Denver Broncos general manager John Elway jokes with reporters after he talks about the team's selection in the NFL Draft on April 30, 2015. The Broncos traded up from the 28th to the 23rd pick to select Missouri pass rusher Shane Ray. (David Zalubowski, AP)

Opinion: Broncos drafting Shane Ray, pot charge and all, was a smart move

Always fearless and looking to make a big play, John Elway not only gambled by drafting Shane Ray, the Broncos doubled down by trading up to take a 21-year-old college student who was pulled over by police at dawn and cited for marijuana possession the same week of the NFL draft.

That’s dope.

Props to the Broncos.

“I don’t think weed is something that controls my life, nor has it controlled my life or been an issue,” Ray said Thursday night, when I asked him if starting his professional career in Colorado, where marijuana is legal, would be an issue by creating a temptation for him. “So I think really that’s not a concern at all.”

Denver could have done the safe and prudent thing, stayed at No. 28 in the first round and selected an offensive tackle to protect the brittle 39-year-old bones of quarterback Peyton Manning, a big blocker such as 309-pound T.J. Clemmings from Pittsburgh.

Elway, however, defiantly refused to play it safe as a Hall of Fame quarterback while winning two Super Bowls for the Broncos. Taking Ray fits with the modus operandi of Elway, who doesn’t make decisions as an executive based on fear for his job security. He hustled to close a bold deal with the Detroit Lions, and created the biggest controversy on the first night of the draft by taking Ray with the 23rd overall pick, because Elway never settles for second place.

“We got a guy that plays with his hair on fire,” Elway said.

Before sacking a quarterback in the NFL, going through his first practice with the Broncos or even being officially drafted, Ray earned the distinction of being placed in Phase 1 of the league’s substance-abuse program when he was cited for possession of 35 grams of marijuana after a traffic stop early Monday near Columbia, Mo., where Ray played in the Southeastern Conference and recorded 38½ sacks during three seasons for the Tigers.

“I haven’t failed any drug tests,” Ray said. “When I was cited, I wasn’t under the influence.”

Here’s why I think the move for Ray is so dope.

In a league ruled by quarterbacks, the best way for a defense to survive is to knock the quarterback on his rump. And Ray can certainly do that. He also plays the same position as veteran DeMarcus Ware, who will turn 33 years old in July and began to show his age as the rigors of a long NFL season began to weigh heavy on his shoulders in 2014.

But, above all else, a team that has enjoyed the consistent success built by Elway as a Broncos executive is rewarded with the luxury of taking a chance on a big talent with big upside with a selection late in the first round.

“We had him 10. He was 10th on our board,” Elway said.

Drafting for need in the first round early in the draft is a waste of time and scouting effort for a legitimate contender. The way elite teams stay on top year after year, despite a salary cap that promotes parity, is by drafting athletes that have Pro Bowl potential, regardless of the position. Super Bowls are won by playmakers.

Yes, by selecting Ray, the Broncos gave more fodder to late-night comedians who know Colorado only as the butt of marijuana jokes.

By taking Ray as a future bookend in the pass rush with Von Miller, the Broncos either moved one step closer to winning the Super Bowl or, if it goes wrong, Elway could be a leading candidate to be the guest of honor at Colorado’s next 4/20 clelebration.

“He’s a 21-year-old kid that made a mistake and realized it,” Elway said. “The kid, to me, loves the game of football. And I think he realizes the mistake that he made can really affect what that does to a football career.”

With Ray dropping like a rock on many draft boards because of concerns about his judgment, if not his character, the Broncos moved up to grab a pass rusher. But was this a crazy risk to select Ray?

If it’s crazy, give me some of what Elway’s smoking.

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