Revisiting the Broncos’ First Round Picks Since 1995

Happy draft day, fellow Broncos fans!  At Over The Cap, in lead-up to this weekend Jason Fitzgerald did an exercise in which he looked back at the Jets’ 1st round picks and reviewed what they realistically could have done better with some of them.  This was a simple enough exercise that I thought I’d do the same for the Broncos.  Jason went back to 1995 for the Jets, of which I think is a suitable year for the Broncos as well since that was Mike Shanahan’s first season in charge.

I will use the same rules that Jason did for his article:

  • It has to be realistic that the Broncos could have made the selection.
  • It should reasonably fit what needs the Broncos had going into that draft (though like Jason, I may get a bit hazier on needs in earlier years)
  • New trades are disallowed, as it’s no guarantee that you’d find a trade partner (though I may reconsider some trades that did happen)


  • Actually picked: Shane Ray, 23rd overall (traded up from 28th)
  • Should have picked: Shane Ray

It’s hard to say the Broncos’ decision was wrong here, especially when there are still some jurors out on Ray and the 2015 class in general. John Elway identified a high valued player falling for dubious reasons, and made aggressive moves to get him.


  • Actually picked: Bradley Roby, 31st overall
  • Should have picked: Bradley Roby

The story with Roby is quite similar to the story with Ray, with a little extra leaning toward it being a clearly correct pick given what came after him in the 2nd round.


  • Actually picked: Sylvester Williams, 28th overall
  • Should have picked: Kawann Short (taken 44th overall by the Panthers)

The Broncos escaped the brutal 2013 1st round relatively unscathed.  Williams was a solid starter for four years, but clearly not on the level of Short, who just got a well-deserved mega-extension from Carolina.


  • Actually picked: traded out of 1st round, picked Derek Wolfe 36th overall
  • Should have picked: traded out of 1st round, picked Derek Wolfe 36th overall

The Broncos traded down twice and only got a high 4th out out both trades that became Omar Bolden.  It was a slightly risky move at the time, as this meant that the Broncos were giving up a fifth year option contract.  However, Wolfe not only proved to be a very good player, but he also signed a team-friendly extension that obviated the need for a fifth year option.  That proves that this decision was quite wise.


  • Actually picked: Von Miller, 2nd overall
  • Should have picked: Von Miller

I criticized this selection when it was made: I thought Miller had the risk of being a one-trick pass rushing pony and that Marcell Dareus (taken with the very next pick) was the superior player.  While Dareus has had a very good career in Buffalo, I’ve never been more happy to be very wrong about a Broncos draft selection.

2010 (part 1)

  • Actually picked: Demaryius Thomas, 22nd overall (traded down twice and then up once, from 11th to 13th to 24th to 22nd)
  • Should have picked: Demaryius Thomas

Josh McDaniels went through a lot of acrobatics to finally land Thomas–and when he did, some criticized taking him over the super-hyped Dez Bryant.  But while Bryant’s had a fine career, Thomas can compete with him for the best wide receiver taken in a deep draft that also included two other players that have worn the orange and blue with pride in Eric Decker and Emmanuel Sanders.

2010 (part 2)

  • Actually picked: Tim Tebow, 25th overall (traded up from 43rd)
  • Should have picked: Rob Gronkowski (taken 42nd overall by the Patriots; trade up from 43rd still required)

I think it’s realistic to put Gronkowski in play here. From a need standpoint, the Broncos traded Tony Scheffler days before the draft and were only left with an old Daniel Graham and the heavily block-leaning Richard Quinn at tight end. However, the Broncos would still need to trade up to get him, as in real life the Patriots jumped the very pick the Broncos once had at 43rd overall, going from 44th to 42nd to beat out the Ravens for Gronkowski, who likely also wanted him to ultimately succeed Todd Heap. (The Ravens later took Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta in this draft.)

2010 (part 3)

  • Actually picked: traded their first rounder to select Alphonso Smith in the 2nd round of 2009
  • Should have picked: keep the damn 1st rounder and select anyone available

I will verbally spar with anyone to the end who tries to argue that Tebow was the worst decision that Josh McDaniels made. This, instead, was easily the worst one.

2009 (part 1)

  • Actually picked: Knowshon Moreno, 12th overall
  • Should have picked: Brian Orakpo (taken 13th overall by the Redskins)

The Broncos later took a pass rusher in the first round (more on that below), but in hindsight Orakpo would have been the superior pick in this situation.

2009 (part 2)

  • Actually picked: Robert Ayers, 19th overall (from Chicago)
  • Should have picked: Alex Mack (taken 21st overall by the Browns)

With Orakpo in the fold, this is a tougher decision to make. Even if Moreno falls to #19 he’s still not worth a first rounder, and the other running backs taken in the first round were mediocre (Donald Brown) and a flat out bust (Chris “Beanie” Wells). LeSean McCoy is in this draft but I don’t think he’s a realistic pick as teams irrationally devalued him to the 2nd round as they thought he left college too early. So I think you have to go with a different position, and Mack would be a smart pick here to prepare for life after Casey Wiegmann.


  • Actually picked: Ryan Clady, 12th overall
  • Should have picked: Ryan Clady

The Broncos faced a dire need at left tackle with the career of Matt Lepsis reaching an ugly end, and they got very lucky to be able to land Clady immediately afterward.


