The Denver Broncos have been one of the most successful franchises in NFL history. This team has won eight AFC Championships and three Super Bowls, as owner Pat Bowlen made them one of America’s most consistent sports teams.
Denver did have some rough years from 2006 to 2011, but the signing of Peyton Manning put them right back on the NFL map. They won the AFC West every year from 2011 to 2015 and reached two Super Bowls — winning Super Bowl 50 led by one of the greatest defences of all-time.
The Broncos success can be largely attributed to the success of John Elway. Von Miller, Demaryius Thomas and Bradley Roby are some of the many standouts Elway has selected over the years. But everyone makes mistakes, and Elway himself missed out on the chances to draft some franchise-changing stars.
We take a look at the Broncos last 15 draft selections, and how every selection should have gone down.
15. 2016: Dak Prescott
Original Pick: Paxton Lynch
The Broncos selected Paxton Lynch with their top pick, and though the kid has plenty of time to develop, it’s hard not to like what Dak Prescott did in 2016. The Dallas Cowboys seemed doomed when starter Tony Romo suffered a vertebral compression fracture in preseason action, but Prescott had other ideas.
In his rookie season, Prescott completed 67.8 percent of his passes for 3,667 yards and 23 touchdowns against just four interceptions while adding 282 rushing yards. He led the Cowboys to the top seed in the NFC with a 13-3 record. Prescott showed incredible athleticism and poise in the pocket. He takes care of the ball well and has all of the qualities you ask for in a quarterback.
14. 2015: Jay Ajayi
Original Pick: Shane Ray
The Broncos drafted Shane Ray in the first round, and though he showed signs of coming into his own in 2016, it’s tough to deny right now that Jay Ajayi would have been the better selection for them.
Denver hasn’t been able to find a reliable number one running back since C.J. Anderson’s breakout season in 2014. Injuries have limited him to finding that form again, leaving the Broncos running game in question over the past two seasons. Jay Ajayi, who fell to the Miami Dolphins at 149th-overall, would have been a great selection for John Elway.
After a slow 2015 season, Ajayi broke out in 2016 with 1,272 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. This helped the Dolphins reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Perhaps having Ajayi would have helped the Broncos reach the playoffs in 2016.
13. 2014: Bradley Roby
Original Pick: Bradley Roby
Yes, the Broncos selection of Bradley Roby in 2014 was the right call. Here is why.
Roby was a great fit for the Broncos defence right off the bat. Through three NFL seasons, he’s already racked up 31 passes defended, five interceptions and three defensive touchdowns. Roby has been a standout corner on the Broncos No Fly Zone defence over the last two seasons.
Though Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib earn all the love among Broncos cornerbacks, Roby has been a major standout himself. Having a trio of star corners makes the Broncos secondary that much more dangerous, and Roby was a key part in their 2015 Super Bowl championship season.
Roby made the play of his life in the 2015 AFC Championship — picking off Tom Brady’s two point conversion in the final seconds to seal a trip to the Super Bowl. For all we know, Roby’s prime years are only coming into light, even though he’s been excellent for three seasons.
12. 2013: Le’Veon Bell
Original Pick: Sylvester Williams
With their top selection in the 2013 draft, Denver opted to select defensive tackle Sylvester Williams. He was a decent, but not great addition for the Broncos. Imagine if the great Peyton Manning had the league’s flashiest running back lining up behind him for three years.
The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Bell with the 48th-selection in the 2013 Draft. Bell is the league’s most complete running back — showing incredible patience, speed, ball security and is just as dangerous in the passing game. His 2014 season was something else, rushing for 1,361 yards and eight touchdowns while adding 854 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
Bell had another great year in 2016, rushing for 1,268 yards and seven touchdowns while rushing for 616 yards and two touchdowns. Bell is far-and-away the league’s best running back when healthy, and he would have surely been a huge weapon in the mediocre Broncos offence.
11. 2011: Von Miller
Original Pick: Von Miller
The Carolina Panthers took Cam Newton with the first-overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, but the Denver Broncos were perfectly content with drafting Von Miller with the second selection. Miller has since become one of the league’s most dominant defensive players and quickly turned the frustrating Broncos into one of the NFL’s best teams.
