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How Broncos Made Out in Past Drafts Without a First-Round Pick

What can the past foretell about the Broncos' 2022 draft class with the team not holding a first-round pick entering the big day?
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The 2022 NFL draft isn’t the first time the Denver Broncos won’t be drafting in the first round. However, it’s been a long time since the Broncos traded away that first-round pick before draft day.

In 2012, the Broncos traded down in the first round, then traded out of that round. In 2005, the Broncos traded out of the first as well. But both moves happened on draft day.

The deal that sent multiple picks, including their 2022 first, to the Seattle Seahawks for Russell Wilson happened before draft day and marked the first time the Broncos have dealt a first-rounder for a player since 1994.

That was the year the Broncos acquired Mike Pritchard in a trade with the Atlanta Falcons, sending their 1995 first-round pick as part of the package. It was also the final year for Wade Phillips as head coach of the Broncos.

Replacing Phillips was Mike Shanahan, who entered his first year with the Broncos with no picks until the fourth round. But in the 1995 draft, one of those picks turned out to be a steal, that being sixth-rounder Terrell Davis.

The running back became Super Bowl (XXXII) MVP, then broke the 2,000-yard rushing mark in 1998 and won the NFL MVP award. Davis was ultimately inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (after a long, agonizing wait).

While getting an impact player like Davis late in the draft is a long shot, finding players who can contribute is not out of the question.

Let’s look at other post-merger years in which the Broncos entered the draft without their first-round pick and see how they found other players.

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1994: The Broncos traded away their first-round pick as part of the package to acquire offensive tackle Gary Zimmerman from the Minnesota Vikings. The Broncos had made other trades, leaving them with just five picks.

Still, the Broncos managed to find a solid contributor in the second round of the 1994 draft — linebacker Allen Aldridge.

And then there’s Tom Nalen, who the Broncos took in the seventh round. Nalen was the last player the Broncos selected (he was taken 218th overall), but after a year on the practice squad, he became the best center the team ever had and, thus, a draft day steal.

1990: Though the Broncos didn’t trade their first-round pick, they utilized it the year before in the 1989 supplemental draft. They did so to select running back Bobby Humphrey in '89.

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The 1990 draft lasted more than seven rounds, so there were more chances to find players. It turns out the Broncos found somebody in the seventh round who became a top contributor, that being tight end Shannon Sharpe.

Though Sharpe was quiet in his first couple of seasons, he broke out in 1992 with 53 receptions on 77 targets and his first Pro Bowl bid. Sharpe went on to earn multiple Pro Bowl and All-Pro awards and, eventually, was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

1986: The Broncos traded their 1986 first-round pick back in 1984 to acquire linebacker Ricky Hunley from the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals had selected Hunley in the first round of the 1984 draft but could not come terms on a contract.

Again, there were more than seven rounds in the draft in 1986, and the Broncos managed to find a couple of contributors. Offensive guard Jim Juriga, a fourth-round pick, started 15 games in 1988, 16 in 1989, and 11 in 1990, and wide receiver Mark Jackson, a sixth-round pick, played seven seasons for the Broncos and became part of the receiving trio with Vance Johnson and Ricky Nattiel known famously as 'The Three Amigos'.

1984: The Broncos sent their first-round pick to the Baltimore Colts in the 1983 draft-day deal to acquire quarterback John Elway.

The 1984 draft didn’t land much in the way of contributors, though second-round pick Andre Townsend was decent. He started 54 games in his seven seasons and had 22 sacks.

1980: The Broncos sent their first-round pick to the New York Jets as part of a package to acquire quarterback Matt Robinson — a QB who started when the Jets beat the Broncos in a Week 10 game in 1978. Robinson went 4-3 in seven starts but was gone after one season.

However, the Broncos did find several quality players in the 1980 draft. Denver got a solid defensive back in Mike Harden in the fifth round, a quality starting offensive guard in Keith Bishop in the sixth, and perhaps their best player was its second-round pick, defensive end Rulon Jones.

The Takeaway

It’s not out of the question that the Broncos could find some quality players in this year’s draft — though expecting a player to turn out like Davis, Sharpe, or Nalen may be expecting too much.

Still, if the Broncos are fortunate to find a steal, that’s all the better. But even if they don’t luck into an impact player, there’s still a chance they’ll find a guy who can contribute, as evidenced by those past years in which they had no first-round pick.

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