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On March 6, 1995, The Fan was born. In the 25 years since, a lot has transpired on the fields, courts and ice in Colorado, giving the hosts and listeners who’ve been part of the station during that time plenty to talk about and debate.
During the course of the next few weeks, we’ll take a look back at that history, remembering the good times and the bad, the winners and the losers, the successes and the failures. It’s a series we’re calling “Timeline 25” and it continues today with a look at a one of the biggest game-changing moments in Colorado sports history – the 2011 NFL Draft.
Thanks to a 4-12 season in the final year of the disastrous Josh McDaniels era, the Broncos had the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. And because of the fallout from the failed experiment with the former head coach, Denver also had a new person in charge of their front office – John Elway.
The Hall of Fame quarterback had returned to the organization in January of 2011 to serve as the team’s general manager. In addition, he was hired to restore some order, rebuild enthusiasm and return the franchise to prominence.
Elway’s first big test would come on draft day. With the highest pick in the history of the Broncos, he couldn’t afford to whiff.
To some extent, he couldn’t miss. Looking back, 2011 was one of the most-loaded drafts in NFL history. Of the first 12 picks, nine went on to become Pro Bowl players.
Fresh off of winning a national championship at Auburn, Cam Newton went first overall to Carolina. That left a lot of good options for Elway.
Ultimately, No. 7 went with a pass rusher, choosing Texas A&M’s Von Miller. It was a choice that would turn into a home run.
Heading into the 2020 season, Miller is arguably the greatest defensive player in Broncos history. He’s the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks, and he earned MVP honors in Denver’s over Newton and the Panthers in Super Bowl 50.
But believe it or not, an argument can be made that Elway could’ve done better. Marcel Dareus went No. 3 to Buffalo, a choice that was followed by a bunch of future Hall of Fame inductees.
The Bengals took A.J. Green at No. 4, the Cardinals took Patrick Peterson at No. 5 and the Falcons went with Julio Jones at No. 6. Any of those three players would’ve looked great in orange and blue.
Aldon Smith went next to the 49ers, a player who saw his stellar career derailed by off-the-field problems. Jake Locker went next to the Titans, followed by Tryon Smith at No. 10, a great offensive tackle for the Cowboys. And then J.J. Watt went 11th to the Texans.
A case can be made that Elway should’ve taken Peterson, Jones, Smith or Watt. As great as Miller has been, those players have arguably been better.
Peterson is an eight-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time All-Pro, who would’ve been the perfect replacement for an again Champ Bailey in Denver’s secondary. Jones is a seven-time Pro Bowl selection and has led the NFL in receptions twice during his career; but with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker already on the roster, wide receiver wasn’t a position of need.
Smith is also a seven-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time All-Pro, as he’s been rock solid as the Cowboys left tackle. Meanwhile, the Broncos have cycled through a ton of players at that position since Ryan Clady left town. And Watt is perhaps the best of the bunch, having earned All-Pro honors five times and earned the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award three times.
As great as Miller has been, and he’s played at a high level, the Broncos could’ve actually done better in the 2011 NFL Draft.