2016 aside, the Broncos have made the playoffs every year with Miller. The five-time Pro Bowler has 73.5 sacks in just 88 (!) career games, and was the Broncos hero in the playoffs during their run to Super Bowl 50. He sacked Tom Brady 2.5 times in the 2015 AFC Championship and did the same to Cam Newton in the Super Bowl — but also forced two monumental fumbles.
10. 2010: Rob Gronkowski
Original Pick: Tim Tebow
The Broncos chose to draft Tim Tebow, who was on the team for two years before being traded to the New York Jets. Like every other team, Denver passed on star tight end Rob Gronkowski, whom the New England Patriots took 42nd-overall in the 2010 Draft. Unfortunately for the Broncos, they would get hurt from this selection the most.
Since Gronkowski was drafted, the Broncos have been the only other heavyweight in the AFC, alongside the New England Patriots. But his all-around dominance has made the Patriots the class of the NFL. If he never went to New England, then the Patriots offence would not be as unstoppable as we know it today.
He’s already arguably the greatest tight end ever — at 27 years of age. Because he’s been injured so much, it’s unlikely Gronkowski breaks Tony Gonzalez’s tight end records. But man, imagine if it was Peyton Manning/Trevor Siemian and not Tom Brady who had Gronkowski.
9. 2010: Antonio Brown
Original Pick: Demaryius Thomas
The Broncos didn’t necessarily waste their first selection in the 2010 draft. They took star wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, who consistently puts up 1,000-yard seasons and helped this team win Super Bowl 50. But the thing is, Antonio Brown is on another level — only Julio Jones can claim he’s a better wide receiver right now.
Brown fell all the way to 195th-overall, picked by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the sixth round. His speed and route-running make Brown a wide receiver who’s virtually impossible to cover alone, yet even double teams on him will barely work.
He broke out in 2014 with 129 catches for 1,698 yards and 13 touchdowns. In 2015, Brown caught 136 passes for 1,834 yards and 10 touchdowns. This past season, he posted 106 catches for 1,284 yards and 12 touchdowns. Talk about consistency.
8. 2009: LeSean McCoy
Original Pick: Robert Ayers
With the 18th-overall selection in 2009, the Broncos selected Robert Ayers, a talented defensive end out of Tennessee. However, Ayers struggled in the Mile High City and was a disappointment for the Broncos. This team passed on star running back LeSean McCoy, whom the Philadelphia Eagles selected 53rd-overall in 2009.
McCoy has been arguably the NFL’s best running back since joining the league in 2009. He has five 1,000-yard seasons under his belt, 60 rushing touchdowns in 117 games and has averaged an impressive 4.7 yards per carry in his career. McCoy is also a force in the passing game, with 2,930 receiving yards on 382 catches with 13 receiving touchdowns.
7. 2009: Clay Matthews
Original Pick: Knowshon Moreno
As every Broncos fan remembers, this team messed up badly by selecting Knowshon Moreno 12th-overall in 2009. Besides a nice campaign in 2013 that saw him rush for 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns while adding 548 receiving yards, Moreno was a huge bust for the Broncos. They wasted a first-round selection in an incredibly stacked draft. Who should they have taken instead?
Green Bay Packers’ linebacker Clay Matthews would have been an excellent addition. Matthews is one of the biggest game-changers in the NFL, with 72.5 sacks, 38 pass deflections and six interceptions through his first eight NFL seasons.
6. 2008: Jordy Nelson
Original Pick: Ryan Clady
The Broncos didn’t waste their first-rounder here, as offensive tackle Ryan Clady protected the team’s blind side for years. With Clady’s slick blocking, Peyton Manning (who was coming off of four neck surgeries), didn’t have to worry about taking ugly hits that could have ended his career for good.
But the Broncos could have done just a bit better with this pick — and the name is Jordy Nelson. The Green Bay Packers star wide receiver was taken 36th-overall and has become Aaron Rodgers’ favourite weapon since arriving. Nelson has posted 1,000-plus receiving yards in four of his last five seasons — and has 27 touchdown receptions in his last two years.
