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What Value Would You Give Denver's 2006-11 First Rounders?

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Kirk Davis, in one of his recent training camp reports made a comment which piqued my curiosity.

Kirk had been describing the 11-on-11 drills and noted that Jason Hunter had displaced Robert Ayers at defensive end. This lead to Kirk making this comment:

"It makes me think about the last five or six 1st round picks and how many have actually done anything for the Broncos."

I found this to be an interesting comment and wondered just how Denver's last five or six 1st round picks HAVE, in fact, performed.

Take a jump with me as I look back at some 1st round picks.

In the span from 2006-11, then, Denver have drafted two quarterbacks, two defensive ends, one tackle, one running back, one wide receiver and one linebacker with their eight first round choices. Those eight players have had varying degrees of success with the Broncos -- though, when we are honest about the situation, it has not always been their performance on the field that has determined whether or not they remained in the Orange and Blue. Let's take a thumbnail look at each of these players.

2006 - Jay Cutler QB, 11th overall, Vanderbuilt

In the 2006 draft, the Broncos traded a 2006 1st round pick (#15 overall) along with a 2006 3rd round (#68) to the St. Louis Rams for a 2006 1st round (#11). With that pick, Denver selected Vanderbuilt quarterback Jay Cutler. Cutler would go on to spend three seasons as a Bronco (2006-08). He appeared in 37 out of a possible 48 games and had 37 starts.

Cutler went 17-20-0 as a starter for the Broncos. He completed 62.5% of his passes for 9024 yards, 54 touchdowns and 37 interceptions. He earned a passer rating of 87.1. He was sacked 51 times. He led 5 comebacks and 7 game winning drives. He added 423 rushing yards and 3 rushing touchdowns. He was voted into the 2008 Pro Bowl. Cutler was traded to Chicago following a dispute with newly named head coach Josh McDaniels.

2007 - Jarvis Moss DE, 17th overall from Florida

Denver engaged in some wheeling and dealing in the 2007 draft, just as they had in 2006. This time, the Broncos traded a 2007 1st round (#21), a 2007 3rd round (#86) and a 2007 6th (#198) to the Jacksonville Jaguars for a 2007 1st (#17). They subsequently used that pick to select Florida defensive end Jarvis Moss.

Moss was with the Broncos for three full seasons and appeared in just nine games in a fourth one. He appeared in 34 out of a possible 64 games and had just 1 start. He compiled 3.5 sacks, 1 pass defended and 1 forced fumble. He recorded 21 solo tackles and assisted on 6 more tackles. Moss was waived by the Broncos in November of 2010.

2008 - Ryan Clady T, 12th overall from Boise St

Boise State offensive tackle Ryan Clady was selected with the12th overall pick of the 2008 NFL Draft. According to the Denver Broncos official website, Clady was one of only three players from the 2008 draft class to start every game of their rookie seasons. He is also only the fifth offensive lineman in NFL history to start every game of his first four seasons. Clady has also been voted to 2 Pro Bowls. He did not allow a single sack as a rookie. Following an off-season knee injury that required surgery, he received the Ed Block Courage Award in 2010 after managing to start all 16 games following his surgery. Clady was voted by the AP as an All Pro in both 2008 and 2009.

2009 - Knowshon Moreno RB, 12th overall from Georgia

The drafting of Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno criticized by many fans and media writers. Many felt that the Broncos had reached when they used the 12th overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft to select him. He has been hampered by injuries throughout his first three seasons. Out of a possible 48 games, Moreno has appeared in 37 and had just 24 starts. He has averaged 4.1 yards per carry on his way to gaining 1905 yards and scoring 12 rushing touchdowns. He has also added 686 receiving yards and 6 receiving touchdowns. He has committed 8 fumbles.

2009 - Robert Ayers DE, 18th overall from Tennessee

The Broncos had done some trading prior to the 2009 draft and acquired a second first round choice. Denver had traded quarterback Jay Cutler and a 2009 5th round (#140) draft choice to the Chicago Bears. In return, they received quarterback Kyle Orton along with a 2009 1st round (#18) pick, a 2009 3rd round (#84) pick and a 2010 1st round (#11) pick. They used the 2009 1st (#18) to select Robert Ayers a defensive end from Tennessee.

There has been some criticism of Ayers over his first three seasons. Out of a possible 48 games, he has appeared in 42 with 24 starts. He has recorded 4.5 sacks, 5 passes defended, forced 2 fumbles, recovered 3 fumbles and returned 1 fumble recovery for a touchdown. He has made 71 solo tackles and assisted on 27 tackles.

2010 - Demaryius Thomas WR, 22nd overall from Georgia Tech

Denver continued the practice of making trades during the 2010 draft. This time, the Broncos traded the 2010 1st round (#24) pick and a 2010 4th round (#113) pick to the New England Patriots for a 2010 1st round (#22) pick. This pick was used to select Georgia Tech wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.

