Drafting the Bronco Way

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Drafting the Bronco Way
by Warren DeLuca

The approach Gary Kubiak brings to the job of head coach of the Houston Texans has been shaped dramatically by his experience as offensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos under Mike Shanahan. The Broncos have a clear offensive philosophy, which includes a strong running game, an undersized but highly effective offensive line, and a mobile quarterback, and Kubiak is expected to implement that style in Houston. Do the Broncos also have a distinct approach to the draft, which Kubiak will bring to the Texan war room?

Shanahan ran the Bronco drafts, and Kubiak is expected to have a major say, if not the final one, on the Texans’ selections this weekend. Kubiak was on Shanahan’s staff for 11 drafts, which is long enough that most positions on the Denver depth chart turned over more than once and covers enough choices to make up a decent sample size so that patterns may emerge.

Of course, the Broncos’ draft record is far from an exact gameplan of what the Texans may do this weekend. The extent of Kubiak’s authority is unclear, and even if he is making the call, he may want to adopt a different draft philosophy than the one his mentor employed in Denver. The Broncos never picked as high as the Texans will this year, so what they did in the lower half of a round may not be what they would have done had they been at the top. They also had different rosters with different needs than those that the Texans need to address. Still, taking a look at how the Broncos have worked the draft may give some general indication as to the approach the Texans will take under Kubiak.

Denver’s picks: 1st round: 0, 2nd: 0, 3rd: 1, 4th: 1, 5th: 0, 6th: 0, 7th: 3
With the exception of third-rounder Brian Griese, the Broncos tended to go with veteran quarterbacks rather than drafting and developing them. They used some Day Two picks on projects (Jeff Lewis, Jarious Jackson, Matt Mauck, and Bradlee Van Pelt). Kubiak could look for an athletic prospect in the late rounds to compete with Dave Ragone.

Running Back
RB: 1st: 0, 2nd: 2, 3rd: 1, 4th: 3, 5th: 1, 6th: 2, 7th: 3
FB: 1st: 0, 2nd: 0, 3rd: 1, 4th: 0, 5th: 0, 6th: 0, 7th: 0
While the Broncos didn’t use a first-round pick on a running back, they haven’t been shy about taking backs that they liked even when it didn’t appear to be a pressing need, including two in the second and two (including a fullback) in the third. The only year that the team didn’t draft at least one runner was 1997, when they only had three picks. They’ve earned a reputation for being able to find capable running backs outside of the first round, including 1,000-yard rushers Terrell Davis (6th round, 1995), Olandis Gary (4th round, 1999), Mike Anderson (6th round, 2000), and Clinton Portis (2nd round, 2002), which some interpret to mean that they wouldn’t “waste” an early pick on a back. However, their record of going after running backs could also indicate how much importance that they put on the position, so using the top pick on Reggie Bush may not be as out of character as some believe.

Wide Receiver
1st: 2, 2nd: 1, 3rd: 2, 4th: 0, 5th: 4, 6th: 3, 7th: 3
The only drafts in which the Broncos didn’t select a wide receiver were 1997 and 2005, and they took multiple wideouts four times. They drafted two receivers, Marcus Nash (1998) and Ashley Lelie (2002), in the first round. Since the Texans added Eric Moulds and Kevin Walter to a receiver corps that already included Andre Johnson and the speedy (but unproven) Jerome Mathis, the position shouldn’t be a top priority. But based upon the Broncos’ fondness for taking wideouts, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if the Texans picked one on the second day of the draft.

Tight End
1st: 0, 2nd: 0, 3rd: 0, 4th: 0, 5th: 0, 6th: 2, 7th: 1
Surprisingly for a team that had its greatest success with a star at the position, the Broncos only selected three tight ends, and all of those came in the last two rounds of the draft. They had Shannon Sharpe for part of the time, but they didn’t invest any early-round picks trying to find a replacement for him or someone to play with Sharpe in double-tight sets. Even after the Texans signed Jeb Putzier, a Denver sixth-rounder in 2002, they could still use more help at tight end, but if the Texans follow the Bronco plan that help is not going to be a highly-rated prospect, if it comes at all.

