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Mike Shanahan, The Broncos and the Draft -- A Look Back -- 2002

Whew!  After losing my appetite doing the past two draft reviews I am hoping for some improvement in the 2002 draft.  Looking at some of the name, I am feeling preety good about how this will all shake out.  Care to join me, taking a look back at the 2002 Denver Broncos draft?  Let's do it.

1st Round -- Pick 19(19) - Ashley Lelie, WR (Hawaii) -- We've gone through several receivers the Broncos drafted to be that down-filed threat.  Lelie was the latest, and coming out of college it appeared that it was a solid move.  The choice came down to two receivers, Lelie and Javon Walker.  The Broncos went with Lelie, mainly because of his speed.  Lelie quickly showed what made him a star at Hawaii, making several acrobatic catches his rookie season.  Playing mostly a reserve role, Lelie was still able to catch 35 passes, averaging 15 yards per grab, and two TD's.  He improved each of the next two seasons, catching  a career-high 54 passes for 1084 yards and 7 TD's.  His 20.1 yards per catch was among the league leaders.  Lelie appeared on the verge of breaking out, similar to Walker, pick one spot after Lelie in the draft by the Packers.  Something happened in 2005, however, and Lelie production digressed.  Lelie nabbed 42 passes for 770 yards but only reached the end-zone once.  The writing was on the wall.  Questions began to circulate about Lelie's effort on the practice field, and whether or not he had the toughness to be a #1 receiver in the league.  On Draft Day 2006, the Broncos traded a 2nd round pick to the Packers to get Javon Walker, with hopes that Walker would motivate and push Lelie.  It backfired, and Lelie decided to hold himself out of all team activities.  Feeling he should be handed the #1 job, Lelie pouted his way in a trade, ending up in Atlanta.  The Broncos received a 3rd round pick this year and a 4th rounder next year in the deal, but with Walker on board longterm, the Broncos have the guy they probably should have picked originally.  As for Lelie, his mediocre play continued for the Falcons, failing to be the deep threat they were looking for as well.  He was allowed to leave, and the 49'ers ended up signing Lelie to be their third WR.  In the end, Lelie may never realize hi potential, but the Broncos were able to turn a negative into a positive, making this bitter pill easier to swallow.

2nd Round -- Pick 19(51) - Clinton Portis(Miami, FL) - The Broncos have made some bad picks in rounds 2 and 3, but in 2002 they hit a home run big time with Portis, whose draft stock plummeted due to concerns about size and attitude.  There might not be anything more dangerous than a very talented football player with a chip, and Portis definitely played like he had something to prove.  In only 31 games with the Broncos, Portis rushed for 3099 yards and 29 TDs, more than anyone ever.  After the 2003 season, Portis started to squawk about his contract.  Sure, he was underpaid, but to redo a deal with two seasons remaining would be set a bad precedent.  The Broncos once again sent out trade feelers, and received interest from a familiar spot.  Washington had some contract issues of it's own with star DB Champ Bailey.  The match seemed perfect.  The Broncos traded Portis to Washington for Bailey and a 2nd round draft pick, one the Broncos used to draft Tatum Bell.  Since getting to Washington Portis has yet to be able to reach the lofty success he did in Denver.  In 3 injury plagued seasons, Portis has rushed for 3354 yards and 23 TDs.  Still young at 25, Portis needs to have a big rebound season in 2007 or risk becoming a cap casualty next season.

3rd Round - Pick 31(96) - Dorsett Davis, DT(Mississippi State) --The Broncos had high hopes when they selected Dorsett Davis out of Mississippi State.  He was big and athletic and the Broncos figured he was going to fit right in to the defensive line scheme.  As is typical, Davis sat out his rookie season, learning the intricacies of playing in the NFL.  The experience seemed to do him well, with Davis seeing action in 14 games in 2003.  Coming into the '04 season, Davis seemed primed and ready to take that next step.  It looked like he was cementing a starting spot during training camp in 2004 when a finger injury left Davis with a tough decision.  He could have surgery on the finger, ending his season, or he could play and risk losing the finger altogether.  Davis chose surgery and the IR.  The Broncos brought Davis back in 2005, but released him before training camp started.  After visists with Minnesota and Miami, Davis spent most of 2005 and early 2006 with the Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL.. Currently, Davis is free agent, looking for a team to give him another chance.

