The Denver Broncos: Building a Championship Team

   This offseason is promising to be an interesting one. The Broncos have a new head coach, several new assistants and several returning ones. The staff is undoubtedly working hard to get everyone on the same page, evaluate the current roster for strengths and weaknesses, and try to pull together a draft strategy that will assist them in producing a team which will perform better than last year's. At the same time, the uncertainty surrounding the soon to expire CBA is creating its own unique spin on the offseason by threatening to preclude the normal pace of free agency, trades, OTA, Training Camp and the preseason games -- any or all of those could fall victim to an unsigned CBA.

     These factors may present us with the chance to watch our new head coach follow a rather atypical path to returning Denver to a competitive and playoff bound team -- let us not forget that the ultimate goal of any coach is to lead his team to the Super Bowl. For this reason, I thought it might be fun to take a look forward by taking a look back. The Broncos have played in six Super Bowls, winning two and losing four. After the jump, we'll take a look at how they built their starting rosters for each of those Super Bowl games.

1977 Season -- Lost to the Dallas Cowboys 10-27 in SB XII

     Denver finished the season at 12-2. The Broncos defeated Pittsburgh 34-21 in the divisional round, then defeated Oakland 20-17 in the AFC Championship game. The owner at the time was Gerald Phipps and the head coach was first year head coach Red Miller. The starting lineup for offense and defense was:

Pos Name Drafted NFL Yr Den Yr
Pos Name Drafted NFL Yr Den Yr
QB Craig Morton 1st 1965 (Dal) 13 1 LDE Barney Chavous 2nd 1973 (Den) 5 5
RB Otis Armstrong 1st 1973 (Den) 5 5 NT Reuben Carter 5th 1975 (Den) 3 3
FB Jon Keyworth 6th 1974 (Was)* 4 4 RDE Lyle Alzado 4th 1971 (Den) 7 7
WR Haven Moses 1st 1968 (Buf) 12 5 LOLB Bob Swenson CFA 1975 (Den) 3 3
WR Jack Dolbin CFA 1975 (Den) 3 3 LILB Joe Rizzo 15th 1973 (Buf)* 5 5
TE Riley Odoms 1st 1972 (Den) 6 6 RILB Randy Gradishar 1st 1974 (Den) 4 4
LT Andy Maurer 3rd 1970 (Atl) 8 1 ROLB Tom Jackson 4th 1973 (Den) 5 5
LG Tom Glassic 1st 1976 (Den) 2 2 LCB Louis Wright 1st 1975 (Den) 3 3
C Mike Montler 2nd 1969 (Bos) 9 1 RCB Steve Foley 8th 1975 (Den) 3 3
RG Paul Howard 3rd 1973 (Den) 5 5 SS Bill Thompson 3rd 1969 (Den) 9 9
RT Claudie Minor 3rd 1974 (Den) 4 4 FS Bernard Jackson 4th 1972 (Cin) 6 1
K Jim Turner 19th 1963 (Was) 14 7 PR Rick Upchurch 4th 1975 (Den) 3 3
P Bucky Dilts CFA 1977 (Den) 1 1 KR Lonnie Perrin 5th 1976 (Den) 2 2

* played entire career in Denver

     The 1977 team had seven first round draft picks -- five of which were picked by the Broncos. Twenty of the twenty-six starters were originally picked by the Broncos. Half of the starters (13/26) were picked in the fourth round or later and/or were college free agents. The starters had an average 5.5 years experience in the NFL,
and had been with Denver for an average of 3.8 years.

     The offensive line was composed of one first round draft pick, one second and three thirds. The offensive line had an average of 5.6 years NFL experience and had been with the Broncos for an average 2.6 years. The offense as a whole had five first round draft picks, one second, three thirds, one sixth and a college free agent. The offense had an average of 6.5 years NFL experience and had been with the Broncos for an average of 3.4 years.

     The defensive front seven was composed of one first round draft pick, one second, two fourths, one fifth, one fifteenth and one college free agent. The defensive front seven had an average of 4.6 years experience in the NFL and had been with Denver for an average of 4.6 years. The defense as a whole had two first round picks, one second, one third, three fourths, one fifth, one eighth, one fifteenth and one college free agent. The defense had an average of 4.3 years experience in the NFL and had been with the Broncos for an average of 4.3 years.

