Onward, to the 2000 draft. The Broncos were coming off their worst season in over a decade, still grappling with the daunting task of replacing John Elway, dealing with the unknown of Terrell Davis' knee injury from the season before. The team was definitely in a state of transition, and it was becoming imperative that Mike Shanahan starts coming up huge in the draft. Did he hit a home run in 2000? Let's take a look.
1st Round -- Pick 15(15) - Deltha O'Neal, CB (CAL) -- The Broncos had the #9 pikc in the draft, but chose to trade down, swapping the pick with Baltimore, getting the #15 pick as well as the Raven's 2nd round pick. At 15, the Broncos went defense, selecting Deltha O'Neal. The O'Neal selection is one a bit tough to gauge. There were times O'Neal looked like he was going to be a stud. A shut-down corner and electric return guy that was going to be a force in the NFL for a long time. At other times, he looked lost, fumbling returns, and giving up big play after big play. In the end, those latter times became much more frequent than the good ones, and O'Neal became another first rounder to find himself out the door. O'Neal's career in Denver can be split in 2 parts. The `good' years were his first two in Denver . As a rookie, O'Neal returned kicks and punts as well as anyone, even returning a kickoff for a touchdown. While not seeing much action on defense his special team's contributions made him a valuable member of the roster. In 2001, O'Neal became a starter a corner and immediately began to look like a star. O'Neal picked off nine passes, and had 16 passes defended. Not only was his defense solid, but he continued his strong special teams play by returning a punt for a TD. Things started to unravel in 2002 for O'Neal. The corner started fumbling the ball on punts, and giving up huge plays on defense. While O'Neal was able to score two TD's on interception returns, his pick total was cut in half. The writing was on the wall. In 2003, his final season in Denver, O'Neal could barely get onto the field. It all came to a head on a Monday Night against the Patriots, when O'Neal, who had been benched by Shanny was pressed into action only to fumble a punt as well as give up the game winning TD on a blown coverage. It was at that point Shanny decided to move O'Neal to receiver, an ill-conceived move that O'Neal was less than excited about. It became obvious to everyone involved that O'Neal's time in Denver was limited at best. O'Neal became a former Bronco a few days before the 2004 draft when he was traded to the Cincinnati Bengals. With the Bengals, O'Neal's career has followed a similar path. After a solid 2005 campaign that saw O'Neal pick off a career-high 10 passes. 2006 was a polar opposite, with O'Neal reverting back to his old, bad habits. It appears after seven seasons in the NFL that is all O'Neal will be, making him an under-achiever for a top-15 pick.
2nd Round -- Pick 9(40) - Ian Gold(Michigan) - Seen as a bit of a reach at the time, the Broncos took the former Wolverine early in the second round. Small by comparison, Gold fit in perfectly with what the Broncos wanted in a linebacker. Small, but fast and able to go sideline to sideline in pursuit. Gold wasn't a starter his first two seasons, stuck behind incumbent Bill Romanowski, but became a special teams standout on both punt and kick coverage. In 2002, his third year in the league, Gold got the chance he was waiting for, and made the most of it. Gold immediately became a team leader on defense, posting his career high in tackles at 100. His 6.5 sacks that season are also a career high. His 2003 season got off to an even better start, with Gold on pace for another 100-tackle season before his year ended as a result of a knee injury covering a punt. Unsure about his recovery, the Broncos chose not to resign Gold, allowing him to sign a contact with Tampa Bay. His stay in Tampa was short, but Gold was solid enough for Mike Shanahan to make a move to re-sign him after the Bucs released the 5-year vet. Since returning for the 2005 season Gold has continued his solid play. Gold started strong in 2006 before fading drastically as the year went on. 2007 was much of the same for Gold as he and the Broncos' defense struggled under new Defensive Coordinator Jim Bates. Gold was let go after the season, replaced when the Broncos decided to move D.J. Williams back to the weakside for 2008.
2nd Round - Pick 14(45) - Kenoy Kennedy, S(Arkansas) -- The Broncos used the extra pick acquired from the Baltimore Ravens to select Kennedy, who many thought would be the next Steve Atwater. Like Atwater, Kennedy was a hard-hitting safety from Arkansas. While Kennedy enjoyed a bit of success, he turned out to be another early pick that no longer makes his NFL home in Denver. Kennedy broke into the starting lineup his 2nd season and for the better part of the next 4 seasons was a solid defender for the Broncos. What became apparent rather quickly was Kennedy's limitations in pass coverage, making him a liability at times against some of the better quarterbacks in the league. Where Kennedy was like Atwater was in his style of play, a ruthless hitter who made people pay in the secondary. A better run-stopper than pass defender, Kennedy enjoyed some good seasons in Denver, with 2004 his best, statistically. Kennedy used his strong season to get a big free agent contract form the Detroit Lions heading into the 20005 season. His first in Detroit was his best, with Kenedy playing in all 16 games. His 2006 season was marred by injury, but overall Kennedy is a nice player, though his one could expect more from the 45th overall pick.
