When it comes to looking at previous drafts, many will tell you that it is a three-year minimum before you can truly label a class as a failure or a success. Well, 2011 was five years ago. So just how well did that draft turn out for the Denver Broncos?
2011 was the first draft with John Elway as part of the front office. This new series is looking at drafts from 2011-2015, all under Elway's leadership. Of course, with looking into the past, comes hindsight. I will go back in time and give you my thoughts as if the draft just ended, and follow up with what we now know.
As I said, those were dark times and an era that many Bronco fans wish to forget. Current running backs coach Eric Studesville took over as the interim head coach, and led the team to a 4-12 finish. This netted them the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft, which turned out pretty well.
First Round: Von Miller
Linebacker, Texas A&M:
Pick before: Quarterback Cam Newton
Pick After: Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus
Thoughts at the time: Von Miller isn’t the best fit in a 4-3 front, as his best position is as a rush linebacker in a 3-4 front. With new head coach John Fox running a 4-3 defensive front, he could choose to play Miller as a defensive end.
It is unclear just how that would work out for the Broncos. With an aging Champ Bailey, the cornerback out of LSU, Patrick Peterson, may have been a better choice. Peterson is the best corner entering the draft, and has a lot of value on special teams as well.
The Broncos also have issues in their defensive interior, where Marcell Dareus out of Alabama could have really helped. In the end, they took the best pass rusher, which is a premier position, but this pass rusher doesn’t exactly fit the scheme. Going to be interesting to watch at the very least.
How it turned out: Von Miller ended up tearing it up as a 4-3 linebacker under John Fox. Besides a 2013 season that was cut short due to suspension and injury, he has been outstanding. Miller has grown to be a top-three defender in the NFL, and that is something his agent is probably pushing with the Broncos as they work on a new contract.
His rookie year Miller ended with 11 total sacks (9th in the NFL), earning him Defensive Rookie of the Year. Miller was also named Defensive Player of the Week for Week 11 and earned a spot on the Pro Bowl roster.
Instead of a sophomore slump, Miller took a big leap forward. He ended 2012 with 18.5 sacks, which was third-best behind fellow 2011 draft picks J.J. Watt and Aldon Smith. Miller again added a Pro Bowl and a DPoW, but he was also earned his first first All-Pro team selection.
As previously stated, his 2013 season was cut short due to injury and suspension. After an ACL injury, he returned to a high level of play in 2014, netting 14 sacks (6th most) and adding another Pro Bowl and All-Pro selection, though it was second team All-Pro.
2015 was the cream of the crop, in a way. He netted only 11 sacks (8th most), another Pro Bowl selection and First Team All-Pro. Denver made the playoffs, where he literally took over games and led the Broncos to a Super Bowl victory, of which he was named the MVP, after controlling the performance of the only player picked before him, Cam Newton.
So, in hindsight, the selection turned out to be excellent for the Broncos. It will be even better if they can get Miller locked up on a long term deal.
2011 Grade: B
2016 Grade: A+
Second Round: Rahim Moore
Pick before: Wide Receiver Titus Young
Pick after: Offensive lineman Orlando Franklin
Thoughts at the time: To many, Moore is one of the best safeties in the class and can be a true center-fielder, which is becoming vital as the NFL gets more and more pass happy. However, I am not as high on Moore as others.
I question just how much effort he puts into his play and his physical toughness. At times he looks like an enforcer, and at other times he looks like me when I see a snake.
If Moore can get over his fear of contact and play physical consistently, he could develop into one of the best safeties in the NFL. But, a physical demeanor is something you either have or don’t have, and I don’t see it with Moore.
A few picks later, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected a defensive end out of Clemson by the name of Da'Quan Bowers. Bowers was considered a top-10 talent before concerns about his knee dropped him in the draft.
Denver could have used some additional help getting after the quarterback, even though they had just drafted Von Miller. Miller and Bowers could develop into one heck of a pass rushing duo.
