Our recent roller coaster record, coupled with some of the struggles we’ve endured on defense seems to have brought out the strongest of naysayers concerning the Broncos and the annual college draft. National, local and even in-office critics say that our current plight is a direct result of our inability to evaluate and ultimately select young college talent. They point to the numerous misses, reeling off the names as if “on the clock” themselves, yet never providing the circumstances or thoughts surrounding a particular selection. If only it were as easy as choosing a QB, RB, 2 WR’s and a shutdown Defense. Now that would be a true “Fantasy” League!
Here are a few historical tidbits & subsequent facts to help fill in the gaps.
In 1998 coming off our Super Bowl win, we were awarded the distinction of selecting 30th (last) in the first round. Rod Smith, Ed McCaffrey and Willie Green had been our 3 receivers and the staff felt the influx of a young player at the position would strengthen the unit overall. Marcus Nash had been a highly productive 3-year starter at the University of Tennessee. Peyton Manning’s go-to guy had the size, athletic ability and big-play production we were looking for at the position. He was the 2nd leading all-time receiver in Tennessee Vol’s history. Street & Smith’s had projected him a late first round pick. The Sporting News (TSN), Pro Football Weekly (PFW) and Mel Kiper all had Marcus as a solid to high second round pick. Since Denver wasn’t scheduled to select again until #61, we felt Nash wouldn’t be available & took him betting on the considerable upside. Last of the three receivers deemed worthy, the others were Randy Moss and Kevin Dyson (both selected prior to #30).
Subsequently there are only four receivers left on active rosters since the ’98 draft that were selected after Nash; Joe Jurevicius, Hines Ward, Tim Dwight and Jim Turner. Important to note, only Ward and Turner remain with their original teams. At the time, Ward was converting from QB, not a lock at WR and seen as a 3rd round pick. Jurevicius was more in the McCaffrey mold (whom we already had) and Dwight, though explosive as a returner, was undersized for our liking and considered a 3rd to 4th round pick.
Twenty-five other WR’s from the class of ’98 are no longer in the League. Many might argue how we could pass on such a “now” productive player as Hines Ward at the time, but I guess the same question should be asked of the other 61 picks that occurred prior to his selection as the last choice of the third round (#92).
Yet from ’98 -’07 Denver ranks 8th overall in gross receiving yards, 6th in TD receptions, 13th in total receptions & 9th in avg yards per reception. All while leading the NFL in rushing and finishing 5th in total offense. Somehow I don’t think the selection of Marcus Nash has crippled our passing game or our offense since 1998.
2000 saw Denver in need of a returner and a young corner prospect. Deltha O’Neal had been an explosive kickoff and punt returner for Cal in ’99. He recorded 9 interceptions that season and was selected a consensus first team All-American playing in the “pass happy” PAC-10. Clocked at 4.40 during his personal workout, Deltha had the arm length, ball skills and instincts the League was looking for. The Broncos had tied for 20th in interceptions (15) and were 25th in punt return average (7.2). Kiper projected him as a first round pick, along with TSN at the top of the second. Ray Crockett and Dale Carter had been the starters the year before and all the numbers pointed towards Deltha slotting nicely into our defensive secondary as a productive turnover and return specialist.
Only seven DC’s remain active from the ’00 draft and none are with their original teams. The first round has only five picks after our selection that remain with their original team; Sebastian Janikowski OAK, Chad Pennington NYJ, Shaun Alexander SEA, Rob Morris IND and Keith Bullock TEN. Though all have proven productive, none of those players fit a need at the time. Six first-round picks selected after ours are now out of the League.
O’Neal was traded to Cincinnati where he tied for the League lead in interceptions (10) and made the Pro Bowl a second time in ’05. He currently sits tied for 5th amongst all DC’s in interceptions since ’00. Current Broncos Champ Bailey and Dre’ Bly, along with former Bronco Tory James, rank 1 through 3. O’Neal was certainly deserving of the selection.
I’ll address some more picks later.