With the new NFL season essentially being kicked off at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, every team has descended on the Indiana city in full force.
Testing and interviews are taking place virtually 18 hours a day, and of course, the entire focus of the Denver media and fandom (we cannot know what Broncos personnel people are really thinking) is on the quarterback position.
Because, of course, it is all about the quarterback.
And as much as I believe that statement, the last time I checked, there are still 53 players on every NFL roster, so there are actually more positions than just that one.
General Manager George Paton told the media at his Indy session, “No stone unturned to find that guy. … It is the most important position in sports, we believe, and I know everyone is chomping on the bit to get one, and so are we.”
Meanwhile, Paton and his coaches and personnel people are looking at everybody, interviewing everybody, and we have no idea how this will all unfold between now and the late April draft.
But it is critical that everyone take a deep breath and remember that every roster is built in many different ways.
There are draftees, of course — high picks and low — as well as trades, free agents and completely undrafted free agents.
I was recently thinking about all the Broncos who have come to the team after not being drafted at all. These are guys lower in the pecking order than street free agents who have been with other teams, for those guys at least have shown something, at some time. But the guys who were never drafted come to camp with just their talents and the belief that at least one “someone” in the organization had in them, and often with chips on their collective shoulders.
Some of these names will refresh the memories of Broncos fans: wide receivers Steve Watson and Rod Smith, kicker Rich Karlis (not only undrafted but signed only after excelling in a 478-player free agent tryout camp at the Broncos old 5700 Logan Street facility), defensive tackle Greg Kragen, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and many others.
One of the “many others” was linebacker Wesley Woodyard.
It always stunned me that Wesley was undrafted. The Broncso signed him as an undrafted free agent after the 2008 college draft concluded. He signed to no fanfare, of course. But he played in college at the University of Kentucky, where he twice was selected by coaches to be first-team All-SEC (which is as big as conferences get in college football).
I am not sure how a guy like that gets overlooked, but he did.
Wesley played for the Broncos from 2008-2013 and then moved on to the Tennessee Titans, where he played from 2014-2019. Along the way, he had over 900 tackles and 28 sacks for his two teams.
Further, he was one of the most outstanding individuals with whom I ever had the pleasure of working.
I once asked him, “Wesley, if your Mom were here now, would it mean more to her if I said you were an outstanding player or if you were a fine man?”
Obviously, the question was a setup and Wesley answered as one would expect.
He later said, “This game of football allows us to bring each other together. It doesn’t matter about the skin color, race, money or anything else. We are all the same, we all enjoy games on Sundays.”
So Wesley Woodyard played 12 years of pro football and was a great credit to the game.
But remember when the draft was 12 rounds?
Among the Broncos taken with their last pick were Tyrone Braxton and Karl Mecklenburg.
Karl said, “It was so late when I got drafted that I didn’t even get a phone call from a Bronco coach. Jenny Anne (Cary, the Broncos’ player personnel secretary) called and said that Denver had taken me and they were going to fly me into Denver.”
I personally recall that when we did fly all the draftees in and they met the press, no one at all talked to Mecklenburg. I wanted him to fit in, so I asked my Associated Press writer if he could “pretend” to interview Karl by asking him a few questions, just so he did not feel left out.
Of course, guys like the above made themselves at home as soon as they put on pads and went on the field.
The NFL is the greatest meritocracy in sport. When they take the field, they do not take their press clippings with them, nor any comments that anyone else ever made. They take the field with their talent and attitude, and the best guys play.
So the work that George Paton and his staff did and are continuing to do in Indianapolis is vital, but it is still just a part of the puzzle.
Every time we sign a guy and collective Broncos Country sighs that it has never heard of him, remember: Somebody heard of him and believed enough to take a chance on him. And the result could be someone like the guys mentioned earlier.
Everybody counts, or nobody counts. And it takes 53.