Born Broncos: Bradlee Van Pelt was the proto-Tebow

In this edition of "Born Broncos", we take a look at former backup QB Bradlee Van Pelt, who was the original running QB in Denver.

Denver Broncos v Arizona Cardinals
Denver Broncos v Arizona Cardinals / Jeff Gross/GettyImages

In this edition of "Born Broncos", we take a look at former backup QB Bradlee Van Pelt. Years before Tim Tebow graced the Mile High City, Van Pelt was the original lumbering power-back playing quarterback.

Career Stats for Denver Broncos QB Bradlee Van Pelt

Years Played: 2004-2006

Teams Played For: Broncos, Texans

2-8, 7 yards passing, 11 rushes for 48 yards and 1 TD (rushing)

Bradlee Van Pelt was born July 3rd, 1980 in Owosso, Mi. The son of a great NFL Linebacker, Van Pelt was born "battle-tested". Years before players like Tim Tebow or Taysom Hill blossomed onto the scene, Van Pelt was one of the pioneers behind the "battering ram" style of QB play.

As a starting QB and Safety (yes, he was one of those guys) at San Marcos High School, Van Pelt was a first-team all-state athlete and a highly decorated prep player. During his Senior Season, Van Pelt accounted for 37 total TDs behind center and 41 tackles (with 3 INTs) at Safety. Needless to say, Van Pelt had little hesitation to lower his shoulder pads and lay the smackdown on his opponents.

After initially committing to Michigan State (under then Head Coach Nick Saban), Van Pelt soon transferred to Colorado State, where he became a legend for that University. He would go on to shatter several expectations in his time at Fort Collins, which included two Mountain West Conference Player of the Year awards and two First-team all-MWC accolades. Most notably, Van Pelt's Senior season was one for the record books. As a Senior, Van Pelt would fall 246 total yards short of 3,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in one season. In an era where most QBs were thought of as only "pocket passers", this was an incredible stat line to come across.

Despite the abundance of records and stats set, Van Pelt was seen as a "running QB" and was not considered amongst his class's elite prospects. To be fair, he did share a Draft Cycle with the likes of Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, etc. Even Matt Schaub was a gem of a pick in that cycle as a 3rd rounder. However, Van Pelt would find a home in Denver as he was selected in the 7th round (250th overall).

Bradlee Van Pelt, Play
Denver Broncos vs Jacksonville Jaguars - October 2, 2005 / Al Messerschmidt/GettyImages

The odd thing about Van Pelt's arrival in Denver was that he wasn't the only rookie passer strolling into town. Just 25 picks before Van Pelt became a Bronco, Shanahan, and co. selected LSU QB Matt Mauck to join the QB room. Elevating the conversation around the pre-draft chatter, many wondered if Van Pelt stood a strong chance at cracking the 53-man roster. While their rookie seasons were spent primarily on the Practice Squad, it was Van Pelt's toughness and determination that would land him the backup QB spot in the 2005 season. We'll cover Mauck's future in his own article, down the road.

For the 2005 Season, Bradlee Van Pelt would serve as Jake Plummer's only backup on the active roster. This was a gutsy move by Mike Shanahan. Despite Jake "the Snake's" incredible durability shown in the 2004 season (where he took every offensive snap), he did have a history of sustaining injuries. Putting your trust in a second-year backup with no playing experience was bold by the legendary coach. It paid off, as Plummer stayed healthy for a second straight year, allowing Van Pelt to be used sparingly.

Most notably, Van Pelt entered the game against Kansas City late in the season and made some plays that would ultimately serve as a precursor to what we see in other QBs today.

With Plummer set at WR, Van Pelt took the direct snap at QB and lumbered into the endzone to tie what would become a classic game. Later in the season, Van Pelt would relieve Plummer in the 2nd half against the Chargers, putting up most of the career stats he would tally. Van Pelt would finish the 2005 season as the sole backup QB and provide a blueprint for future "gadget" QBs.

Unfortunately, Van Pelt's time in Denver would run out by the end of the 2006 Training Camp. With newly minted rookie Jay Cutler in town, it was clear that there was no longer a place for Van Pelt on the roster. He would be released at the end of camp and latch on with Kubiak's squad down in Houston. He would spend the rest of the 2006 season and 2007 Training Camp with the Texans. At the conclusion of the 2007 training camp, Van Pelt would again find himself without a team as the Texans released him.

Undeterred, Van Pelt had one (or two) more acts to go in his football career. In 2009, Van Pelt switched to safety and tried one more attempt at the NFL. Now the hunter, Van Pelt was more than eager to chase after his former comrades behind center in an effort to extend his pro career. After receiving a handful of workouts, this switch would not be successful. Again, Van Pelt refused to walk away from the game of football.

After making a switch to safety, Van Pelt would take his talents over to Europe. There, he would spend the next two seasons playing in pro leagues. He would spend two seasons with Bergamo Lions of the Italian Football League, playing both QB and Safety. He would follow up that campaign with a lone season in the British Football League, BAFA.

After his detour to the European Leagues, Van Pelt would eventually hang up his cleats. In the years following his retirement, Van Pelt would stay close to the game by providing his skills as a commentator to different networks.

Jake Plummer, Bradlee Van Pelt, Rod Smith, Denver Broncos
Denver Broncos v Kansas City Chiefs / Brian Bahr/GettyImages

Looking back on Bradlee Van Pelt's career, it's hard not to wonder what could have been. In an era where dynamic, running QBs have become more commonplace, Van Pelt's career brings us to two poignant questions.

1. Was Van Pelt always going to be a gadget player, destined for a short NFL career?

2. Or, was he just a few years ahead of his time, possibly being a bigger star in today's game?

The answers to which we'll never know. Regardless, it's hard not to think about guys like Tim Tebow and Taysom Hill, wondering if Bradlee Van Pelt did the "crawling" so they could run. Undoubtedly, Bradlee Van Pelt was a "football-playing Jesse." A rare athlete that was able to play the most cerebral and, arguably, the most physical positions (sometimes, on the same team); it's hard not to wonder what could have been for him in today's NFL.


With Sean Payton now in Denver, you'd have to think he'd sprint into the office to sign a guy like Bradlee Van Pelt if he was available today. A unique athlete willing to lay it on the line every play, Bradlee Van Pelt was a trail-blazing player worth more recognition.

Here's to you, Bradlee Van Pelt. Broncos Country owes you a Mile High salute! Thanks for all of your contributions to the Denver Broncos!

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