5. 2007: Eric Weddle
Original Pick: Jarvis Moss
The Broncos used the 17th-overall pick in 2007 to draft Jarvis Moss, a towering 6-feet-7, 260-pound defensive end out of Florida. Moss played just 34 games from 2007 to 2010 with the Broncos, as the two parties failed to pan out together. Denver missed out on nabbing arguably the league’s best safety in Eric Weddle, who went to the San Diego Chargers at 37th-overall.
Weddle has been among this decade’s top defensive playmakers. The four-time Pro Bowler has 84 pass deflections and 23 interceptions in his career, and is easily one of the best cover safeties the NFL has ever seen.
Before the signing of T.J. Ward, the Broncos had a gaping hole at the safety position. Weddle could have solidified that for years, but he frustrated the Broncos twice a season for nearly a decade in a Chargers uniform.
4. 2006: Tamba Hali
Original Pick: Jay Cutler
Jay Cutler was drafted 11th-overall by the Broncos in 2006, hyped to be the successful of Jake Plummer. Cutler obviously had a couple of nice seasons with the Chicago Bears, but never lived up to his full potential in the NFL. The Broncos only had Cutler for parts of three seasons before trading him to the Chicago Bears, which brought Kyle Orton over to Denver in return.
The Broncos had the chance to take star pass-rusher Tamba Hali, whom AFC West rivals the Kansas City Chiefs took with the 20th pick. Hali, a five-time Pro Bowler, has 89.5 sacks and 32 fumbles in his career. Hali has been a force against the Broncos offensive line for a decade now. It’s just another reminder about how this team passed on another great player.
3. 2004: Jared Allen
Original Pick: D.J. Williams
Jared Allen is one of the biggest draft steals of all-time, falling to the Kansas City Chiefs at 126th-overall in the fourth round back in 2004. Allen, a five-time Pro Bowler and four-time First-team All Pro, was the 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and undoubtedly the league’s top pass-rusher during the prime years of his career.
The Broncos used their 17th-overall selection on linebacker D.J. Williams, who had run-ins with the police and was incredibly inconsistent during his days with the Broncos. Meanwhile, allow us to continue with Jared Allen.
This guy racked up 136 career sacks in just 187 NFL games while forcing 31 fumbles. Allen registered double-digit sacks in eight different seasons, including every year from 2007 to 2013. In 2011, Allen managed 22 sacks and fell just one sack short of breaking Michael Strahan’s single-season record.
2. 2003: Robert Mathis
Original Pick: George Foster
The 2003 NFL Draft is one of the best in recent memory, but the Broncos failed to use the 20th-overall selection sparingly. They took offensive tackle George Foster out of Georgia, who lasted just four years in Denver before bouncing around teams. There were a handful of future Hall of Famers taken after the 20th-overall selection, but Robert Mathis would have made the most sense for Denver.
The six-time Pro Bowler was hands down one of football’s best pass-rushers during his career. Mathis was a key part of the Indianapolis Colts’ Super Bowl 41 championship season; they’re fortunate they got him in the fifth round at 138th-overall.
Mathis registered double-digit sacks in five different seasons — including a 19-sack campaign in 2013. He finished his career with 123 sacks and 52 forced fumbles in 191 games. Another future Hall of Famer the Broncos missed out on.
1. 2002: Ed Reed
Original Pick: Ashley Lelie
The Broncos used the 19th-selection on Ashley Lelie, who spent just four seasons in The Mile High City. Meanwhile, the Baltimore Ravens changed the NFL landscape by adding free safety Ed Reed to a slick defence that included Ray Lewis. Reed, who was taken 24th-overall, made his case as the greatest free safety of all-time in many different ways.
A Super Bowl 47 champion, Reed was a nine-time Pro Bowler, five-time First-team All Pro, 2004 Defensive Player of the Year, three-time interceptions leader and was named to the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team. Reed turned the Ravens’ defence into one of the most legendary in league history, as his insane ball-hawking and coverage skills made him a game-changer every time he stepped onto the field.
Reed finished his career with 141 passes defended, 64 interceptions, 1,590 interception return yards, 13 touchdowns and 11 forced fumbles. He was perhaps the NFL’s best defensive player of the 2000s. The Broncos are one of 31 teams that surely lived to regret not getting Reed.
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