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Best third-round picks from the 2012-2022 NFL Drafts

The 2023 NFL Draft is upon us, and with the Denver Broncos not selecting (as of now) until the third round, let’s take a look back of some of that round’s greatest hits

NFL: NFL Draft Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

For the second straight season, the Denver Broncos are on the outside looking in when it comes to the excitement of the first round of the NFL Draft.

The team used its first round pick initially to trade for Russell Wilson, got it back in a deal with the Miami Dolphins for outside linebacker Bradley Chubb, and gave it away once more to bring in Sean Payton as the team’s new head coach.

Watching the first round of the draft knowing your team doesn’t pick until round three is a bit like standing in the center of Times Square on New Year’ Doesn’t have the same buzz, does it?

Regardless, while round three isn’t exactly where all the A-listers gather, it is still ripe for the picking when it comes to impact and even star level talent. Smart coaches and general managers can not only find value, but franchise caliber players in this round, as evidenced by history.

Let’s take a look at the best third round picks since 2012 and build up optimism that George Paton and Sean Payton select a player who will one day be on a list like this.

2012 - QB Russell Wilson

And right out of the gate, the collective blood pressure of Broncos Country rises to unhealthy levels.

The truth is, though, that despite Wilson’s face plant of a first season with the Denver Broncos, he built a Hall-of-Fame resume for the Seattle Seahawks.

Picked with the 75th pick of the 2012 NFL Draft, Wilson initially was expected to backup newly signed Matt Flynn, but after a standout offseason, he won the starting role and carved his name into history.

Along with nine pro bowls, two Super Bowl appearances (one victory), numerous individual accolades, and helping make the Seahawks into perennial contenders, not many third-round picks in recent years have done what Wilson has done in his career.

Honorable mentions - WR TY Hilton, DT Akiem Hicks, QB Nick Foles

2013 - TE Travis Kelce

Another name on the list that is not exactly music to the ears of Broncos Country, Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce’s career speaks for itself.

From an unheralded high school recruit to a somewhat slept on NFL prospect, Kelce is indisputably one of the most dangerous players in the NFL today. He may not be the face of his team, a title that belongs to Patrick Mahomes, but he is arguably equally as valuable to the team.

He’s made the All-Pro team seven times (four as a first-team member), won two Super Bowls, and most recently was a part of one of the funnier sketches in recent SNL history (yes, it occasionally can still be funny).

With good years still ahead of him, health permitting, he will continue to be a force to be reckoned with over the middle of the field and may very well end up in consideration as the best tight end in league history.

Honorable mentions - DB Tyrann Mathieu, OT Terron Armstead, WR Keenan Allen

2014 - OG Trai Turner

Okay, so the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft was pretty forgettable. It was a round that featured more whiffs than hits and the best of the bunch were not exactly jersey sellers.

Still, though, there were standouts, the most of which was LSU guard Trai Turner, selected 92nd by the Carolina Panthers.

Turner, currently a free agent, had an excellent six-year run with the Panthers, making the Pro Bowl five times and helping the team to Super Bowl L.

Honorable mentions - OT Morgan Moses, LB Preston Brown, RB Jerick McKinnon

2015 - WR Tyler Lockett

Regarded for his speed and special teams prowess, receiver Tyler Lockett was taken by the Seattle Seahawks with the 69th pick of the 2015 NFL Draft, but while he absolutely lived up to his special teams hype, he developed into a dangerous #1 wide receiver in the league as well.

Early on, Lockett, as advertised, was more of a home run threat in the return game than as a receiver, but he soon developed into a pass catching threat as well. He would end up first-team All-Pro as a rookie and follow that up with two second-team All-Pro nominations the following two seasons.

He has since transitioned away from the return game and is solely focused on the offensive side of the ball where he has produced four straight 1,000+ yard receiving seasons.

