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How Broncos have prepared for NFL draft without pro days

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As NFL staffs remain scattered amidst the global coronavirus pandemic, Denver Broncos general manager John Elway said he felt his organization would be prepared for the still-scheduled NFL draft April 23-25.

"I actually feel pretty good about where we are," Elway said last week. "With the draft staying where it is, it is fine. We'll just move ahead and deal with the hand we're dealt. Like I said, I feel like we're in good shape. Obviously, with some of the information we weren't able to get because of the virus, we'll get through that."

Granted, few have seen anything like the current COVID-19 pandemic. But in terms of preparing for a draft without the prospect of pro days and on-site medical exams, Elway can draw on more than a little history.

Back in 1983, Elway was the player who avoided such things going into the draft. He often tells the story of his father, Jack, advising him to avoid a regional combine that year and quickly arranging a flight home from an awards banquet in Seattle even as John Elway was being aggressively invited to the workout in that city.

"I had a bad knee and my dad, and me, we didn't want everybody looking at that," Elway said. "So people were asking me to go [work out] and they kind of checked me in at the banquet and then said they would check me in for the combine too, but I was on a flight at like 5:30 in the morning the next day."

There were four regional combines that year and Elway didn't attend any of them before he went on to be the No. 1 pick in a draft that featured six future Hall of Fame players in the first round alone.

Bottom line, teams need to be flexible when it comes to drafting top prospects. Elway has consistently said, in his role as the Broncos' president of football operations/general manager, that while he always wants to see quarterbacks throw at the scouting combine each year, he "fully understands" when some choose not to.

The pandemic has canceled most players' formal pro days this offseason and teams have had to replace their team-facility visits from prospects with video conferencing or phone calls. It has forced scouts to focus more on the college tape that was already out there.

With that in mind, Elway has said coach Vic Fangio's decision to keep the team's assistant coaches home from the scouting combine actually put the Broncos ahead of the curve.

"First of all, I think the good thing is that we've got a tremendous amount of work done already," Elway said. "Our scouts are already looking at juniors that are possible guys that come out next year in the draft. Our scouts have really, at this point in time, moved on to next year.

"As far as this year's draft and the information and reports that we've gotten from all the scouts, those are all in," he added. "We feel good about where we are. It helped us tremendously, I think, Vic -- we had the coaches stay home from the combine and spend one full week on the draft so all the coaches got all of their reports in on the players in this year's draft. That was beneficial."

And with the prospect of the league's offseason being postponed due to the virus and the start of the season in doubt as well, some teams, including Elway and the Broncos, will lean a bit on the 2011 offseason for future planning. Nine years ago negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement canceled all offseason programs until training camps opened that July.

This draft will be, in some ways, where the most seasoned personnel executives, scouts and coaches can play a little remember-when. Before pro days were so orchestrated, before player interviews were formally scheduled at the combine, before 30 on-site visits were planned down to the minute, scouts grinded through tape.

"I think every year you hear people say -- scouts and coaches and personnel people -- that 90% of the evaluation is off the tape," Fangio said. "The other 10% is the combine and pro days and all the other stuff that goes on with it. This is the year it will really be tested. ... We do not have the workout times that you normally have to evaluate guys, but sometimes those workout times and that information just clouds the issue. ... A lot of times you can guess how fast a guy runs generally speaking. It's more important what the tape is. That's what everybody says. This will be the year that it is really put to test."