     The edge in experience was clearly on the defensive side of the ball, both in terms of overall NFL experience and in time with the Broncos. The majority of the offensive starters were picked in the first three rounds (9/11) while the majority of the defensive starters were picked in the fourth round or later (7/11).

 

1986 Season -- Lost to the New York Giants 20-39 in SB XXI

     Denver finished the season at 11-5. The Broncos defeated New England 22-17 in the divisional round, then defeated Cleveland 23-20 in the AFC Championship game. The owner at the time was Pat Bowlen and the head coach was Dan Reeves. Reeves was in his sixth year as a head coach and his sixth year with the Broncos. The starting lineup for offense and defense was:

Pos Name Drafted NFL Yr Den Yr
Pos Name Drafted NFL Yr Den Yr
QB John Elway 1st 1983 (Bal)* 4 4 LDE Andre Townsend 2nd 1984 (Den) 3 3
RB Sammy Winder 5th 1982 (Den) 5 5 NT Greg Kragen CFA 1985 (Den) 2 2
FB Gerald Wilhite 1st 1982 (Den) 5 5 RDE Rulon Jones 2nd 1980 (Den) 7 7
WR Vance Johnson 2nd 1985 (Den) 2 2 LOLB Jim Ryan CFA 1979 (Den) 8 8
WR Steve Watson CFA 1979 (Den) 8 8 LILB Karl Mecklenberg 12th 1983 (Den) 4 4
TE Clarence Kay 7th 1984 (Den) 3 3 RILB Ricky Hunley 1st 1984 (Cin)*** 3 3
LT Dave Studdard 9th 1978 (Bal)** 8 8 ROLB Tom Jackson 4th 1973 (Den) 14 14
LG Keith Bishop 6th 1980 (Den) 7 7 LCB Louis Wright 1st 1975 (Den) 12 12
C Bill Bryan 4th 1977 (Den) 10 10 RCB Mike Hardin 5th 1980 (Den) 7 7
RG Paul Howard 3rd 1973 (Den) 14 14 SS Dennis Smith 1st 1981 (Den) 6 6
RT Ken Lanier 5th 1981 (Den) 6 6 FS Steve Foley 8th 1975 (Den) 12 12
K Rich Karlis CFA 1982 (Den) 5 5 PR Gerald Wilhite 1st 1982 (Den) 5 5
P Jack Weil CFA 1986 (Den) 1 1 KR Ken Bell CFA 1986 (Den) 1 1

*played entire career in Denver. ** played entire career for Denver starting in 1979. ***started career with Denver.

     The 1986 team had five first round draft picks -- three of which were picked by the Broncos. Twenty-two of the twenty-five starters were originally picked by the Broncos. Denver had six college free agents on this squad. Sixteen of the twenty-five starters were picked in the fourth round or later and/or were college free agents. The starters had an average 6.3 years experience in the NFL, and had been with Denver for an average of 6.3 years.

     The offensive line was composed of one third round draft pick, one fourth, one fifth, one sixth and one ninth. The offensive line had an average of 9.0 years NFL experience and had been with the Broncos for an average 9.0 years. The offense as a whole had two first round draft picks, one second, one third, one fourth, two fifths, one sixth, one seventh, one ninth and a college free agent. The offense had an average of 6.5 years NFL experience and had been with the Broncos for an average of 6.5 years.

     The defensive front seven was composed of one first round draft pick, two seconds, one fourth, one twelfth and two college free agents. The defensive front seven had an average of 5.9 years experience in the NFL and had been with Denver for an average of 5.9 years. The defense as a whole had three first round picks, two seconds, two fourths, one fifth, one twelfth and two college free agents. The defense had an average of 7.1 years experience in the NFL and had been with the Broncos for an average of 7.1 years.

     The edge in experience was clearly on the defensive side of the ball, both in terms of overall NFL experience and in time with the Broncos. The offensive starters were spread evenly throughout the draft rounds while almost half (5/11) of the defensive starters were picked in the first two rounds.

