahoma quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner on their roster. They probably also will have late addition Josh Allen, too, and two other prominent quarterbacks - Luke Falk and Mason Rudolph. Plus, an assortment of All-American lads at other positions of need.

But, Broncos' backers, beware.

Denver coaches participated in the bowl six previous times, and there is no evidence in my research that they ever drafted any player they coached in Mobile, Ala. Lou Saban was in charge of the North three years (1970-71-73), John Ralston once (1975) and Dan Reeves twice (1986 and 1989).

Reeves was handicapped in his first trip to coach on the Gulf Coast because he didn't possess a pick until the fourth round of the draft.

The inaugural Senior Bowl was played in Jacksonville, Fla., in 1950, and featured SMU running back Doak Walker (who spent his later years in Denver and Steamboat Springs). The game moved to Mobile in 1951 and became an NFL scouting bonanza for college players. Most coaches, personnel people and media (me included in the past) bolt after the three days of practices before Saturday's game. They strictly go for the workouts and, as Rick claimed in "Casablanca,'' "the waters.''

The bowl has produced more than 500 eventual professional players, including quarterbacks Joe Namath, Terry Bradshaw, Brett Favre and Dan Marino, among many others (ex-Broncos QB Jake Plummer was one), and, more recently, Carson Wentz, Derek Carr, Jimmy Garoppolo, Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott and, ahem, Kirk Cousins. Elway and the Broncos passed on drafting the last three.

Oddly enough, Saban, Ralston and Reeves didn't find running backs they liked, or didn't own draft positions that were high enough for the likes of John Riggins (1971), Walter Peyton ('75) and Bo Jackson ('86).

Elway's regime came out of the box in 2011 with its first pick (second overall) - Senior Bowl premium player Von Miller - and three more draft choices (Nate Irving, Quinton Carter and Jeremy Beal). Carter and Beal never fulfilled their promise because of injury, but Irving was a starter in Denver until becoming an unrestricted free agent.

In 2012 the Broncos' first selected player - early in the second round - was Derek Wolfe, who they met with in Mobile. They also grabbed late-round choices Philip Blake, who flamed out quickly, and Malik Jackson, who will be in the AFC Championship with the Jaguars.

Overall, the Broncos have drafted 14 graduates of the Senior Bowl under Elway. The others were Zac Dysert (2013), Michael Schofield (2014), Max Garcia and Ty Sambrailo (2015), Riley Dixon (2016) and Brendan Langley (2017) - and signed three free agents - Bennie Fowler, Dillon Day and Henry Krieger-Coble.

The first was by far the greatest.

Being up close and personal at the Senior Bowl for the first time in 29 years, the Broncos, with No. 5 overall and eight more picks, would like to discover another Miller, a couple of Wolfes and a trio of Malik Jackson types.

One possibility is guard Will Hernandez, who played for Broncos' new offensive line coach Sean Kugler at UTEP, or perhaps CSU's All-American wide receiver Michael Gallup, tight ends Troy Fumagalli (who played for "Geep" Chryst's brother at Wisconsin) and South Dakota State's rather unfamiliar Dallas Goedert, and one of the two Penn State defensive backs or a few of the six national championship Alabama players.

The Broncos might even fall in love with, or do flips for, a quarterback.

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