Top 10: Draft Picks That Define the Broncos Franchise

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Top 10: Draft Picks That Define the Broncos Franchise
(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Ten Draft picks that have defined the Denver Broncos franchise. From elite players that remind us of the winning tradition that we proudly cherish, to the players who we wish we could forget, and make us scratch our heads asking "what were they thinking?"

These players both good and bad remind us of just how important it is to draft well, of how calculated risks can pay off, and how hoping a player to be who you want them to be will burn you every time.

 

No. 10 - Jay Cutler - QB

In the 2006 NFL Draft the Denver Broncos held the 15th overall pick. In a surprise move the Broncos traded their 15th and 68th overall picks to the St. Louis Rams to move up four spots to the 11th pick in order to draft their next franchise QB Jay Cutler.  

After a lackluster year from Jake Plummer in 2005, Mike Shanahan knew that Plummer was not the quarterback of the future for the Broncos. He saw an elite talent that had the potential to transfer to the NFL with a lot of success and he went for it.  

Cutler showed that he is an amazing player who is a top 10 quarterback in the NFL right now and he is only 26. He made his first pro-bowl in just his third year in the league. 

Jay Cutler is no longer a Denver Bronco, but the way everything played out on draft day was very well done, and he was an amazing talent, that made the team better.

 

No. 9 - Willie Middlebrooks - CB

Willie Middlebrooks was selected with the 24th pick of the 2001 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos in the first round.

Middlebrooks is considered to be a draft bust, playing only four seasons with the Denver Broncos, and making just two starts.  Though cornerback was a need the team needed to address Middlebrooks turned out to be a huge dud.  

When you consider the depth of elite players who were drafted after Middlebrooks (Reggie Wayne 30 , Drew Brees 32, Kyle Vanden-Bosch 34, Chad "Ocho Cinco" Johnson 36, Ken Lucas 40, Kris Jenkins 44, Fred Smoot 45, Aaron Schobel 46, Matt Light 48) , it almost makes you want to cry.

 

No. 8 - Tom Nalen -C

Nalen was drafted by the Denver Broncos with the 218th overall pick in the seventh round of the 1994 NFL Draft and played primarily at center.

He won two Super Bowls as a member of the Broncos and played in five Pro Bowls.

Six different running backs have had 1,000-yard rushing seasons behind Nalen and the Broncos' offensive line.

Seventh round is where you pick up guys for the practice squad, many of these guys never make the team, but Nalen was a consistent and dominant player who may have a trip to Canton in his future. Seventh round pick who becomes a starter, plays consistently, and plays at an elite level for over ten years, you can't ask for more.

No. 7 - Ashley Lelie - WR

In 2002 the Broncos selected Ashley Lelie with their first round pick (19th overall).

Ashley Lelie is and was a serviceable receiver, he just was never  turner into a great receiver.  You want your first round picks to transfer to lite talent in the NFL. Lelie had flashes but dropped a lot of balls and was inconsistent.

He had one good year in 2004, but followed it up with a flop. Then decided he wanted out, held himself out of camp and was traded, and has only put up worse numbers since leaving the Broncos.

2002 DEN   35 525     2      
2003 DEN   37 628     2      
2004 DEN   54 1084     7      
2005 DEN   42 770     1

 

What really makes this pick appear on this list is that the Denver Broncos could have selected Ed Reed who came off the board five picks later (24th overall). Ed Reed is a perennial pro-bowler, and probably the best safety in the NFL. 

If only....

 

No. 6 - Jarvis Moss - DE

In the 2007 NFL Draft the Denver Broncos traded up in the draft with the Jacksonville Jaguars to select Moss 17th overall. The Jaguars used the pick from the Broncos to select Reggie Nelson, a college teammate of Moss.'

During the 2007 season, Moss played in six games for the Denver Broncos. He recorded 12 tackles and one sack. Moss broke his shin in practice in early November, and was placed on injured reserve, ending his season.

Last year Moss played in 12 games only recording 12 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

Moss, unless he has an amazing breakout season this year, is widely considered a bust. If you trade up to get a guy, especially in the first round, you expect that guy to make an impact right away, to be a starter. 

Moss has not proven himself to be a starter, and has not had a significant impact. He has on more year I think to prove us all wrong, but right now this pick looks terrible, so terrible in fact that it probably was a factor in the decision to fire the Coach that drafted him, Mike Shanahan.

