In the 5th edition of my look back at each Broncos draft lead by Mike Shanahan and company I look at the final draft of the 20th century, and the second in a row for the Broncos following a World Championship. It would be the first since 1982, however, that John Elway was not a part of the draft, or part of the Broncos, and the first time it really sunk in with me that #7 wouldn't be taking snaps on Sunday afternoons.
Let's take a look back at the 1999 draft, and how the Broncos fared to start the post-Elway era in Denver.
1st Round -- Pick 31(31) -- Al Wilson, LB(Tennessee) -- If Terrell Davis was the best pick made by Mike Shanahan to date, Wilson would have to qualify a close second. Wilson was drafted with the final pick of the first round and immediately became the vocal and emotional leader of the defense. Wilson played in all 16 games during his rookie campaign, and overall has played in 125 of 128 total team games since 1999. Wilson became a 5 time pro bowler, impressive in its own right during a time with Ray Lewis, another AFC Linebacker getting all the publicity. Wilson eclipsed the century mark in tackles 3 different seasons, and tacked on 25 sacks in his eight year career in Denver. Wilson may have endeared himself for ever to Broncos fans for two specific hits he registered, one against Tyrone Wheatley in 2004, and the other against Deion Branch of the Patriots in 2005. Wilson wasn't the biggest or most gifted athlete on the field, but he sure did play like it. A defensive captain the past 6 years, Wilson was injured during a game against Seattle. After being carried off the field with an apparent neck/back injury, Wilson returned to play the next week, before missing the season finale against the 49'ers. His career as a Bronco came to an end on April 13, 2006, when he held a press conference thanking the fans and media for their support after the Broncos informed Wilson he would be released. His future is still in doubt, with the severity of his neck injury still in question. At this time Wilson has received medical clearance to play football but is still looking for a situation he finds to his liking. No matter what, Al Wilson will be a fan favorite for Bronco Nation.
2nd Round -- Pick 27(58) -- Montae Reagor(Texas Tech) --Prior to the draft, the Broncos traded young offensive lineman Jamie Brown to the San Francisco 49'ers for the 27th pick in the 2nd round. With it, the Broncos decided on Monte Reagor. Reagor was a standout at Texas Tech, and the Broncos needed some bulk on the d-line, with Neil Smith and others cast off after the Super Bowl. Reagor played well in spurts, but his problem was staying on the field. In his four seasons in Denver, Reagor played in 45 of 64 games, and never seemed to be able to stay healthy in long stretches. While playing 15 games for the Broncos in 2002 Reagor only netted 19 tackles. After the 2002 season the Broncos allowed Reagor to find a new home, and did he ever. Reagor signed with the Indianapolis Colts prior to the 2003 season and proved to everyone that he was simply a late bloomer. Over the next three seasons Reagor played in 42/48 games posting career highs in virtually every stat, including a career high 5.5 sacks in 2005. The 2006 season started strong for the Colts and Reagor until Week 6, when while driving to the RCA Dome to play the Redskins Reagor was seriously injured in a car accident. So concerned were the Colts about the possibility that he wouldn't play again they decided to release him after the season. Reagor signed a contract with the Eagles prior to the 2007 season and was the team's Ed Block Courage Award winner.
2nd Round -- Pick 30(61) -- Lennie Friedman, OL(Duke) -- Friedman seemed the perfect match for the Broncos zone blocking scheme, and for a while became a valuable contributor with the Broncos. During his 4 seasons with the Broncos, Friedman started 22 games, including 14 in 2001. His play was in-consistent at best, however, and like Reagor was allowed to leave after the 2002 season. Friedman went on to the Redskins, where he continued to shift in and out of the starting lineup. In 2005, Friedman officially entered journeyman status, signing with the Chicago Bears. After not seeing any action in 2005, the Bears traded Lennie to the Cleveland Browns during training camp last year. Friedman started two games for the depleted Browns in 2006, and recently was re-signed for the 2007 season. Nothing more than a career back-up, Lennie has stayed in the league by simply playing anytime, anywhere.
3rd Round -- Pick 6(67) -- Chris Watson, CB(Eastern Illinois) -- The Broncos made another trade, this time sending QB Jeff Lewis to Carolina for this pick, as well as a 4th rounder in 2000. The Broncos used this pick on Watson, a relatively unknown prospect out of Eastern Illinois. Watson quickly made an impression, and by the end of the 1999 season was returning punts, even scoring on a punt return during the '99 season. Watson made the All-Rookie team that season as a kick-returner, but there was something Shanny didn't like. In August of 2000, the Broncos traded Wilson to Buffalo as part of a package of draft picks, with one, ironically enough, being used by the Bills to select RB Travis Henry, now a member of the Broncos. Watson went on to play 3 seasons in Buffalo, before heading to Detroit where injuries curtailed his career. Watson retired after being released by the Green Bay Packers in 2004.
