The five best Broncos draft picks since the Super Bowl years

Dustin Bradford

I thought a Top 5 would be a fun, quick post...but as it turns out, there are a lot of factors to consider, and settling on No. 1 is no easy task. Even when limiting my criteria to the post-Super Bowl years, I am still faced with a tough list! Here are my choices.

NFL Draft Day is here (finally!), and that means it's a good time to reminisce and rehash some of the Denver Broncos' best and worst picks.

Choosing the best draft pick is like picking your favorite child - absolutely impossible.

I thought it would be easy to establish the criteria and choose a well-rounded Top 5.

As it turns out, there are a lot to choose from and a lot of factors to consider - Championships (Terrell Davis)? Career stats (Randy Gradishar)?  Production versus expectation (Rick Upchurch)? Big-play contributions in the clutch - or just saving a Super Bowl win! (John Mobley)? Best work horse (Tom Jackson)? Best smack talker in the Hall of Fame (Shannon Sharpe)?

Too many good choices.

Plus my esteemed MHR colleagues have recently done a fabulous job already highlighting the Top Ten Late Round Draft Picks and Best Draft Pick of All-Time.

So I attempted to create "The LV Best Draft Index" - involving regression analysis, algebraic equations, the Argentine Tango coefficient and Origami - but in the end, I just decided to pick some players I like and let Broncos Country vehemently agree or disagree. (That's really the point of these lists anyway, isn't it?)

I'm also going to tackle the five worst picks because when you've got Maurice Clarett in your history, you gotta talk about it. But that's in a separate post, so you'll have to wait to chime in on that one.

To keep it interesting and not redundant, this list will focus on the best top-round (1-3) picks since the 1999 NFL Draft - the infamous post-John Elway QB era and 15 years since the last time we won a Super Bowl (hence, the last time we had the last pick in the draft.)

Let the fun begin!

I attempted an index involving regression analysis, algebraic equations, the Argentine Tango coefficient and Origami. In the end, I just picked the players I liked.

Honorable mention:

Jay Cutler, quarterback, 1st round, 11th pick overall, 2006

The way Cutler whined to get out of Denver has not kept him in many fans' favor - and for good reason, but we have to blame part of that debacle on then-new head coach Josh McDaniels (which I like to do; see my "worst picks" post if you like to also).

In his final year in Denver, Cutler made it to the Pro Bowl, passed for more than 4,500 yards, threw 25 touchdowns, three fourth quarter comebacks and four game-winning drives. He even recorded a 93-yard touchdown pass (93 freakin' yards!) to rookie Eddie Royal in a fourth-quarter comeback game that included 204 passing yards in the fourth.

My point is that he was a passing machine and though in the end, I don't think Cutler would have gotten us the Lombardi trophy, with the right leadership and coaching, he showed potential to be a franchise quarterback with impressive numbers. Had he been able to stick around until we got a defense, things might have turned out differently. But you can't make the best draft list based on potential, can you?

#5 - Sylvester Williams, defensive tackle, 1st round, 28th pick overall, 2013

I love, love, love this guy's story - grew up poor, worked in a factory out of high school, got inspired to try a local community college after going to a college football game, got in shape enough to be a defensive back for the Tar Heels, and became a first-round pick last year.

Based on my "potential" argument, Williams shouldn't make the list, but this guy is humble, hard-working and hungry...the kind of team player I absolutely love to call a Bronco, so he's on there (it's my list after all!)

Plus, as a rookie, he registered 14 tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery. I'm looking forward to moving him up the list in coming years.

#4 - Ryan Clady, offensive tackle, 1st round, 12th overall, 2008

As a three-time pro-bowler who gave up less than a sack his rookie year, Clady has been a consistent and highly effective left tackle for the Broncos, which is huge when you are the blindside tackle for the quarterback.

After suffering a foot injury last season in Week 2 that kept Clady out for the year, he's poised for a big comeback in a year the Broncos hope to vindicate last year's Super Bowl performance with a return and a win.

Clady was such a key draft pick that Peyton Manning himself said that news of his return from injury was like a free agency acquisition.

#3 - Demaryius Thomas, wide receiver, 1st round, 22nd overall, 2010

Thomas has arguably earned a spot as one of the great wide receivers in Broncos history, and that's a tough task when you had Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey on your roster. His 92 receptions for 1,430 yards and 14 touchdowns last year put him among the best in franchise record books.

Plus, Thomas was responsible (along with Tim Tebow) for that amazing comeback win against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2012 Wild Card game, where he amassed 204 receiving yards in the fourth quarter along with the game-winning touchdown in overtime. That play alone could get him on the best draft picks list!

But since Peyton Manning has been in town, Thomas has only gotten better. Sure Manning's a master at making his receivers look good, but Thomas has proved he's worthy of that tutelage.

A two-time Pro-Bowler the last two years, Thomas caught a record 13 passes in Super Bowl XLVIII and has been a league leader in touchdowns, overall receiving yards and single game receiving yards. As the No. 1 receiver in 2014 with Manning at the helm, Thomas is set to shatter those leader boards this year.

#2 - Von Miller, linebacker, 1st round, 2nd overall, 2011

Many of you may argue with me about not putting Miller as the top draft pick. After all, he's been a key player for rebuilding our defense and returning this team to dominance.

Included on his impressive resumé:

  • two-time Pro Bowler, including his rookie year;
  • AP Rookie Defensive Player of the Year in 2011;
  • fifth in the NFL for fumble return yards (60) in 2013, a season he played only 9 games;
  • third in the NFL for sacks (18.5) in 2012, which also put him at 18th overall for single season sacks.

So why not higher? Because Miller still needs to figure out the maturity/leadership piece to get that honor. Last season's suspension showed that the defensive machine is still young and capable of bad decisions, so I can't quite put him up there. But thanks to the Free Agency acquisition of DeMarcus Ware (who, by the way, is 8th on the all-time single season sacks list with 20), I look forward to more Hall-of-Fame-caliber numbers plus leadership from Miller down the road.

#1 - Al Wilson, linebacker, 1st round, 31st overall, 1999

Putting Wilson above Miller for the best draft pick since 1999 will most definitely bring debate - and if Miller proves to be the linebacker he's capable of, I'll gladly move him to No. 1 on my list - but for now, this is my story and I'm sticking to it.

Having joined the team just after Elway retired and the Broncos had won their second Super Bowl, Wilson played on a team that lacked an offensive team leader and whose defense ranked in the bottom third of the NFL 2000-2002.

But Wilson became an unquestioned leader in the locker room and brought an intensity and competitive mindset to the field that helped earn him five trips to the Pro Bowl and make the Broncos' defense third best in the league by 2005.

Before his career ended due to a neck injury in 2006, Wilson's solid production resulted in 560 career tackles, five interceptions (including one for a touchdown), and seven fumble recoveries.

I'll take that draft pick any day of the week.

OK, Broncos Country, whose your No. 1 since 1999?

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