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The Denver Broncos, The Draft and The Pro Football Hall of Fame

Well . . . the feeding frenzy of the 2012 NFL Draft is over. The Broncos have expended their draft picks and filled out the remaining open spots in the 90-man roster with a number of college players who were not chosen in the draft. How will these players fare? We do not yet know, yet that is the question we ask every year during draft time.

Every year we watch as players are selected and hope that maybe, just maybe, one or more of these players will prove to have fantastic careers and someday earn themselves a spot in the NFL's Hall of Fame. Since we cannot yet answer the question of which of our newest Broncos, I thought it might be fun to take a stroll down memory lane and look at Broncos (and almost Broncos) who went on to Hall of Fame caliber careers.

Take a jump with me.

First up, there are four players in the Hall of Fame who were inducted as members of the Denver Broncos. Here is a brief thumbnail sketch of each:

QB John Elway (1983-98) - was the first Bronco to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, gaining that honor in 2004. Elway was originally drafted by the Indianapolis Colts but was able to force a trade which landed him in Denver. Elway played sixteen seasons for Denver. He started 231 out of 234 games, compiling a 148-82-1 regular season record and a 14-7 playoff record. His post season play included 6 Division titles, 5 AFC Championships and 2 Super Bowl titles. Elway completed 56.9% of his passes for 51,475 yards with 300 touchdowns and 226 interceptions. He rushed 774 times for 3407 yards and 33 touchdowns. A little know fact: Elway caught 3 passes for 61 yards and a touchdown. Another little known fact: Elway punted 7 times for a 36.1 yard/punt average. He won two MVP awards: the NFL AP MVP award in 1987 and the Super Bowl XXXIII MVP award. He appeared in 9 Pro Bowls. Depending upon who you talk to, Elway is credited for 35 4th quarter comebacks and 46 game-winning drives (some sources put the comebacks at a higher number).

OT Gary Zimmerman (1993-97) - In 2008, the Broncos saw their second entry into the Hall -- OT Gary Zimmerman. Zimmerman began his career in the now defunct USFL, where he played two seasons with the Los Angeles Express. He entered the NFL when he joined the Minnesota Viking -- playing from 1986 to 1992 for the Vikings. Zimmerman finished his career in Denver as a mainstay on the offensive line from 1993 to 1997. Zimmerman started all 76 games that he played as a Bronco and was responsible for protecting Elway's blindside from his left tackle position. He was part of the most prolific offensive period in Denver's history from 1995 to 1997. He helped the Broncos lead the AFC in combined yardage in 1995. He also helped the Broncos be the first-ranked team in yards in 1996 and 1997. He was an adept pass blocker also, as he helped Elway lead the NFL in 1993 and 1996 in passing yards.

RB Floyd Little (1967-75) - became Denver's third Hall of Fame player in 2010. There had been a great deal of lobbying by Denver fans over the years to get Little inducted into the Hall and it was finally rewarded. He was drafted 6th overall by Denver in the 1967 NFL Draft. Little rushed for the Broncos from 1967 to 1975. He started 93 out of the 117 games he played as a Bronco. He rushed 1641 times for 6323 yards and 43 touchdowns. He also caught 215 passes for 2418 yards and 9 touchdowns. He was also an adept returner, running back 81 punts for 893 yards and 2 touchdowns along with 104 kick off returns for 2523 yards. One little known fact is that Little also threw some passes . . . well . . . he threw 9 of them and completed just two for 43 yards. However, one of his two completions went for a touchdown. Little was voted into 5 Pro Bowls. He led the league in rushing yards in 1971 and was in the top 10 among NFL rushers in 5 of his 9 seasons. He was also in the top 5 in 3 of his 9 seasons. He led the NFL in rushing touchdowns in 1973 and in yards per attempt in 1969. When asked to think about the Denver Broncos of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the name that pops up most often is that of Floyd Little.

