We continue to march through a retrospective look at the Denver Broncos' best and worst draft picks, per round, in the John Elway GM era. With Rounds 1-3 in the books, the fourth round is generally not where you find starters, but you do expect to land quality depth players who should contribute to special teams and start when necessary.
The Broncos have found a couple of starters in the fourth round since the rookie pay scale was implemented, while other fourth-rounders didn't deliver as much in return. But who stands out as the best and worst fourth-round pick since 2011?
Here's how I see it.
Best Fourth-Rounder: Julius Thomas | TE | 2011
The 2011 NFL draft is arguably the best overall draft class that John Elway delivered as the top football exec, though he wasn't yet GM. Elway was V.P. of football operations in Year 1 (2011), with Brian Xanders serving as GM. Among the reasons why 2011 turned out so well for Elway in retrospect is one of the players he found in the fourth round.
Thomas didn't contribute much in his first two seasons, but he broke out big time in his third season. In 2013, caught 65 passes on 90 targets for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns. That was when quarterback Peyton Manning set a new single-season record for passing touchdowns (55).
Thomas remained productive in his fourth season with the Broncos, scoring 12 touchdowns again, though he had fewer receptions and yards. But he gave the Broncos a legitimate red-zone threat and the best pass-catching tight end they'd in some time.
Other fourth-round picks from more recent years could surpass Thomas if they keep improving, but for now, Thomas holds the top spot as a two-time Pro Bowler.
Worst Fourth-Rounder: Philip Blake | OG | 2012
Interestingly, the Broncos haven't made a lot of fourth-round picks since 2011, and most of them have contributed to some degree. However, that wasn't the case with Blake.
Blake's rookie season saw him head to the practice squad, which may not have been unusual, but in 2013, he failed to make an impression and was cut after training camp.
Some reports indicated that Blake wasn't putting in the time he needed to improve as a player. Regardless of the reason, the Broncos didn't get a single regular-season snap out of Blake, and that's what makes him the easy choice as the worst fourth-rounder since 2011.
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