John Elway opens up on how Broncos address “controversial” players in the draft

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — "Most productive press conference of the year," joked a smiley John Elway on Monday afternoon, poking fun at the fact that he really wasn't going to give much information about where the Broncos may or may not go later this week during the 82nd annual NFL Draft.

It's a joke Elway makes every year—much to the amusement of the media in attendance—and while he does back up what he's alluding to, never showing any of his cards on specifics, the meeting does usually come with some interesting information.

This year, the most interesting bit came in the form of Elway revealing a bit about how the organization addresses those players deemed "controversial."

Around these parts, it's become a popular opinion that the Broncos are more willing to take risks on players than other franchises. That theory has been displayed and compounded by the selections and subsequent successes of players such as Shane Ray and Bradley Roby.

Every year, there are players who, for one reason or another, see their draft stock plummet due to some sort of "off-the-field issue" and it seems now every year, those player's names start coming up in Broncos circles.

The strategy makes a lot of sense, the Broncos usually don't have the luxury of selecting the players who are unanimously heralded, but with the belief they have in their locker room, they can take a chance on a player who has top talent with some "issues" away from football.

On Monday, Elway explained how the team addresses that strategy.

"I think there are two things to that," he explained openly. "Number one is to have a background, and our scouts do a tremendous job in not only evaluating the players, but also with the background research that they do on each player, so we have that. Then, the most important thing after that is, do we put them in a situation when they get here that we can help them... These are young guys, and so we have to help them down the walk of life."

"Ray Jackson, who is our player development guy, does a tremendous job," added the GM. "Do we know what they have done and can Ray get them going, help them out and get them into a situation where we support them. Get them going down the right path that we feel like we can put those mistakes in the past and get them going in the right direction."

Three players in this year's draft have conjured up the most smoke around this subject. Alabama's Rueben Foster, Michigan's Jabrill Peppers and, in a much, much more serious scenario, Oklahoma's Joe Mixon.

Mixon, as has been discussed at great length to this point, broke the jaw and cheekbone of a young woman during his freshman year at Oklahoma in 2014. Since then, video has surfaced of the incident (that matters), and the talented running back has only seen his stock go downhill.

Asked if the tempting prospect out of Oklahoma is still on the Broncos board, Elway stayed true to his opening statement, saying with a laugh, "I'm not going to tell you who's on our board," but he was willing to share a bit about the team's visit with Mixon.

"We had a good meeting with him; there's no question," Elway explained. "We didn't get a chance to spend a lot of time with him but had a good meeting with him, went through the whole process, what had happened—I'm sure he'd been through it several times—for us to be able to hear it from him, what happened, we went through all of that."

"We're still evaluating [Mixon]," he added. "Obviously, that's an issue, and it's something that we are continuing to look at. We'll get as much background as we can on Joe to see where he may fall for us."

Somebody is going to take a chance on Mixon; it's just about deciding whether you can forgive his past, take the PR hit, and put him in a situation where he doesn't get himself into more trouble. If the Broncos feel they can do that first step, there aren't many teams that are as suited to take care of the next two steps.

As for the other two players mentioned above, the PR hit wouldn't be in the same stratosphere. In fact, Peppers' diluted sample shouldn't even make a blip on the radar, but it likely will. As for Foster, he has the diluted sample to go along with being sent home from the combine after a heated altercation with a hospital worker.

"We try to dig in and find out exactly what it is and then if there's more of a history there," Elway said of how his team assesses a diluted sample. "I'm not the authority on drug testing and all that stuff so I go to [Broncos Director of Sports Medicine Steve "Greek" Antonopulos], and Greek and the doctors let us know if there's an issue there. Usually, if it shows up there it's shown up somewhere else."

In the end, the real fun starts on draft night when those big names start to stay on the board longer and longer.

"It starts opening discussions, and they're falling for a reason," Elway said of that moment. "Usually, if they fall you have to realize, 'Okay, if he falls to us is it—number one—is it somebody we want and number two, why is he falling? If it's something that we can put up with, then we'll discuss that. It always happens to some players... A lot of times you know going in who might fall."

The Broncos have a strong belief in their locker room and a strong belief in the system they have in place to develop the player and the person. Don't be surprised if one of those controversial names is wearing Orange & Blue later this week.

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