I continue my look back at the history of the Denver Broncos in the draft under Mike Shanahan. Today I take a look at 1996, a year the Broncos made a surprise slection in the first round, from a school few had ever heard of and fewer could loacte on a map.
Let's take a look at each pick, and how their career ended up. At the end, I'll grade the draft and give my opinion.
1st Round -- Pick 15(15) -- John Mobley, LB(Kutztown, PA) -- The Mobley selection gave everyone a glimse of what type of personnel guy Shanny was going to be. Un-afraid to select anyone, from anywhere at any time, the selection of Mobley brought a collective "Who, from where?" from Broncos fans. Shanny also started a trend of having no contact with players he was intent on drafting to avoid losing the guy he wanted. On the field, Mobley became a solid linebacker, collecting over 100 tackles 3 different seasons, including 139 tackles in 1997 and 118 in 1998, the Broncos back-to-back title years. Mobley was slowed by a knee injury in 1999, but remained solid until 2003, when a scary neck injury against Baltimore ended his season and his career. Mobley has remained a fan favorite, even after his career abruptly ended.
2nd Round -- Pick 14(44) -- Tory James(Louisiana State) -- Tory James has been a solid player in the NFL, perhaps even to the surprise of Mike Shanahan. After being drafted #44 overall in 1996, James was thrust right into the starting lineup, a produced nearly immediately. A serious knee injury cost James the entire 1997 season, and after a 5 pick season in 1999 James left the Broncos in free agency for the hated Raiders, where he spent 3 seasons, playing in his third Super Bowl. In 2003, James was signed by the Bengals wher he has played the past 4 seasons. Overall, James averaged 4 picks a year, and turned out to be a solid pro, even if it wasn't mostly in Denver.
3rd Round -- Pick 4(65) -- Detron Smith, FB(Texas A&M) -- Detron Smith was another solid acquisition for Shanny in 1996, becoming a consistent special teams contributer, peaking in 1999 when the FB was selected to his first and only Pro Bowl. His six year stay in Denver ended after the 2001 season, and Smith went on to play 2 seasons for the Colts before retiring after the 2003 season. Decent, if not solid, value in round #3.
3rd Round -- Pick 17(78) -- Mark Campbell, DT(Florida) -- Shanny's roller coaster success with defensive linemen in the drafted started with Campbell, a defensive tackle that never saw the field for the Broncos. Overall, Campbell saw action in a total of 5 games in 1997 for the Arizona Cardinals. To say Campbell was a bust would be an understatement.
4th Round -- Pick 5(100) -- Jeff Lewis, QB(Northern Arizona) -- Lewis was Mike Shanahan's first attempt to find the heir-apparent to John Elway, and early on it looked like he could be the guy. A mysterious injury playing basketball was the beginning of the end for Lewis in Denver, with Shanny having little patience for players that do not take their profession seriously. Lewis missed the entire 1998 season before briefly returning to the NFL in Carolina. It's hard to tell what could have been, but the reality is Lewis never panned out as a quarterback in the league.
4th Round -- Pick 27(122) -- Darrius Johnson, DB(Oklahoma) -- Johnson was another pick that saw only flashes of action in teh NFL. Such is to be expected when playing for a team that was in the middle of winning titles, with a plethera of veteran leadership. Johnson was a starting safety at the end of 1999 before being released. Johnson's football whereabouts are unknown until 2003 when he spent a season with the Chiefs. Johnson was a solid special teams contributer for the Broncos, and was at least some factor on 2 championship teams.
5th Round -- Pick 27(159) -- Patrick Jeffers, WR(Virginia) -- Jeffers' story reads like a fairy-tale. A walk on as a freshamn at Virginia, Jeffers worked his way up the depth chart to become a solid performer for the Cavaliers, before the Broncos made him a 5th round selection. The story wasn't as great in Denver, and Jeffers's stay was a short one. After spending the 1998 season with the Cowboys, Jeffers greatest success came in 1999 with the Carolina Panthers, where Jeffers amassed 62 catches for 1082 yards and 12 TD's. Injuries cost Jeffers the entire 2000 season, and after attempting a comeback in 2001, Jeffers finally called it a career in 2002. While not a solid pick, a solid story nonetheless.
6th Round -- Pick 14(181) -- Tony Veland, DB(Nebraska) -- Veland got little more than a drink of water in the NFL, but has founf some success since. Veland played only 1 season in Denver, before spending a year in Carolina, where Veland intercepted the only pass of his career. His last season was in Green Bay before Veland returned to the state of NeBraska, playing arena football for the Omaha Beef. Veland is now a defensive coach for the Beef, his 4th season in that role.
7th Round -- Pick 4(213) -- Leslie Ratliffe, OT(Tennessee) -- Not much information out there regarding Ratliffe, which probably means he made the same type of impact most 7th round picks make, none.
7th Round -- Pick 17(226) -- Chris Banks, OG(Kansas) -- Banks had a bit of a better career than Ratliffe, though not by much. After spending two season in Denver, Banks finished out his career in Atlanta. Injuries sidetracked Banks rise in the league, as is the case with so many players in the NFL.
7th Round -- Pick 26(235) -- L.T. Levine, RB(Kansas) -- Maybe they drafted Levine becuase he was a good friend of Banks. If so, it didn't help, and Levine was out of football after one training camp.
7th Round -- Pick 17(236) -- Brian Gragert, P(Wyoming) -- At least he can tell his grandchildren he was actually drafted by a NFL franchise. Nothing much else to report.
Guru's Take -- The Broncos selected 12 different players in the 1996 NFL draft. Three of them played significantly in the league, and one of them easily had his best years for other teams. Mobley was the star of this draft, and he was on his way solid, if not stellar, career before the neck injury. No one else really did a thing in the NFL, besides Jeffers' one-hit wonder season for Carolina in 1999. Not a lot of value in this draft as a whole, and for as many players the Broncos brought in it has to be conosidered a disappointment that the only one to really play a role for the team longterm was their 1st round pick. Bonus points will be awarded for Tory James, since he remianined a solid player in the league, but overall a lackluster draft for the Broncos.
Guru 1996 Draft Grade -- C