 

1987 Season -- Lost to the Washington Redskins 42-10 in SB XXII

     Denver finished the season at 10-4-1. The Broncos defeated Houston (now Tennessee) 34-10 in the divisional round, then defeated Cleveland 38-33 in the AFC Championship game. The owner at the time was Pat Bowlen and the head coach was Dan Reeves. Reeves was in his seventh year as a head coach and his seventh year with the Broncos. The starting lineup for offense and defense was:

Pos Name Drafted NFL Yr Den Yr
Pos Name Drafted NFL Yr Den Yr
QB John Elway 1st 1983 (Bal)* 5 5 LDE Andre Townsend 2nd 1984 (Den) 4 4
RB Sammy Winder 5th 1982 (Den) 6 6 NT Greg Kragen CFA 1985 (Den) 3 3
FB Gene Lang 11th 1984 (Den) 3 3 RDE Rulon Jones 2nd 1980 (Den) 8 8
WR Vance Johnson 2nd 1985 (Den) 3 3 LOLB Simon Fletcher 2nd 1985 (Den) 3 3
WR Mark Jackson 6th 1986 (Den) 2 2 LILB Karl Mecklenberg 12th 1983 (Den) 5 5
TE Clarence Kay 7th 1984 (Den) 4 4 RILB Ricky Hunley 1st 1984 (Cin)*** 4 4
LT Dave Studdard 9th 1978 (Bal)* 9 9 ROLB Jim Ryan CFA 1979 (Den) 9 9
LG Keith Bishop 6th 1980 (Den) 8 8 LCB Mark Haynes 1st 1980 (NYG) 8 2
C Mike Freeman CFA 1984 (Den) 3 3 RCB Mike Hardin 5th 1980 (Den) 8 8
RG Stefan Humphries 3rd 1984 (Chi) 4 1 SS Dennis Smith 1st 1981 (Den) 7 7
RT Ken Lanier 5th 1981 (Den) 7 7 FS Tony Lilly 3rd 1984 (Den) 4 4
K Rich Karlis CFA 1982 (Den) 6 6 PR Kevin Clark CFA 1987 (Den) 1 1
P Mike Horan 9th 1982 (Atl)** 4 2 KR Ken Bell CFA 1986 (Den) 2 2

*played entire career for Denver. **drafted by Atlanta, first game 1984 for Philadelphia. ***never played for Cincinnati, started career with Denver.

     The 1987 team had five first round draft picks -- two of which were picked by the Broncos. Twenty of the twenty-six starters were originally picked by the Broncos. Over half of the starters (15/26) were picked in the fourth round or later and/or were college free agents. The starters had an average 5.1 years experience in the NFL, and had been with Denver for an average of 4.7 years.

     The offensive line was composed of one third round pick, one fifth, one sixth, one ninth and one college free agent. The offensive line had an average of 6.2 years NFL experience and had been with the Broncos for an average 5.6 years. The offense as a whole had two first round draft picks, one second, one third, one fifth, two sixths, one seventh, one ninth and a college free agent. The offense had an average of 5.2 years NFL experience and had been with the Broncos for an average of 4.9 years.

     The defensive front seven was composed of one first round draft pick, three seconds, one twelfth and two college free agents. The defensive front seven had an average of 5.1 years experience in the NFL and had been with Denver for an average of 5.1 years. The defense as a whole had three first round picks, three seconds, one third, one fifth, one twelfth and two college free agents. The defense had an average of 5.7 years experience in the NFL and had been with the Broncos for an average of 5.2 years.

     The edge in experience was marginally on the defensive side of the ball, both in terms of overall NFL experience and in time with the Broncos. The majority of the offensive starters were picked in round four or later (7/11) while the majority of the defensive starters were picked in rounds one through three (7/11).

 

1989 Season -- Lost to the San Francisco 49ers 55-10 in SB XXIV

     Denver finished the season at 11-5. The Broncos defeated Pittsburgh 24-23 in the divisional round, then defeated Cleveland 37-21 in the AFC Championship game. The owner at the time was Pat Bowlen and the head coach was Dan Reeves. Reeves was in his ninth year as a head coach and his ninth year with the Broncos. The starting lineup for offense and defense was:

