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Best Broncos’ draft pick from every round

What was the best Denver Broncos draft pick from every round in the NFL Draft? We take a look here.

Mississippi State v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Welcome to Draft Week!

To kick things off, I thought it would be fun to recap the best Denver Broncos draft pick from every round and then some going back 50+ years. There are a few caveats. A lot of draft picks form the 1960s never played a down as many players chose the NFL over the AFL back in those days, so I completely disregarded any of those players. They need to have at least played a significant amount of time with the Broncos to make the cut here today.

One thing I found is that there were so many Broncos greats through the years that I had to include an honorable mentions section so people would know I didn’t miss a player in my review, so I do expect some disagreement on this list.

Additionally, I’ll include a poll after each round so we can vote on the best pick from each round together. And lastly, please remember that John Elway was not a Broncos’ draft pick.

First Round - Steve Atwater

I was 11 years old when Steve Atwater was drafted in 1989, so you can bank that I idolized him all throughout my early teen years. As important as Floyd Little was to keeping the Broncos in Denver in those early years and how dominant Randy Gradishar was on the Orange Crush defense, none could compare to the impact Atwater had for me so my bias will definitely come through here.

It helps that Atwater’s accomplishments speak for themselves. A two-time Super Bowl champion, two-time first-team All-Pro, eight-time Pro Bowler, and a member of the 1990s All-Decade Team. He’s also in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Honorable Mentions
  • Floyd Little (1967)
  • Randy Gradishar (1974)
  • Louis Wright (1975)
  • Dennis Smith (1981)
  • Al Wilson (1999)
  • Demaryius Thomas (2010)
  • Von Miller (2011)


Who was the best first-round pick in Broncos history?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    Floyd Little
    (143 votes)
  • 8%
    Randy Gradishar
    (150 votes)
  • 1%
    Louis Wright
    (17 votes)
  • 0%
    Dennis Smith
    (11 votes)
  • 21%
    Steve Atwater
    (361 votes)
  • 0%
    Al Wilson
    (8 votes)
  • 1%
    Demaryius Thomas
    (25 votes)
  • 57%
    Von Miller
    (969 votes)
1684 votes total Vote Now

Second Round - Simon Fletcher

The original sack master for the Broncos was none other than Simon Fletcher, whom the Broncos picked up in the second round of the 1985 NFL Draft. He piled up 97.5 sacks over his 10 year career and was finally added to the Broncos Ring of Fame in 2016.

Honorable Mentions
  • Barney Chavous (1973)
  • Rulon Jones (1980)
  • Vance Johnson (1985)
  • Clinton Portis (2002)
  • Derek Wolfe (2012)


Who was the best second-round pick in Broncos history?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    Barney Chavous
    (56 votes)
  • 6%
    Rulon Jones
    (94 votes)
  • 3%
    Vance Johnson
    (54 votes)
  • 57%
    Simon Fletcher
    (839 votes)
  • 21%
    Clinton Portis
    (310 votes)
  • 8%
    Derek Wolfe
    (118 votes)
1471 votes total Vote Now

Third Round - Jason Elam

Surprisingly, the third round has not been particularly kind to the Denver Broncos over the years. Two players really stood out above the rest and I really struggled to settle on one if only because the one I settled on was a kicker. However, Jason Elam is easily the greatest kicker in Broncos history and set all kinds of records during his long career. Although, you could easily talk me into swapping in Billy Thompson here instead.

Elam finished his career in Denver with two Super Bowl titles, three Pro Bowl selections, and three second-team All-Pro nods.

Honorable Mentions
  • Billy Thompson (1969)
  • Dan Neil (1997)
  • Eric Decker (2010)
  • Justin Simmons (2016)


Who was the best third-round pick in Broncos history?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    Billy Thompson
    (231 votes)
  • 37%
    Jason Elam
    (556 votes)
  • 2%
    Dan Neil
    (36 votes)
  • 3%
    Eric Decker
    (58 votes)
  • 41%
    Justin Simmons
    (615 votes)
1496 votes total Vote Now

Fourth Round - Tom Jackson

The first member of the Orange Crush showing up on my list is Tom Jackson. I could have gone Lyle Alzado here, but his stint with the Raiders held me back. Denver hit on several fourth round picks in the 70s that led to that storied Super Bowl run in 1977.

Jackson finished his career with two Super Bowl appearances and a three-time All-Pro linebacker. Also, as a kid in the 90s he has a special place in my heart as the only source of my Broncos highlights after my family moved from Colorado to California.

Honorable Mentions
  • Lyle Alzado (1971)
  • Rick Upchurch (1975)
  • Elvis Dumervil (2006)
  • Brandon Marshall (2006)
  • Julius Thomas (2011)


Who was the best fourth-round pick in Broncos history?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    Lyle Alzado
    (107 votes)
  • 58%
    Tom Jackson
    (832 votes)
  • 4%
    Rick Upchurch
    (66 votes)
  • 13%
    Elvis Dumervil
    (187 votes)
  • 12%
    Brandon Marshall
    (178 votes)
  • 3%
    Julius Thomas
    (47 votes)
1417 votes total Vote Now

Fifth Round - Rubin Carter

In probably the worst round in Broncos history, I could find just three significant players drafted by the team from this round. Predictably, I went back to the Orange Crush well on this one with Ruben Carter. As the defenses nose tackle, he anchored the interior of that 3-4 defense for a decade and was named an All-Pro in 1977 after piling up 6 sacks on that defense.