3rd Round -- Pick 8(70) -- Chris Cole, WR(Texas A&M) -- Well, you knew there had to be a first day stinker and here it was. Cole was another attempt by Shanny to find a slot receiver that could stretch the field. One of the fastest players in the league, Shanny thought Cole could be that guy. Unfortunately, Cole had no receiver skills and after playing in 35 total games, for 3 teams, catching 12 passes, his career was over in 2005. To his credit, Cole was a pretty good return guy, but not nearly good enough to stick in the NFL. Cole was a bust, no other way to describe it.
4th Round -- Pick 7(101) - Jerry Johnson, DT(Florida St.) -- What I do know is the Broncos drafted the former Seminole with the 7th pick of the fourth round. It appears he saw action, or was at least active, for 9 games in the 2001 season, meaning he was probably a practice squad player in 2000. After that, not much else. Like many Broncos mid-round picks it appears Johnson faded into the draft-bust abyss.
4th Round -- Pick 18(112) - Cooper Carlisle, OL(Florida) -- As bad as the previous two picks were, Shanny once again showed he can get value for the offensive line later in the draft. Carlisle became another in a long line of late-round picks that played significant time on the Broncos O-Line. To his credit, Carlisle waited his turn to get a chance to prove himself. Carlisle didn't make one start his first three years in the league, and was only a spot starter in '03 and '04. The team finally called his number in 2005 and Carlisle responded starting every game the past two seasons. Carlisle was by no means a star on the line but provide the stable, solid play necessary. After last season Carlisle was allowed to test the free-agent waters, eventually signing a deal with the Oakland Raiders.
5th Round -- Pick 25(154) - Muneer Moore, RB(Richmond) -- Here is what I know....Muneer Moore looked like a promising prospect when drafted In 2000. He broke his ankle during a preseason game, missing his entire rookie campaign. He once again seemed promising in 2001, but once again ended up injured. He continued to try and keep his dream alive, even signing with the New York Jets in 2004. His playing career, now over, turned into an opportunity to work for the NFLPA as a Player Marketing Manager.
6th Round -- Pick 23(189) - Mike Anderson, RB(Utah) -- Another solid trend in the Shanny era was his ability to find running backs deep in day 2, and the Broncos pulled it off again, drafting former Marine Mike Anderson. Anderson got his chance to shine almost immediately, with Terrell Davis and Olandis Gary still unable to compete. Anderson took advantage, winning the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award by rushing for nearly 1500 yards and 15 touchdowns. Anderson proved his team loyalty by switching positions to FB for the 2001 season, where he continued to stand out and be productive. Opportunities dwindles in 2002 and 2003, with Clinton Portis seeing most of the carries. After Portis was traded to Washington in 2004, Anderson appeared to be the man once again before a groin energy ended his season before it really began. Anderson came back strong in 2005, and as the featured back Anderson once again eclipsed 1000 yards. After being released in a salary cap move, Anderson signed with the Baltimore Ravens, though sadly he was little used by Brian Billick. Anderson will always be one of my favorite Broncos, mostly because of his unselfish, team-first attitude. Obviously a solid pick for the Broncos.
7th Round -- Pick 8(214) - Jarious Jackson, QB(Notre Dame) -- This pick always baffled me, because Jackson was never a guy I saw as a good fit in Denver. After a few years of trying to prove me wrong the experiment was thankfully over. Jackson saw little action during his 4 seasons in Denver, playing in one, unmemorable game in Green Bay against the Packers. After a short stint playing in the secondary on defense the Broncos thankfully released Jackson in 2004. Jarious went on to Detroit, where he spent the 2004 season on the Lions practice squad. In 2005, Jackson went north of the border, signing with the B.C. Lions of the CFL. Not good enough to start over a guy named Buck Pierce, Jackson continues to live his dream, and it can only be a matter of time for he ends up in the arena league.
7th Round -- Pick 40(246) - Leroy Fields, WR(Jackson State) -- Total unknown, as many guys drafted at 246 are 7 years later.
Guru's Take -- This is where this stuff becomes objective. Do we reward a draft class if several of those players become serviceable NFL players, even IF it isn't with the Broncos? Do we judge a draft simply on how it specifically affects the team that selected them? I do a bit of both, because the salary cap system doesn't allow teams to keep everyone. That said, even though several of these selections turned out to be decent players, the draft was a disappointment overall, with exactly one of these guys still playing for Denver, and he was shown the door once before. In many of the situations on Day 1 it appeared the Broncos were reaching, and in the end only Gold has deserved the pick that was used to select him. It gets a higher grade than some of the others, but only because some of these guys actually stayed in the league.
Guru's Grade -- B-