Broncos Best & Worst Elway First-Round Picks Not-Named Miller or Lynch

Removing Von Miller and Paxton Lynch from the equation, which first-round draft picks were John Elway's best and worst?
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A decade has passed since the rookie pay scale was introduced and the dynamics for NFL draft choices changed. Given the lower-cost contracts those players receive, draft picks have gained more importance in building a quality team.

John Elway was the man with the final say in the Denver Broncos personnel decisions from 2011-20, so the bulk of draft picks happened under his watch. Elway's had his hits and misses, but his biggest hit and miss are easy to identify.

His biggest hit was easily Von Miller, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft, who turned into a top pass rusher and franchise player. Elway's biggest miss is easily Paxton Lynch, a 2016 first-round pick whom the Broncos hoped would be the new franchise QB, but never came close to being that.

But what about other first-round picks? And what about picks taken in other rounds? What picks since 2011 have turned out great and which ones turned out to be flops?

In this series, I'm going to examine the best and worst picks by round, and cover Rounds 1-4, in which you should expect to find quality contributors.

I won't cover 'best and worst' in Rounds 5-7 because it's not unusual for these picks to not make it or contribute. Instead, I'll focus on the best of those rounds.

Getting back to the first round, we know who the best and worst Elway draft picks are, but who are the best not-named Miller, and the worst not-named Lynch? Let's dive in. 

Best First-Rounder: Garett Bolles | OT | 2017

Denver Broncos offensive tackle Garett Bolles (72) in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers at Empower Field at Mile High.

Recent picks such as Bradley Chubb, Noah Fant, and Jerry Jeudy have done good things, but the nod goes to Bolles — though there was a point in which fans may have wondered if he was going to tap out.

In Bolles' first two seasons, he proved to be a capable run blocker, but had issues with pass protection and drew too many holding penalties. It was a rough go early in his third season as well.

But midway through the third season, things started to click for Bolles. And in his fourth season, his play improved a lot, reaching the level one would expect for a first-round pick.

Bolles was rewarded with an extension and now has become a key cornerstone on the Broncos' offensive line. It will be interesting to see whether he keeps playing at a high level, one that might make him a future Ring of Famer.

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Worst First-Rounder: Shane Ray | OLB | 2015

Shane Ray

No first-round pick was as bad as Lynch, but a couple didn't live up to expectations. I went with Ray because he never emerged into the starter the Broncos hoped he could become.

The Broncos traded up to draft Ray in the hopes he could become the eventual replacement for DeMarcus Ware. He saw limited action as a rookie, but four sacks and seven QB hits gave fans some hope.

Ray took steps in the right direction in 2016, getting increased snaps, and totaling eight sacks and 21 QB hits. However, injuries limited him to eight games in 2017, and Shaquil Barrett's emergence pushed Ray down the depth chart.

The Broncos then drafted Bradley Chubb in 2018, relegating Ray to the bench. Ray slid behind Barrett on the depth chart for good, then left for the Baltimore Ravens in free agency after the season. 

Ray then failed to make the final cut in Ravens' training camp. While not the miss that Lynch was, Ray was still a disappointment. He had the talent to be a top pass rusher, but didn't quite capitalize on it.


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