Answers in Search of a Question: A Proud Handful in a Time of Change

AFLLOGO, from remembertheafl.com

"We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself." -- Lloyd Alexander.

    Established in 1920, the National Football League reigned supreme in the world of professional football for forty years, fending off rival leagues, and even absorbing 3 teams (the Baltimore Colts, the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers) from a rival league, as they lorded over the football world.  From 1949 to 1960, the NFL went unchallenged when it came to professional football.


    In 1960, an upstart league called the American Football league was formed by Lamar Hunt, largely due to the NFL's refusal to agree to letting Hunt start an expansion team in Dallas, and the league's rebuffing his attempts to gain ownership of an NFL team.  The fledgling league was relegated in the 1960s to trying recruit players from the small schools, the black colleges (which had largely been ignored by the NFL over the years) and NFL rejects.  The AFL was able find enough gems among these players to form  viable entity for the next decade.  The NFL chose to ignore the upstart league, choosing to believe that the lack of "quality" players, and the massive media advantage held by the NFL would be sufficient to squash yet another rival.  This turned out to be a mistake as the AFL not only survived, but thrived.  The two leagues soon found themselves in a bidding war for the top collegiate talent.  The two leagues had an unwritten agreement that neither league would sign a player under contract to a team in the opposing league.  The New York Giants broke that agreement in 1966 by signing away the Buffalo Bills placekicker.  This led to an escalation of the bidding war, led by then AFL Commissioner Al Davis.  Contrary to popular belief, it was the NFL and not the AFL that started merger talks, in an effort to limit the damage that was being caused by Davis' policies.  In 1966, the two leagues agreed to a merger which would take place by 1970.  1970 is the date most commonly cited for the AFL-NFL merger.

    In the first part of this series, we looked at the Broncos' draft picks from round 5 and later in the 1960s.  In the 1970's we see the aftermath of the AFL-NFL merger wherein their was not the same kind of cut-throat approach that characterized the late 1960s.   In this article, we will be looking at the 98 players drafted by the Broncos from 1970 through 1979.

More After the Fold

   One of the most noticeable differences between the first and second decades of late draft choices is that the number of rounds in the AFL draft dropped from 30 in 1961 to 20 in 1965 to 17 in 1967.  It remained at 17 rounds until 1976 and dropped to 12 rounds in 1977.  This alone affected the total number of players that could be drafted. 

    During this time, Denver drafted 98 players.  57 of those players failed to make the Denver roster, nor is there evidence that they were picked up by any other team.  This represents a worsening in Denver's drafting acumen.  In the 1960s 79 out of 161 players made a pro football roster -- that's 49%.  In the 1970s, 41 out of 98, or 42%, made a professional roster.


1970 -- 5 Players (+8 that did not make the team, nor any other team)
Round
Player
Position
Years w/Broncos
Notes
5
Billy McKoy
LB
1970-1972
Played 30 games for Denver; started 9
6
John Mosier
TE
1971
Played 11 games; never started; caught 3 passes for 36 yards; rushed 3 times for 31 yards
7
Randy Montgomery
DB
1971-1973
Started 10 games out of the 26 played for Denver; made 1 interception and 2 fumble recoveries; returned 34 kicks for 858 yards with 1 TD
8
Lew Porter
WR
N/A
Only recorded stats are from 1 year of playing for Kansas City
9
Dave Washington
LB
1970-1971
Played 27 games for the Broncos, started 21 of them; made 1 interception, 3 fumble recoveries and forced a safety; returned 1 kick for 20 yards


Four of the five players to make pro rosters started their careers with Denver. 


1971 -- 3 Players (+9 that did not make the team, nor any other team)

Round
Player
Position
Years w/Broncos
Notes
7
Doug Adams
LB
N/A
Only stats available show him playing for Cincinnati
8
Tom Beard
C
N/A
Only stats available show him playing for Buffalo
14
Tommy Lyons
OG
1971-1976
Played 73 games, started 62; recovered 2 fumbles


Only 3 players out of 12 went on to NFL careers, and only 1 of those had his career with Denver.


1972 -- 2 Players (+9 that did not make the team, nor any other team)

Round
Player
Position
Years w/Broncos
Notes
5
Jim Krieg
WR
1972
Played 6 games for Denver; caught 4 passes for 99 yards; rushed 1 time for 63 yards; returned 2 kicks for 21 yards
11
Larry Brunson
WR
1980
Played 4 years for Kansas City and 2 for Oakland before playing for Denver; Played 13 games for the Broncos; returned 42 kicks for 935 yards; caught 1 pass for 15 yards


This was a totally disappointing draft class.  Only one player out of 11 actually made the team (I'm discounting Brunson who didn't play for the Broncos until the final year of his career).


1973 -- 9 Players (+5 that did not make the team, nor any other team)

Round
Player
Position
Years w/Broncos
Notes
7
Mike Askea
OT
1973
Played 4 games for Denver
7
John Grant
DT
1973-1979
Played 99 games for the Broncos, starting 29 of them; recovered 8 fumbles
9
Lyle Blackwood
DB
N/A
Never played for the Broncos; played 14 years for other teams
10
Al Marshall
WR
N/A
Played 1 year for New England
12
Jim O'Malley
LB
1973-1975
Played 40 games in the Orange and Blue; made 1 interception, recovered 2 fumbles
13
Ed Smith
DE
1973-1974
Played 16 games, recovered 1 fumble, made 1 interception
14
John Hufnagel
QB
1974-1975
Played 9 games for Denver; completed 22 passes for 357 yards with 1 TD and 9 interceptions
15
Calvin Jones
DB
1973-1976
Started 44 out of 46 games for Denver; made 12 interceptions and 2 fumble recoveries
16
Oliver Ross
RB
1973-1975
Played in 20 games for the Broncos; rushed 50 times for 150 yards; caught 8 passes for 82 yards; returned 8 kicks for 137 yards


Another draft class where the majority of the picks went on to play for Denver.


