Denver Broncos 10 Best NFL Draft Picks

    Who are the Denver Broncos' best NFL draft picks? Here are the top 10 in franchise history.

    February 7, 2016

    Who are the Denver Broncos’ best NFL draft picks? Here are the top 10 in franchise history.

    Follow or Contact @PeteFiutak 

    To be considered among the greatest Denver Broncos, just like the drill is for all the teams this is being done for, it’s sort of like being President of the United States – you have to be born into it. These are the best players drafted by Denver and – and this is a big deal with legends like Merlin Olsen and Paul Krause – with the best years being played for the franchise and not for someone else.

    Longevity matters, but this was changed up after the Super Bowl win over Carolina. Playing at a consistently high level is the most important factor. Von Miller wasn’t on the original list, but one Super Bowl MV later, he is now. If the player happens to be taken right before or right after a relative bust, that helps the cause, too.

    However, there is a little bit of a caveat and a ruling on this one, and it starts with …

    However, there is a little bit of a caveat and a ruling on this one, and it starts with …

    1. QB John Elway, Stanford

    1983, 1st round, 1st pick overall
    Pick Before: None
    Pick After: RB Eric Dickerson, SMU, by Los Angeles Rams

    Elway was drafted by the Baltimore Colts, while Denver took OT Chris Hinton with the fourth overall pick. However, in this exercise, trades made around draft time or on draft day – like Eli Manning and Phil Rivers essentially being swapped for each other in the 2004 NFL Draft – will be a part of this. Elway became a Bronco helped by the draft slot of Hinton to help the subsequent moves to make it all happen.

    It could be argued that Elway became the greatest quarterback of all-time, taking three very, very mediocre teams to the Super Bowl before finally breaking through in 1997 and 1998.

    51,485 passing yards, 300 touchdown passes, 33 touchdown runs, 1987 MVP, nine Pro Bowls, 46 game-winning drives – he became the standard for all-around excellence as an athlete, a gunslinger, and a franchise-making quarterback.

    2. LB Randy Gradishar, Ohio State

    1974, 1st round, 14th pick overall
    Pick Before: LB Rick Middleton, Ohio State, by New Orleans
    Pick After: LB Don Goode, Kansas, by San Diego

    A seven-time Pro Bowl performer, five-time All-Pro, and 1978 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Gradishar put up Hall of Fame numbers and production, but for some ridiculous reason isn’t in yet. Terrific at the highest of levels over his ten seasons, he came up with over 2,000 tackles averaging over 14 per game with 20 interceptions. How consistent was he? He went to the Pro Bowl in each of his last three seasons in the NFL.

    3. TE Shannon Sharpe, Savannah State

    1990, 7th round, 192nd pick overall
    Pick Before: RB Aaron Emanuel, USC, by New York Giants
    Pick After: CB Keith Collins, Appalachian State, by San Diego

    This is a little bit of a tough one considering he went from great to Hall of Fame-worthy after coming up with two big years with Baltimore, but this didn’t turn out too poorly overall for a seventh-round pick. The eight-time Pro Bowl performer also helped revolutionize the tight end position catching 675 passes for 8,439 yards and 55 scores for the Broncos. After a Pro Bowl year with the Ravens, he came back to Denver closing out with 123 catches and 11 touchdowns in his last two seasons.

    4. S Steve Atwater, Arkansas

    1989, 1st round, 20th pick overall
    Pick Before: DE Wayne Martin, Arkansas, by New Orleans
    Pick After: DE Bill Hawkins, Miami, by Los Angeles Rams

    The eight-time Pro Bowl performer and two-time All-Pro suffered from playing safety in the same era as Ronnie Lott, but he turned out to be every bit the hitter and almost the same sort of force for his secondary. Lott might have been at a whole other legendary level, but Atwater was still brilliant coming up with 24 career interceptions for the Broncos and 1,038 tackles. He still hasn’t received the Hall of Fame call, but it’s coming.

