--It wasn't until his senior year -- and the months after it -- that defensive tackle Derek Wolfe became a college star and leaped up the draft board. He recorded 9.5 sacks from his defensive tackle position, earned Big East co-Defensive Player of the Year honors and burnished his status during Senior Bowl week.
But that year almost didn't happen.
"I almost made the worst decision of my life and left," Wolfe recalled.
Desperate and in financial straits that had been a constant throughout a hardscrabble childhood, Wolfe contemplated entering the NFL Draft a year early -- when the University of Cincinnati product would have been a late-round prospect or perhaps gone undrafted entirely.
"I was sitting on my bed looking at my last seven dollars," Wolfe recalled. "I was tired of asking for stuff, tired of needing favors; I was ready to start doing things on my own."
His head coach, Butch Jones, dissuaded Wolfe from turning pro.
"He said, 'You're going to lose a lot of money if you leave," Wolfe recalled.
But that was just one example of how growing up underprivileged in Lisbon, Ohio profoundly affected him. The adversity Wolfe overcame didn't spur the Broncos to target him -- but it didn't hurt his prospects, either.
"You can see that's what makes him the player that he is, and that's what will make us hungry on defense," Broncos coach John Fox said.
--The Broncos appear determined to give quarterback Brock Osweiler every chance to succeed.
First, there's the plan to provide Osweiler with a multi-year apprenticeship behind Peyton Manning. Although the health of Manning's neck remains the question mark that hovers over the Broncos' prospects this year, a successful return without a recurrence of neck trouble likely means a three-year run as starting quarterback, since his 2013 and 2014 salaries are guaranteed if he is still on the roster next March.
Before selecting Osweiler, executive VP John Elway wanted to make sure the quarterback knew a long apprenticeship might await him.
"When we went and talked to Brock, I said, 'Brock, are you fine sitting on the bench for three, four or five years, because Peyton's going to be the guy?'" Elway recalled.
Osweiler's answer -- which came during a thorough, day-long meeting that included a throwing session and conversations with Elway, John Fox and general manager Brian Xanders -- was what Elway wanted to hear, and the Broncos used their 57th pick on him.
"I know I need to continue to progress as a quarterback," Osweiler said. "I think Denver is a perfect situation for me to do that."
That situation was helped by the fact that the Broncos only added one rookie receiver: Osweiler's favorite target at ASU, Gerell Robinson, who caught 77 catches for 1,397 yards and seven touchdowns for the Sun Devils last year.
Robinson was one of 12 undrafted free-agent pickups made on April 28.
Their 11 other undrafted signees include Oklahoma State defensive end Jamie Blatnick, San Diego State long snapper Aaron Brewer, Baylor linebacker Elliot Coffey, Arkansas linebacker Jerry Franklin, San Jose State safey Duke Ihenacho, Kansas linebacker Steven Johnson, Texas A&M cornerback Coryell Judie, Cal tight end Anthony Miller, Oregon State offensive tackle Mike Remmers, Temple guard Wayne Tribue and Missouri guard Austin Wuebbels.
--All that separated fourth-round cornerback Omar Bolden from the upper reaches of the draft was his left knee.
In the last three seasons, Bolden missed one year (2011) entirely and most of another (2009) because of injuries to it. A sprained MCL torpedoed his sophomore season three years ago; a torn ACL during last spring's practice brought his college career to a premature end.
A torn labrum that necessitated post-season surgery in 2008 only adds to the litany of pain that has dogged Bolden throughout his career. But his talent and potential was undeniable; in his only full season of the last three years (2010, Bolden was a first-team All-Pac 10 cornerback and second-team all-conference returner.
The Broncos are banking on 2010 being the norm for Bolden, who missed 21 of Arizona State's 37 games the last three seasons.
"We think was a first or a second-round talent, and we were able to get him in the fourth," Elway said.
--With Lamar Miller of Miami (Fla.) and Utah State's Robert Turbin still on the board when the third round began, the Broncos' decision to trade up 20 picks spurred speculation that one of those two running backs was about to be a Bronco.
Right idea, wrong name.
Denver opted for 5-9, 200-pound Ronnie Hillman, a prolific running back who racked up 3,243 rushing yards the last two seasons for San Diego State and clocked a 4.45 40-yard dash time, but saw his stock depressed by concerns that his frame wouldn't stand up to the pounding.
While the Broncos had extensively met with some prospects like Osweiler and Turbin, Hillman hadn't heard much from Denver in the months leading up to the draft.
"I was very surprised," said Hillman, who acknowledged he had a?onot that much" contact with the Broncos prior to the draft.
Hillman's skill set doesn't fit in with what John Fox has usually sought from runners he's added in the first three rounds of the draft; in Carolina he drafted big bruisers like DeShaun Foster, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.
But Peyton Manning's presence has a way of changing an offense -- and it made Hillman -- some 35 pounds lighter than starter Willis McGahee -- a more attractive option.
"We wanted to give that big play threat to Peyton to be able to get the ball in his hands and let him move," Elway said.
QUOTE TO NOTE
"I had a friend of mine say, 'Hey, you need to pick; I can't have another drink.'" -- John Elway, who apologized to fans who gathered for a team-sponsored party on the night of the draft after the Broncos traded down and out of the first round.
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