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Ultimate draft: The Denver Broncos' best round-by-round picks in franchise history

Ken Pomponio Avatar
April 29, 2015


What do you say we take a break from all the speculation and projections over who the Denver Broncos will select in this week’s 2015 NFL Draft and review and revel in the franchise’s “ultimate draft” – the Broncos’ best round-by-round picks since the common selection process kicked off in 1967.

Reminder, these are all draft picks actually made by the Denver franchise itself – so this is one Broncos’ best-of list that actually won’t feature John Elway — and primarily features players who went on to play the majority of their pro careers with the Orange and Blue.

First round: RB Floyd Little, sixth overall 1967 (Syracuse) – It was a classic no-lose decision, but choosing between the Hall-of-Famer Little and should-be Hall-of-Famer Randy Gradishar turned out to be the toughest choice to make in any round. But, in the end, we went with the “The Franchise,” who became the first first-round pick to sign with the Broncos, the team’s second all-time leading rusher and the 2010 Canton inductee. Honorable mention: S Steve Atwater (1989), Gradishar (’74), S Dennis Smith (’81), CB Louis Wright (’75).

Second round: LB/DE Simon Fletcher, 54th overall 1985 (Houston) – This hybrid edge rusher became a full-time starter by his third season and would up as the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks with 97.5 while never missing a game over his final eight seasons. Honorable mention: DE Barney Chavous (’73), DE Rulon Jones (’80), RB Clinton Portis (’02).

Third round: DB Billy Thompson, 61st overall 1969 (Maryland-Eastern Shore) – Jason Elam nearly got a leg up here, but all this small-school steal did in Denver was start 179 games and log 40 interceptions – both third all-time in franchise history – and join the team’s Ring of Fame on his first ballot in 1986. Honorable mention: OT Mike Current (’67), Elam (’93), Keith Traylor (’91).

Fourth round: LB Tom Jackson, 88th overall 1973 (Louisville) – The vocal leader of the Orange Crush also walked the walk, earning three Pro Bowl nod and notching 20 interceptions and 13 sacks while starting 177 career games during his 14-year career in the Mile High City. Honorable mention: DE Lyle Alzado (’71), DE/LB Elvis Dumervil (’06), WR Brandon Marshall (’06), WR/PR Rick Upchurch (’75).

Fifth round: DT Rubin Carter, 121st overall 1975 (Miami, Fla.) – This largely unheralded big man never made it to the Pro Bowl but productively anchored the Broncos’ 3-4, making 152 career starts for the Orange and Blue. Running back Sammy Winder was a close second. Honorable mention: G Chris Kuper ’06), OT Ken Lanier (’81), Winder (’82).

Sixth round: RB Terrell Davis, 196th overall 1995 (Houston) – Member of the 2,000-yard club … Super Bowl XXXII MVP … 1998 NFL MVP and, oh yeah, the franchise’s all-time rushing leader – I’d say T.D. was a fairly clear-cut choice. Honorable mention: G Keith Bishop (’80), WR Mark Jackson (’86).

Seventh round: TE Shannon Sharpe, 192nd overall 1990 (Savannah State) – Tough luck for five-time Pro Bowl center Tom Nalen, an absolute seventh-round steal in 1994, but the clear choice here is a certain loquacious tight end. Another one of the NFL’s all-time late-round finds, Sharpe started 139 games for the Broncos, starred on both of the franchise’s Super Bowl-winning teams and finished his career in 2004 as the NFL’s all-time tight end receiving leader before entering the Pro Football Hall seven years later. Honorable mention: DB Tyrone Braxton (’87), DB Steve Foley (’75), DT Paul Smith (’68).

Eighth & later rounds: LB/DE Karl Mecklenburg, 12th rd., 310th overall 1983 (Minnesota) – Yeah, you read that right: 310th overall – back in the extended draft era. In any round, though, the “Snow Goose” would’ve been a prime pick, logging 79 sacks in 141 career starts while garnering six Pro Bowl berths and three first-team All-Pro nominations. Honorable mention: DB Tyrone Braxton (12th round, ’87), DB Steve Foley (eighth round, ’75), DT Paul Smith (ninth round, ’68).

While this is a draft review, we’d certainly be remiss in failing to mention one of the league’s all-time undrafted finds in wideout Rod Smith, the Missouri Southern product who ranks as the Broncos’ franchise leader with 849 receptions, 11,389 receiving yards, 68 scoring receptions and 71 total TDs.

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