The Denver Broncos have long been known for a few very exceptional late-round draft picks. Broncos' legend Terrell Davis was drafted in the 6th round (196th overall) in the 1995 NFL draft; Davis went on to rush for 7607 yards and 60 touchdowns, adding an additional 1280 receiving yards and 5 receiving touchdowns over his seven season career with the Broncos. Another Broncos legend, Shannon Sharpe, was drafted in the 7th round (192nd overall) in the 1990 draft; he went on to accumulate 815 receptions for 10,060 yards and 62 touchdowns. Sharpe, who was added to the NFL Hall of Fame in 2011, spent 12 of his 14 seasons with the Broncos, racking up 8 Pro-Bowl appearances and 4 First-Team All-Pro nominations.
Even further back, Broncos' legendary linebacker, Karl Mecklenburg (12th round, 310th overall), was another late round pick that had a stand-out NFL career. Mecklenburg has been a Hall of Fame semi-finalist over the past three years, after spending his entire 12-year NFL career with the Broncos. Mecklenburg was a 6-time Pro Bowler, who compiled 1104 total tackles, 79 sacks, 5 interceptions, and 16 forced fumbles in his career.
Tom Nalen (1994, 218th overall) played nearly 200 games at center for the Broncos while earning 5 Pro-Bowl appearances, receiver Mark Jackson (1986, 161st overall) racked up over 300 receptions for over 5500 receiving yards and 29 touchdowns over his career following his sixth round selection. The list goes on and on, the Broncos have had some excellent late-round draft choices that turned into stars in the NFL. With the 2014 draft approaching, I'd like to take a look at the Top 10 late round draft picks by the Broncos since the turn of the millennium. I considered anyone who was selected in the fourth round or later to be a late-round selection.
Honorable mention: Cooper Carlisle- Guard- (4th round, 112th overall)- 2000 NFL Draft
Cooper Carlisle was selected by the Broncos as part of a very solid 2000 draft class. Carlisle, who played his college football at Florida did not start for his first five seasons in for the Broncos, and only played two full seasons in the orange and blue. Following those two seasons, Carlisle became an Oakland Raider, and started every game at right guard (and eventually left guard) for six seasons, from 2007-2012. Carlisle had a solid NFL career, but he winds up on the honorable mention list because I couldn't bear to put a player who played most of his career in Oakland on here.
Honorable mention: David Bruton- Safety/Special Teams- (4th round, 114th overall)- 2009 NFL Draft
David Bruton was selected in the 2009 draft, in the same draft class as first-rounders, Knowshon Moreno and Robert Ayers. Despite having a very good college career, Bruton has not been able to crack the Broncos' starting defensive lineup in his five seasons in the league. That being said, Bruton has been a huge contributor on Denver's special teams since his rookie season. It's yet to be seen whether the product of Notre Dame will become a starter in the NFL, but his contributions on special teams have been equally under-rated and valuable for years now.
10. Malik Jackson- Defensive Tackle- (5th round, 137th overall)- 2012 NFL Draft
Malik Jackson has been effective in his short career with the Broncos, especially towards the end of the 2013 season. Jackson has shown that he can have an impact with his pass rushing skills, as well as his play in the run game in 2013; he ranked 3rd on the entire team in overall defensive rating on PFF. Jackson's pass rush rating of 11.0 was second only to Von Miller. The 5th round choice out of Tennessee started just five games in 2013, yet was able to rack up 6.0 sacks. Jackson will likely split reps between defensive end and defensive tackle in 2014, bringing strong depth to the Broncos' defensive line. If he can continue that kind of play over a full season, or a number of seasons, the young defensive lineman will easily work his way up this list.
9. Peyton Hillis- Running Back- (7th round, 227th overall)- 2008 NFL Draft
Peyton Hillis, a 7th round choice out of Arkansas, did not have much of a career in Denver, but he went on to have a fairly solid career in the NFL. In two seasons for the Broncos, Hillis compiled just 397 yards and 6 touchdowns, but his 4.9 yards per carry in his time with Denver was the highest of his six-year, four-team career. After his two years in Denver, Hillis spent two years in Cleveland, followed by a season with Kansas; he spent 2013 with the Giants and Bucs. Hillis' best season came in 2010 with Cleveland, where he ran for 1177 yards and 11 touchdowns. Over his six years in the league, the back has accumulated 3680 all-purpose yards and 26 touchdowns, not bad for a guy who was taken mid-way through the last round of the 2008 draft.
8. Chris Myers- Center (6th round, 200th overall)- 2005 NFL Draft
Chris Myers is quite possibly the most talented offensive guard on this list; however, since he has spent the majority of his career in a Houston Texans uniform, he ranks lower on this list of the top ten Broncos late round draft choices. He's certainly been a stellar NFL player, and possibly better than the other guards mentioned on this list, but his contributions to Denver's offense were minimal compared to his career elsewhere. Myers was selected behind 199 other players, seven of which have played more NFL games than him. For seven straight seasons (one with Denver, six with Houston) Myers has started every single game for his team at center, earning Pro-Bowl honors in 2011 and 2012. Over his six seasons with Houston, Myers has been the epitome of consistency, allowing just eight sacks on 6875 snaps, one sack every 859 snaps. It's unfortunate that the Broncos were unable to hold onto Myers, because he has been a rock at center for the Texans; regardless, this was a phenomenal find in the sixth round for Denver.
