HOUSTON -- On a watery-blue AstroTurf in Boise, Idaho, well-removed from the season's bitterness, Broncos general manager John Elway paced the sidelines last month eager to learn more about Wyoming's Josh Allen.
It was the first stop in the chase for the Next Big Thing. The Broncos need a starting quarterback. He can be old, young, but preferably good. Only the Cleveland Browns featured worse play at the NFL's most important position last year. Any chance of the Broncos ending their two-year playoff drought starts under center.
Which brings us to the Senior Bowl. Coach Vance Joseph and his overhauled staff will guide the North Team. The squad includes the aforementioned Allen, and Heisman Trophy award winner Baker Mayfield, whom the Broncos requested be on their squad.
Allen starred in the Idaho Potato Bowl with Elway looking on, playing not to improve his stock, but out of loyalty to his program. In talking to multiple sources about Allen, he is well-liked, well-respected and viewed as a leader by teammates. That he has mobility of a puma and throws a football 80-plus yards in the air does not hurt either.
The Broncos have genuine interest in Allen that began before and extended after the bowl game, according to multiple sources. I watched nearly a dozen of Allen's games, and it's no secret why some consider him this draft's Carson Wentz (he was recruited by the same coaching staff).
Allen can scribble outside the lines, and deliver lasers. Two years ago, he made a pass on the run at Nebraska for a touchdown that opened my eyes to his NFL future. However, he completed 56.1 percentage of his throws in college against less-than-dominant competition. It creates pause. Allen said on 760 AM this week that "stats are for losers," repeating what ESPN draftnik Mel Kiper Jr. said last week. This why Senior Bowl is so important for Allen. At times, he relies too much on his arm, and struggles with his footwork. That is not a stat. It is a fact.
Will he show the intangibles and nuance to convince Broncos he's the guy? Can he demonstrate consistency this week on short and intermediate passes? He's expected to be comfortable under center, where he lined up at Wyoming regularly. His ability to repeat his mechanics and take the film room to practice could make him not only the Broncos' top pick, but the No. 1 overall selection.
Everybody wants to see Mayfield. And why not? He is the electric guitar in an acoustic set. He talks trash, but backs it up. Teammates gravitate toward him. The Broncos desperately need this type of personality on offense, where leadership lacks. However, Mayfield brings questions about his size and his college offense. Is he really 6-foot-1? If not, will it matter? The number of 6-foot quarterbacks succeeding in the NFL starts with Drew Brees and ends with Russell Wilson. You could fit the card-carrying members in a phone booth.
Mayfield, who has a family commitment but hopes to make Tuesday's practice according to ESPN, also must demonstrate a comfort level in a pro-style offense. He almost never played under center at Oklahoma. He used the run-pass-option routes, unleashing the ball quickly with breathtaking accuracy. As one NFL player told me recently though, "Guys are wide open in college. They almost never are in our league." Mayfield needs to show the ability to adapt to a new scheme, and throw into tight windows. If he does, he could be the answer at No. 5 if the Broncos are unable to land Kirk Cousins -- the preference -- or a Nick Foles, Case Keenum type.
Others to watch:
Several belong on this list, but I will only mention a handful in interest of making my connecting flight to Mobile:
G Will Hernandez, UTEP: He is a mountain of a man, listed at 6-3, 330 pounds. He serves as a physical mauler at the point of attack. And Broncos new offensive line coach Sean Kugler knows him well. He was the head coach at UTEP before stepping down following an 0-5 start. He raves about Hernandez, who can really solidify his draft stock by showing well in one-on-one drills.
DE Marcus Davenport, Texas-San Antonio: Moving up draft boards because of his freakish athleticism. Is a strong rusher who is big enough to stop the run. Does he fit Broncos? Well, if not, they need DeMarcus Walker to take a huge step forward next season.
RB Rashaad Penny, San Diego State: Who is the Kareem Hunt of this draft class? Penny is not as versatile as Hunt, but is dynamic. The Broncos need playmakers, gamechangers. Another guy to keep an eye on is Oregon's Royce Freeman.
WR Michael Gallup, Colorado State: All Gallup did at CSU was make plays. He appears faster than the stopwatch says. He has good body control. If he can win against top corners this week, it will move him up the mid-round projections.