On Jan. 19, general manager George Paton shared his philosophy on how he was going to make the Broncos Super Bowl contenders once more: draft and develop.
"Drafting and developing players will be our foundation," he said. "It’s going to be the lifeblood of this football team."
Now 104 days later, Paton's finished the drafting part. And he kept nearly all his promises and in turn, gave coach Vic Fangio one of the more talented defensive units in the NFL.
He wasn't aggressive Day 1, standing pat and taking who he believed was the best player available at nine. He went and got his guy Day 2, while stockpiling picks on the back end to allow himself to land two players for the price of one. And he stuck to his board Day 3, only drafting players who were next on his list of needs.
"We're excited about the players we've added during this weekend," Paton said in his opening statement Saturday. "We still have a lot of work to do we believe as a team, but we do believe that we got better."
Leading up to the draft, Paton was coy about who or what positions he'd go after. But it was clear the Broncos needed help on defense at linebacker and in the secondary, while the offense had voids at running back and the offensive line. And of course there was the question of taking a quarterback, which many felt they'd do if the opportunity presented itself.
“I like our room right now," Paton said. "Does it mean we won’t continue to look? No, but I say that about every position. I look forward to getting Teddy here, and he and Drew having a great competition."
Still, Paton took care of nearly every other position.
- He trusted his gut and took arguably the best cornerback in the draft in Alabama's Patrick Surtain II and then added more depth at corner in the seventh round with LSU speedster Kary Vincent.
- He grabbed two of Ohio State's top linebackers in Baron Browning (inside) and Jonathan Cooper (outside).
- He surprised people in the fifth round, taking safeties Caden Sterns (Texas) and Jamar Johnson (Indiana) within 12 picks of each other to help on special teams and provide competition in the safety room.
- And he added weapons on offense, with North Carolina star running back Javonte Williams, physical Auburn receiver Seth Williams and soon-to-be fan favorite offensive lineman Quinn "The Gut" Meinerz.
If there's a knock on Paton's draft, it's that he didn't do enough on offense, specifically at right tackle. But Paton said they plan on signing several undrafted free agents on the offensive line and has expressed confidence in starting right tackle Ja'Wuan James, who opted out last year.
“It's been heavy offensive drafts before I came, and we have a young group of players that need to develop," Paton said. "We made a few tweaks here and there. Obviously, we brought in Teddy. The offense is going to grow and continue to grow. I like the young offensive talent. We did draft a wide receiver and an offensive lineman — Javonte as well. I do think we added quite a bit of players that can help us.”
Facing the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes twice a year, the Broncos are going to need all the firepower they can get if they want to compete in the AFC West. And the way the NFL is moving toward more high-powered offenses, the Broncos are going to have to eventually find their quarterback. Maybe that's Lock or Bridgewater. Or maybe it's Aaron Rodgers. And only time will tell if Paton should have taken Fields ninth overall.
But it's clear Paton has done everything to give Fangio — a defensive guru — a chance to win with his defense heading into a pivotal third season, from bringing back Von Miller, Justin Simmons and Shelby Harris, to signing free agents Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby, to picking seven defensive players in his first draft — it's the first time since 2015 the Broncos picked more defensive players than offensive.
"That wasn't the plan by any means," Fangio said. "It was just the way the board fell. (When) it was our turn to pick on a few of these guys, there was a big separation between the player we took and anyone else we had on the board so George just decided to go with the higher-ranked player on the board by a good distance. We didn't have any plans to do that, but I like the competition it has created.
"We obviously have a good bit of defensive backs. Four in this draft, and we signed a couple in free agency and the guys who were already on the roster. That will be a competitive position group this training camp. It happened that way, but it wasn't the plan."
It may not have been the plan, but it certainly shook out in Fangio's favor. Now it's time for the second part of Paton's message from the day he was hired: develop. And a large part of that is on Fangio and his staff.
As for Paton, the drafting is done. And soon we'll know just how good it was or wasn't.
“It was everything I kind of envisioned. There were no surprises," Paton said. "I felt it went pretty smooth throughout the last three days. It is different when you're making the final call. It didn't feel a whole lot different to tell you the truth.”