4th Round -- Pick 33(131) - Sam Brandon, S (UNLV) --Brandon seemed to be on his way in the Denver defense until a knee injury in 2006 curtailed his career.  Brandon is rehabbing, trying to get back to his pre-injury form, and for the Broncos, who desperately need help in the secondary, the sight of Brandon in '07 will be a welcome one.   Early on it became apparent that the Broncos had found something in the safety from UNLV.  Brandon saw special teams action in all 32 games his first two seasons, finding a spot in the nickel package in 2003.  Brandon's combination of size and speed made him the perfect player to lineup against slot receivers, and better yet, the super-Tight Ends the Brocnos face every season in Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates.  He was so successful, the defense became know as the "Big-Nickel" and the Broncos used it extensively over the next 3 seasons.  Injuries have always been the bug-a-boo for Brandon, but nothing as serious as the knee injury Brandon suffered against the Steelers last season.  Without Brandon the Broncos struggled mightily, with Gonzalez, Gates and others having big-time success through the air.  Off the field, Brandon has had some trouble keeping out of trouble, and will need to stay clean or risk being suspended in the new era of player conduct.

5th Round -- Pick 9(144) - Herb Haygood , P(Michigan State) -- Ok, we knew there would be one crapper and Haygood was it.  Haygood saw action in 3 games as a Bronco his rookie year before being released before being signed to the practice squad in 2003.  The Broncos released Haygood for good in 2004, and he was picked up by the Chiefs, most likely in hopes that Haygood could give some insight to the Broncos offense.  After a season in Europe and on the Chiefs inactive roster, Haygood once again found himself out of work.  Haygood has kept himself busy teaching other high-schoolers how not to become NFL receivers as well as play in the Continental Indoor Football League for the Kalamazoo Xplosion, though, similar to his NFL days it appears he has yet to catch a pass.

6th Round - Pick 19(191) - Jeb Putzier, TE(Boise State) -- Just like the downfield receiver the Broncos kept wasting picks on, the Broncos have made numerous choices in hopes of finding a replacement for Shannon Sharpe.  In part because they couldn't do it, Sharper returned to the Broncos in 2002, and the Broncos chose Jeb Putzier to be ready when Sharpe called it quits.  Like so many before him, Putzier had wide receiver experience, but could never block enough to keep Mike Shanahan happy.   Putzier didn't see much action during his first two seasons in Denver, but in 2004 exploded for 36 catches, 572 yards and 2 TDs.  Putzier was a liability in the run game, and struggled to find consistent playing time.  Let's face it, if you know the TE on the field can't run block, chances are the play in going to be a pass.  In what I consider to be an odd move to this day, the Jets signed Putzier to a RFA contract before the 2005 season, and the Broncos promptly matched.  It appeared that Putz might be in Denver to stay.  Putzier put up similar numbers in 2005, but his total inability to block made it impossible for the Broncos to keep him and he was released in a cap move last spring.  Jeb ended up in Houston with old friend Gary Kubiak, but found bad teams lead to bad times, and Putz had his worst season, catching only 13 passes.

7th Round -- Pick 17(228) - Chris Young, CB(Georgia Tech) -- Chris Young looked like a player early on, flying around on special teams, making plays.  But life for a 7th round pick in the NFL is hard, and after 3 seasons and seven total tackles, Young was released in 2005.

7th Round - Pick 20(231) - Monsanto Pope, DT(Virginia) -- Pope has actually turned out to be a great value, for a guy picked 231st overall.   Early on, Pope too advantage of Dorsett Davis' injury woes to get significant playing time on the d-line.  As a rookie, Pope registered 18 tackles and 4 sacks in 14 games.  Pope went on the play in every game in 2003 and 2004, though he never was able to find the magic sack touch.  After a disappointing 2005, Pope was signed by the New York Jets, though his stay was short.  Pope quit the team during the first week of training camp last July, citing personal reasons.

Guru's Take -- As bad as some of the past few drafts have been it would be easy to over-compensate and give this draft an unfair grade.  But let's look at what the Broncos were able to do in 2002.  Not every pick was a great one, but for the most part the Broncos were able to take bad situations and turn them into huge positives.  Just the fact that the Broncos were able to turn a 2nd round pick(Portis) into a former top-10 pick(Bailey) and Tatum Bell, who was flipped for Dre Bly, could be enough to warrant an A.  Then you turn Ashley Lelie, a guy that wasn't going to return to the team anyway, into a 3rd and 4th round selection and the rest is just gravy.  There was really only one total bust, Herb Haygood, and he was a 5th rounder, hardly a given.  This was easily the Broncos best draft of new century, not only for the players the Broncos selected, but for the bounty they were able to gain when moves had to be made.

Guru's Grade -- A