Remembering Broncos First-Round Draft History: Wide Receiverby Aaron Hubert April 17, 2020 0 comments
Since the 1960 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos have selected just four wide receivers in the first round. Of those four, Demaryius Thomas (2010) is the only one to make a Pro-Bowl.
In 1987, Ricky Nattiel was selected 27th overall out of the University of Florida. At Florida, he was a team captain, First-Team All-SEC, and a Second-Team All-American. He was a punt return specialist, lead the team in receptions and yards. He was the recipient of the Gators Fergie Ferguson Award for the most outstanding senior in leadership, courage, and character.
Finally, in 1998, he was inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame as a ‘Gator Great.’
That didn’t translate to the NFL, however. He finished his NFL career after six seasons with the Broncos that saw him record 121 receptions for 1,972 yards and eight touchdowns. His best season by far was his rookie year, where he had 31 catches for 630 yards and two touchdowns.
As a punt returner, he never returned one for a touchdown. His career yards per return was a lackluster 7.7 yards. For comparison, in the four years, DeSean Jackson was a primary punt returner (considered above-average), averaging 10.5 yards per return and returned three for touchdowns in four seasons in Philidelphia.
He did record 13 receptions for 251 yards and two touchdowns in the playoffs in both the 1987 and 1989 Super Bowl runs. Overall, his draft status combined with his career production leans toward ‘bust’ territory, but he at least played six seasons and was a contributor to Super Bowl contenders.
In the 1998 NFL Draft, coming off a Super Bowl victory, the Denver Broncos selected Marcus Nash, Peyton Manning’s top wide receiver from the University of Tennessee, 30th overall. At Tennessee, he led the team in receptions, yards, and touchdowns his senior year.
He would go on to be one of the biggest busts in Broncos’ first-round history, playing only three seasons 1998 to 2000 with three separate teams. Nash would catch four passes for 76 yards in his NFL career.
Nash was a First-Team All-SEC in 1997 and would go on to be selected as a First-Team All-American. With Manning as his quarterback, he would thrive, but with John Elway in the NFL, he was far from an impact player. The Broncos would trade him to the Dolphins after two games in 1999.
He was then cut the following week.
He jumped on with the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, who would also go on to win a Super Bowl. He played one game, receiving two targets but zero receptions before being cut.
With the 19th overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos would select Ashley Lelie from the University of Hawaii. Lelie would spend his first two seasons in the NFL as a backup but would contribute in his third season when he finally broke into the starting lineup.
His third year in the league would go on to be his only 1,000-yard season in the NFL. The next season would be disappointing, production-wise, and was his last season in Denver.
The Broncos would sign receiver Javon Walker in the offseason, who would go on to irritate Lelie, who was already holding out of minicamp and OTAs because of frustration with his role and contract. Lelie would be fined over $378,000 for his holdout, miss his $100,000 workout bonus, and be forced to pay back some of his rookie signing bonus as a result of his holdout.
He would eventually be traded to the Falcons to play third fiddle to Roddy White and Michael Jenkins. He would bounce around the league for three seasons and then be out of football without ever reaching his full potential.
The last of the bunch was Georgia Tech’s Demaryius Thomas, who Denver took 22nd overall in 2010. Thomas was definitely the best of the bunch, making four Pro Bowls and having five 1,000-yard seasons.
Thomas was on the receiving end of the historic 80-yard touchdown from Tim Tebow on the first play of overtime to beat Pittsburgh in the playoffs. He was the only bright spot in the Super Bowl loss against the Seahawks, racking up 13 receptions––a Super Bowl record at the time. He was a No. 1 receiver on a 2013 Broncos offense that would go on to set NFL offensive records. He was a starting receiver on two Broncos Super Bowl participants. He’d post five straight 1,000-yard seasons, including three straight 1,400-yard, double-digit touchdown seasons.
In his career, he’s recorded nearly 10,000 yards, 63 touchdowns, won a Super Bowl and been part of many memorable football moments.
Thomas was the perfect representation of a first-round selection. Though the previous three were not nearly as successful, the Broncos hit this selection out of the park. After the Broncos moved on from Tim Tebow, Thomas would go on to play seven straight seasons without missing a game, being a complete ironman at wide receiver for the Denver Broncos.
With the 15th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, in an insanely talented receiver draft class, could we see the fifth first-round receiver taken by Denver?
Recent reports are that Denver is actively trying to jump the Buccaneers, 49ers, Raiders, and Jets, who could all be looking for a receiver, by trading with the Cleveland Browns for the 10th overall pick.