How it turned out: Moore didn’t turn into one of the best safeties in the NFL. His inconsistent physical play showed in every game of every season during his time with the Broncos. His contract with Denver ran up after the 2014 season, and they didn’t bring him back.
He signed with the Houston Texans, was named starter—then later benched and cut. After his short time with the Texans, he signed with the Cleveland Browns after the 2015 season, after his former team won the Super Bowl.
Also, Da’Quan Bowers didn’t live up to the hype of a top-10 value pick, nor did he live up to being a second round pick. Bowers played in 53 games in Tampa Bay, starting only ten of them, netting only seven sacks.
2011 Grade: B-
2016 Grade: C
Second Round: Orlando Franklin
Offensive Lineman, Miami (FL)
Pick before: Safety Rahim Moore
Pick After: Tight end Lance Kendricks
Thoughts at the time: Franklin is a bit grabby, but has a lot of power to his game. As long as the Broncos offense doesn’t call on him to do much moving, he should be fine. All they need to do is let Franklin operate in a phone booth and physically overpower his opponents.
They may want to spend some time trying to get him to be less grabby, because he will see a lot of holding calls in the NFL otherwise. There is talk of playing Franklin as a right tackle in the NFL, but his best position is as a right guard. Plug him in there and let him play, as long as it is a power scheme. Do that, and you have a starter for 10-plus years.
How it turned out: The Broncos played Franklin at right tackle, and he did pretty well. He had plenty of issues, but he was a solid starter at worst. They let him work in a phone booth, which is where a lot of the issues came from.
In 2015, they moved Franklin to guard and a new scheme, which hurt his performance a lot. He wasn’t brought back when his contract expired, and instead left for sunnier pastures in San Diego. In his one year in San Diego, his play wasn’t very good and marred with injury issues.
2011 Grade: B
2016 Grade: C+
Third Round: Nate Irving
Pick before: Linebacker Dontay Moch
Pick after: Linebacker Kelvin Sheppard
Thoughts at the time: Before his accident, Irving was outstanding and so much fun to watch. He would have been a first round pick if not for the accident. Last season, he looked as good as before, but there were still concerns about the accident that dropped him into the third round.
Irving represents great value for the Broncos and should stabilize the interior of the Broncos linebacker corps. A steal for the Broncos and a potential steal for the whole draft.
How it turned out: Okay, so I had a major miss here. I was a big fan of Irving throughout his whole career, but he just couldn’t land a full time starting gig and was moved around the linebacker corps a lot in Denver.
Looking back, they could have doubled up on pass rushers and took Justin Houston, who was selected a few picks later. After four years with the Broncos, Irving left for Indianapolis where he had a better shot at a starting job, with Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan entrenched as the starters in Denver.
That hasn’t turned out well so far, as he played in a total of eight games, starting only two of them.
2011 Grade: A
2016 Grade: C
Fourth Round: Quinton Carter
Pick before: Wide Receiver Kris Durham
Pick after: Linebacker Colin McCarthy
Thoughts at the time: Denver landed who many had as the top two safeties in the class, and ended up with my No. 2 and No. 4 safety, they just took them backwards. Carter is an outstanding, versatile player who brings physicality with each and every snap.
He doesn’t get carried away, so there's no reason to worry over penalties, though he will get hit with a few. Carter should compete to start right away, and at either safety spot. There is also great special teams ability that hebrings to the team.
How it turned out: Well, Carter had a rough go with the Broncos, and injuries really plagued his career. Carter missed nearly two full seasons in his second and third year, after playing in all 16 and starting ten his rookie year.
His rookie campaign was promising, as was his final year in Denver. His health, however, complicated matters. Carter played out his rookie deal, but the Broncos never looked at bringing him back. He still remains a free agent.