  • Actually picked: Jarvis Moss, 17th overall (traded up from 21st)
  • Should have picked: Jon Beason, 21st overall (taken 25th overall by the Panthers

I think people actually underrate how badly Mike Shanahan screwed up this draft. Not only did he completely whiff on a pair of pass rushers in both Moss and Tim Crowder, but each of these busts had a pass rushing teammate in college that had solid NFL careers (Ray McDonald, Brian Robison). Absolute brutal scouting on Shanny’s part here. Made even worse is that he gave up a 3rd and 6th round pick to move up just 4 spots to get Moss, as well.  Anyway, from a need standpoint Beason would make sense here to plan for an heir apparent to Ian Gold, and who knows who else the Broncos could have landed with the extra picks.

2006 (part 1)

  • Actually picked: Jay Cutler, 11th overall (traded up twice, from 29th to 15th to 11th)
  • Should have picked: Jay Cutler

This pick was a shock when it happened but in hindsight I don’t know what would have been better. Tamba Hali would have been nice but they landed Elvis Dumervil in the 4th round this year.  Cutler’s career likely would have turned out a lot better if Shanahan could have put together a competent defense late in his Broncos tenure.

2006 (part 2)

  • Actually picked: traded out of the first round, then traded for Javon Walker
  • Should have picked: traded out of the first round, then selected Greg Jennings (taken 52nd overall by the Packers)

Ted Thompson pulled off one of the greatest cons in his career when he managed to outwit three great football minds in Mike Shanahan, Bill Belichick, and Rich McKay all in one setting.  First, the Packers traded down from 36th overall with the Patriots so they could take mega-bust Chad Jackson. Then, at 37th overall the Broncos traded this selection to Green Bay for Walker, who had one solid season and then became a injured wreck (that thankfully the Raiders overpaid for!). Then, minutes later they traded their new pick to the Falcons so they could take mega-bust Jimmy Williams. Thompson, meanwhile, laughed all the way to the bank at their expense by taking Jennings and Daryn Colledge later on in the second round.


  • Actually picked: traded out of the first round, selected Darrent Williams 56th overall
  • Should have picked: traded out of the first round, selected Darrent Williams 56th overall

Had the Broncos stayed put, they would have been just one pick shy of Aaron Rodgers, and they likely wouldn’t have gone after him anyway. They still badly needed cornerbacks after “the Roc Alexander treatment” became a phrase, and there weren’t any obviously standout corners between Rodgers and Williams, aside from 4.27 speed demon Stanford Routt that was destined to be selected by Al Davis, so Shanahan made the right decision to trade out of the first round here.


  • Actually picked: DJ Williams, 17th overall (traded up from 24th)
  • Should have picked: Will Smith, 17th overall (taken 18th overall by the Saints)

Williams had a fine career and I would be fine with keeping this pick, but this is where the need for a pass rush was getting dire. Taking Smith here could have avoided some of the other misses like the Browncos and the aforementioned Moss/Crowder disaster.


  • Actually picked: George Foster, 20th overall
  • Should have picked: Charles Tillman (taken 35th overall by the Bears)

There isn’t any obvious alternative to Foster at tackle (I don’t think Matt Stinchcomb would have fit a zone blocking scheme), so I think you have to go a different direction, and it would be nice to attack the cornerback position before it becomes real problematic. I take Tillman over Nnamdi Asomugha here as the latter had a real poor start to his career and just a brief moment of superstardom, while the former had a long and steady career. I’d also take Rashean Mathis over Asomugha.


  • Actually picked: Ashley Lelie, 19th overall
  • Should have picked: Ed Reed (taken 24th overall by the Ravens)

I don’t think I need to elaborate on this one much further.  Even if you lock the Broncos into needing a WR, Javon Walker is sitting there one pick later.


  • Actually picked: Willie Middlebrooks, 24th overall
  • Should have picked: Ken Lucas (taken 40th overall by the Seahawks)

Reggie Wayne would have been the superior pick but I’m not sure if that’s realistic with Eddie Quitterson Kennison acquired to play alongside Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey.  Lucas had a solid, not spectacular career, but that’s still way better than what Middlebrooks produced.


  • Actually picked: Deltha O’Neal, 15th overall
  • Should have picked: Julian Peterson (taken 16th overall by the 49ers)

Taking Peterson here would obviate the need to select Ian Gold in the second round (something that would have made Yahmule quite happy).


  • Actually picked: Al Wilson, 31st overall
  • Should have picked: Al Wilson

The heart and soul of the Broncos’ defense for eight excellent seasons. A shame that it had to end the way it did, though.


  • Actually picked: Marcus Nash, 30th overall
  • Should have picked: Patrick Surtain (taken 44th overall by the Dolphins)

As bad of a bust Nash was, there weren’t any great options at WR at that position, so a different direction is needed. Surtain may not be fully realistic after Shanahan set many dollars on fire signed Dale Carter, but Ray Crockett was no spring chicken in 1998, either.


  • Actually picked: Trevor Pryce, 28th overall
  • Should have picked: Trevor Pryce

Much like Al Wilson, an excellent contributor on defense for many seasons who had a poor ending to his Broncos tenure.


  • Actually picked: John Mobley, 15th overall
  • Should have picked: John Mobley

Why couldn’t Mike Shanahan have been this competent with drafting defensive players in the 21st century?


This is a bonus year for purposes of this analysis. This first round was out of Shanahan’s hands, as the Broncos pissed away their pick (11th overall) for Mike Pritchard before he got there.  I will point out, though, that Warren Sapp was the very next player selected.  Oh well, at least we’ll always have this to reminisce upon.