Pos Name Drafted NFL Yr Den Yr
Pos Name Drafted NFL Yr Den Yr
QB John Elway 1st 1983 (Bal)* 7 7 LDE Alphonso Carreker 1st 1984 (GB) 6 1
RB Bobby Humphrey 1st 1989 (Den) 1 1 NT Greg Kragen CFA 1985 (Den) 5 5
FB Jeff Alexander CFA 1989 (Den) 1 1 RDE Andre Townsend 2nd 1984 (Den) 6 6
WR Mark Jackson 6th 1986 (Den) 4 4 LOLB Simon Fletcher 2nd 1985 (Den) 5 5
WR Vance Johnson 2nd 1985 (Den) 5 5 LILB Karl Mecklenberg 12th 1983 (Den) 7 7
TE Clarence Kay 7th 1984 (Den) 6 6 RILB Rick Dennison CFA 1982 (Den) 8 8
LT Gerald Perry 2nd 1988 (Den) 2 2 ROLB Michael Brooks 3rd 1987 (Den) 3 3
LG Doug Widell 2nd 1989 (Den) 1 1 LCB Tony Braxton 12th 1987 (Den) 3 3
C Keith Kartz CFA 1987 (Den) 3 3 RCB Wymon Henderson CFA 1987 (Min) 3 1
RG Jim Juriga 4th 1986 (Den) 4 4 SS Dennis Smith 1st 1981 (Den) 9 9
RT Ken Lanier 5th 1981 (Den) 9 9 FS Steve Atwater 1st 1989 (Den) 1 1
K David Treadwell CFA 1989 (Den) 1 1 PR Ken Bell CFA 1986 (Den) 4 4
P Mike Horan 9th 1982 (Atl)** 6 4 KR Ken Bell CFA 1986 (Den) 4 4

*played entire career in Denver. **First NFL start was in 1984 for Philadelphia.

     The 1989 team had five first round draft picks -- three of which were picked by the Broncos. Twenty-one of the twenty-five starters were originally picked by the Broncos. Over half of the starters (14/25) were picked in the fourth round or later and/or were college free agents. The starters had an average 4.4 years experience in the NFL, and had been with Denver for an average of 4.0 years.

     The offensive line was composed of two second round picks, one fourth, one fifth and one college free agent. The offensive line had an average of 3.8 years NFL experience and had been with the Broncos for an average 3.8 years. The offense as a whole had two first round draft picks, three seconds, one fourth, one fifth, one sixth, one seventh and two college free agents. The offense had an average of 3.9 years NFL experience and had been with the Broncos for an average of 3.9 years.

     The defensive front seven was composed of one first round draft pick, two seconds, one third, one twelfth and two college free agents. The defensive front seven had an average of 5.7 years experience in the NFL and had been with Denver for an average of 5.0 years. The defense as a whole had three first round picks, two seconds, one third, two twelfths and three college free agents. The defense had an average of 5.1 years experience in the NFL and had been with the Broncos for an average of 4.6 years.

     The edge in experience was clearly on the defensive side of the ball, both in terms of overall NFL experience and in time with the Broncos. The majority of the offensive starters were picked in round four or later (6/11) while the majority of the defensive starters were picked in rounds one through three (6/11).


1997 Season -- Defeated the Green Bay Packers 31-24 in SB XXXII

     Denver finished the season at 12-4. The Broncos defeated Jacksonville 42-17 in the wild card round, went on to defeat Kansas City 14-10 in the divisional round, then defeated Pittsburgh 24-21 in the AFC Championship game. The owner at the time was Pat Bowlen and the head coach was Mike Shanahan. Shanahan was in his fifth year as a head coach and his third year with the Broncos. The starting lineup for offense and defense was:

Pos Name Drafted NFL Yr Den Yr Pos Name Drafted NFL Yr Den Yr
QB John Elway 1st 1983 (Bal)* 15 15 LDE Neil Smith 1st 1988 (KC) 10 1
RB Terrell Davis 6th 1995 (Den) 3 3 LDT Keith Traylor 3rd 1991 (Den) 7 7
FB Howard Griffith 9th 1991 (Ind) 5 1 RDT Michael Perry 2nd 1988 (Cle) 10 3
WR Ed McCaffrey 3rd 1991 (NYG) 5 2 RDE Alfred Williams 1st 1991 (Cin) 7 2
WR Rod Smith CFA 1995 (Den) 3 3 LLB Bill Romanowski 3rd 1988 (SF) 10 2
TE Shannon Sharpe 7th 1990 (Den) 8 8 MLB Allen Aldridge 2nd 1994 (Den) 4 4
LT Gary Zimmerman 1st 1984 (NYG)** 12 5 RLB John Mobley 1st 1996 (Den) 2 2
LG Mark Schlereth 10th 1989 (Was) 9 3 LCB Ray Crockett 4th 1989 (Det) 9 4
C Tom Nalen 7th 1994 (Den) 4 4 RCB Darrien Gordon CFA 1993 (SD) 5 1
RG Brian Habib 10th 1988 (Min) 10 5 SS Tyrone Braxton 12th 1987 (Den) 11 11
RT Tony Jones CFA 1988 (Cle) 10 1 FS Steve Atwater 1st 1989 (Den) 9 9
K Jason Elam 3rd 1993 (Den) 5 5 PR Darrien Gordon CFA 1993 (SD) 5 1
P Tom Rouen CFA 1993 (Den) 5 5 KR Vaughn Hebron CFA 1993 (Phi) 5 2