3rd Round -- Pick 32(93) -- Travis McGriff, WR(Florida) -- The Gators have never been known for their receivers, but that didn't stop the Broncos from taking McGriff in the third round. McGriff became another third round bust for Denver, catching 5 passes for one TD. All was not lost for McGriff, however. After spending the 2002 season in Atlanta, doing nothing, McGriff followed the footsteps of Marcus Nash into the Arena League, becoming a solid receiver for Orlando and Nashville. That career came to an end after the 2005 season.
4th Round -- Pick 32(127) -- Olandis Gary, RB(Georgia) -- The Broncos tried to catch Georgia lightning in a bottle for the second time in selecting little known Gary from Georgia. It didn't take long for it to appear the Broncos were writing a sweet sequel to the Terrell Davis story when Gary filled in for the injured Davis, rushing for 1159 yards in only 12 games that rookie year. With Davis still struggling the next season, Gary was primed and ready to become a star when disaster struck. On the 14th carry of the season, Week 1 in St' Louis, Gary broke his leg and missed the year. Though he attempted to return to form in 2001 and 2002 he was never really able to recapture the explosiveness that made him so effective. Buffalo signed Gary after the 2002 season, then promptly traded him to Detroit. It was there that Gary would end his career, rushing for only 384 yards in 2003. Gary was placed on injured reserve then released in September 2004.
5th Round -- Pick 25(158) -- David Bowens, DE(Western Illinois) -- If you draft someone from Eastern Illinois you have to draft a player from Western Ill. as well, and that's exactly what the Broncos did, selecting Bowens. Truth be told, Bowens had carved out a nice career for himself and remains a serviceable player to this day. After playing in 15 games for the Broncos his rookie season the team seemed to sour on him, trading him to the Packers for a 2007 7th Round selection. After one decent year in Green Bay, Bowens was signed by the Dolphins were, playing opposite Jason Taylor, he enjoyed his greatest success, culminating in a 7-sack, 46 tackle season in 2004. Bowens plans on playing in 2007, recently signing a contract with the New York Jets.
5th Round -- Pick 34(137) -- Darwin Brown, CB(Texas Tech) -- Unfortunately, there just isn't much out there about Brown, which probably means he didn't make the team out of training camp. Anyone who would like to add something about Darwin Brown, feel free to do so.
6th Round -- Pick 10(179) -- Desmond Clark, TE(Wake Forest) -- The Broncos traded a 5th round pick to Washington for a 6th and 7th round selection, the first being Desmond Clark. Early on it looked like Clark was going to be the heir apparent to Shannon Sharpe in the Broncos offense. Like Sharpe, Clark was once a wide receiver in college, and possessed great hands. Unlike Sharpe, Clark didn't take well to Shanny's request that you have to block as well, and in Shanny's world, do what you're told or be gone, and after 2001, a season in which Clark caught 51 passes, with 6 TDs, Clark was not re-signed. Injuries followed Clark to Miami, and after a dismal 2002 season he was signed by the Chicago Bears. In Chicago, Clark has been a steady player, averaging 34 catches and 3 TD per season.
6th Round -- Pick 35(204) -- Chad Plummer, QB(Cincinnati) -- The Broncos selected a QB in the 6th round, though his stay in Denver didn't last very long. Plummer was an option QB at the University of Cincinnati, and the idea was to turn him into a receiver. It didn't work. After being released by the Broncos in training camp, Plummer spent the next two seasons in Indy and Cincinnati before calling it quits.
7th Round -- Pick 12(218) -- Billy Miller, TE(USC) -- Miller came out as another of those tweener types, too big to be a WR, a bit too soft to be a true TE. Miller showed flashes of brilliance during his career, most notably after his time in Denver when he was signed by the expansion Houston Texans. Miller actually caught the first touchdown in Texans history during a pre-season game against the Cowboys. Miller's production gradually went down, leading to his release after the 2004 season. Miller was out of football in 2005, returning to the NFL in 2006 with the New Orleans Saints. In limited action, Miller caught 14 passes for 192 yards in New Orleans.
7th Round -- Pick 32(238) -- Justin Swift, TE(Kansas State) -- Swift became the third straight TE selected by Shanahan in the 1999 draft, and like the other two, didn't last very long in the blue and orange. Swift's only real action came with the San Francisco 49'ers where he caught 22 passes for 137 yards and a TD in three seasons in NoCal. He ended his career in 2003 with the Detroit Lions.
Guru's Take -- The 1999 draft is a hard one to judge. There are some players there, guys that have stood the test of time, just not with Denver. Obviously, Al Wilson is a stud and the star of the class. Montae Reagor went on to become a solid player, as did David Bowens. Who knows what could have happened if Olandis Gary stayed healthy. In the end, it is the late first day picks that make or break a draft. As has become all too familiar, the Broncos swung and missed with both of their third round selections, Chris Watson and Travis McGriff. Those are the picks that drain the depth of a franchise, and weaken the special teams (ahem!). Coming off back-to-back Super Bowl wins, the Broncos went back-to-back in draft stinkers.
Guru's Grade -- C-