Yesterday, we discussed Denver's worst first-round picks during the 25-year period between 1990 and 2014. The people of Broncos Country have spoken - or, 266 of them have, as of this writing - and Marcus Nash is the clear "winner" with 98 votes (36.8%). Jarvis Moss (73 votes, 28.2%) and Tommy Maddox (50 votes, 18.8%) are the runners up.
I'd love to know how the vote broke down by age, because I have to think that anyone old enough to remember the ridiculousness of the Maddox pick voted that way. Taking a 20-year old sophomore quarterback just months after John Elway had led Denver to its fourth AFC title game in six seasons was purely horrifying.
Add in the pain of having lost that game by a paltry 10-7 score, the Broncos' blatant need at wide receiver, and the availability of Carl Pickens, and contextually, there just doesn't seem to have been a worst choice in the past 25 years. If you can't tell, I still have not forgiven Dan Reeves for the selection of Maddox, 23 years later.
The pain didn't end there, or even with Reeves's firing after that season. Denver's desperation to find Elway some weapons led to their pursuit of Tim Brown and Anthony Miller in free agency, and the disastrous trade for Mike Pritchard. It's been suggested that the Pritchard deal was undone solely by a freak injury (he ruptured a kidney when he fell on a football during practice), but the price of a first- and third-rounder would have been a high one even if Pritchard had continued on the torrid pace he'd established in that 1994 season.
But enough whining about XFL MVP Tommy Maddox, at least until next time.
Let's talk about happier moments in Broncos draft history - their best first-round picks since 1985.
Why 1985? Seems arbitrary, right?
Not at all. If we go back any farther, then we have to include Chris Hinton. And once we do that, there's no longer anything worth debating, because Hinton, Mark Hermann, and Denver's 1984 first-round choice were sent to Baltimore in return for John Elway.
We could go all the way back and discuss the semantics of whether the Broncos would even exist if Floyd Little hadn't become the initial first-round pick to sign, in 1967. Floyd is The Franchise, and a HOFer in his own right, but let's be serious here: John Elway is the most important Bronco of all time, and that makes Chris Hinton their most important first-round pick ever.
Now, if we want to go back and frame this exercise entirely around play for the Broncos...I honestly am not equipped to consider how Little, Randy Gradishar, and Louis Wright compare to Steve Atwater and, say, Trevor Pryce.
So, yeah, 1985.
Here are the candidates:
Steve Atwater, 1989
The Smiling Assassin immediately made a huge impact for Denver, teaming with 1981 first-rounder Dennis Smith to form the NFL's most fearsome back end of their era, if not of all-time. Without Atwater's contributions as a rookie, it's hard to envision the 1989 Broncos making it back to the Super Bowl.
It's even less likely that Denver would have won SB 32 without Atwater, who came up with perhaps the best game of his career on January 25, 1998.
Throughout his career, Atwater was described as a "surefire HOFer," but now the gatekeepers of that honor call him a borderline guy. Of course, half of those voters are the same guys who called him a "future HOFer" while he was playing, but that's another matter entirely.
John Mobley, 1996
The selection of Mobley out of tiny Kutztown State was a stunner, but it paid massive dividends for the Broncos. Like Atwater, Mobley was a starter from Day 1, and an integral part of Denver's two championships.
Mobley was at the center of Denver's greatest ever moment, knocking down Brett Favre's fourth-down pass to clinch Super Bowl 32.
A frightening injury to his spinal column in 2003 ended up cutting his career short, but Mobley's place in Broncos history will endure.
Trevor Pryce, 1997
It's easily forgotten that Pryce spent nine seasons with Denver, since it still seems like Mike Shanahan cut his Broncos career far too short by letting him leave for Baltimore.
But Trevor was a key starter for the 1998 Super Bowl run, and piled up an Approximate Value of 75 during his nine Broncos seasons, which ranks 22nd all time. His 64 sacks are third to only Simon Fletcher and Karl Mecklenburg.
Ryan Clady, Von Miller, Demaryius Thomas
I think it's tough to discern which of these three choices is better than the others, so I'm not going to try. However, they're worth mentioning, because Clady, Miller, and Thomas have been among the top players at their respective positions for most of their careers.
Al Wilson figures to be a sentimental pick for some, but I don't really see how he can be compared favorably to Atwater and Mobley.
Anyway, it's your turn: who was the Broncos' greatest first-round choice since 1985?