After the team's 2016 and (especially) 2017 drafts, the Broncos returned to a strategy that puts a premium on multiyear college starters and team captains with proven résumés from big-school powerhouses.
John Elway, in his 10th year as the team's top football decision-maker, had tipped his hand before this year's draft.
"Yeah, we've really concentrated -- we had a couple of misses back there, and I think the misses that we had were people that were character concerns," Elway said in the days leading up to this year's selections. "We've kind of focused and turned around a little bit more than we have."
The 2016 draft will always be notable because first-round pick Paxton Lynch started just four games at quarterback before his eventual release, but it is the 2017 draft, in particular, that carved out a hole in the team's depth chart. Of the eight players selected that year, embattled left tackle Garett Bolles is the only starter and just two -- Bolles and tight end Jake Butt -- are still on the roster.
The rest are gone in what was largely a collection of short-term players -- even Bolles played just one season of major college football -- injury risks or players who ran into trouble off the field.
When the Broncos finished their 10 selections in this year's draft, they had stuck to the template used early in Elway's tenure and again in 2018 and 2019. Four of their 10 picks last weekend played in at least 42 college games and seven had played in at least 35 games.
Two of the selections -- third-rounder Michael Ojemudia and seventh-rounder Derrek Tuszka -- even topped 50 games, as Tuszka played in a remarkable 14 playoff games alone at North Dakota State, or more than the total games Bolles played in one year at Utah. The Broncos now have selected 16 former team captains in the past three draft classes combined.
"I just worked my butt off the whole time and tried to get wisdom from the older guys when my time came," said Ojemudia, who was a three-year starter at Iowa and earned a degree in electrical engineering. "I never didn't take advantage of my time."
Said Elway: "You need those guys to lead us and to lead that locker room through the tough times to be able to get back to the winning ways. I think we've suffered a little bit there."
That's not to say the Broncos don't need talent, as well, after a four-year playoff drought, including three consecutive losing seasons. But they've begun to turn things around, as 13 players from the past two draft classes appear on the team's roster.
Netane Muti's NFL draft profile
Watch the highlights of former Fresno State guard Netane Muti.
From the 2020 class, the player who struggled the most with injuries in college is guard Netane Muti, who the Broncos selected in the sixth round at No. 181 overall. Muti played in 19 games at Fresno State because of two separate Achilles injuries to go with a Lisfranc injury that ended his 2019 season. But he is also the only pick in the Broncos' draft class to play fewer than 26 games.
Wide receiver KJ Hamler, a second-round pick, played in 26 games at Penn State but has only two years of college football experience. Elway said Muti had a third-round grade, and since there were no other injury red flags in the class, the value was worth the pick. Elway said the team's medical staff had endorsed Muti's recovery, as well, and, yes, Muti still had been voted a team captain by his Bulldogs teammates.
"My foot is doing great right now -- everything is positive and moving in the right direction," Muti said. "The doctors are saying it's doing good, so everything is going well so far. ... I think I'm the best guard in this class. I feel like they really got a steal."
The true grades won't be in until the games are played, but in an attempt to return to the playoff conversation, the Broncos are banking that more is better: More games, more awards and more proof will lead to more production as a pro.