Denver Broncos: Grading Tim Tebow and 11 Other First Round Draft Picks 2000-2010

Aaron YoungCorrespondent IIIApril 27, 2011

Denver Broncos: Grading Tim Tebow and 11 Other First Round Draft Picks 2000-2010

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    This last decade definitely gave fans and GMs alike a lot of both pleasures and headaches.

    The Broncos had their ups and downs too.

    They drafted a couple of great players, a few busts and a lot of mediocrity. Without further ado, here's an analysis of the last decade of Denver's first round draft picks.

    I'll also present to you who they should have drafted instead.

    Hope you'll enjoy it, as we look back in history to learn about the future. Comments are always welcome.

2000: Deltha O’Neal, Cornerback, California

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    O'Neal played college ball at the University of California. He was very successful and set the NCAA single season record with four interceptions returned for touchdowns in his senior year.

    His accomplishments at Cal along with his versatility earned him the 15th pick overall in the 2000 NFL Draft.

    Although O'Neal was first and foremost a cornerback, he was also a good kick returner, and it was on special teams he made the biggest contributions for the Broncos.

    Since he was not particularly effective on defense, but had fantastic speed and good hands, Head coach Mike Shanahan made a futile attempt to convert him to wide receiver. He ended up with two receptions for four yards in two games.

    Deltha O'Neal was not happy in Denver and was traded to the Bengals along with other picks in connection with the 2004 NFL Draft.

    He fared better in Cincinnati than for the Broncos and broke the franchise record for interceptions in one season in 2005. The cornerback had a couple of good seasons for the Bengals before being released before the 2008 season.

    The Patriots picked him up in 2008 as they needed depth at that position. He was not highly productive and played only one season for the team.

    The Texans signed him as insurance in 2009, but he was released only a couple of months later.

    He is currently a free agent and is likely to retire.

    Deltha O'Neal had a couple of good years in the NFL, but did not quite become what you expect out of your first round draft pick.

    He did not become the dominant cornerback the Broncos hoped for, and you just don't spend your 15th pick overall on a special teams player.

    His grade would have been lower if he hadn't made significant contributions for other teams. He did in fact make two Pro Bowl appearances.

    Grade: B-

2001: Willie Middlebrooks, Cornerback, Minnesota

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    With the 24th pick overall in the 2001 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos selected Willie Middlebrooks.

    Since Deltha O'Neal hadn't quite worked out, the Broncos still had a need at cornerback despite spending their first-round draft pick in 2000 to acquire one.

    Unfortunately, Middlebrooks didn't work out for the Broncos either.

    He was on Denver's roster from 2001 to 2004, on the 49ers' roster in 2005 and was cut after the preseason in 2006,

    In five seasons in the NFL, he only had one start. He is considered a draft bust, and currently plays in the CFL for the Toronto.

    Grade: F 

2002: Ashley Lelie, Wide Receiver, Hawaii

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    Ashley Lelie was selected with the 19th pick overall in 2002. The retired wide receiver had an OK career in the NFL, but was mostly a back-up.

    He had his best season in 2004, when he racked up 1,084 yards on 54 receptions for the Broncos.

    Lelie became unhappy in Denver when the Broncos traded a second round draft pick to Green Bay for Javon Walker during the 2006 NFL Draft. Lelie was traded the same year.

    He did not come close to having the success he had in Denver anywhere else.

    The wide receiver went on to become a back up in Atlanta, San Fransisco and Oakland. He was also signed to Kansas City's roster, but was cut during the preseason in 2009 before retiring.

    Grade: D+

2003: George Foster, Offensive Tackle, Georgia

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    George Foster entered the scene, looking like a million dollars after he was drafted with the 20th pick overall. He showed a lot of promise in his rookie season, which earned him the starting job the following year.

    The offensive tackle started all 16 games for the Broncos both in 2004 and 2005, and was a part of a offensive line that led way for three different rushers that racked up up more than 100 yards in at least one game in one season in 2004. It was only the second time in franchise history.

    Even more impressively, that line gave up only 15 sacks that year, and easily broke the record for sack allowed. The last record was set in 1971 with 22 sacks allowed. Talk about impact!

