7 Biggest Draft Day Mistakes in Denver Broncos History
The Denver Broncos have been around for 54 years as an NFL franchise. Along the way, the team has made some great selections on draft day. Picks like Lyle Alzado in 1971, Terrell Davis in the sixth round of the 1995 NFL draft and Randy Gradishar in 1974 go down as some of the Broncos' finest draft-day decisions in team history.
But with the good comes the bad.
For all the great moves the Broncos have made in the draft, they've made a number of bad ones. These mistakes didn't just happen in one era—they happened even during the largely successful coaching eras of Dan Reeves, Mike Shanahan and Wade Phillips.
While selections such as Alzado, Davis and Gradishar resulted in highly successful teams that ended up advancing to the Super Bowl, the selections on this list resulted in missed opportunities and chances to draft real franchise players.
Here are the seven biggest draft-day mistakes in franchise history.
7. CB Willie Middlebroks: 1st Round, 24th Overall in 2001 NFL Draft
Cornerback Willie Middlebrooks had a successful collegiate career at the University of Minnesota where he was named a second-team All-Big Ten player in 1999, before garnering a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2000. He struggled through injuries his senior season, but Mike Shanahan still took a chance on Middlebrooks late in the first round because of his size (6'1", 200 pounds) and potential.
This was just a year after the Broncos had drafted CB Deltha O'Neal in the first round. Middlebrooks played four seasons with the Broncos from 2001-2004, before being traded to the San Francisco 49ers in 2005. He was signed by the Broncos again in 2006 but did not make the final roster, ending his NFL career for good.
The University of Minnesota product struggled through injuries during his NFL career and ended up posting career stats of 74 tackles, one sack and zero interceptions in 56 career games played. The first-round bust started just two games for the Broncos in four seasons.
As far as defensive back selections are concerned, this was the worst pick in Broncos history.
6. DE Jarvis Moss: 1st Round, 17th Overall Selection in 2007 NFL Draft
Jarvis Moss has to be the most disappointing Broncos pick in recent memory.
The Broncos gave up a third-round and fifth-round draft selection and swapped first-round picks with the Jacksonville Jaguars in order to move up to the first round of the 2007 NFL draft. They did this with the intention of selecting Moss with the No. 17 overall pick.
The hybrid defensive end/linebacker had a productive career at the University of Florida. He ended it with a great performance in the 2007 BCS Championship Game versus Ohio State, in which he sacked quarterback Troy Smith twice, one of which he resulted in a fumble.
The problem was, although Moss had a solid career at Florida and had a few highlights during his senior season, he wasn't a first-round talent. At 6'7" and 260 pounds, Moss didn't fit at either defensive end or linebacker.
Mike Shanahan made a number of bad selections on the defensive side of the ball when he was head coach of the Broncos for 13 seasons, and the selection of Moss was the worst. Moss played four seasons for the Broncos, tallying 23 tackles and 3.5 sacks.
He was released by the team in November of 2010, after Josh McDaniels took over from Shanahan as head coach. Moss then signed with the Oakland Raiders, where he last played during the 2011 season.
Moss had two different head coaches and two different systems to succeed in while he was with the Broncos. He was given numerous opportunities but failed to capitalize.
5. WR Marcus Nash: 1st Round, 30th Overall of the 1998 NFL Draft
This is yet another one of Mike Shanahan's first-round draft busts.
Nash had a great senior season while at the University of Tennessee where he was a favorite target of future Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. Nash led all players in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns in his senior season in 1997.
However, that success did not translate to the NFL.
Nash had just four receptions for 76 yards during his Broncos career. He was with the team in 1998 before being traded in September of the following season to the Miami Dolphins for running back John Avery. He was quickly cut by the Dolphins, before being picked up by the Baltimore Ravens. He posted zero receptions and one appearance with the Ravens.
Although Nash was a bust at the NFL level, he became one of the Arena Football League's best receivers from 2003-2008. He was named AFL Offensive Player of the Year after shattering league receiving records. His football career ended in 2008 due to a neck injury.
This pick is often forgotten and forgiven by Broncos fans because Nash was selected in the midst of the Broncos' run as two-time Super Bowl champions. However, this pick could have been used to solidify other areas of the roster. This pick was used on a wide receiver, where the Broncos were already set at the position with Rod Smith and Eddie McCaffrey.
4. DE Dan Williams: 1st Round, 11th Overall in 1993 NFL Draft
Defensive end Dan Williams of the Toledo Rockets was drafted with the 11th overall selection in the 1993 NFL draft.
