Well, we’ve all made it. We’ve crawled into that dark sports cave, full from the Super Bowl, ready for the long nap between the end of the NFL season and the promise of the blossoming talent that comes from the NFL Draft. Maybe you’ve survived off March Madness, foraged off April baseball, or even scraped through the snow to find some semblance of sustenance in hockey, God help you.
If hope springs eternal, teams eternally hope that their choices, strategies, and luck leave them with talent that will change the course of their franchise. An ill-advised move can leave teams scrambling for years, while the right ones will generate a decade-long buzz about the genius of the front office and the tale of the player their team was savvy enough to obtain.
For the Denver Broncos, recent drafts have produced a buzz for sure, sometimes for all the right reasons, sometimes for all the head-scratching ones. We see you, Tim Tebow.
While you continue to ponder the 2010 Draft and look forward to Thursday’ s first round, here is a round-by-round list of the best draft picks in Broncos’ history.
First Round: Randy Gradishar, LB, 1974 – Perhaps Gradishar is keeping this seat warm for Von Miller. That, of course, is to be determined. The Broncos are a bit dichotomous when it comes to first-round picks. They have always seemed to draft solid, immediate impact type of players, but rarely land the blockbuster. Chalk it up to being mostly competitive as a franchise, rarely drafting in the top ten spots, and to being very judicious in their evaluation of players. In a sense, Gradishar is representative of the team’s first-round history. Gradishar spent his entire nine-season career with the Broncos, playing in each and every one of the 145 games with the team. He is the franchise leader with over 2,000 tackles, highlighted by his Defensive MVP season in 1978 when he logged a simply absurd 286 tackles. Granted the game is more aerial-based in the 21st century, but for perspective, tackling machine Wesley Woodyard had 117 in 2012…and he was flying to the ball. This is the very definition of a successful first-round pick.
Honorable Mention: Steve Atwater, S, 1989
Second Round: Clinton Portis, RB, 2002 – Talk about changing the landscape of a franchise. Not only was Portis a very solid back for the Broncos, producing over 3,000 yards in his two seasons with the team, but his most solid contribution was to be the trade chip for Champ Bailey. Not to take anything away from Portis’ career, but the Broncos most certainly won this trade with the Washington Redskins. Since that trade, Bailey has made the Pro Bowl in eight of his nine seasons with the Broncos. In terms of the draft, Portis was a second-round pick, while Bailey was no. 7 overall in 1999, effectively giving the Broncos another first-rounder when the trade was made in 2004.
Honorable Mention: Simon Fletcher, LB, 1985
Third Round: Jason Elam, K, 1993 – A kicker? Seriously? Yes. The Broncos have had a surprisingly underwhelming history in the third round, but when your team doesn’t have to worry about any kind of field goal debacles for over a decade, you’ve found yourself a wise third-round pick. Ask the 2011 Ravens if they would spend a third-round pick on this type of insurance policy. On the flip-side, if you’re a kicker drafted with in the third round, you’d better deliver. Elam tied the longest field goal in NFL history, is seventh all-time in field goals made, and is the Broncos’ franchise scoring and field goal percentage leader.
Honorable Mention: Bill Thompson, DB, 1969
Fourth Round: Tom Jackson, LB, 1973 – In the age of offensive dominance and an era where quarterback is key, it’s hard to believe that a name that made the Broncos famous was on the opposite side of the ball. Jackson, Gradishar, and nine others would form one of the best defenses in football. The “Orange Crush” keyed three consecutive playoff appearances in the late-70′s and for all purposes is the genesis of the loyal Broncos’ fan-base. Jackson was a Pro Bowl player in those playoff years and would go on to become No. 3 on the list of games played for the club and a Ring of Fame inductee.
Honorable Mention: Rick Upchurch, WR, 1975
Fifth Round: Chris Kuper, G, 2006 – Kuper wasn’t even projected to be selected prior to the 2006 Draft, so when the Broncos took out a flier, much was expected out of the rookie from North Dakota. What a pleasant surprise! Kuper’s resume likely isn’t going to include many trips to the Pro Bowl and certainly won’t culminate with a bust in Canton, but Kuper’s leadership has shored up one of the most stout offensive lines in football. A three-year team captain and now the second longest-tenured Broncos player, Kuper has only allowed 12 sacks as a starter for the team. Like the third round, the fifth has been a particular weak spot in terms of the history of the draft, but Kuper’s steady presence and leadership on the field allows him to be the only active player to make this list.
Honorable Mention: Sammy Winder, RB, 1982
Sixth Round: Terrell Davis, RB, 1995 – Just your average, run-of-the-mill no-doubter. But when your presence pretty much seals up two Super Bowl rings and you contribute a 2,000-yard, MVP season, it doesn’t really matter where you were drafted…you’re making this list. Despite only playing about five full seasons worth of games, Davis’ legend is firmly planted in Denver Broncos’ lore for being the perfect complimentary piece for John Elway to win a Super Bowl. The chances of not ending up in the Hall of Fame fall between possible and likely, but the legend of Terrell Davis and his contributions as a sixth-round draft pick make him one of the picks of any NFL team.
Honorable Mention: Mark Jackson, WR, 1986
Seventh Round: Shannon Sharpe, TE, 1990 – The cool tight end before tight ends were cool. Nobody at that forgotten position had as much swagger, was as boisterous, as entertaining, and as dominant as Sharpe. For a seventh-round pick to redefine, or at least reset the bar for what an entire position could achieve is virtually unheard of. With eight Pro Bowls, three Super Bowl rings, 10,000+ receiving yards on his resume, Sharpe was welcomed into the Hall of Fame in 2011 solidifying himself as the best seventh-round pick for the Broncos, and perhaps the best last-round selection in NFL history. Not bad for
Honorable Mention: Tom Nalen, C, 1994
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