    The following year he also helped the Broncos to garner 2,539 rushing yards during the season—the most in franchise history and the second-best rushing offense in the NFL.

    He was traded to the Lions in 2007 before he was released at the end of the 2008 season. The Browns picked him up before the same season, but he was cut before the start of the 2009 season.

    He currently plays in the UFL.

    The late first-round draft pick gave the Broncos the pleasure of having Foster on their roster for four seasons. It's fair to say he had a huge impact for Denver.

    Grade: B- 

2004: D.J. Williams, Linebacker, Miami

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    D.J. Williams has been an important part of Denver's defense ever since he was drafted.

    He has shown extreme versatility as he has played every linebacker position in the franchise's 4-3 scheme, and played inside linebacker when Denver switched to the 3-4-scheme.

    He will probably become the starting middle linebacker for Denver this upcoming season when they go back to the 4-3-scheme.

    Willams had a career high 141 tackles and one sack and an interception in the 2007 season.

    It's safe to say he was a brilliant pick in 2004.

    Grade: A

2006: Jay Cutler, Quarterback, Vanderbilt

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    Denver drafted Jay Cutler in 2006. The same year, Jay Cutler started out as No. 3 on the depth chart, but by the time preseason was finished, he had moved up to No. 2.

    He replaced Jake Plummer as starting quarterback in November during his rookie season. He started for the club the next two years, but failed to make the playoffs both times.

    That might be one of the reasons Josh McDaniels did not believe in him when he became the Head coach for the Broncos, hence Cutler was traded.

    Cutler went on to do well for the Chicago Bears, and had a very good season last year, when his team was even considered to be favored to win the Super Bowl by some.

    Even though Jay Cutler never made the playoffs for the Broncos, he did fairly well in his first three seasons, and he has done even better in Chicago.

    I know that Cutler doing well for the Bears does not benefit Denver fans, the Broncos were still the ones that brought him into the league.

    Grade: B

2007: Jarvis Moss, Defensive End, Florida

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    When the Denver Broncos drafted Jarvis Moss 17th overall in 2007, they probably got a bit cought up in the fact that Moss had just been a part of Florida's recent success when they won the National Championship.

    Even though teams were warned about Moss, because of his suspension during his collegiate career, the Broncos still traded up to grab him.

    Moss racked up only 32 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 28 games (only one start) in four years for the Broncos. He was later cut.

    The Raiders picked him up shortly after he had been cut by the Broncos, because they needed a replacement for the injured Trevor Scott.

    In three games for the Raiders, Moss racked up a grand total of three tackles and a sack.

    He's likely to become a career back-up and will probably be viewed as a bust in a couple of years.

    Grade: D-

2008: Ryan Clady, Offensive Tackle, Boise State

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    When the Broncos drafted Ryan Clady 12th overall in 2008, it was definitely a sign that Denver's scouting department was in good shape.

    Many people were surprised when Clady was taken off the board that early, but I would say that Clady is in fact Denver's best draft pick last decade.

    He has started every game since he got drafted. In the process, he also set a new record. NFL record for consecutive games to start a career without giving up a full sack.

    In 20 games, he surrendered only 1.5 sacks.

    One can argue that Ryan Clady is the best offensive tackle in the league today. The Broncos are truly blessed to have him.

    Grade: A+

2009: Knowshon Moreno, Running Back, Georgia

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    Since Knowshon Moreno entered the league in 2009, he has become what you expect as a minimum from your first round draft pick—a starter.

    Many fans have complained about Moreno. Both is durability and speed have been questioned. Some people even refer to Knowshon as "Slowshon."

    However, Moreno averages 4.3 yards per carry, which is right around the league average for starting running backs.

    The fact that he has yet to cross the 1,000 yards per season-milestone can easily be explained by how rarely the Broncos run the ball.

    If the organization can provide the running game with a sound change of pace-back, the running game should be rolling again. Correll Buckhalter was simply not good enough last season.

    Knowshon Moreno is a starter—but not much more than that.

