This topic has been bantered about for a few weeks now, and I thought this week, with a game against the Detroit Lions as the backdrop, would be a perfect time. It may not seem like any big deal, but trust me, there's a good reason. More on that later...
The key to success for any NFL team is stability and continuity, both in the front office and in the locker room. For years the Broncos have enjoyed both and success, for the most part has followed. That all changed, beginning in 2006, and the struggles that have followed, while disappointing, are not by any means unexpected. Let's look at the roster to see what I mean.
We'll compare the Broncos roster to a couple of other teams that have synonymous with success. The Patriots, Colts and Steelers. There's an old saying that you can't really judge a draft for 3-4 years. That's true, and it is the success of drafts past that determine future success. Right now, in 2007, we should be reaping the draft rewards of 2002, 2003, 2004. Even 2000 and 2001 to an extent should be providing depth. What you'll see is the complete failure, for the most part, of those draft classes.
Let's take a look at how the present day Broncos were built, focusing strictly on roster additions, through the draft and free agency, from 2000 - 2004 --
The left column are players drafted. The middle column are players acquired via trade, and the right column are free agents signed. Of all the draft picks the Broncos made during the 5-year span from 2000-2004, only 3 remain. Most discouraging are the years the Broncos have nothing to show for - 2000, 2002 and 2003. Ian Gold was drafted by the Broncos in 2000, but he left and came back through FA, so he appears the year he returned(2005). Three complete draft classes, poof into thin air. Why are the Broncos struggling?? There's your answer.
Let's look a bit deeper at those draft classes, and let me warn you, if you recently ate something you may want to wait --
Some of the names on that list make me shudder....Herb Haygood? Adrian Madise? Triandos Luke? Something called a Toviessi? I know, Toviessi was a monster, derailed by injury, which happens to every team at some point. The problem for the Broncos, most of these guys were derailed by a lack of talent, and the failures of drafts past are having a definitive effect on the present.
The tally for the Broncos, then? From 2000-2004, the Broncos drafted 44 players. 3 remain, 1 returned after leaving(Ian Gold), and trades involving draft picks netted 2 more(Champ Bailey and Dre Bly). That's as deep as I'll go. 44 players drafted and the Broncos have 6 players to show for it(13%).
Ok, so what about the other teams I mentioned. Let's start with the defending Champs. The Indianapolis Colts, expectedly, have done alot better --
Over the same period, the Colts have 9 of those picks remaining, and even more than the actual number are the names on the list -- Reggie Wayne, Ryan Diem, Dwight Freeney, Dallas Clark, Robert Mathis, Bob Sanders, Jake Scott -- all starters, and Jim Sorgi is Peyton Manning's backup. All nine guys are making huge contributions. So the number of players - 9-3 - is a big difference, the actual value of those players is alot greater. In total, the Colts draft 39 players, 9 remain(23%).
How about the Patriots?? Let's take a look --
The Pats have actually done a slightly better job than the Colts in retention - 10 players - and the names are just as impressive. Brady, Seymour, Matt Light, Asante Samuel, Green, Warren, Wilfork. All those guys are making huge contributions. In all, the Pats drafted 44 players, 10 remain(22.7%), slightly worse in percentage than the Colts, tough that is made up for by the success the Pats have had in the Free Agenty market, guys like Vrabel and Harrison.
Still not enough for ya? Ok, how about the Steelers --
They actually do the best job - 36 players selected, 11 retained(30.5%), which is crucial for Pittsburgh's success because of the market they play in. Again, a look at the names and it is easy to see why the Steelers have been so successful the past few seasons - Marvel Smith, Clark Haggans, Casey Hampton, Larry Foote, Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, Max Starks -- all making huge impacts.
Here's the final breakdown -
Even with me giving the Broncos a break by including guys acquired via trade we lag way behind the upper echelon teams in the AFC. That, my friends, is why the Broncos are struggling with inconsistency. That is why we are struggling on special teams. That is why we are 3-4, perhaps staring a losing season, only the second of the Shanahan Era, right in the face.
Why was now the perfect time to talk about this, before a game with the Detroit Lions? The Lions are the perfect example of what has happened to the Broncos in the draft. The Lions actually have more Broncos draft picks from 2001-2004 on thier roster than the Broncos do -- The Broncos have 3(Ben Hamilton, D.J Williams and Jeff Shoate). The Lions have 4(Kenoy Kennedy, Nick Harris, Tatum Bell and George Foster). Before you disregard any of these guys, just remember which team is 5-2, in first place, and which is 3-4.