Next Broncos coach needs another successful rookie class

Broncos fire head coach Joseph (1:00)

Bobby Carpenter and Rex Ryan break down the Broncos' decision to fire head coach Vance Joseph after two seasons. (1:00)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When John Elway announced earlier this week he had fired Vance Joseph as the Denver Broncos' head coach, Elway was quickly asked if coaching what has been one of the league’s most successful franchises was still an attractive job.

After all, the Broncos are now on the hunt for their fourth head coach since the start of the 2011 season, they’ve missed the playoffs in each of the last three seasons, have questions at quarterback and continue to fight off the inclination they are actually rebuilding.

“Yes,” Elway said when asked if he had an attractive job to offer the candidates the team is scheduled to talk to. “I don’t think a whole lot has changed … Therefore, I think guys want that opportunity. They want to come into a spot where they know it’s about football and about winning games. Giving that opportunity, the resources behind him that we can give him, I think it’s a great job.”

And one of the biggest selling points Elway has to offer is the collective work of the Broncos’ rookie class in the 2018 season and the prospect, with nine draft picks already in hand for the 2019 draft, of a repeat this April.

The Broncos desperately need to be as good next April as they were last April. The Broncos used 13 rookies on their roster this season; eight of them were draft picks.

By the time all was said and done this season, the Broncos’ leading rusher (Phillip Lindsay), their second-leading receiver (Courtland Sutton) and the player who was second in sacks (Bradley Chubb) were all rookies.

“Those guys, the way they approach it, how they played, how they work, they came in ready to be Broncos,” linebacker Von Miller said. “Those are the kind of guys who can help us get back to where we want to be. Another group like that and you could see how we would get back doing what everybody is used to us doing here.”

“We’ve got to be good in the draft again,” Elway said. “It’s got to be important for us to continue to build this way. We had a good year last year and we’ve got to have another good year this year. We’ve got nine picks, and so we’ve got to make those count.”

The Broncos, after leaning toward athleticism over college production in their 2016 and 2017 draft work, went back to their roots in the 2018 draft. As they had done early in Elway’s tenure, they emphasized multiyear starters in college with former team captains and big-program performers filling the class.

The team’s 2017 draft class had many players without the kind of proven college production of the players in the class of 2018, and four of the Broncos' eight picks in 2017 are no longer with the team. And their first-rounder from 2016 -- quarterback Paxton Lynch -- lost consecutive training camp battles to win the starting job and was released this past summer when Chad Kelly, who has since been released for an off-the-field arrest, beat Lynch out for the backup job.

“I think we can help this team get back to the playoffs,” said Lindsay, the first undrafted offensive player to be named to a Pro Bowl as a rookie. “We have to continue to be pros, do the right things, show up and work, work hard.”

Lindsay, who finished the season on injured reserve and had surgery to repair ligament damage in his right wrist, finished ninth in the league in rushing (1,037 yards) and led the league at 5.4 yards per carry. But in addition to Lindsay, there is potential for Chubb, Sutton, receiver DaeSean Hamilton, cornerback Isaac Yiadom, running back Royce Freeman and linebacker Josey Jewell to be the core of the Broncos’ future.

“I think a lot of [the rookies] feel like we don’t want to miss the playoffs again,” Sutton said. “We don’t want to be 6-10 and we want to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said he feels the Broncos are poised “to go young, to go really young. You look at how those guys play, we haven’t made the playoffs, every veteran player on this team can see that. That’s how it goes in this league.”

The youth movement could include quarterback given the Broncos don’t currently have a player they drafted at the position on their roster or practice squad. Elway has used five draft picks on quarterbacks in his tenure, but after Trevor Siemian was traded last year and Lynch and Kelly were both released, none of them remain.

The Broncos, including Elway, have already put in plenty of work on some of the 2019 draft’s best quarterback prospects.

“We always talk about rebuilding, but if I say we’re ‘rebuilding,’ that sounds like an excuse,” Elway said. “… Our standards are still the same. We’re still going to come in, we’re going to go into this offseason and do the best we can this offseason to try to get better football players and try to get to where next year we can go into training camp and we’re ready to compete for a playoff spot … To me, a rebuild sounds like an excuse and I’m not going to make any excuses. We’re going to bust our tails to try to get better, try to get back to where we’re competitive and do it next year.”