    Grade: C

2009: Robert Ayers, Outside Linebacker, Tennessee

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    Robert Ayers has by every means done OK since he was drafted in 2009, what he quite hasn't achieved is to put a lock on the starting position.

    In two seasons, he has combined for 58 tackles in 26 games—11 started. That's not too shabby, but nothing outstanding either.

    Luckily for the Broncos, Ayers is still very young and has plenty of time to develop into a solid player.

    His production will need to pick up a bit if he wants to become the full time starter, but many believe he'll only improve.

    However, for now I have not seen enough to give a higher grade, but he has an excellent opportunity to improve dramatically.

    Grade: C-

2010: Demaryius Thomas, Wide Receiver, Georgia Tech

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    Many people were surprised when the Denver Broncos picked Demaryius Thomas in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Mostly because Thomas was not projected to go before college stand out Dez Bryant.

    Thomas started well on his path to prove people wrong already in his first NFL game. He had eight receptions for 97 yards and a touchdown against the Seahawks September 19th.

    Several of the Broncos' wide receivers had somewhat of a breakout year last season, which is one of the reasons Thomas was not as noticeable as he good have been.

    Unfortunately, his season was cut short by injuries.

    If he can escape injury, the future looks bright for Demaryius Thomas.

    He showed enough when he was on the field to make people believe he can become a sound starter for the Broncos in the future.

    Grade: C+

2010: Tim Tebow, Quarterback, Florida

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    Tim Tebow entered the 2010 NFL Draft as the most scrutinized prospect in the country.

    After having a more than fantastic college career, he went on to get drafted with the 25th pick overall by the Denver Broncos. Only three picks after the Broncos drafted Thomas.

    Tebow was mostly a back-up during the 2010 season, but when called upon near the end of the season, he did his job well.

    His touchdown/turnover differential is 11-3, which seems to show a lot of promise. Many people expect Tebow to win the starting job this upcoming season.

    It will definitely be very interesting to see how that battle turns out,

    The young quarterback showed a lot of promise during his rookie season, and it seems like there's much more to come.

    Grade: B

Players They Should Have Drafted

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    2000: The year the Broncos drafted Deltha O'Neal, the Titans drafted Keith Bulluck 15 picks later.

    2001: I'm positive you don't have to be a rocket scientist to see that Reggie Wayne would have been a much better selection than Willie Middlebrooks.

    2002: Denver drafted Ashley Lelie that year when they could have drafted Ed Reed.

    2003: The Broncos missed out on a lot of great players that year. To name three: Dallas Clark, Nick Barnett and Nnamdi Asomugha. Imagine having the pair of Champ Bailey and Nnamdi Asomugha on your roster!

    2004: D.J. Williams was drafted that year, and I don't think any Denver fans should complain about that.

    2006: Chicago quarterback, Jay Cutler, was drafted by the Broncos that year. He was good value at that point in the draft, but Haloti Ngata, Antonio Cromartie and DeAngelo Williams were also good options.

    2007: While Denver drafted Jarvis Moss, the Colts drafted Anthony Gonzales.

    2008: Now that you see how things worked out, you'd be crazy to think that the Broncos should have picked somebody else than Ryan Clady. He is the best left tackle in the league.

    2009: Both Brian Orakpo and Brian Cushing would probably have been better picks than Knowshon Moreno.

    Several great wide receivers was drafted after Ayers that year: Jeremy Maclin, Percy Harvin and Hakeem Nicks. Also Clay Matthews was taken later in that round.

    2010: It's easy to say that the Broncos should have drafted Dez Bryant instead of Demaryius Thomas. Talentwise, Bryant is much better, but considering Bryant's recent legal trouble, it might have been a wise decision not to draft him.

    When it comes to Tim Tebow, I truly believe drafting him was a good decision. However, when you have a look at how last season turned out, it might have been a clever move if they had drafted Devin McCourty instead. 

Overall Grade

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    The judge has spoken.

     

    Final Grade: C+

    This also underlines what I wrote in the introduction—over the last decade, the Broncos have drafted a couple of busts, a couple of excellent picks and a lot of mediocrity.

    Best of luck for this decade.

    Comments are always appreciated.