Broncos History Of Draft Day Hits and Misses

Ryan AyarsCorrespondent IApril 14, 2009

ESPN commentator Tom Jackson during the ESPN Monday Night Football game between the Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams in St. Louis, Missouri on December 11, 2006.  The Bears won 42 - 27.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Draft day.  Some say it separates the GM men from the boys.  As far as The Denver Broncos history is concerned, it has proven to be the marker of mediocrity and Superbowl greatness. 

Rather then analyzing the stats of every player, multiplying their draft number times pi, and then referring to the current BCS schedule,  I'm going to use Superbowl Rosters to quantify whether the team was worthy and how the draft played into their success. 

Let me begin by analyzing the 1977 Superbowl Roster.  All remaining Superbowl seasons will be covered in future articles.

The Infamous 1977 Year 

Craig Morton and the "Orange Crush" defense.  It put Denver on the map.  It also showed the nation how good the "Donkeys" are at choking in the big game. 

Of the starters in that game the following were all drafted by the Broncos in the '69-'76 draft years:  Barney Chavous, Billy Thompson*,Claudie Minor, Louis Wright*, Lyle Alzado, Otis Armstrong, Paul Howard, Randy Gradishar*,Riley Odoms, Rubin Carter, Steve Foley*, Tom Glassic, Rick Upchurch, Tom Jackson*.

Of these draftees, The five players with (*) following their names have been honored in The Ring of Fame.  The 1973 and '75 draft classes were quite possibly the best in Broncos history.  Below I compiled a list of the draft years breakdown:

1973 - Denver Broncos
Rd     Sel #     Player         Position         School
1     9     Otis Armstrong         RB            Purdue
2     36     Barney Chavous     DE            South Carolina State
3      54      Paul Howard         G              Brigham Young
4     88     Tom Jackson           LB             Louisville

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1975 - Denver Broncos
Rd     Sel #     Player        Position       School
1     17          Louis Wright     DB       San Jose State
4      95         Rick Upchurch   WR      Minnesota
5     107        Stan Rogers      T         Maryland
5     121        Rubin Carter     NT       Miami (Fla.)
8     199        Steve Foley      DB       Tulane

For a team to draft almost all of their starters is incredible.  Especially in the 90s and on, when FA's gets quite expensive.  Something to realize with these drafts, is that only three were considered "high" draft picks.  Which shows that with good scouting and luck, a team can make out like bandits in the draft.

The memorable 1987 Superbowl XXI (not that we want to remember)

The Orange Crush Defense was back!  The potent Offense lead by QB John Elway and the 3 amigos (Mark Jackson, Vance Johnson, and Ricky Natiel) was smoking hot.  The broncos had just come off of one of the greatest offensive feats in NFL history "The Drive".   In an overtime AFC championship game VS the Cleavand Browns John Elway engineered a 98-yard drive to tie the game on Jan. 11, 1987.  They won 23-20.  Who could stop them now???  The Donkeys went on to Choke big time VS the NY Giants 39-20.  I can see Mark Bavarro crossing his heart in the end zone right now.

Regardless, this team was a great team and the past drafts made a huge impact on their prosperity.  The following is the starting roster for Superbowl XXI :  Vance Johnson*,Dave Studdard, Keith Bishop*,Billy Bryan*, Mark Cooper*, Ken Lanier*, Clarence Kay*, Steve Watson, John Elway, Sammy Winder*, Gerald Willhite*, Andre Townsend*, Greg Kragen, Rulon Jones *, Jim Ryan,  Karl Mecklenburg*, Ricky Hunley,   Tom Jackson *,  Louis Wright*, Mike Harden*, Steve Foley*, Dennis Smith *.  The players with (*) following their names were drafted from 1973-1987.  A lot of the Broncos Veteran Defense was present at their 1st Superbowl appearance in 1977, so once again the '73 and '75 drafts were paramount in the Broncos ascension to greatness. 

The draft didn't prove to be a treasure trove that the early 70's drafts proved to be, but perhaps the greatest draft in Bronco history was 1983.  Not only did this draft produce 3 starters in Super bowl XXI, it was also the draft that the Broncos traded for a disgruntled young QB from Stanford.  Dan Marino......NOT.  John Elway was originally drafted by the Colts, but didn't want to play there stating that he believed the team could not allow him to be successful and threatened to play baseball.  Possible Cy Young?  We'll never know, because he decided to be a HOF Q for the Denver Broncos.  The Colts traded him to the Denver Broncos for QB Mark Hermann, rights to OL Chris Hinton and a first-round pick (OG Ron Solt) in the 1984 NFL Draft on May 2, 1983.  Hinton was a major part of this deal, making the '83 draft the most famous in Broncos History.  This draft also has 2 major draft steals in Gary Kubiak, and Karl Mecklenburg.

1983 - Denver Broncos
Rd     Sel #     Player     Position     School
1     4     Chris Hinton     G     Northwestern
2     31     Mark Cooper     T     Miami (Fla.)
3     60     Clint Sampson     WR     San Diego State
5     116     Weedy Harris     --     Houston
5     125     Bruce Baldwin     --     Harding
6     143     Victor Heflin     DB     Delaware State
7     172     Myron Dupree     DB     North Carolina Central
8     197     Gary Kubiak     QB     Texas A&M
9     228     Brian Hawkins     --     San Jose State
10     254     Walt Bowyer     DE     Arizona State
11     283     Don Bailey     C     Miami (Fla.)
12     310     Karl Mecklenburg     LB     Minnesota

Other note worthy draft steals that lead to the '87 Superbowl squad are the following:

1980 - Denver Broncos
Rd     Sel #     Player     Position     School
2     42     Rulon Jones     DE     Utah State
5     131     Mike Harden     DB     Michigan
6     157     Keith Bishop     G     Baylor

1982 - Denver Broncos
Rd     Sel #     Player     Position     School
5     131     Sammy Winder     RB     Southern Mississippi

1984 - Denver Broncos
Rd     Sel #     Player     Position     School
2     46     Andre Townsend     DE     Mississippi
7     186     Clarence Kay     TE     Georgia

1985 - Denver Broncos
Rd     Sel #     Player     Position     School
2     31     Vance Johnson     WR     Arizona
2     54     Simon Fletcher     LB     Houston

1986 - Denver Broncos
Rd     Sel #     Player     Position     School
6     161     Mark Jackson     WR     Purdue

1987 - Denver Broncos
Rd     Sel #     Player     Position     School
12     334     Tyrone Braxton     DB     North Dakota State

Who would have thought that Tyrone "Chick" Braxton would have been as great as he was??  These drafts would prove to be essential to the next 2 Superbowl's as well.  These debacles will be covered in my next additions.