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Do the Broncos have a second round curse?

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Does reality match the perception that the Broncos have been terrible at finding starters in the 2nd round this century? How does Denver compare to the rest of the NFL?

Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Generally players drafted in the first AND second rounds are expected to become starters. It has been documented by me and others that the Broncos have been bad at finding starters in the second round of the draft. This is exacerbated by the fact that from 2000-2017 the Broncos had the most second round picks in the entire league with 24 (almost double the 13 of Houston and Washington). The Broncos took a lot of swings and had a lot of misses.

Now the general consensus is that you can’t truly evaluate a draft until the drafted players have been in the league for three years. So with that in mind this study will focus on the years 2000-2017. Additionally I will state up front, that it would appear that the Broncos might have broken this curse in the past two drafts given that Courtland Sutton and Dalton Risner both look like they are going to become long-term starters and Drew Lock may as well (but that remains to be seen).

Here are the parameters of my study, i.e. how do you define success in a second round pick? I have defined success as a player that was a starter (as defined by pro-football-reference.com) for three or more seasons. I have not adjusted for mitigating factors like early retirements or untimely deaths (R.I.P. Darrent Williams). I also am only looking at the 2nd round. You are more than welcome to run this same study for the first round if you wish. Here’s the data.

Rank Team 2nd Rnd draft picks 2000-2017 Starters for 3 or more yrs Success Rate
1 Houston Texans 13 10 77%
2 Los Angeles Chargers 18 13 72%
3 Los Angeles Rams 17 12 71%
4 Chicago Bears 16 11 69%
5 San Francisco 49ers 15 10 67%
6 Atlanta Falcons 14 9 64%
7 New Orleans Saints 14 9 64%
8 Jacksonville Jaguars 18 11 61%
9 New York Giants 18 11 61%
10 Cleveland Browns 20 12 60%
11 Philadelphia Eagles 22 13 59%
12 Oakland Raiders 17 10 59%
13 Buffalo Bills 21 12 57%
14 Indianapolis Colts 16 9 56%
15 Baltimore Ravens 18 10 56%
16 Dallas Cowboys 18 10 56%
17 Cincinnati Bengals 20 11 55%
18 Washington Redacted 13 7 54%
19 Miami Dolphins 18 9 50%
20 Pittsburgh Steelers 16 8 50%
21 Seattle Seahawks 20 10 50%
22 Tennessee Titans 19 9 47%
23 Arizona Cardinals 17 8 47%
24 Kansas City Chiefs 15 7 47%
25 Green Bay Packers 20 9 45%
26 Minnesota Vikings 19 8 42%
27 New England Patriots 23 9 39%
28 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 18 7 39%
29 Detroit Lions 21 8 38%
30 Carolina Panthers 19 7 37%
31 Denver Broncos 24 8 33%
32 New York Jets 14 4 29%

With a 33% second round success rate, the Broncos are the second worst team in the league at finding starters in the second round. Only the Jets are worse. Here are the eight successes and how many years they were starters (not all with Denver in many cases):

  1. Derek Wolfe - 8 years as starter
  2. Zane Beadles - 7
  3. Clinton Portis - 7
  4. Kenoy Kennedy - 7
  5. Orlando Franklin - 6
  6. Eddie Royal - 6
  7. Ian Gold - 5
  8. Rahim Moore - 3

And here are the failures (no number = zero years as starter in NFL)

  1. Adam Gotsis - 2
  2. Cody Latimer - 1
  3. Brock Osweiler -1
  4. Alphonso Smith - 1
  5. Tim Crowder - 1
  6. Tony Scheffler - 1
  7. Tatum Bell - 1
  8. DeMarcus Walker
  9. Ty Sambrailo
  10. Montee Ball
  11. Darcel McBath
  12. Richard Quinn
  13. Darius Watts
  14. Terry Pierce
  15. Paul Toviessi

(Editor’s Note: We are leaving Darrent Williams off this list. Rest in peace.)

So we see that my (our) perception of the Broncos second round draft futility matches the reality. Relative to the rest of the league, Denver has been terrible at finding starters in the second round this century.

If you want to qualify good starter, average starter, bad starter, you are more than welcome to do so and I would like to see your methodology. I used to trust PFF, but I don’t any longer so trying to find a way to differentiate a good starter from a bad starter in terms of return on draft investment has been something I have struggled with for years.

Our 2018 and 2019 picks could turn this around in a major way, particularly if all three players end up as long-term starters in the NFL. Eleven out of 27 would improve the success rate from 33% to 41%, but that would still leave the Broncos in the bottom third of the league. I choose to see this is a positive trend that I hope will continue into the 2020 draft and beyond. As a franchise the Broncos cannot continue to “miss” on second round picks unless we want to become like the Jets - perennial losers.