If you think the Denver Broncos have stumbled through the first round of the draft in the past like one of the Knievels' bouncing their craniums off the pavement, you might want to think again. The Broncos organization has actually made steady pick after pick for the last nine years. Pat Bowen, Ted Sundquist, Mike Shananhan, and the rest of the Broncos organization's goal is not to run the team into-the-ground by making bad first round draft picks (despite popular belief).
On the contrary, their goal is to make solid picks which they've done almost every year since 1996. (No first round draft picks in 1995 and 1994). In the war room, they don't just sit around drinking beers and munching buffalo wings, they've done their research, and have a plan, and that plan over the last ten years is to take the most solid players available. Sometimes it's not the most popular pick, but rather solid athletes that can help the franchise win ball games for years down the road.
The Broncos started putting together a core of players in 1996 when they drafted John Mobley in the first round (15th overall). Mobley was a little known linebacker out of Kutztown, who was athletic enough to return some kickoffs for his almamater. His talent and heart were never questioned. He was a little undersized, but fast and strong. He went on to contribute to the Broncos defense for six good years. His NFL career was cut short by a tragic neck injury. Mobley started in both Super Bowls the Broncos won; and made the final defensive play to end the game in Super Bowl XXXII. We should never forget the man that started the new generation of small athletic linebackers for the Broncos.
In 1997 the Broncos went defense again and drafted Trevor Pryce, 28th overall. (I thought Shanahan went for offense?) The 6'5" 295lb defensive lineman out of Clemson has played in two Super Bowls (winning both), started in four Pro-Bowls, moved into 6th place amongst the all time Broncos sack leaders, and pretty much done whatever has ever been asked of him. Good call in not trading this guy especially to the Chiefs. "Pryce sacks Plummer" would have been more harmful to my ears than just about any Simpson Sister Christmas album.
Then there was 1998, the lost year. I'm not sure what Mr. Nash is doing now, but as long as he's not doing it for the Broncos, all's good in the hood. I also think there's still an investigation into the doping of the Broncos staff by the Raiders that year. Nothing can be confirmed.
In 1999, the Broncos were back on track when they drafted Al Wilson with the last pick in the first round, (31st overall). He is unquestionably the best linebacker the Broncos have since Tom Jackson. Wilson has been to three Pro-Bowls, and in 2002 led the team with a mind blowing 199 tackles (158 solo). Al Wilson is the emotional and physical leader of the Broncos defense and is the real reason Ricky Williams took up smoking pot.
Moving forward to 2000, they drafted back-to-back defensive backs, Deltha O'Neal in 2000, and Willie Middelbrooks in 2001. Those two will never be compared to Deon Sanders or Champ Bailey, but they have been around the league for awhile and that takes a good athlete. Deltha O'Neal's name is still all over the top ten in almost every Bronco's punt return categories, he's also tied for the most interceptions in one game for the Bronco's, (4) and is second in interceptions in a year with (9). I know it doesn't seem like it, while Middelbrooks might not have the numbers O'Neal does, the Broncos can't seem to get rid of the guy and that shows heart, considering how many injuries he's suffered. He always seems to be slated as our opening day nickel back. Now this could be a commentary on how bad our defensive back field is, or it could show an attitude and determination you would like in all our players.
In 2002 Shanahan finally got to indulge himself in offensive players. Wide receiver Ashley Lelie taken in 2002, 19th overall and defensive tackle George Foster, taken in 2003, 20th overall. Both are going to play key roles in 2005. Lelie led the league in yards per catch (20.1), and also led in touchdowns over thirty yards or more (7). Foster is projected to start in 2005.
In 2004 they went back to the defensive side of the ball by drafting a big, fast hitting machine out of Miami University, D.J. Williams. D.J. was drafted 17th overall and in his rookie year lead the team in tackles with 114 (82 solo).
So, the next time you feel like saying "The Broncos only draft well when it comes to the later rounds", reflect on what you've read today. Sit back in your Barco Lounger, munch your buffalo wings, and leave it to the pros.
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