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Best first-round pick in Broncos’ history?

It may be harder than you think to pick the most impactful first-round pick in Denver’s inconsistent drafting history.

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Welcome to Draft Week, Broncos Country!

Finally those bloody mock drafts will be coming to an end (after an incessant last push, no doubt) and we can focus on who actually was drafted and not who we think, hope, fear might be.

And since I struggle with speculation - especially when the Broncos aren’t likely to be picking a new player until the Draft has certainly gone through all six of the college players I know ;) - I thought it would be fun to look back at some of our most impactful first-round picks. Ever.

This is no Joe Mahoney deep dive into stats or a Jess Place Encyclopedia Britannica history dive of the 1960s teams. This is a looked-up-all-the-names-on-wikipedia-and-chose-my-favorites kind of dive from the last 63 years of Broncos football.

But before I get to my list for us to discuss, a few things stuck out to me that I’m sure at least some of you have noticed and debated many times before - namely, that we’ve actually drafted a lot of running backs in the first round over the years - Floyd Little, Bobby Anderson, Otis Armstrong, Gerald Wilhite, Steve Sewell, Knowshon Moreno.

Certainly not as often (or really ever) since football evolved to the passing mecca it is now, but I was still surprised. And given that the first was Floyd Little and the last was Knowshon Moreno, it’s clear how the trend has gone (for the Broncos as well as the NFL in general). And, of course, outside of Little, our best running back ever was a sixth-round pick!

The second thing that struck me while just looking at a list of first-round picks was that John Elway’s time as GM really was a Draft Desert for the Broncos. I definitely believe you have to look at an entire class to really assess a GM’s success in the draft, but you also need to hit on your first-round pick more often than not. I loved John Elway as QB and GM, but drafting was definitely not his strong suit.

Evaluation of Elway’s draft has been talked about here and elsewhere ad nauseam and it’s not the focus today, but looking at just the first-round picks since 1960, the 10-year drought after 2011 (Von Miller) until 2021 (Patrick Surtain II) is really stark - and rough.

But I digress. The purpose of today’s exercise was really to have fun debating which first-round picks in the team’s history have been the most impactful - either for the teams they were on or for the franchise in general.

1967: Floyd Little, RB

1972: Riley Odoms, TE

1974: Randy Gradishar, LB

1975: Louis Wright, DB

1981: Dennis Smith, DB

1989: Steve Atwater, DB

1996: John Mobley. LB

1997: Trevor Pryce, DT

1999: Al Wilson, LB

2006: Jay Cutler, QB

2008: Ryan Clady, OT

2010: Demaryius Thomas, WR

2011: Von Miller

2020: Jerry Jeudy

2021: Patrick Surtain

I personally found it impossible to choose the most important player overall, though I have several to make a case for.

Floyd Little, 1967

Obviously Little is the reason we have a team in Denver, so he probably owns the right to “Most Impactful Player” from the get-go. And as our first Hall-of-Famer, that first-round pick turned out to truly be special.

Randy Gradishar, 1974

I lean toward Gradishar being the most impactful because of his overall dominance in the game at the time and what he meant for building the Orange Crush defense. If Floyd Little kept the team here, Gradishar kept fans around as the defense became the backbone of a finally-winning franchise. Plus, we all know Gradishar should be in the Hall of Fame and the fact that he’s not makes him even more of a fan choice for most important player to the Broncos.

All the 80s defenders

OK, I’m cheating. But seriously...Smith, Atwater, Pryce, Mobley? Atwater is possibly the only truly deserving of my “most impactful” but dang...what a good stretch of first-round choices there. Mobley did not have the star power of the others, but I will always believe he is responsible for making sure John Elway got that first Super Bowl win in the 1997-98 season. And I named my dog after him, so he gets to stay on the list.

Von Miller, 2011

Possibly the only reason he wouldn’t earn the Most Impactful draft pick is because he plays in the free agency era when it’s almost impossible to stay with the team that drafted you. But the 2015 season will always rival the 1997 season in my mind and it is because of Miller and the defense that he led. Good times. No, outstanding times.

Pat Surtain, 2021

To be honest, it’s still too early to give Surtain this honor, but he’s on the right trajectory so I’m rolling with it. I believe George Paton has been masterful with his drafting so far and once we get back to having first-round picks, I think he’ll continue to get us players that will have an important impact on getting this franchise back to championship-caliber play.

OK, Broncos Country, weigh in...


Which first-round draft pick in Broncos history has been the most impactful?

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    Floyd Little
    (126 votes)
  • 18%
    Randy Gradishar
    (140 votes)
  • 15%
    Steve Atwater
    (119 votes)
  • 46%
    Von Miller
    (360 votes)
  • 1%
    Pat Surtain
    (12 votes)
  • 1%
    Your choice?
    (15 votes)
772 votes total Vote Now

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