The Denver Broncos have an very unique history in regard to drafting the game’s most important position. There are many interesting anecdotes to examine, but before we do that a reminder: past performance does not predict future results. Quarterbacks are individuals and can, and rather often do, surprise the team that drafted them by turning out to be significantly better or worse than expected.
Perhaps the most notable nugget is this: Despite going to 8 Super Bowls, winning 3 of them, and being one of the winningest teams of the last three decades of the NFL, from the NFL merger to today the Broncos have never drafted a true franchise quarterback for themselves. That’s rather remarkable, really. And by “true franchise quarterback”, I simply mean a guy good enough that the team made him the starter long term beyond his initial contract.
The closest the team has come to drafting its own franchise passer would be Jay Cutler, who McJedi shipped off to Chicago after just 2 and a quarter years as the Broncos’ starter. He was indeed a franchise QB, if not a great one, just... not for Denver.
After Cutler Brian Griese would be the next closest example, with 51 games started as a Bronco. However, he lasted just 5 seasons with the team (4 as starter) before departing to work his way through Miami, Tampa Bay, Chicago, and Tampa Bay again.
And after Griese, well, things start getting dismal fast. The Broncos-drafted QB with the 3rd most starts for the team is the illustrious... Trevor Siemian (24 starts). Tim Tebow (14) and Brock Osweiler (11) round out the top 5 most prolific starting QBs the Broncos have acquired through the draft.
So how can a franchise that’s been around for 50+ years and has accomplished so much have a QB draft history so bereft of glory?
The short answer is that we’ve simply gotten ours in unusual ways. John Elway is so synonymous with the Broncos that it can be hard to remember that Denver didn’t draft him. But indeed he was traded to the team after refusing to play for the Colts who had taken him 1st overall not long before. Peyton Manning came in as a free agent, of course, and between the two of them these two legends played a major role in much of the Broncos’ success. Jake Plummer deserves a nod as well, having been the best Bronco QB not to win a Super Bowl with the team and yet another transplant as well.
So, yes, the Broncos have a penchant for filling the void at QB in strange ways.
However, the shallow success of Broncos-drafted quarterbacks also has to do with where they’re getting drafted. While 19 NFL teams have taken QBs with top 10 overall picks at least twice since the NFL merger, the Broncos join the Ravens and Vikings in the dubious distinction of having never once taken a QB with a top 10 pick in that time. In fact Cutler, at pick 11, was the only one even close. The Broncos’ other three 1st round QB choices were all taken with the 25th or 26th pick of their draft.
In addition to the Broncos’ relatively low-value approach to drafting a QB in the 1st round, they’ve only drafted one in each of the subsequent rounds. Brock Osweiler was the first and so far only 2nd round QB drafted by the Broncos. And Brian Griese is the only 3rd rounder. That’s just six quarterbacks selected in Day 1 or Day 2 (or equivalent) of the draft since the NFL merger.
For contrast, the Broncos have taken 13 QBs with picks equivalent to a 2018 7th rounder (or later). That’s quite a stark contrast.
A big part of that, of course, is the simple fact that you don’t need high-round QBs when you’ve got a franchise guy or at least a young, high-round QB who is still proving/disproving himself.
The question that will hang heavy over Dove Valley this offseason is whether or not this 50th NFL draft since the merger is the time to break the long drought and leave Minnesota & Baltimore with only each others’ company among teams who have never taken a QB with a top 10 overall pick. Should John Elway venture the risk of taking Haskins, Lock, or Murray? Or should he bide his time, see if Keenum performs better with a more innovative offensive coordinator in 2019, and aim to solve the QB issue via the more talent-heavy 2020 draft class?