After busy free agency, Broncos quietly fill need drafting Bradley Roby

Bradley Roby (center) fell to a contender in Denver, where John Elway and John Fox are pushing for a Super Bowl run.
Ed Andrieski/AP

DENVER -- In the time before the Broncos selected their first pick in the NFL draft on May 8, Johnny Manziel drank approximately 15 cups of water, which was promptly Photoshopped into beer by the most enterprising Internet mavens. Boos were hurled countless times at Roger Goodell, and such terms as "catching radius" and "motor" were spewed ad nauseam by television analysts.

It would be all too easy to write off the 31st pick in any draft. Many picks past the first half of Round 1 are recognized only by football die-hards and college fan bases, but while the rest of the world was tracking Manziel and wondering what on earth happened to Teddy Bridgewater, the Broncos quietly cemented what had already been a good offseason with their first draft pick, cornerback Bradley Roby.

The best part: Denver didn't just take the best player left on the board. It took the best player left -- who'd been the best player left for a dozen or so picks -- and he fit a need, bolstering the team's secondary, which struggled last year.

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Since March, with the signings of Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward and DeMarcus Ware, the Broncos have been preaching a certain grit on defense, one they saw first-hand against Seattle in February and were left powerless to counter. Sure, the Seahawks stopped Denver's offense cold, but the Broncos' defense had been the shaky unit all season, a bit too injured, too hodge-podge, too meek.

Which brings us to Roby, a cornerback considered by most to be a top-15 talent. He fell all the way to the Broncos by virtue of some off-field transgressions (a DUI, an altercation at a bar), and sure, there's a risk, but it's rare that there isn't. Plus, if you're Denver, stocked with free agents already, why not take that gamble? With a good locker room led by Peyton Manning, if Roby isn't staying in line with the Broncos, he's not staying in line anywhere.

"We realize that he's a young guy that has made some mistakes," Broncos executive vice president John Elway said Thursday. "Obviously, we expect those things not to happen when he comes here. We believe that we've got a tremendous locker room, so I think he will get a lot of guidance there in the locker room."

"He was the highest-ranked guy on our board left -- by a long shot -- and a guy that we believe has tremendous talent and a tremendous upside."

In the locker room and on the field, Roby will have plenty to soak in, especially from veteran Talib and fourth-year player Chris Harris, who's risen from an undrafted free agent to one of the better players at his position. From the outset, Roby should be the team's third option at corner, despite skills that are raw and at times inconsistent.

"My athletic ability is pretty good, my football IQ, my instincts, my playmaking ability, are all great," Roby said on a conference call after being drafted. "My competitiveness, my aggressiveness, I think it'll add a little bit of flare to the defense, a little bit more edge."

Which, of course, is just what Denver needs. It didn't need a quarterback, a thumping pass rusher or anything else that tends to cause a ripple on draft night. At this point, the Broncos' holes are small, the perfect size for Roby to plug.

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And so yes, the draft matters in Denver, just as it does in Seattle or San Francisco or Indianapolis or Kansas City. Most championships are won by virtue of the tiniest decisions, and no matter how much money the Broncos flung at big-name free agents, Elway swears his team isn't sacrificing the future to win now. His words might have rung a little bit hollow, but they hold a kernel of truth, and Elway and his team have at least one eye to the future.

"I think that there's so much talk about us trying to win now, and I keep saying we're trying to win from now on," Elway said. "If we're successful in the draft, that's what creates depth and creates your players down the line that allows you to be successful if you draft well year-in-and-year-out."

While those with the shortest memories might see the no. 31 pick as a reminder of the Super Bowl loss, Elway and company viewed their draft picks as something entirely different. They remembered Danny Trevathan, picked in the sixth round two years ago, and Malik Jackson, selected the round before -- both were starters by the end of 2013.

They remembered Julius Thomas, the raw acquisition at tight end in 2011's fourth round who's growing into one of the best players at his position, and they remembered Derek Wolfe, whom they picked in the second round in 2012.

They also point to their undrafted free agents, to Harris and Duke Ihenacho and the other players who have caught on after watching seven rounds pass them by. As Manning's team, the Broncos certainly have an eye for detail, and when it comes time to pick from the hundreds of college players few have heard of, that eye must be sharp.

So yes, the Broncos' draft mattered, even if it didn't have the sparkle of other teams'. Sometimes meeting a need is better than making a wave, and Denver did that unequivocally. Considering the selection it had, it's hard to think the Broncos could have done much better at No. 31 in their quest to land pick No. 32 a year from now.

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