As you probably know, in pre-merger times most star players were drafted by both an AFL team and an NFL team and had the choice to sign with either. While players were drawn to the bright lights of New York, the sunny weather of San Diego and even, inexplicably, Oakland, they avoided Denver like the plague. Bad luck? Bad reputation for losing? Too much snow? What was it?
At the tail end of a recent post, Jezru dropped in the fact that the Broncos were unable to sign their first seven first-round draft picks from 1960 to 1966. Thankfully, the 8th time was a charm and Floyd Little helped bring the Broncos out of the basement of the AFL. It goes a long way towards explaining why the Broncos suffered as arguably the worst team in the 10-year history of the AFL. So who exactly did we miss out on? Find out below.Since all of this stuff is ancient, I figure chronological order doesn't help much. Instead, I'll present it in dramalogical order and start with a bang!
1962 - 3rd Overall - DT Merlin Olsen
The Broncos made a pretty savvy pick in 1962, grabbing a Hall of Fame defensive tackle from Utah State. He contributed immediately, winning the 1962 Defensive Rookie of the Year award. He also appeared in a record 14 Pro Bowls, was elected to the All-Decade team for the 1960's and 1970's and made the 75th Anniversary All-Time team. The problem is, he did all that for the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL. It's hard to imagine his career could've been any better, but imagine the chaos he could've caused with a Hall of Fame linebacker behind him. Oh yes, the Broncos drafted one of those too. /tease.
Not pictured and being ignored to the right is a Broncos contract and #1 jersey.
1966 - 4th overall - DT Jerry Shay
1961 - 1st overall - HB Bob Gaiters
You probably thought Von Miller was the highest draft pick the Broncos ever made, but that only covers the NFL draft. The Broncos spent the prized pick on a New Mexico State halfback who managed only three seasons. This is why you don't spend Top-10 picks on running backs.
The original Ki-Jana Carter.
1963 - 5th overall - DB Kermit Alexander
Kermit bolted for the 49ers and had a very productive NFL career, playing thirteen seasons and making making the Pro Bowl in 1968.
This Muppet moved right along to Northern California.
1964 - 4th overall - OT Bob Brown
While not the most shocking Broncos draft-pick gone wrong, this one may have hurt the most. The Hall of Fame tackle from Nebraska (we hate them) passed on the Broncos to sign with the Eagles. He moved to the Rams, and was eventually traded to Raiders (we hate them too). Along the way he played in 6 Pro Bowls and was elected to the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1960's. He could've been Floyd Little's lead blocker.
1960 - A Complete Mess in General
The AFL's first draft, in modern terms, was what we'd call a cluster-f***. The one thing that is clear is that the Broncos got screwed. They used their "territorial pick" to claim Roger LeClerc who signed with the Chicago Bears as a defensive tackle, but made a bigger mark as a placekicker.
When the non-territorial selections began, the Broncos first pick was offensive guard Wayne Hawkins. The Broncos nearly signed their first first round pick, but weirdness prevailed. The AFL had planned a Minnesota franchise, but the owner was wooed to the NFL to become the expansion Minnesota Vikings. The Chargers owner demanded a California team replace the Vikings to minimize his travel expenses. Thus were the bastardly Oakland Raiders born. An old-timey expansion draft was held during which the Raiders plucked away the Broncos very first draft pick. Though we already know this, this proves, once again, that the Raiders and Chargers are to blame for everything. By the way, Hunter was a five-time AFL All-Star and a Member of the Raiders' All-1960's Team.
1965 - No Pick
In 1965, the Broncos had traded away their first round choice, which unfortunately ended up being the first overall pick. The Jets used it on Joe Namath, and I encourage you to read all about that debacle in Jezru's earlier article.
Joe Namath would've been a nice pick-up for the Broncos, but not even as nice as their 2nd-round pick. The Broncos passed on Hall of Fame wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff to choose Hall of Fame linebacker Dick Butkus. I can't imagine Butkus debated long before joining his hometown team, the Chicago Bears who had drafted him with the 3rd pick in the NFL's draft. He, of course, went on to have an epic career, appearing in 8 Pro Bowls, winning two Defensive Player of the Year awards and being elected to the All-Decade Teams for the 1960's and 1970's as well as the 75th Anniversary All-Time Team. I like his chances for being a member of the 100th Anniversary All-Time Team.
The mustache alone was worth a first-round pick.
In these eight picks the Broncos lost out on a two busts, two solid starters, one placekicker and three Hall of Famers. Two of those Hall of Famers reside on the NFL's All-Time Team.
Imagine a running back breaking through one of Merlin Olsen's tackles (against all odds) only to be met by an orange-clad Dick Butkus. Imagine those picks being spent on similar or even inferior players who at least suited up for the Broncos! Imagine a modern day team going 7 years without adding a first-round talent! The Herschel Walker and Ricky Williams trades (and Josh McDaniels' somewhat insane selections) pale in comparison. That's how the Broncos started out. Ouch.