Williams was the first draft selection of the Wade Phillips era, and the Broncos gave up a third-round draft pick in order to move up to draft him. In four injury-plagued seasons with the team, Williams had just four sacks, a far cry from the 28 sacks he had at Toledo during his collegiate career.
The first-round draft pick was a starter for the Broncos all throughout his four seasons, but he never produced on the field like a top pick should. As a free agent in 1997, he signed with the Kansas City Chiefs, where he actually had a productive career from 1997-2000, notching 23 combined sacks in three of his four seasons in K.C.
3. QB Tommy Maddox: 1st Round, 25th Overall in 1992 NFL Draft
Maddox was drafted by head coach Dan Reeves with the intention that he'd eventually replace John Elway as the franchise's starting quarterback. Due to a deteriorating relationship with his quarterback, Reeves sought a way to replace Elway (per Sports Illustrated). He saw Maddox as a solution to that problem.
There were many problems with the selection of Maddox.
For one, Elway was one of the game's best quarterbacks who had led the team to three Super Bowl appearances and won an NFL MVP in 1987. There was little doubt that Elway would go down as one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game.
Secondly, Maddox was not a suitable replacement for an eventual Hall of Famer. In fact, it was arguable that he wasn't even suitable to be an NFL quarterback. Maddox played two seasons at UCLA before deciding to enter the NFL draft in 1992 at the age of 20.
At the time Maddox was selected by the Broncos in 1992, Mal Florence of The Los Angeles Times reported Joe Theismann as saying that Maddox should have remained in school:
Moments before UCLA quarterback Tommy Maddox was chosen in the first round by the Denver Broncos, the 25th pick overall, Joe Theismann was on television saying that Maddox would be a good prospect for the World League.
Theismann had said that Maddox should have remained in school, and that he would have done better for himself in the draft next year.
Theismann was right. Maddox played two seasons in Denver, and convinced no one that he was capable of assuming from Elway the mantle of the Broncos' quarterback. He was eventually traded to the then Los Angeles Rams in 1994 for a fourth-round draft selection.
This pick was made because of a bad evaluation coupled with the deteriorating working relationship between head coach and starting quarterback. Elway was the starting quarterback of the Broncos, and there should have never been any question about it.
2. DT Ted Gregory: 1st Round, 26th Overall in 1988 NFL Draft
Some consider the selection of defensive tackle Ted Gregory to be the worst pick in Broncos history. And it arguably is.
Though Gregory was a consensus All-American at Syracuse, there were just so many things laughable about this pick.
First of all, head coach Dan Reeves and nobody within the Broncos organization had met with Gregory before drafting him. Secondly, when Reeves did meet Gregory for the first time, he remarked about Gregory's physical stature: "I'm taller than he is!"
It's worth nothing that Reeves is 6'1", while Gregory was listed 6'1".
Last of all, Gregory blew out his knee in his last collegiate game. In spite of that, Reeves still drafted him with the 26th overall selection. Throughout training camp, Gregory's knee issues were a problem.
Without ever playing a game for the Broncos, he was traded to the New Orleans Saints during the 1988 preseason, where he played in just three games before his knee blew out on him again. He was forced to retire from the NFL.
RB Maurice Clarett: 3rd Round, 101st Overall in 2005 NFL Draft
Though Maurice Clarett is the only non-first-round draft selection on this list, he is the worst selection of all of them.
Clarett was a national sensation in his lone season at Ohio State in 2002. Clarett led the team to a BCS national championship title, and established a school freshman record in rushing yards. Unfortunately for Clarett, everything went downhill from that point on.
By the time the Broncos selected Clarett in the 2005 NFL draft, he had gone two-and-a-half years without playing football. Not only did the Broncos select him higher than expected, they selected him at the end of the first day of the draft with the 101st overall selection in the third round.
This selection is the worst mistake in Broncos history for a number of reasons. Clarett was a skilled player at one point in time, but due to a lengthy period without playing football and pure laziness, he wasn't close to being an NFL talent in 2005.
Mike Shanahan's arrogance was another factor. Granted, Shanahan has been known for his ability to develop running backs. He had a number of 1,000-yard rushers during his head coaching tenure in Denver, including Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Clinton Portis and Reuben Droughns. Such a track record of success may have convinced Shanahan that he could make anybody—including a player as troubled as Clarett—a star running back in his offensive system.
He couldn't have been more wrong.
The Broncos released Clarett on August 28, 2005, without Clarett even playing a down in a preseason game. He never appeared in an NFL game.