    5. S Dennis Smith, USC

    1981, 1st round, 15th pick overall
    Pick Before: TE Willie Scott, South Carolina, by Kansas City
    Pick After: WR Mark Nichols, San Jose State, by Detroit

    For 14 years, Smith was one of the NFL’s best all-around defensive backs coming up with 30 career interceptions and 1,152 tackles with 15 sacks. He hit the 100-tackle mark five times, turning into more of a big run stopper over the second half of his career. Very, very good for a very, very long time, he earned six Pro Bowl appearances.

    6. LB Karl Mecklenburg, Minnesota

    1983, 12th round, 310th pick overall
    Pick Before: LB Robbie Jones, Alabama, by New York Giants
    Pick After: QB Clete Castper, Washington State, by Los Angeles Rams

    Denver’s last pick of the 1983 NFL Draft ended up being one of the league’s top all-around linebackers making 79 sacks and 1,104 tackles on the way to six Pro Bowls and three All-Pro nods. In 1989, in 15 games, he was unstoppable coming up with a whopping 143 tackles with 7.5 sacks.

    7. RB Terrell Davis, Georgia

    1995, 6th round, 196th pick overall
    Pick Before: RB Dino Philyaw, Oregon, by New England
    Pick After: QB Craig Whelihan, Pacific, by San Diego

    Plenty of arguments could be made on several sides. The longevity just isn’t there compared to a Tom Jackson and several other legendary Broncos. He was among the game’s best players for four years, suffered his knee injury in 1999, and wasn’t the same ever again.

    A case could be made that Davis was a system runner – Clinton Portis ran for over 3,000 yards with 29 scores in his two years just after Davis. However, for that short burst from 1995 to 1998, he was more than just the missing piece to a champion.

    The 2008-yard, 21-touchdown 1998 campaign will be his signature season, but he built to that with three straight huge seasons prior. He ended up running for 7,607 yards and 60 career touchdowns on the way to a three All-Pro, three Pro Bowl, two Super Bowl ring, one Super Bowl MVP, one 1998 NFL MVP career.

    8. LB/DE Von Miller, Texas A&M

    2011, 1st round, 2nd pick overall
    Pick Before: QB Cam Newton, Auburn, picked by Carolina
    Pick After: DT Marcell Dareus, Alabama, picked by Buffalo

    Sorry Trevor Pryce, but Miller’s Super Bowl MVP – along with his performance against New England – moved him up to a whole other level. The four-time Pro Bowl performer and two-time All-Pro turned into one of the league’s premier pass rushers with double-digit sacks in four of his first five years – only missing out in 2013 because he was hurt. His dominant playoff run -highlighted by his brilliant Super Bowl with six tackles, 2.5 sacks, and the forced fumbles that changed the game – helped bring the Vince Lombardi home. It doesn’t matter what else he does over the rest of his career now.

    9. C Tom Nalen, Boston College

    1994, 7th round, 218th pick overall
    Pick Before: LB Rob Holmberg, Penn State, by Los Angeles Raiders
    Pick After: TE Tracy Greene, Grambling State, by Kansas City

    It might not be exciting to pick a center as a legendary pick, but the seventh-round selection anchored the fantastic line for the better part of 14 seasons with 188 starts to his credit while growing into one of the game’s premier blockers. The two-time All-Pro star went to five Pro Bowls.

    10. LB Tom Jackson, Louisville

    1973, 4th round, 88th pick overall
    Pick Before: CB Don Walker, Central State, by Buffalo
    Pick After: DE John Lohmeyer, Emporia State, by Kansas State

    Before he became a mainstay studio host for ESPN, he was a whale of a playmaker for the Broncos going to the Pro Bowl three times as the leader of a defense spanning a few different eras. He was the key playmaker up front on the way to the 1978 Super Bowl loss to Dallas and was still bringing it in the 1987 Super Bowl loss to Dallas. While he was a decent pass rusher, he was a consistent rock of a run defender.


    Have the full Stadium experience

    Watch with friends

    Get rewards

    Join the discussion