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Mike Shanahan, The Broncos, and The Draft -- A Look Back -- 1997

The Broncos once again went into trade mode for the 1997 draft, choosing quality over quatity after the playoff disappointment the year prior.  at the end of teh draft the Broncos had only selected 3 players, hitting paydirt with two of them and using a draft pick to acquire another key starter.  Let's take a look.

1st Round -- Pick 28(28) -- Trevor Pryce, DT/DE(Clemson) -- An adverse side effect to being a competitive team year in and year out is the realization that you are going to draft late in Round 1 every year.  It adds a layer of pressure to getting it right, and for the most part Shanny has done a good job with these late first rounders.  In 1997 it was Trevor Pryce, who showed instantly he was going to be a force on the line for Denver's title teams.  Starting in 1998, Pryce missed 1 game in six seasons amassing 58 sacks during that time.  During that time Pryce was elected to the Pro Bowl 4 times and became a dominant force on the Denver defense.  Pryce's career was derailed in 2004 by a back injury that kept him out of all but 2 games.  Pryce returned in 2005, playing in all 16 games with mixed success and the Broncos chose not to bring him back for 2006.  Pryce signed a contract with the Baltimore Ravens and was renewed, posting his highest sack total(13.0) since 1999 and a career high in tackles(47).  Even though it would have nice to have Pryce retire as a Bronco there is no denying his impact to the team, and just how good of a pick this was.

2nd Round -- Pick 28(58) -- TRADE -- The Broncos traded their 2nd Round pick to the Ravens for OL Tony Jones, and Jones immediately payed dividends helping the Broncos win two Super Bowls.  Jones was the tyoe of veteran the Broncos needed to get over the hump, having played in numerous playoff games with the Cleveland Browns in the ealry 90's.  Jones played 4 seasons with the Broncos, earning a Pro Bowl birth in 1999.  It is hard to imagine the Broncos could have gotten better value had they kept the selection.  With the pick the Ravens selected DB Kim Herring of Penn State, who had a decent career in Baltimore and St. Louis before injuries sidelined him for good.  

3rd Round -- Pick 7(67) -- Dan Neil, OL(Texas) -- Dan Neil was another slection that worked out well for the team nearly from day 1.  The Broncos traded their own 3rd rounder, and three late round selections to the Jets in order to select Neil early in the 3rd round.  In 8 seasons with the Broncos from 1997 through 2004, Neil started in 104 of 108 games in which he appeared.  Various injuries slowed Neil down, and after Neil was released following the 2004 season the 8-year vet decided to call it a career.  Neil will always be rememebered for being a member of the line that blocked for Terrell Davis during his 2000 yard season, and like his O-Linemates was a true warrior.

4th Round -- Pick 28(124) -- Cory Gilliard, S(Ball St) -- Gilliard's career, unfortunitely nearly as successful as the two other picks in the draft.  After not making the team out of training camp, Gilliard was signed to the practice squad, only to be cut for good a month later.  Gilliard bounced around from New Orleans to Cincinnati where he made his NFL debut the final game of the 1997 season.  He was signed by the Patriots in 1999 after being out of football the entire 1998 season and was assigned to Frankfurt of the European league.  Gilliard's career came to an end when he was placed on the Non-Football-Injured-Reserve for the 1999 season then released. You win some and lose some in the 4th round and in this case the Broncos lost.

5th Round -- Pick 28(154) -- TRADE -- The Broncos traded this pick to the St. Louis Rams in 1996 for Wide Receiver Todd Kinchen.  Kinchen caught one pass for the Broncos in 1996 and was released, playing for the Atlanta Falcons in 1997.

6th Round and 7th Round -- TRADE -- The Broncos traded these two selections, along with their 3rd round pick, to acquire the Jets third round pick, selecting Dan Neil.

Guru's Take -- Sure, the Broncos only selected three players in 1997.  Two of them became valuable members of the team long term, and Tony Jones, acquired for a 2nd round pick became another.  Sometimes quality over quantity makes the most sense, and for Shanny and the Broncos the 1997 was a huge success, a stepping stone to Super Bowl greatness.

Guru Draft Grade -- A-