Offensive Line
C: 1st: 0, 2nd: 0, 3rd: 0, 4th: 1, 5th: 1, 6th: 1, 7th: 1
OG: 1st: 0, 2nd: 1, 3rd: 1, 4th: 0, 5th: 0, 6th: 2, 7th: 1
OT: 1st: 1, 2nd: 0, 3rd: 0, 4th: 2, 5th: 0, 6th: 0, 7th: 1
True to their reputation for building top lines primarily from late-rounders and undrafted free agents, the Broncos only used three first-day picks on offensive linemen: first-round OT George Foster in 2003, second-round OG Lennie Friedman in 1999, and third-round OG Dan Neil in 1997. They also only selected 13 O-linemen total during the 11 drafts, which is not many at all considering that there are five line positions. So Kubiak probably will not try to solve the offensive line problems that have plagued the Texans throughout the franchise’s history with a lineman-heavy draft.

Defensive Line
DT: 1st: 1, 2nd: 0, 3rd: 2, 4th: 1, 5th: 0, 6th: 0, 7th: 1
DE: 1st: 0, 2nd: 2, 3rd: 1, 4th: 1, 5th: 0, 6th: 1, 7th: 1
The Broncos spent six first-day picks on defensive linemen, including one first rounder (DT Trevor Pryce in 1997). This doesn’t appear to be a major area of emphasis for the Broncos, unlike other teams who will never pass on a quality D-lineman. The Texans could use a top pass rusher, but will not take one in the first round unless they trade down and take Mario Williams.

1st: 3, 2nd: 2, 3rd: 0, 4th: 1, 5th: 2, 6th: 0, 7th: 2
Denver drafted at least one linebacker in seven of the 11 years of the Shanahan era, including three first-rounders (John Mobley (1996), Al Wilson (1999), and D.J. Williams (2004)) and a pair of seconds (Ian Gold (2000) and Terry Pierce (2003)). While some teams, particularly those that run 4-3 schemes, feel that they can find capable linebackers at bargain prices in the later rounds, the Broncos appear to believe that ‘backers are worth investing early picks. The Texans could use a talent upgrade at linebacker so the Day One selection of one is a distinct possibility.

1st: 0, 2nd: 2, 3rd: 0, 4th: 2, 5th: 0, 6th: 1, 7th: 1
The Broncos drafted a half-dozen safeties, including a couple second-rounders (Eric Brown (1998) and Kenoy Kennedy (2000)). Safety wasn’t a major priority for Denver and it isn’t expected to be for the Texans this year, either.

1st: 2, 2nd: 2, 3rd: 4, 4th: 1, 5th: 2, 6th: 0, 7th: 0
Having spent eight Day One picks on cornerbacks, including first-rounders Deltha O’Neal (2000) and Willie Middlebrooks (2001), the Broncos take the approach that a team cannot have too many quality covermen. With that mindset, and the facts that Demarcus Faggins may not be what the team is looking for in a starter, Phillip Buchanon, even if he lives up to his potential, is in the last year of his contract, the Texans play the Colts twice a year, and new coordinator Richard Smith wants to play more aggressively up front, the likelihood of the Texans using a first-day pick on a corner appears high.

P: 1st: 0, 2nd: 0, 3rd: 0, 4th: 1, 5th: 0, 6th: 0, 7th: 1
PK: 1st: 0, 2nd: 0, 3rd: 0, 4th: 0, 5th: 0, 6th: 0, 7th: 1
The Broncos used a fourth rounder and a seventh rounder on punters, and a seventh on a placekicker. They did not draft a long snapper. The Texans could spend a late pick on a punter to challenge Chad Stanley, but they have much greater needs.


The Broncos appear to follow the old adage about not trading with division rivals, as their 2000 pick swap with then-AFC West foe Seattle was the only in-division deal that they have cut under Shanahan. They traded more than twice as often with NFC teams than with franchises in their own conference. Their favorite trading partners have been the Panthers, Ravens, and Redskins, with four transactions each.

Denver traded down to get extra picks eight times and up to go after players five times. Two of those moves involved first-rounders: in 2000 they picked up a second-rounder from Baltimore for moving down five spots, and in 2004 they moved up seven to get D.J. Williams. Another dramatic deal came in 1997, when they moved up 22 spots in the third round to take Neil, and sent the Jets picks in the third, sixth, and seventh rounds as well as a 1998 sixth rounder. They have made numerous trades of picks for veteran players and vice versa.

The Texans own many valuable picks and have already indicated that they will listen to all trade offers. Their fourth rounder, the first selection on Day Two, looks like a prime candidate to be moved, especially since the Broncos traded down four times in that round under Shanahan.

So the Texans’ 2006 draft, following the Bronco tendencies, could look something like this: Bush with the first pick, followed on the first day with a linebacker, a cornerback, and possibly an offensive lineman, not necessarily in that order. On Day Two, a receiver, a defensive end, and wrapping it up with either a tight end or a quarterback, or, if they have been able to add a pick by trading down, both.

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