"With the 12th pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos select: Ryan Clady, Tackle, Boise State."
The words of Roger Goodell marked the start of a Broncos draft that would eventually yield eight starters, five Rookie of the Week awards, and a combined 50 starts from rookies. Looking down the draft class, the level of rookie performance is astonishing:
First Round: Ryan Clady—Started 16 games; surrendered 0.5 sacks; named Second Team All-Pro; Rookie of the Week in week 16.
Second Round: Eddie Royal—Started 15 games; caught 91 passes for 980 yards and five TDs (leads all rookies in those stats) as well as catching a 93 yard TD, the longest rookie reception of the year; Rookie of the Week in weeks one and 10.
Fourth Round: Kory Lichtensteiger—A back-up for most of the season, Lichtensteiger is expected to be the Broncos' next center if Casey Wiegmann retires.
Fourth Round: Jack Williams—Used mostly as the nickel back, Williams contributed 13 tackles in the 14 games he played in.
Fifth Round: Ryan Torain—After dislocating his elbow in training camp, he started one game, rushing for 68 yards and a TD on just 12 carries, finishing the season with 15 carries for 69 yards and one TD.
Fifth Round: Carlton Powell—The only Bronco draft pick who didn't see any playing time, following his Achilles tendon injury in training camp.
Sixth Round: Spencer Larsen—Started the season at fullback, but later saw action at linebacker as well. Became only the fourth player since 1990 to start on offense and defense; he also played special teams and made some crunching hits; started three games and named Rookie of the Week in week 11.
Seventh Round: Josh Barrett—Started three games for the Broncos at safety, making 22 tackles and one interception. A sure starter next season.
Seventh Round: Peyton Hillis—Known mostly as "the other running back from Arkansas" after Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, Hillis had arguably a better season than either of them.
Rushing for 343 yards on 68 carries and five TDs at an average of 5.0 yards per carry including a 129-yard game against the Jets, Hillis also contributed 14 catches for 179 yards and one touchdown, including a 100-yard receiving performance against the Dolphins.
His hard running style made him an instant fan favorite at Mile High and combined with his receiving ability, he should be a fixture on the Broncos offense for years to come.
As if these draft picks weren't quite enough, the Broncos also got excellent performance out of two undrafted rookies.
Wesley Woodyard—Following DJ Williams' injury, Woodyard stepped in and made 55 tackles, using his speed and playmaking ability to have an instant impact on the Broncos defense.
Brett Kern—The rookie punter finished with an average of 46.7 yards per punt (fifth in the NFL) and looks to be the Broncos' future at the punter position.
Having won more Rookie of the Week awards that any other team (five) and with more different winners than any other team (four), the Broncos' rookie class of 2008 appears to be the best in the league in terms of immediate impact.
The Kansas City Chiefs had more rookie starters than any other team and may end up with the best draft class of 2008, but their rookies' impact is dampened somewhat by their 2-14 record.
Although players such as Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, and Chris Johnson have taken all the rookie headlines, and rightly so, the immediate impact of the Broncos' draft class is almost unprecedented. Ryan has undoubtedly turned the Falcons around, but taking the draft class as a whole, it looks like the Broncos trumped everyone.