1974 -- 2 Players (+7 that did not make the team, nor any other team)

Round
Player
Position
Years w/Broncos
Notes
16
Darrell Austin
OG
N/A
Did not play for Broncos; did go on to play for 2 other teams
17
Boyd Brown
TE
1974-1977
Appeared in 40 games; returned 6 kicks for 97 yards; caught 1 pass for 14 yards


One of the worst draft classes in terms of finding late round talent.


1975 -- 4 Players (+8 that did not make the team, nor any other team)

Round
Player
Position
Years w/Broncos
Notes
5
Stan Rogers
OT
1975
Played 14 games for Denver
5
Rubin Carter
NT
1975-1986
Played 166 games, started 154 for the Broncos; made 5 sacks and recovered 13 fumbles; was considered a key component in the Orange Crush Defense that took the Broncos to Super Bowl XII
8
Steve Foley
DB
1976-1986
Started 136 out of 150 games for Denver; made 44 interceptions and recovered 4 fumbles; along with Rubin Carter was a part of the Orange Crush Defense in Super Bowl XII
10
Steve Haggerty
WR
1975
Appeared in only 1 game for the Broncos; no stats recorded


Now we start to see recognizable names: Carter and Foley were both part of the Orange Crush Defense and played in Denver's first Super Bowl.


1976 -- 6 Players (+6 that did not make the team, nor any other team)

Round
Player
Position
Years w/Broncos
Notes
5
Lonnie Perrin
RB
1976-1978
Played in 44 games; rushed 255 times for 1029 yards and 9 TDs; caught 20 passes for 195 yards and 2 TDs; returned 27 kicks for 719 yards
8
James Betterson
RB
N/A
Never played for Denver
12
Randy Moore
DT
1976
Played in 8 games for the Broncos
14
Larry Evans
LB
1976-1982
Played in 101 games & started 41 for Denver; made 3 interceptions and 4 fumble recoveries
15
Wilbur Summers
P
N/A
Never played for Denver
16
John Huddleston
LB
N/A
Never played for Denver


Perrin and Evans were the only players of note in this draft class.


1977 -- 3 Players (+3 that did not make the team, nor any other team)

Round
Player
Position
Years w/Broncos
Notes
7
Larry Swider
P
N/A
Never played for Denver
9
Charles Jackson
LB
N/A
Never played for Denver
10
Oren Middlebrook
WR
N/A
Never played for Denver


In what has to have been one of the most disappointing late draft years, Denver did not have a single player out of the 6 actually play with the Broncos.  3 did not make the Broncos, nor any other team.  The other 3 ended up catching on with teams other than the Broncos. 


1978 -- 2 Players (+1 that did not make the team, nor any other team)

Round
Player
Position
Years w/Broncos
Notes
8
Franky Smith
OT
N/A
Never played for Denver
10
Vince Kinney
WR
1978-1979
Appeared in 23 games; had 1 catch for 23 yards; returned 1 kick for 14 yards


Another disappointing draft class in the late rounds.

  
1979 -- 4 Players (+2 that did not make the team, nor any other team)

Round
Player
Position
Years w/Broncos
Notes
6
Jeff McIntyre
LB
N/A
Never played for Denver
7
Luke Prestridge
P
1979-1983
Played 73 games for the Broncos; punted 377 times for 15,754 yards -- a 41.8 average; did not have a single punt blocked
11
Zachary Dixon
RB
1979
Played 5 games for Denver; rushed 3 times for 9 yards; returned 3 kicks for 53 yards
12
Dave Jacobs
K
N/A
Never played for Denver


Still another late round disappointment for the Broncos in terms of draft picks.  The only bright spot was the selection of Prestridge to take on the punting duties.


Some Observations


1)The merger of the AFL with the NFL in 1970 reduced the competition for players to a small degree, in that there was no longer a case of a player being forced to choose which league he was going to play in.

2)From 1970 to 1979, the Broncos drafted 98 players in round 5 or later.

3)Of those 98 players, 57 failed to make the Broncos or any other NFL team.

4)Of the 41 that were drafted and became pro football players, only 25 began their careers with the Broncos.

4)The average Broncos career for these 25 players was  3.5 years; an increase of almost a year over the 1960s late round draft picks.

5)Broncos fans can celbrate some good things that came about, in part, because of the contributions of these 25 little known people:
1973 -- Denver's first winning season at 7-5-2.
1977 -- Denver's first playoff appearance which ended led to Denver's first Super Bowl appearance in SB XII.
The establishment of Rubin Carter and Steve Foley as household names for their parts in the Orange Crush Defense.

6)The drafts of the 1970s reflect the beginning of a change for the Broncos as they moved from futility to respectability.  The late round choices were still a struggle over all, but we can begin to see the Broncos finding a few gems in those late picks.




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