Honorable mentions - DE Danielle Hunter, DB PJ Williams, RB David Johnson

2016 - OG Joe Thuney

Perhaps not a “sexy” pick, but Joe Thuney has spent his career being one of the most consistently effective offensive guards in the NFL.

Picked by the New England Patriots with the 78th pick of the 2016 Draft, Thuney would win the starting left guard position in training camp and never look back. He has since played in and started 112 NFL games, winning three Super Bowls with two different teams.

He has also been named second-team All-Pro twice in his career.

Honorable mentions - DB Kevin Byard, DE Yannick Ngakoue, RB Kenyan Drake

2017 - WR Cooper Kupp

This one was relatively tough, as there were some studs to come out of round three in this particular draft, but none can hold a candle to receiver Cooper Kupp.

Talk about a rags to riches tale, Kupp came from FCS Eastern Washington, where he produced enough to be invited to the Senior Bowl and NFL combine that year, where he blew scouts away with his abilities. He would ultimately be taken with the 69th pick of the 2017 Draft by the Los Angeles Rams, where he would soon be an integral part of Sean McVay’s offensive scheme.

He has since both claimed the title of Super Bowl winner and Super Bowl MVP, has set a record for postseason receptions (33), and is widely considered by some to be the best receiver in the league.

Honorable mentions - RB Alvin Kamara, WR Chris Godwin, RB Kareem Hunt

2018 - TE Mark Andrews

While he may not be on the same level as his AFC counterpart Travis Kelce, this big tight end out of Oklahoma is still considered among the elite at his position.

Picked 86th in the 2018 NFL Draft, Andrews has been named first-team All-Pro in 2021, has been named to three Pro Bowls, led the league in both receptions and yards by a tight end in 2021, and has been the favorite receiving target of his QB, Lamar Jackson.

Few tight ends in the league are relied on in the passing game as much as Andrews is with the Baltimore Ravens.

Honorable mentions - OT Orlando Brown, Jr., LB Fred Warner, WR Michael Gallup

2019 - WR Terry McLaurin

Initially seen as more of a sure thing as a return specialist coming out of Ohio State, McLaurin soon proved to be much more than that after he was taken 76th in the 2019 NFL Draft by the Washington Commanders.

In the past three seasons, he has exceeded 1,000 yards receiving, and as a rookie, he came just shy with 919 yards on 58 catches in 14 games played.

Despite being in the pit of mediocrity that is Washington, he has made a name for himself as one of the top receivers in the league and has done while dealing with sub-par QB play in each season he has played.

Honorable mentions - DT DreMont Jones, WR Diontae Johnson, RB David Montgomery

2020 - WR Devin Duvernay

Now we get to the smaller sample sizes, so it becomes a bit more difficult to distinguish the hits from the misses with only three seasons under belts.

One of the standouts from this draft has been Devin Duvernay, a dynamic return specialist who has more recently become a favorite target of Lamar Jackson in the Baltimore Ravens offense. His speed and big play ability has helped open up the offense, and he should be expected to continue to be utilized even with the addition of Odell Beckham, Jr.

Honorable mentions - OG Jonah Jackson, LB Zack Baun, RB Antonio Gibson

2021 - OG Quinn Meinerz

Okay, so perhaps this is where bias starts to show, when the sample size is so tiny, but “the belly” has been one of the only offensive bright spots for the Denver Broncos the past two seasons, and as he continues to grow and develop, he could hold down his position on the interior offensive line for years to come.

The rest of the class picked in round three has just not shown enough to where almost anyone can be viewed as a hit or a miss just yet.

Honorable mentions - QB Davis Mills, OLB Baron Browning, DE Joseph Ossai

2022 - QB Desmond Ridder

Mark this one as a big-time “to be determined”, but when a third-round QB is named the team’s starter his second season, it’s a notable accomplishment, and therefore Ridder sits atop his fellow 2022 third rounders as he will lead the Atlanta Falcons into 2023.

Honorable mentions - QB Malik Willis, LB Chad Muma, DB/return specialist Marcus Jones

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