TE Shannon Sharpe (1990-99, 2002-03) - is Denver's most recent entry into the Hall of Fame. Sharpe was inducted in 2011. He was drafted 192nd overall in the 1990 NFL Draft. Sharpe played 12 seasons for Denver -- in two stints. He played 10 seasons as a Bronco, two as a Baltimore Raven, then his final two seasons were back in Denver. It has often been said that Sharpe redefined the way the NFL teams looked at and utilized tight ends. Sharpe started 139 of his 172 games as a Bronco. He caught 675 passes for 8439 yards and 55 touchdowns. He was part of both of Denver's Super Bowl wins. He was voted to 7 consecutive Pro Bowls as a Bronco (1992-98). He voted a 1st-team All Pro 4 times. He was a major contributor to Denver's success in the late 1990s. At the time of his retirement, he was the career leader in touchdowns by a tight end.

Next, there are two players who spent some time in the Orange and Blue, but who were inducted in the Hall of Fame as members of another team.

In 1984, CB Willie Brown was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a member of the Oakland Raiders. However, his career did not begin with the Raiders but rather as a College Free Agent. In 1963, Brown was not drafted by any professional team. He was signed by the AFL's Houston Oilers in 1963, but was cut during training camp. The Broncos picked him up and he went on to appear in 50 games for the Broncos. He intercepted 15 passes for 195 yards. He also returned 6 kicks for 99 yards. He appeared in two Pro Bowls as a Bronco (1964 and 1965) and was voted a 1st-team All-Pro in 1964. The Broncos traded Brown to the Oakland Raiders prior to the start of the 1967 season.

The other Bronco to be inducted into the Hall as a member of another team was RB Tony Dorsett (HOF class of 1994). Dorsett spent a single season as a Bronco, at the end of a long and successful career for the Dallas Cowboys. Dorsett amassed 703 rushing yards and 5 rushing touchdowns along with 122 receiving yards for Denver. His career in Denver was little more than a footnote in his Hall of Fame career.

Finally, there are four players who had been drafted by the AFL Broncos, during the years when the AFL and the NFL were battling one another to claim college talent, but elected to accept the draft offers of more established NFL franchises.

In 1962, the Broncos drafted a DT out of Utah State by the name of Merlin Olsen. Denver spent the 2nd overall pick of the 1962 AFL Draft on Olsen. He chose to accept being drafted 3rd overall by the NFL's Los Angeles Rams. He went on to play fifteen seasons for the Rams and was inducted into the Hall in 1982.

DB Paul Krause was Denver's 2nd miss in those years of battle the NFL for draft picks. The Broncos spent the 89th overall pick of the 1964 AFL Draft on Krause. He elected to accept being chosen 18th overall by the Washington Redskins in the NFL's draft. He spent four seasons with the Redskins then twelve more as a Viking. During his career, Krause intercepted 81 passes for 1185 yards and 3 touchdowns. He was inducted into the Hall in 1998.

Sixteen picks later in 1964, Denver used the 105th overall pick to select WR Bob Hayes. The Dallas Cowboys had used their 88th overall pick on Hayes, and he elected to become a Cowboy. Hayes spent ten seasons in Dallas before playing one final season as a 49er. He amassed 7414 receiving yards and 71 receiving touchdowns. He was inducted into the Hall in 2009.

The final player whom the Broncos lost to the NFL during the period of draft rivalry was LB Dick Butkus. Butkus decided that he liked being drafted 3rd overall by the well-established NFL Chicago Bears rather than being drafted 9th overall by the lowly Denver Broncos of the AFL in the 1965 Draft. Butkus spent his entire nine-season career in Chicago where he appeared in 119 games and intercepted 22 passes. He was inducted into the Hall in 1979.

So, there we have it. Denver has had four players elected into the Hall of Fame, has had two players who are in the Hall but went in as members of a different team and four Hall of Fame players whom the AFL Broncos drafted but who elected to play for an NFL franchise. Now the questions become:

When will we see our next Hall of Fame inductee, and could one of our most recent draftees eventually make there?