Draft Record of Bronco GMs – The Elway Era

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Broncos still see potential in tight end Julius Thomas

In today’s NFL, mastering the draft is the only way a team can stay on top. We have seen the Free Agent market reset itself to where it was 6 years ago and even though the top tier Free Agents are still making the big bucks, they only comprise about 1% of the market. We have also seen the attempt to buy a “Dream Team” (see the 2012 Eagles) just doesn’t work. Concentrating on one side of the ball and ignoring the other has proved to be disastrous, as former Broncos head honcho Mike Shanahan had a habit of doing.

This isn’t a big city or small market issue either. The Green Bay Packers are a small market team and they have stuck to using the draft to build their rosters year in and year out. It may be a team philosophy, but it all comes down to the General Manager since he is the designated team builder.

Because it is draft season, I thought I’d take a look at how the Broncos have drafted in the past, just to see if it revealed anything interesting.

The History of the Denver Broncos franchise could be broken up into a few ways. Ownership would be one. I have also seen it listed like this:

  • 1960–69: AFL era

  • 1970–82: “Orange Crush”

  • 1983–99: John Elway era

  • 1999–2012 A Period of Decline

  • 2012–present: The Peyton Manning era 

The thing is, the game has also gone through changes down the years as well, which makes it  difficult to paint an accurate picture for analyzation. For instance, the domination of Lawrence Taylor made drafting a Left Tackle a high priority in the 1980’s. Then Shutdown Cornerbacks were in demand for a time. More recently, Slot Receivers and speedy athletic Tight Ends with soft hands have emerged as the weapons a team needs to create mismatches on the field.

With all that in mind, I limited my focus from the Elway era forward. I realize that John came to the Broncos in 1983, but I mainly wanted to utilize the two longest tenures at GM (John Beake and Ted Sundquist), so I am beginning with the first of those. There is also an overlap with coaching changes too and that may play a factor.

Here is the lineup from 1985 to date:

  • 1985-98 – John Beake

  • 1999-2001 – Neal Dahlen

  • 2002-07 – Ted Sundquist

  • 2008 – Jim Goodman

  • 2009-11 – Josh McDaniels, Brian Xanders

  • 2012-to date – John Elway, Matt Russell

John Beake was officially named the Broncos’ General Manager in 1985. His tenure lasted 14 years, longer than any other GM in Denver. He had previously worked as the Broncos Director of Pro Personnel (1979) and the Director of Player Personnel (1981). Beake’s administration overlapped 3 head coaches; Dan Reeves, Wade Phillips and Mike Shanahan. John will be remembered as part of the Front Office that finally brought the Lombardi trophy to Denver. He was primarily responsible for the day-to-day operations and handled contract negotiations.

While John Beake was the GM, the Broncos had a record of 139-83-1. They averaged 13.9 Wins per season and 5.9 Losses in what was the brightest era in franchise history. The Broncos had a winning record 9 nine out of Beake’s fourteen seasons, with three seasons at 8-8 and two seasons with a sub .500 record.

The team had 8 playoff appearances. They were the AFC West Division Champs 6 times. Won six Conference Championships, 2 Wild Card berths, made 5 Super Bowl appearances and one the whole enchilada in back to back years.

During this time, 132 players were drafted by the Broncos. 7 of those had at least 1 All-Pro season and 1 had 4 (Shannon Sharpe who also went into the Hall of Fame). 13 of those draft picks went to at least 1 Pro Bowl and 3 went to 5 or more. 41 were primary starters for at least 1 season (31%). 23 players were primary starters for at least 5 seasons (17.4%) and 5 were 10+ year starters (3.7%). 27 started 40 or more games during their career (20.4%), 21 had 80+ starts and 12 had 100+ starts. 32 players (24%) did not survive Training Camp and 15 others played in less than 5 games for the Broncos. That is a 35.6% Bust rate.

John Beake was part of the team that brought players such as Hall of Fame TE Shannon Sharpe, C Tom Nalen, DT Trevor Pryce, S Steve Atwater, RB Terrell Davis, LB Simon Fletcher, CB Tyrone Braxton, K Jason Elam and the Three Amigos to Broncos Country.

He also brought the best Undrafted Wide Receiver in NFL History to Denver: Rod Smith.

Here are some of the notable position players on Offense during that time:

Running Backs

Terrell Davis — 1655 carries for 7,607 yds, 60 TDs. 169 rec. for 1,280 yds and 5 TDs

Steve Sewell — 229 carries for 917 yds, 13 TDs. 187 rec. for 2,354 yds and 13 TDs

Glyn Milburn — 183 carries for 817 yds, 2 TDs. 170 rec. for 1,322 yds and 6 TDs

Receiving

Shannon Sharpe (TE) — 815 rec, 10,060 yds, 62 TDs

Vance Johnson (WR) — 415 rec, 5,695  yds, 37 TDs

Mark Jackson (WR) — 342 rec, 5,551  yds, 29 TDs

Derek Russell (WR) — 172 rec, 2,401  yds, 8 TDs

Steve Sewell (RB) — 187 rec, 2,354  yds, 13 TDs

Byron Chamberlain (TE) — 167 rec, 2,048  yds, 6 TDs

Ricky Nattiel (WR) — 121 rec, 1,972  yds, 8 TDs

Patrick Jeffers (WR) — 98 rec, 1,563  yds, 14 TDs

Glyn Milburn (RB) — 170 rec, 1,322  yds, 6 TDs

Terrell Davis (RB) — 169 rec, 1,280  yds, 5 TDs

Cedric Tillman (WR) — 87 rec, 1,227  yds, 7 TDs

Orson Mobley (TE) — 84 rec, 1,019  yds, 4 TDs

Overall, John Beake enjoyed the best years in the history of the Denver Broncos Franchise. That may sound harsh to the other eras, but Back to Back Super Bowl Championships are pretty hard to argue with.

As we go through the next segments of this look at Broncos GM’s, we will be able to compare how each did in the draft. That should reflect on the teams Win/Loss record too.

Until then,

Go Broncos!

—– Kaptain Kirk

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