*played entire career in Denver. **Supplemental draft pick; first year playing was 1986 for Minnesota.

     The 1997 team had six first round draft picks -- two of which were picked by the Broncos. Only eleven of the twenty-five starters were originally picked by the Broncos. Over half of the starters (13/25) were picked in the fourth round or later and/or were college free agents. The starters had an average 6.8 years experience in the NFL, and had been with Denver for an average of 4.5 years.

     The offensive line was composed of one first round pick, one seventh, two tenths and one college free agent. The offensive line had an average of 8.0 years NFL experience and had been with the Broncos for an average 4.4 years. The offense as a whole had two first round draft picks, one third, one sixth, two sevenths, one ninth, two tenths and two college free agents. The offense had an average of 7.2 years NFL experience and had been with the Broncos for an average of 4.9 years.

     The defensive front seven was composed of three first round picks, two seconds and two thirds. The defensive front seven had an average of 7.1 years experience in the NFL and had been with Denver for an average of 3.0 years. The defense as a whole had four first round picks, two seconds, two thirds, one fourth, one twelfth and one college free agent. The defense had an average of 7.6 years experience in the NFL and had been with the Broncos for an average of 4.2 years.

     The edge in experience was even balanced between the units, with the offense having a slight edge in the average length of time the starters had been with the Broncos. The overwhelming majority of the offensive starters were picked in round four or later (8/11) while the overwhelming majority of the defensive starters were picked in rounds one through three (8/11).


1998 Season -- Defeated the Atlanta Falcons 34-19 in SB XXXIII

     Denver finished the season at 14-2. The Broncos defeated Miami 38-3 in the divisional round, then defeated the New York Jets 23-10 in the AFC Championship game. The owner at the time was Pat Bowlen and the head coach was Mike Shanahan. Shanahan was in his sixth year as a head coach and his fourth year with the Broncos. The starting lineup for offense and defense was:

Pos Name Drafted NFL Yr Den Yr Pos Name Drafted NFL Yr Den Yr
QB John Elway 1st 1983 (Bal)* 16 16 LDE Neil Smith 1st 1988 (KC) 11 2
RB Terrell Davis 6th 1995 (Den) 4 4 LDT Keith Traylor 3rd 1991 (Den) 8 8
FB Howard Griffith 9th 1991 (Ind) 6 2 RDT Trevor Pryce 1st 1997 (Den) 2 2
WR Ed McCaffrey 3rd 1991 (NYG) 6 3 RDE Maa Tanuvasa 8th 1993 (LA Rams)** 4 4
WR Rod Smith CFA 1995 (Den) 4 4 LLB Bill Romanowski 3rd 1988 (SF) 11 3
TE Shannon Sharpe 7th 1990 (Den) 9 9 MLB Glenn Cadrez 6th 1992 (NYJ) 7 3
LT Tony Jones CFA 1988 (Cle) 11 2 RLB John Mobley 1st 1996 (Den) 3 3
LG Mark Schlereth 10th 1989 (Was) 10 4 LCB Ray Crockett 4th 1989 (Det) 10 5
C Tom Nalen 7th 1994 (Den) 5 5 RCB Darrien Gordon CFA 1993 (SD) 6 2
RG Dan Neil 3rd 1997 (Den) 2 2

 

SS Eric Brown 2nd 1998 (Den) 1 1
RT Harry Swayne 7th 1987 (TB) 12 2 FS Steve Atwater 1st 1989 (Den) 10 10
K Jason Elam 3rd 1993 (Den) 6 6 PR Darrien Gordon CFA 1993 (SD) 6 2
P Tom Rouen CFA 1993 (Den) 6 6 KR Vaughn Hebron CFA 1993 (Phi) 6 3

*played entire career in Denver. **1st year of playing was 1995 for Denver.

