As Denver Broncos 2016 training camp emerges from it's first weekend, many die-hard fans will be looking forward to the team’s first preseason game in Chicago.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1688594-mhh-premium-how-you-can-s... While most of the spots on this year’s roster are already filled, there will be roster battles among some positions, like punt returner and backup inside linebacker.
With the NFL Draft being trimmed down from 12 rounds back in the 1970’s, to just seven in the modern day, the importance of finding college free agents is more important than it has ever been. 21 undrafted players will be fighting it out to make this year’s team but here are the top-5 undrafted Broncos of all time.
5. Matt Lepsis, OT
Lepsis is one of Denver's great reclamation projects, not only as an undrafted player, but also as a player asked to make a position change. A converted tight end from Colorado University, Lepsis put on 30 pounds for his new role and would become a solid left tackle in Denver's zone-blocking scheme for many years.
Little may be thought of Lepsis during his time with the Broncos, but he was a constant for much of the early 2000’s. He started 133 games over his tenure in Denver and was a contributor during the Super Bowl XXXIII run. Lepsis would also be named as a Sports Illustrated All-Pro in 1995 and was part of a Denver offensive line that gave up only 15 sacks in 2004.
The road of an undrafted rookie free agent is a tough one and being asked to switch positions while traversing it is an almost unheard of task nowadays in the NFL. While not being the most recognizable name on the list, Lepsis makes the cut due to being an “under-the-radar” player who never really got the credit he deserved over his 11-year career.
Good O-linemen are hard to find and developing a good one as a converted tight end is an even bigger testament to how good a player Lepsis was.
4. Steve Watson, WR
Before Rod Smith came along, there was another receiver who came from the ranks of the undrafted to star for the Broncos, and his name was Steve Watson. College free agency now isn’t the same as it was back in the late '70’s and early '80’s. Despite entering the Draft when there were more rounds, Watson was passed over and signed with Denver in 1979.
Watson would go on to play his entire career in Denver and develop into a favorite target of John Elway later in his career. Before finishing his playing days in Denver, Watson would be voted to his only Pro Bowl in 1981 and would finish his pro career with 353 receptions for 6,112 and 36 touchdowns. He was never a burner or a physical specimen, but he was a tough, heady and crafty receiver who wasn’t afraid to go over the middle.
Watson makes the list because he ushered in a new era of wideouts in Denver—an era that would lead to the team bringing in players like Vance Johnson, Mark Jackson and others. While all of those players would create their own place in franchise lore, the player that they should have thanked for their spot was Steve Watson.
3. C.J. Anderson, RB
If this list was only counting performances over the second half of a season, than C.J. would be ranked much higher. While still looking for one complete season, Anderson has gone from preseason darling to starting running back in just a few seasons. The stocky running back from Vallejo, California, has overcome a perceived lack of foot speed and a non-prototypical physique to become one of the NFL's top young running backs on the rise.
Anderson would sign with Denver out of the University of California ahead of the 2013 season. Despite having a solid preseason that would help him clinch a job in Denver, Anderson saw very little time on the field during the regular season. With established backs like Knowshon Moreno and high-round draft picks Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball ahead of him on the depth chart, Anderson would have to bide his time.
Anderson would finally break out in the 2014 season in a game against the Oakland Raiders. With Denver looking lethargic early and getting no production from Ball, Anderson was slotted in at running back. On a crucial third down play, quarterback Peyton Manning threw a ball out in the flat to Anderson that appeared to be a simple check down.
Anderson would break tackles and weave his way to a 51-yard catch-and-run score that would give Denver the push they needed to win the game 41-17. From that point, Anderson became a focal point of the offense late , producing more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage and double-digit touchdowns.
It was enough to earn a Pro Bowl nod, despite only starting the second half of the season.
Now, Anderson is fresh off a new four-year extension and is looking to put together an entire season after being plagued with injury to start 2015. With his bruising style of running, Anderson is poised to be join the ranks of Terrell Davis, Clinton Portis and Floyd Little as one of the all-time greats to tote the rock in Denver.
2. Chris Harris, Jr., CB
Harris is the epitome of hard work paying off. He began his tenure with Denver as a miscast safety during his time at the University of Kansas. After being signed and given a paltry $2,000 signing bonus, Harris developed as a special teams ace who earned some time on the defense in nickel and dime spots because of his fierce competitiveness.
Whenever Harris was given on opportunity, he would take it and run with it. After excelling there, he became the primary nickel corner and, before injuries, moved up to the starting unit, where he developed into a prominent figure in the No Fly Zone.
Now entering his prime at 27 years old, Harris has been elected to the Pro Bowl in each of his last two seasons, as well as earning a second team All-Pro selection twice. In what might be the most telling stat about the level of dominance he has displayed, Harris had a streak of 36 games without allowing a touchdown before finally giving up two scores to Antonio Brown in a road loss at Pittsburgh Steelers.
By matching up with the best slot receiver on each opposing team, Harris is covering the most difficult part of the field. It’s impressive he went almost went more than two seasons without letting someone find the end zone.
1. Rod Smith, WR
Count me as one of the people who thought that Rod Smith would be just a blip on the radar when he arrived in Denver in 1995. He started off his run on the active roster with a game-ending Hail Mary-style catch to clinch a win against the Washington Redskins. The next week, he would net zero catches for zero yards and you guessed it—zero scores.
Smith would go on from that game to have a Hall of Fame-worthy career, as he would end up being a three-time Pro Bowler, a two time All-Pro, and a two-time Super Bowl Champion.
He was also the first undrafted player to eclipse 10,000 yards receiving for a career and be Denver's franchise leader in receiving yards and touchdown receptions. This would also prove that if scouting a player could be broken down to a science, everyone could do it. In that respect, this analyst was happy to be proven wrong.
While being overshadowed for most of his career by more outspoken players like Terrell Owens or Keyshawn Johnson, Rod Smith was the equal to those great players—if not better. Following in the footsteps of a player like the above mentioned Watson, Smith was never the fastest or flashiest receiver in the league.
What he was, though, was a tireless worker with a thirst for winning, who used that to his credit as much as his receiving ability. Smith still remains active with the team and visits them from time-to-time, serving as a mentor and a reminder of what it takes to be a consummate professional and make it to the highest and most accomplished levels of the NFL.
Adam Uribes is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @auribes37.
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