The NFL draft is tomorrow and all our eyes will be on what the Broncos do, of course.
But one thing that’s always worth watching is whether or not the Broncos will find value in the later rounds of the draft. And throughout the team’s history, the Broncos have done that a fair amount.
In fact, there are a number of players the Broncos have drafted who turned into great value picks, some which one might call draft day steals.
I have ranked those players who I believe are the best value picks the Broncos have ever made. My criteria is that the player could not be taken in the first three rounds and did not spend the bulk of his career as a depth player. I did not include any players in the pre-merger era because so many of those players didn’t sign with the Broncos.
So here’s my ranking of the Broncos 20 Best Value Picks.
20. Chris Kuper, fifth round, 2006: He started 79 games in eight seasons with the Broncos, although injuries cut his career short.
19. Ken Lanier, fifth round, 1981: Although Lanier never accumulated any honors, he was a durable right tackle who started 16 games in nine of his 12 seasons with the Broncos.
18. Sammy Winder, fifth round, 1982: Gerald Willhite was the Broncos’ first-round pick that year, but Winder outperformed him. He rushed for 1,153 yards in 1984 and was named to the Pro Bowl. He also made the Pro Bowl in 1986.
17. Mike Anderson, sixth round, 2000: The Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2000, Anderson had a pair of 1,000-yard rushing seasons in his five years with the Broncos.
16. Malik Jackson, fifth round, 2012: In his last three seasons with the Broncos, Jackson had 14.5 sacks, serving well as a rotational player in 2013 and 2014, before starting all 16 games in 2015. He was a key player in the Broncos’ Super Bowl 50 victory.
15. Rubin Carter, fifth round, 1975: He spent his entire 12-year career with the Broncos, starting 152 of the 166 games he played. He’s arguably one of the most overlooked players on the Orange Crush of the 1970s.
14. Tyrone Braxton, seventh round, 1987: He spent 11 of his 12 seasons with the Broncos, playing cornerback in his first six seasons. After spending a year in Miami, he returned to Denver, started at strong safety, was named to the Pro Bowl in 1996 and was a key player on the Broncos’ back-to-back Super Bowl winning teams in 1997 and 1998.
13. Keith Bishop, sixth round, 1980: A starter for six of his nine seasons, Bishop was named to two Pro Bowls, easily the best of the Broncos’ offensive linemen in the Dan Reeves era.
12. Julius Thomas, fourth round, 2011: It took a couple of seasons, but JT proved his worth in 2013 with 65 receptions and 12 receiving touchdowns. He followed that with 12 TDs in 2014 and was named to the Pro Bowl in both seasons.
11. Danny Trevathan, sixth round, 2012: He was terrific in 2013, racking up 105 tackles in a season in which he arguably should have been named to the Pro Bowl. After missing 204 with injuries, he bounced back in 2015 with another quality season and helped the Broncos win Super Bowl 50.
10. Rick Upchurch, fourth round, 1975: Arguably the best return man the Broncos have ever had, Upchurch returned 248 punts for an average of 12.1 yards with eight touchdowns and returned 64 kickoffs for an average of 24.8 yards. He was pretty good as a receiver, too, with his best season in 1979 with 937 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Upchurch was named to three Pro Bowls, was a three-time first-team All NFL selection and is a member of the Broncos Ring of Fame.
9. Lyle Alzado, fourth round, 1971: In eight years with the Broncos, Alzado started every game in all but two of them. A two-time Pro Bowl selection (1977 and 1978) and first-team All NFL selection in 1977, Alzado was traded to the Cleveland Browns in 1979, then finished his career with the Oakland Raiders. He recovered 20 fumbles in his career, 14 of those while a member of the Orange Crush.
8. Tom Jackson, fourth round, 1973: Jackson started 177 of the 191 games he played. Sacks weren’t kept as an official stat until much later into his career, but he had 13 sacks in four of his last five seasons. He was named to three Pro Bowls, was a first-team All NFL selection in 1977 and is a member of the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame.
7. Steve Foley, eighth round, 1975: Foley wasn’t even on the Broncos’ active roster in his rookie season, but he emerged into a key player on the Orange Crush. He played cornerback his first four seasons, before moving to free safety for the remainder of his career. He finished his 11-year career with 44 interceptions.
6. Brandon Marshall, fourth round, 2006: After a quiet rookie season, Marshall broke out in 2007. He had three straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons from 2007 to 2009, catching more than 100 passes in each of those seasons. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 2008 and 2009 and went on to have a fine career with three other teams.
5. Elvis Dumervil, fourth round, 2006: Dumervil was good as a rookie with 8.5 sacks, and even better his second season with 12.5. He would lead the NFL with 17 sacks in 2009 and was named to his first Pro Bowl, along with first-team All NFL honors. After missing 2010 with injuries, he had 20.5 sacks in his next two seasons and was named to the Pro Bowl in each.
4. Tom Nalen, seventh round: Arguably the best offensive linemen the Broncos ever had. Nalen spent his rookie season on the practice squad, but cracked the starting lineup in 1995 and never looked back. He started 188 of the 194 games he played, was named to five Pro Bowls and was a first-team All NFL selection in 2000 and 2003. He was named to the Broncos Ring of Fame in 2013 and has a good case for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
3. Shannon Sharpe, seventh round, 1990: To think he was almost cut by Mike Shanahan before John Elway went to bat for him. Sharpe broke out in 1993, his fourth season in the NFL, with 995 yards on 81 receptions and nine touchdowns. He went on to have three 1,000-yard receiving seasons and two seasons in which he scored 10 touchdowns. For his career, he had 10,060 receiving yards, 815 receptions and 62 touchdowns. He was named to seven Pro Bowls and was an All NFL first team selection in 1993, 1996, 1997 and 1998. He is a member of the Broncos Ring of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
2. Terrell Davis, sixth round, 1995: A Broncos Ring of Fame and Hall of Fame caliber player, Davis was outstanding in 1998, rushing for 2,008 yards and 21 touchdown, winning NFL MVP honors. He was great the three years prior, rushing for 1,117 yards as a rookie, 1,538 yards his second season and 1,750 yards his third season – the same season he was named Super Bowl MVP. A key catalyst on the Broncos’ back-to-back Super Bowl seasons, Davis’ career may have been cut short by injuries but his impact cannot be understated.
1. Karl Mecklenburg, 12th round, 1983: In the days when the NFL draft lasted 12 rounds, the rule was that players taken in the final round had no chance of making the roster. He didn’t start a game as a rookie, but emerged in his second season with seven sacks and cemented his spot in the starting lineup in 1985 with 13 sacks, a trip to the Pro Bowl and a first-team All NFL selection. Mecklenburg went on to become one of the best defensive players the Broncos had in the 1980s and early 1990s. He finished with 1,104 tackles and 79 sacks, six Pro Bowl selections and three first-team All NFL selections. The Broncos Ring of Famer has a good case for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.