     The 1998 team had five first round draft picks -- three of which were picked by the Broncos. Only twelve of the twenty-five starters were originally picked by the Broncos. Over half of the starters (14/25) were picked in the fourth round or later and/or were college free agents. The starters had an average 6.9 years experience in the NFL, and had been with Denver for an average of 4.6 years.

     The offensive line was composed of one third round pick, two sevenths, one tenth and one college free agent. The offensive line had an average of 7.0 years NFL experience and had been with the Broncos for an average 3.8 years. The offense as a whole had one first round draft pick, two thirds, one sixth, three sevenths, one ninth, one tenth and two college free agents. The offense had an average of 7.2 years NFL experience and had been with the Broncos for an average of 5.1 years.

     The defensive front seven was composed of three first round picks, two thirds, one sixth and one eighth. The defensive front seven had an average of 6.9 years experience in the NFL and had been with Denver for an average of 3.6 years. The defense as a whole had four first round picks, one seconds, two thirds, one fourth, one sixth, one eighth and one college free agent. The defense had an average of 6.9 years experience in the NFL and had been with the Broncos for an average of 4.6 years.

     The edge in experience was slightly on the side of the offense in NFL experience and the average length of time the starters had been with the Broncos. The overwhelming majority of the offensive starters were picked in round four or later (8/11) while the majority of the defensive starters were picked in rounds one through three (7/11).

Observations About the Super Bowl Teams


     In the four Super Bowl losses, the Broncos averaged five to six first round draft picks as starters. The team was comprised of an average of twenty to twenty-one starters who were originally drafted and/or acquired via college free agency ("home grown") by the Broncos. The starters had an average of 5.3 years of NFL experience and had been with the team for an average of 4.7 years. As an aside, the Broncos worst Super Bowl defeat (55-10 to San Francisco) came with a team that had the least amount of both NFL experience and time with the team.

     Contrast this with the two Super Bowl wins where the Broncos averaged five to six first round draft picks as starters. The team was comprised of an average of eleven to twelve home grown starters. The starters had an average of 6.9 years NFL experience and had been with the team for an average of 4.6 years. The two wins featured starters with more overall NFL experience than the rosters that lost.

     When we break this information down into offense and defense, we find a similar pattern. In the Super Bowl losses, the offensive unit averaged two to three first round draft picks as starters. These units averaged six to seven home grown starters. The starters had an average of 5.5 years of NFL experience and had been with the team for an average of 4.7 years. In the Super Bowl wins, the offensive unit averaged one to two first round draft picks as a starter. These units averaged five to six home grown starters. The starters had an average of 7.2 years of NFL experience and had been with the team for an average of 5.0 years.

     In the Super Bowl losses, the defensive unit averaged two to three first round draft picks as starters. These units averaged nine to ten home grown starters. The starters had an average of 5.5 years of NFL experience and had been with the team for an average of 5.3 years. Contrast this with the defenses on the Super Bowl winning teams, which had an average of four first round draft picks as starters. These units averaged five to six home grown starters. The starters had an average of 7.3 years of NFL experience and had been with the team for an average of 4.4 years.

     Now it is often said that the football games are won and lost in the trenches. In the Super Bowl losses, the Broncos' offensive line averaged less than one first round draft pick as a starter. The offensive line averaged three to four home grown starters who had an average of 6.2 years of NFL experience and had been with the team for an average of 5.3 years. In the Super Bowl wins, the offensive line also had less than one first round pick as a starter, averaged one to two home grown starters, averaged 7.5 years of NFL experience and had been with the team for an average of 4.1 years.

     The defensive front seven has some similar numbers. In the Super Bowl losses, the front seven had an average of one first round pick as a starter, an average of six home grown starters, an average of 5.3 years of NFL experience and were with the team for an average of 5.2 years. In the Super Bowl wins, the defensive front seven averaged three first round draft picks as starters, averaged three to four home grown starters, averaged 7.0 years of NFL experience and had been with the team for an average of 3.3 years.

