ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos chief decision-maker John Elway often puts a bow on discussions about the NFL draft with a familiar refrain: "We don't draft All Pros; we have to develop them."
And for that to happen, Elway and his staff in personnel have to be in lockstep with coach Vic Fangio and his staff. It's a simple concept that is often difficult to execute. Or as longtime NFL offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt once said, "Bad shoes make your feet hurt.''
"We're on the same page," Elway said at season's end. " ... The bottom line is I don't get in [Fangio's] way. If he needs something, I try to help him, and if he's got questions, I can answer that."
Fangio, too, has said he doesn't hesitate to stroll down the hall to see Elway.
But some of the Broncos' misses over the past four seasons suggest the team hasn't always been on the same page.
A player such as quarterback Paxton Lynch, a first-round pick in 2016, wasn't able to take advantage of his multiple opportunities. A player like wide receiver Carlos Henderson, a third-round pick that same year, found trouble off the field.
That's life in the draft sometimes. But having a clear idea of why the personnel people like a player and making sure that matches how the coaches want to use that player often predetermines some level of success. It determines if the Broncos can, as Elway has consistently said, "stack those draft classes.''
"I've said you can have the best scheme in the world, all of these ideas, but our job as coaches is to put players in position to succeed, to improve," Fangio said. "Just be really clear about what the player needs to do and help him get there."
The Broncos' best test case last season was defensive end DeMarcus Walker, a second-round pick in the 2017 draft, just 31 picks after the Broncos had taken Lynch. After drafting him, Elway lauded the pass-rush skills of Walker, who was called "one of the top defensive players in school history" by then-Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher.
But Walker arrived as a rookie defensive lineman, was asked to lose more than 20 pounds to move to outside linebacker, then moved back to the defensive line in his second season, only to get lost in the defensive line rotation. He didn't fit what the coaching staff seemed to want, and he got caught in a position and weight loss/weight gain yo-yo.
He played 10% of the defense's snaps in 2017, just 2% of the defense's snaps in 2018 and looked to be headed to the waiver wire as Fangio's staff arrived last year. But Walker said this past season "I feel like I fit better." In his third season he knew what was expected of him in the defense and knew how the coaches wanted him to play.
The result was he had more tackles and more sacks than in his previous two seasons combined as he played just more than 20% of the snaps despite missing time with shoulder and ankle injuries. Perhaps not quite the expectation of a second-round pick, but a far bigger contributor in his third year, both in the defense and on special teams.
"Guys always have to put in the work and try to get better every day -- that's the business," Fangio said. "But we have to make sure, as coaches, we know what we expect a guy to do and how we want him to do it and teach him the right way to do it. And we all have to know why we like a guy and why we think he can do some things for us."