Thomas has struggled to overcome injuries in his first two seasons. He has appeared in just 21 out of a possible 32 games and has logged only 7 starts. He has made reasonably good use of his limited opportunities, averaging 15.4 yards per catch on his way to gaining 834 receiving yards and scoring 6 receiving touchdowns.He has also added 6 rushing yards and 398 yards from kick returns. He has even attempted a pass during game -- which unfortunately fell incomplete.

2010 - Tim Tebow QB, 25th overall from Florida

The McDaniels regime engaged in still more horse trading during the 2010 draft. This time, they traded away a 2010 2nd round (#43) pick, a 2010 3rd round (#70) pick and a 2010 4th round (#114) pick to the Baltimore Ravens for the 25th pick of the 1st round in the
2010 draft. This pick was used to select Florida quarterback Tim Tebow.

During his two seasons with the Broncos, Tebow appeared in 23 out of a possible 32 games. He logged 14 starts and earned an 8-6-0 record. He was criticized as a passer for only completing 47.3% of his passes on his way to passing for 2383 yards, 17 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. He earned a 75.1 rating as a Bronco. He was sacked 39 times and fumbled 15. However, Tebow also averaged 5.4 yards per carry as a runner, gained 887 rushing yards and scored 12 rushing touchdowns. He was part of a remarkable 6-game winning streak in 2011 and logged 6 comebacks along with 7 game winning drives. He even led Denver to its first playoff win since 2005. He was traded to the New York Jets following the 2011 season.

2011 - Von Miller LB, 2nd overall from Texas A&M

Following a disastrous 4-12-0 campaign in 2010, the Broncos used the 2nd overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft to select Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller. Miller burst onto the scene as an immediate impact player. He started in 15 of his first 16 game, produced 11.5 sacks, defended 4 passes and forced 3 fumbles. He recorded 51 solo tackles and assisted in 12 more.

Miller was named the 2011 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, voted to the 2011 Pro Bowl and was named an AP 2nd team All Pro.

Now, the question becomes how do we judge these performances, given that we are talking about multiple positions -- each of which has its own criteria for "success." I would suggest using the Approximate Value System created by Pro-Football-Reference.

A Word About the Approximate Value (AV) rating system created by Pro-Football-Reference (PFR)

The AV system was developed by a mathematician by the name of Doug Drinen. He liked the approximate value system that had been developed as a metric for baseball players and wanted to create an equivalent rating system for football. Doug gives this brief explanation of the system:

"AV is not meant to be a be-all end-all metric. Football stat lines just do not come close to capturing all the contributions of a player the way they do in baseball and basketball. If one player is a 16 and another is a 14, we can't be very confident that the 16AV player actually had a better season than the 14AV player. But I am pretty confident that the collection of all players with 16AV played better, as an entire group, than the collection of all players with 14AV."

In an earlier article, I had wanted to explore the use of PFR's AV system in ranking players in terms of elite players, starters, backups and so on. The PFR website did not have such a categorization laid out so I contacted PFR to ask their opinion. A staffer named Neil sent me this response:

"It varies a lot by position -- like you said, it ranks all players relative to each other -- so a good Approximate Value for a safety isn't the same as a good AV for a quarterback."

He went on to say that, perhaps, the staff at PFR should look into creating a generalized guideline like the one I has asked about. I thanked him and turned my attention back to other things. About an hour later I received a second email from Neil offering this:

A very vague guide across all positions would be like:

20-25 = MVP

14-19 = All-Pro/Pro Bowl

8-13 = Starter

3-7 = Backup

0-2 = Scrub

I just made that up off the top of my head, so it's probably wanting in many ways. And again, the mileage varies greatly by position, so a starting QB is more of a 10-12 and a starting safety is a 7-8. It makes sense, because a QB is generally regarded as having more impact than a S.

That being said, I believe it gives us a very broad criteria for comparing players.

Applying the AV System to the First Round Picks

When we apply this rating system to our eight first rounders (2006-11) -- and I chose to use an average for their time in the Orange and Blue, we find (please note, I only included those seasons that each player was with Denver):

Draft Player AV Status
2006 Cutler 10 Starter
2007 Moss 1 Scrub
2008 Clady 10 Starter
2009 Moreno 5 Backup
2009 Ayers 5 Backup
2010 Thomas 3 Backup
2010 Tebow 6 Backup
2011 Miller 12 Starter

It is my belief that Thomas ended up being ranked so low due to his having missed significant time because of injuries.

While it is a nice exercise to see where a given system ranks players on your favorite team. The exercise takes on a bit more meaning when compared to the first round picks from other teams. I started by looking at the 2006-11 first round picks from Denver's rivals in the AFC West -- again, taking into account an average of those seasons when the player was with the team that drafted him.

