It’s been a long journey back to the Super Bowl for the Denver Broncos, who haven’t been to the big game since John Elway last stepped foot on a field and was tossing bombs to Rod Smith.
The Broncos have been through a heck of a lot in the 15 plus years since Elway retired, and it has all culminated in this Super Bowl berth.
Mike Shanahan was fired after the 2008 season and shortly thereafter replaced by Josh McDaniels, who started making some big moves for the Broncos right away.
One of the first things on McDaniels’ agenda was to get Jay Cutler the heck out of there, which was stupid at the time but has turned out great for Denver in the long term. Another one of his first moves was to use the team’s two first round picks that year on Knowshon Moreno and Robert Ayers.
Moreno came into the league after his redshirt sophomore season at Georgia, and played decent for the Broncos in his first NFL season. Ayers was a starter and made some plays as well, but was clearly playing out of position as a linebacker in Denver’s 4-3 alignment.
That was also the year the Broncos drafted David Bruton, a safety/special teams ace out of Notre Dame who is still one of the team captains to this day. Those three players — Moreno, Ayers, and Bruton — are all that remain from McDaniels’ first NFL Draft class, but it was in 2010 where the magic really started happening.
With the Broncos’ top pick in 2010, after trading down what seemed like 100 times, McDaniels finally pulled the trigger on Demaryius Thomas, who has since developed into one of the best receivers in the league. Coming out of Georgia Tech where the offense was the triple option, it was sure to take Thomas time to develop to the NFL game, but he has done a great job and is a cornerstone piece of Denver’s franchise.
The other first round pick was used on Tim Tebow, who gave the franchise one of its most exciting seasons ever in 2011 and helped the Broncos reach/win a playoff game.
The 2010 NFL Draft also produced starting left guard Zane Beadles, a Pro Bowler from a year ago, as well as wide receiver Eric Decker, who is among the league leaders in touchdown catches over the last two seasons and has two straight years with over 1,000 yards receiving.
As with the 2009 NFL Draft, only three players from the 2010 NFL Draft remain on the Denver Broncos’ roster, and all the other picks from the McDaniels era have been ousted.
In 2011, the Broncos had hired John Fox as their new head coach and John Elway as their new front office czar. Elway’s first course of action was to rid of all the bad beans, and change things up defensively. Elway’s first ever draft pick was Von Miller in 2011, and he nailed a couple of other picks that year as well.
Safety Rahim Moore has missed time with a strange leg condition this year, but has played a critical role for Denver’s defense in his first few years in the league. Orlando Franklin, another second round pick, is Denver’s starting right tackle and a good one at that. The Broncos also used picks in the 2011 NFL Draft on the likes of tight end Julius Thomas, Nate Irving, and Virgil Green, all of whom are playing big roles this season.
In 2012, the Broncos used their top pick on Derek Wolfe, who has already developed a really solid all-around game as the starting strong-side defensive end, but seizure-like symptoms caused him to miss Denver’s trip to Kansas City and he hasn’t been on the field since.
The Broncos also used picks in the 2012 Draft to snag backup QB Brock Osweiler, reserve RB Ronnie Hillman (who has been in and out of the doghouse), and defensive back Omar Bolden, but the true gems came with their final two picks.
Defensive lineman Malik Jackson and linebacker Danny Trevathan have been instrumental for the Broncos’ defense this season, and were 5th and 6th round picks respectively in the 2012 draft.
In 2013, the Broncos drafted starting defensive tackle Sylvester Williams out of North Carolina, and top backup RB Montee Ball, who aside from some fumbling issues put together a very solid all-around season as a rookie for the Broncos.
Another player from the draft class that has made significant contributions is cornerback Kayvon Webster, who came in when the Broncos suffered some injuries at corner this season.
The Broncos have done a good job of nailing on draft picks unlike the years of the Mike Shanahan regime from about 2000-on, with some obvious exceptions. The place where the Broncos made their most significant additions was obviously in free agency, where they spent nearly $100 million to get the best QB in the NFL, Peyton Manning. Compared to what other QBs around the league have gotten since that move, the Broncos got Manning at a bargain price.
They also used free agency to bring in key players like Louis Vasquez, Wes Welker, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Shaun Phillips, Terrance Knighton, and many others.
This Broncos team has been well-constructed by John Elway and company, with a great mix of youth as well as veterans. There are few holdovers from the Josh McDaniels regime, and even fewer from the Mike Shanahan crew. This Super Bowl team has been the result of John Elway’s move of trading Tim Tebow and signing Peyton Manning, which created a domino effect for everything else to fall into place.