What we can see in this is that when it comes to starters who were first round draft picks, there was very little difference between the teams that lost the Super Bowl and those that won -- all of them averaged five to six first round picks as starters. The most obvious difference is found between the number of first round picks starting in the defensive front seven -- in the losses, the Broncos averaged one; in the wins, they averaged three.

 

When we look at the overall NFL experience and the length of time the starters had been with the team, we find that the winning teams tended to be the ones with the greater overall NFL experience and the lesser amount of time with the team. This is also reflected in the decline in numbers of the "home grown" starters. This in turn, may well reflect the changing nature of the NFL -- with the increased impact of free agency and the increased emphasis on "winning now" pressuring a team to not take the time to develop as many of their own players.


A Quick Comparison to the 2010 Denver Broncos

Pos Name Drafted NFL Yrs Den Yrs Pos Name Drafted NFL Yrs Den Yrs
QB Kyle Orton 4th 2005 (Chi) 6 2 DE Kevin Vickerson 7th 2005 (Mia) 4 1
RB Knowshon Moreno 1st 2009 (Den) 2 2 NT Jamal Williams 2nd 1998 (SD) 13 1
WR Brandon Lloyd 4th 2003 (SF) 8 2 DE Justin Bannan 5th 2002 (Buf) 9 1
WR Eddie Royal 2nd 2008 (Den) 3 3 OLB Mario Haggan 7th 2003 (Buf) 8 3
WR Jabbar Gaffney 2nd 2002 (Hou) 9 2 ILB D J Williams 1st 2004 (Den) 7 7
TE Daniel Graham 1st 2002 (NE) 9 4 ILB Wesley Woodyard CFA 2008 (Den) 3 3
LT Ryan Clady 1st 2008 (Den) 3 3 OLB Robert Ayers 1st 2009 (Den) 2 2
LG Zane Beadles 2nd 2010 (Den) 1 1 CB Champ Bailey 1st 1999 (Was) 12 7
C J D Walton 3rd 2010 (Den) 1 1 CB Andre Goodman 3rd 2002 (Det) 9 2
RG Chris Kuper 5th 2006 (Den) 5 5 SS Renaldo Hill 3rd 2001 (Ari) 10 2
RT Ryan Harris 3rd 2007 (Den) 4 4 FS Brian Dawkins 2nd 1996 (Phi) 15 2
K Matt Prater CFA 2007 (Den) 4 4 PR Eddie Royal 2nd 2008 (Den) 3 3
P Britton Colquitt CFA 2010 1 1 KR Eddie Royal 2nd 2008 (Den) 3 3



     The Broncos had a total of six first round draft picks who were starters. The team had ten out of twenty-four starters who were home grown. The average NFL experience of the starters was 6.2 years, and the starters had been with the team for an average of 2.7 years. The offensive unit had three first round draft picks as starters, seven home grown starters, an average of 4.6 years of NFL experience and had been with the team for an average of 2.6 years. The defensive unit had three first round picks as starters, three home grown starters, an average NFL experience of 8.4 years, and had been with the team for an average of 2.8 years.

     In the trenches, the offensive line had one first round draft pick as a starter, all five starters were home grown, they had an average of 2.8 years of NFL experience and had been with the team for 2.8 years. The defensive front seven, in contrast, had two first round draft picks as starters, three home grown starters, an average NFL experience of 6.6 years, and had been with the team for an average of 2.6 years.

     When you dare to compare the 2010 team to the teams that won the Super Bowl, there is a glaring difference: while the overall NFL experience is similar (6.2 in 2010 to 6.9 in the Super Bowl wins), there is a marked difference in the length of time the starters had been with the team (2.7 in 2010 to 4.6 in the Super Bowl wins). Is it much of a stretch to think that this may have exacerbated the issues facing the team this year?

     I'm looking forward to watching what John Fox does this offseason to see what clues are dropped about what path he will pursue in getting the Broncos back to the postseason. WIll he choose to take a path that leads through developing his own draft choices -- a "home grown" approach -- which will most likely take longer to build a consistently competitive team? Or will he choose to invest heavily in a free agent approach -- which will most likely garner a quicker impact but may struggle to sustain over a longer period?  Or will he choose to seek a balance between the two extremes?

     In any event, it shouild be a fun ride as we dialogue together about the things we see happening in Dove Valley in the coming months.

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