Oak SD
Draft Player Pos AV Status Draft Player Pos AV Status
2006 M. Huff DB 6 Backup 2006 A. Cromartie DB 8 Starter
2007 J. Russell QB 2 Scrub 2007 C. Davis WR 2 Scrub
2008 D. McFadden RB 7 Backup 2008 A. Cason DB 4 Backup
2009 D. Heyward-Bey WR 4 Backup 2009 L. English LB 1 Scrub
2010 R. McClain LB 6 Backup 2010 R. Matthews RB 10 Starter
2011 None 2011 C. Liuget DT 5 Backup
Draft Player Pos AV Status
2006 T. Hali DE 8 Starter
2007 D. Bowe WR 8 Starter
2008 G. Dorsey DT 7 Backup
2008 B. Albert G 5 Backup
2009 T. Jackson DE 5 Backup
2010 E. Berry DB 6 Backup
2011 J. Baldwin WR 2 Scrub

I also thought it might be worthwhile to offer up the AV ratings for the 1st round draft picks from the teams which made the 2011 playoffs.

NE Bal Hou
Draft Player Pos AV Status Draft Player Pos AV Status Draft Player Pos AV Status
2006 L. Maroney RB 7 Backup 2006 H. Ngata DT 13 Starter 2006 M. Williams DE 8 Starter
2007 B.Meriweather DB 6 Backup 2007 B. Grubbs G 6 Backup 2007 A. Okoye DT 6 Backup
2008 J. Mayo LB 9 Starter 2008 J. Flacco QB 12 Starter 2008 D. Brown T 9 Starter
2009 None 2009 M. Oher T 7 Backup 2009 B. Cushing LB 10 Starter
2010 D. McCourty DB 8 Starter 2010 None 2010 K. Jackson DB 6 Backup
2011 N. Solder OL 9 Starter 2011 J. Smith CB 2 Scrub 2011 J. J. Watt DE 10 Starter
Pit Cin NYG
Draft Player Pos AV Status Draft Player Pos AV Status Draft Player Pos AV Status
2006 S. Holmes WR 9 Starter 2006 J. Joseph DB 6 Backup 2006 M.Kiwanuka DE 5 Backup
2007 L. Timmons LB 7 Backup 2007 L. Hall DB 8 Starter 2007 A. Ross DB 4 Backup
2008 R. Mendenhall RB 7 Backup 2008 K. Rivers LB 4 Backup 2008 K. Phillips DB 4 Backup
2009 E. Hood DE 5 Backup 2009 A. Smith T 3 Backup 2009 H. Nicks WR 9 Starter
2010 M. Pouncey C 11 Starter 2010 G.Gresham TE 6 Backup 2010 J.Pierre-Paul DE 8 Starter
2011 C. Heward *** 2011 A. J. Green WR 9 Starter 2011 P.Amukamara CB 1 Scrub
Draft Player Pos AV Status Draft Player Pos AV Status Draft Player Pos AV Status
2006 A. J. Hawk LB 8 Starter 2006 R. Bush RB 8 Starter 2006 None
2007 J. Harrell DT 1 Scrub 2007 R.Meachem WR 6 Backup 2007 J. Anderson DE 6 Backup
2008 None 2008 S. Ellis DT 6 Backup 2008 M. Ryan QB 14 All Pro
2009 B. J. Raji DT 6 Backup 2009 M. Jenkins DB 7 Backup 2008 S. Baker T 5 Backup
2009 C. Matthews LB 13 Starter 2010 P. Robinson DB 3 Backup 2009 P. Jerry DT 2 Scrub
2010 B. Bulaga T 8 Starter 2011 C. Jordan DE 7 Backup 2010 S.Weatherspoon LB 6 Backup
2011 D. Sherrod OL 1 Scrub 2011 M. Ingram RB 4 Backup 2011 J. Jones WR 10 Starter
SF Det
Draft Player Pos AV Status Draft Player Pos AV Status
2006 V. Davis TE 7 Backup 2006 E. Sims LB 5 Backup
2006 M. Lawson DE 6 Backup 2007 C. Johson WR 10 Starter
2007 P. Willis LB 15 All Pro 2008 G. Cherilus T 7 Backup
2008 K. Balmer DT 1 Scrub 2009 M. Stafford QB 7 Backup
2009 M. Crabtree WR 7 Backup 2009 B. Pettigrew TE 7 Backup
2010 A. Davis T 7 Backup 2010 N. Suh DT 11 Starter
2010 M. Iupati G 6 Backup 2010 J. Best RB 7 Backup
2011 A. Smith DE 3 Backup 2011 N. Fairley DT 1 Scrub

*** for some reason, PFR did not have an AV for Pittsburgh's Cam Heyward.

I present these ratings to you for your consideration with only two comments: (1)the success of a first round draft pick -- who most people expect to come in and have an immediate impact upon their team -- really does seem to be something of a crap shoot and (2)the Broncos do not seem to have done significantly better or worse than the other teams surveyed.

What do you think? What value would you give Denver's 2006-11 First Rounders?

Go Broncos!!!!!