When you look at the guys Denver could have had instead of Moss, it makes the call look even more questionable: Michael Griffin 19, Reggie Nelson 21, Brandon Meriweather 24, Jon Beason 25, Lamar Woodley 46

Having a 100+ tackle guy like Beason would really have been nice these past two years, or how about a guy like Woodley who has 15.5 sacks in two seasons (that's 12 sacks more than Moss and he was competing with Harrison). Not a good pick.

 

No. 5 - Shannon Sharpe - TE

Shannon Sharpe was drafted in the seventh round (192 overall) of the 1990 NFL Draft.

Two years later, after having a mediocre rookie season as a wide receiver, he switched to the tight end position and was selected to the first of what would be eight Pro Bowl appearances.

Shannon helped revolutionize the tight end position which had largely been resigned to blocking 90 percent of the time. Shannon excelled both as a blocker and a receiver, and made the defense have to change their approach in order to account for him.

Shannon was a key weapon in the Broncos back-to back Super Bowl wins, and has a future as a Hall of Famer with career totals of 815 receptions, 10,060 yards, and 62 touchdowns.

The acquisition of a future hall of famer at any position in any round is a great pick, but a three-time (once with the Ravens) Super Bowl champion in the seventh round, that is something special.

 

No. 4 - Maurice Clarett - RB

In a pick that was the talk of the draft in 2005, the Denver Broncos selected Maurice Clarett with the last pick in the third round (101 overall). This was a shock because Clarett was considered by many to be a sixth or seventh round pick, having not played a game in two years or practiced in over a year.

Clarett went on to never even play a preseason game. He was released on waivers only a month after signing his contract and before playing even a single down in the NFL. No other NFL team claimed him off waivers or even expressed interest in him.

What is so disappointing about this pick is, look who Denver could have drafted instead: Marion Barber (109), Brandon Jacobs (110), Kerry Rhodes (123), Darren Sproles (130), Chris Canty (132). 

 

No. 3 - Rod Smith - WR

In the 1994 NFL Draft there was a player who undrafted, Rod Smith.  First the New England Patriots signed him, but then released him. Soon after his release the Denver Broncos signed him, and they are sure glad they did.

Rod was the Broncos' starting wide receiver during their back-to-back Superbowl championships in1997 and 1998. In the Broncos' 34-19 win in Super Bowl XXXIII, Smith had five receptions for 152 yards (the fourth highest total in Super Bowl history), including an 80-yard touchdown reception.

Smith is the only undrafted free agent to have ever surpassed the 10,000-receiving-yard plateau. He is ranked 15th in NFL history in career receptions and 16th all time in receiving yards. 

Production speaks for itself, he technically wasn't a draft pick, but that makes his story even more amazing.

 

No. 2 - Terrel Davis - RB

Davis was selected by the Denver Broncos in the sixth round (196 overall) of the 1995 NFL Draft. Little did anyone know, that the Broncos were getting an absolute steal.

Fighting his way through the depth chart, proving his worth in preseason, T.D. became the lowest drafted player to ever gain over 1,000 yards rushing in his rookie season.

In his first Super Bowl appearance (1997), Davis rushed for 157 yards, caught two passes for eight yards, and became the first player in Super Bowl history ever to score three rushing touchdowns. This performance earned him MVP honors.

T.D. would help lead his team another Super Bowl win the following year (1998) with 2,008 yards rushing, in addition to becoming the league MVP and offensive player of the year. 

Davis would become the Denver Broncos all-time leading rusher, with 7,607 rushing yards. 

As a sixth round draft choice, T.D. was truly a Diamond in the rough.

 

No. 1 - John Elway - QB

In the 1983 NFL Draft, Elway was selected as the first overall pick by the Baltimore Colts. Elway publicly stated that he refused to join the Colts organization, feeling the team could not allow him to be successful.

He demanded that if the Colts did not trade him he said he was going to play baseball with the New York Yankees, for whom he had already played two years in the minor league. 

On May 2, 1983, Colts owner Robert Irsay gave in, and the Colts traded Elway to the Denver Broncos for QB Mark Herrmann, rights to OL Chris Hinton and a first-round pick in the 1984 Nfl Draft (OG Ron Solt).

The rest is History...Elway led the Denver Broncos to five Super Bowls, winning two back-to-back in 1997 and 1998, and in 2004 Elway was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

Elway is widely regarded as one of the top quarterbacks ever to grace the game. He has one of the best winning percentages in league history (148–82–1), and is tied for second most Pro Bowl selections for a quarterback (nine). He is ranked third in career passing attempts, passing yards and completions.

Can you imagine if the Broncos never had Elway as their Quarterback?

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