Honorable Mentions
  • Sammy Winder (1982)
  • Malik Jackson (2012)


Who was the best fifth-round pick in Broncos history?

This poll is closed

  • 45%
    Rubin Carter
    (587 votes)
  • 19%
    Sammy Winder
    (252 votes)
  • 35%
    Malik Jackson
    (452 votes)
1291 votes total Vote Now

Sixth Round - Terrell Davis

Well, we’ve gotten to the ‘easy’ portion of this post with back-to-back Hall of Famer’s here. First up is former sixth-round pick, Terrell Davis. His legs powered the Broncos to their first two Super Bowl titles in the late 90s and his first four seasons in the NFL remain the most dominant stretch by any running back in NFL history. To top that off, he also is the most dominant running back in playoff history on a per-game basis.

Honorable Mentions
  • Keith Bishop (1980)
  • Mark Jackson (1986)
  • Mike Anderson (2000)
  • Danny Trevathan (2012)


Who was the best sixth-round pick in Broncos history?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    Keith Bishop
    (13 votes)
  • 0%
    Mark Jackson
    (2 votes)
  • 96%
    Terrell Davis
    (1450 votes)
  • 0%
    Mike Anderson
    (5 votes)
  • 2%
    Danny Trevathan
    (33 votes)
1503 votes total Vote Now

Seventh Round - Shannon Sharpe

Another late round diamond and Hall of Fame player in Shannon Sharpe takes this spot with no challenger in sight. In the 1990 NFL Draft, Sharpe was considered too big to play wide receiver and too small to play tight end. It was a bias made by every team in the NFL at that time who did not recognize that the NFL was about to rapidly shift offensively. Sharpe came into the league at the perfect time to prove to the NFL that an athletic “smaller” tight end would shred old school NFL defenses of the time.

Honorable Mentions
  • Clarence Kay (1984)
  • Tom Nalen (1994)
  • Keith Burns (1994)
  • Byron Chamberlain (1995)


Who was the best seventh-round pick in Broncos history?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    Clarence Kay
    (4 votes)
  • 92%
    Shannon Sharpe
    (1371 votes)
  • 7%
    Tom Nalen
    (105 votes)
  • 0%
    Keith Burns
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    Byron Chamberlain
    (2 votes)
1482 votes total Vote Now

Later Rounds - Karl Mecklenburg

Back in the pre-seven round drafts, the NFL and AFL had upwards of 20-30 rounds. Denver found a couple of really good players back then and the best of the bunch was Karl Mecklenburg.

The former twelfth-round pick racked up 79 career sacks and over 1,100 tackles in his career. He was part of a Broncos defense in the 1980s that was always ranked highly - at least until they got to the Super Bowl. Meck was a four-time first-team All-Pro and a six-time Pro Bowler.

Honorable Mentions
  • Paul Smith (1968)
  • Marlin Briscoe (1968)
  • Steve Foley (1975)
  • Gary Kubiak (1983)
  • Tyrone Braxton (1987)


Who was the best late-round pick in Broncos history?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Paul Smith
    (18 votes)
  • 0%
    Marlin Briscoe
    (12 votes)
  • 2%
    Steve Foley
    (36 votes)
  • 9%
    Gary Kubiak
    (120 votes)
  • 83%
    Karl Mecklenburg
    (1110 votes)
  • 2%
    Tyrone Braxton
    (29 votes)
1325 votes total Vote Now

UDFA - Rod Smith

The greatest wide receiver in Broncos’ history wasn’t even drafted. That’s how badly every team in the NFL missed when it came to Rod Smith in 1994. He would finish his career in Denver with 849 receptions for 11,389 yards and 68 touchdowns. The two-time Super Bowl champion also piled up two second-team All-Pro selections and three Pro Bowls.

He was the first undrafted player to reach that 10,000 yard receiving milestone and still holds 11 franchise records.

Honorable Mentions
  • Bob Swenson
  • Steve Watson
  • Rich Karlis
  • Dwayne Carswell
  • Chris Harris Jr.


Who was the best undrafted free agent in Broncos history?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    Bob Swenson
    (13 votes)
  • 1%
    Steve Watson
    (25 votes)
  • 0%
    Rich Karlis
    (2 votes)
  • 80%
    Rod Smith
    (1102 votes)
  • 0%
    Dwayne Carswell
    (1 vote)
  • 16%
    Chris Harris Jr.
    (227 votes)
1370 votes total Vote Now


One thing I noticed right off the bat was the total lack of players from the 2015 championship defense, but I had almost half that defense on the honorable mentions section. Having reviewed hundreds of draft picks, please forgive me if there were any egregious omissions on the honorable mentions section.