2011 Grade: A
2016 Grade: D
Fourth Round: Julius Thomas
Tight End, Portland State
Pick before: Cornerback Cortez Allen
Pick after: Running back Jamie Harper
Thoughts at the time: A low risk, high reward type of selection. Thomas is a raw football player, but has tremendous upside. It will take a lot of time before he is able to reach his ceiling, and the Broncos may not be willing to wait on that.
He has shown promise in all aspects of being a tight end, but is going to need a lot of work to be able to play at a consistent level. Portland State to the NFL is a big jump in competition and may be too big of a jump for Thomas to overcome.
How it turned out: I said it would take time and it did—with just nine games played in his first two seasons, with only one catch on seven targets. However, his third year he took off and was a big part of a record-setting offense.
Thomas never developed his blocking, and struggled with physical play and injuries. Despite that, Thomas still had 24 touchdowns in his last two years in Denver. For a late fourth round pick, it turned out really well for Denver.
After his rookie contract was up, Thomas and Denver couldn’t agree on a deal, due to Thomas’ asking price. They parted ways with some bad blood. Thomas went to the Jaguars where he played in 12 games in 2015, starting 11 and caught 46 passes with five touchdowns.
2011 Grade: B-
2016 Grade: B+
Sixth Round: Mike Mohamed
Pick before: Cornerback Chris Rucker
Pick after: Safety Colin Jones
Thoughts at the time: He's instinctive and durable, but that's about all Mohamed has. He is very limited athletically, not overly physical and displays some questionable judgement on the field.
This late in the draft, it's acceptable to take risks, but there were many better talents still available, including players that can help weaker positions. Denver drafted Irving earlier, which should solidify the middle linebacker spot.
Doubling down with some of the others left who fill bigger needs is a questionable choice. Center Jason Kelce, defensive tackle Jerrell Powe, and linebackers J.T. Thomas and Ross Homan all were much higher graded, with Thomas and Homan playing the same position.
How it turned out: Well, Mohamed didn’t last long in Denver, and only played in three games as a Broncos. Cut during his second season, Mohamed joined the Tennessee Titans. After that, he went to the Texans, where he had his best year in 2014, playing in 14 games, starting two of them and netted 67 total tackles. He is now with the Saints.
As for those other LBs mentioned above, Thomas has bounced around the NFL, having some productive seasons. He is now with the New York Giants. Homan retired before ever playing a snap due to concussions he suffered throughout his career. Kelce is a Pro Bowl center for the Philadelphia Eagles and Jerrell Powe is now with his third team in Washington.
2011 Grade: D
2016 Grade: D
Seventh Round: Virgil Green
Tight End, Nevada
Pick before: Center Zack Williams
Pick after: Defensive end Lazarius Levingston
Thoughts at the time: I had a third round grade on Green and had him as my No. 4 tight end. His blocking will make you cry because it isn’t any good and only worth mentioning because of how bad it is.
Green is an athletic tight end, which he showed at the Combine and comes from a very quick paced, athletic passing offense. He should be able to come in and contribute right away as a receiver, but he offers little hope as a blocker.
How it turned out: Green has turned out the exact opposite of what I thought. He has put in a ton of work to make his blocking some of the best in the NFL for a tight end, but he's been unable to contribute as a receiver.
There have been some rumors that he has struggled to pick up some of the passing verbiage that the Broncos have. He is also the only player from this draft class to get a second contract with the Broncos (Von Miller situation is ongoing).
2011 Grade: B
2016 Grade: B+
Seventh Round: Jeremy Beal
Pick before: Running back Jay Finley
Pick after: Cornerback Eric Hagg
Thoughts at the time: Limited upside but Beal is a solid pick this late in the draft. He can develop into a solid situational pass rusher/special teams player. Not many better options left at this point.
How it turned out: Beal never developed and was let go before the 2013 season. The player selected after him also had a stint with the Broncos.
One of the best things to come from the 2011 draft happened afterwards when Denver signed undrafted free agent Chris Harris, Jr., a corner out of Kansas. Harris signed an extension with Denver towards the end of the 2014 season and has become a top-3 corner in the NFL.
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