7. Julius Thomas- Tight End- (4th round, 129th overall)- 2011 NFL Draft
Julius Thomas sat out the majority of his first two seasons in the league, due to ankle and knee injuries; however, once Orange Julius managed to stay in the lineup long enough to solidify a starting role, he took off. Thomas racked up 83 receptions for 976 receiving yards and 12 touchdown receptions in 2013, following in the footsteps of another former Broncos late-round tight end; Thomas' 11th touchdown reception saw him surpass Broncos legend, Shannon Sharpe, for the franchise's single season touchdown reception record. Like Malik Jackson, Thomas' career has been short, but if he can continue to develop the raw talent that he holds, Orange Julius might just become the Broncos' next legendary late-round tight-end.
6. Danny Trevathan- Linebacker (6th round, 188th overall)- 2012 NFL Draft
Over the last two seasons, Danny Trevathan has emerged from being a relatively-unknown, late round draft choice, to solidifying himself as a starting linebacker on the Broncos' defense. Trevathan played just 244 snaps during his 2012 rookie season, but that number jumped up to 1134 in 2013, and the increase was most definitely deserved. Trevathan racked up 86 tackles, 2 sacks, and 3 interceptions in 2013, proving to be one of the most versatile linebackers in the league. The young linebacker was the only 4-3 outside linebacker in the entire NFL to rank in the top 10 in all four of: run stop percentage (2nd), pass coverage (4th), pass-rushing productivity (6th), and tackling efficiency (7th).
5. Chris Kuper- Guard (5th round, 161st overall)- 2006 NFL Draft
Kuper was plagued by injuries during his NFL career, but was a very valuable asset when healthy, and undoubtedly would have been higher on this list if injuries had not got the best of him. In 90 games in the NFL, Kuper allowed just 12 sacks in nearly 5000 offensive snaps (4945, to be exact). That works out to a sack percentage of 0.24%, or one sack every 412 snaps, throughout his career. To provide some context for that, Davin Joseph (TB) who was the first guard taken in 2007, has allowed 18 sacks on 5304 snaps, giving him a sack percentage of 0.34%, or one every 295 snaps. It's a shame that Kuper was injured so often and was forced to retire this off-season, but he provided the Broncos with a ton of value for his draft position, when he was healthy.
Fun fact: Kuper is one of only four players who were born in Alaska to start at any position in the NFL for five seasons or more.
4. Brandon Marshall- Wide Receiver (4th round, 119th overall)- 2006 NFL Draft
There were some very talented receivers that were drafted in the 2006 NFL Draft, including Marques Colston, Greg Jennings, Vernon Davis, Santonio Holmes; yet Brandon Marshall has the most receptions (712), the most receiving yards (9050), and the second most touchdowns (57) of any of them since being drafted. Known as one of the best receivers in the game today, Marshall has now played for three teams since starting his career, the Broncos, Dolphins, and Bears. Of those three teams, Marshall played the best in Denver; missing just three games in four years with the Broncos, the former Central Florida receiver amassed 327 receptions, 4019 yards, and 25 touchdowns in the orange and blue. If Marshall had remained with the Broncos, there is no doubt that he would be in the running for number one on this list; as it stands now though, Marshall is a phenomenal football player who played his best ball with the Broncos.
3. Elvis Dumervil- Defensive End (4th round, 126th overall)- 2006 NFL Draft
Elvis Dumervil was another exceptional find in the 2006 draft for the Broncos. The class included Chris Kuper and Brandon Marshall, who were already mentioned, along with Jay Cutler, Tony Scheffler, and Domenik Hixon, all of whom went on to start for teams in the NFL. Dumervil spent his first six seasons in Denver, where he recorded 63.5 sacks, 169 tackles and 16 forced fumbles, establishing him as one of the premier pass-rushers in the NFL. In his seventh season, which he played in Baltimore, Dumervil racked up another 9.5 sacks, 17 tackles, and 2 forced fumbles. In 2009, Dumervil earned his first of three straight Pro-Bowl berths and was selected as a First-Team All-Pro in a campaign where he dominated offensive lines, getting to the quarterback 17 times for sacks. And while Doom was taken after 125 other players in the 2007 draft, it's hard to argue that in retrospect he wouldn't have been a first round pick.
2. Ben Hamilton- Guard (4th round, 113th overall)- 2001 NFL Draft
Ben Hamilton, a product of Minneapolis, Minnesota, who also played for the Minnesota Golden Gophers in college, joined Reggie Hayward (DE) and Nick Harris (P) as prominent members of the Broncos' 2001 draft class. The guard spent eight seasons in the NFL; he missed the entire 2007 season, but from 2002 through 2008, Hamilton started all 16 games for the Broncos. Hamilton spent 111 games in a Broncos uniform, and 118 total in the league; his sound contributions on the offensive line were well worth the 4th round pick that the Broncos spent on him, and since his 2002 rookie season, only two players have suited up more times than Ben Hamilton has for the Broncos (DJ Williams and Champ Bailey).
1. Mike Anderson- Running Back (6th round, 189th overall)- 2000 NFL Draft
Mike Anderson's selection in the 2000 draft was preceded by 188 other picks, 16 of whom were running backs, yet Anderson was only surpassed by three of those players in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. The players that outperformed Anderson were drafted 184, 182, and 170 picks in front of him. In fact, only three running backs in the entire history of the NFL, who were picked in a later draft position than him have surpassed Anderson in rushing touchdowns. In Broncos franchise history, Anderson ranks 5th in yards (3822), 4th in touchdowns (36), and this was all while being hampered by injuries quite often. The oddest and possibly most memorable thing about Anderson's career was the five year gap between his 1000 yard rushing seasons; he ran for over 1000 in his rookie season, then was held back by injuries before launching his second 1000 yard season in 2005.
Well, there they are, the best of the late round Broncos in the last 14 years. Here's to hoping the Broncos are able to find another couple gems in this year's draft. How about you, Broncos Country? Did I miss anyone? Would you re-arrange the order? Who's your favourite player on the list? Comment below with your thoughts!