Over the last decade, the Denver Broncos have been unable to create solid draft classes. Be it during the Mike Shanahan era or the brief Josh McDaniels regime, the list of draft busts is extensive. From first-round flops Willie Middlebrooks, Ashley Lelie, George Foster and Jarvis Moss to players like Reggie Heyward who found success after leaving Denver or reaches like 2009 second-round pick Alphonso Smith, the Broncos failed to build the core of their teams through the draft. And they paid for it with a 4-12 season in 2010.
That isn't to say the Broncos didn't find good players in the draft. D.J. Williams and Ryan Clady have been stalwarts on the team and Darrent Williams looked like an emerging star before his premature death. Brandon Marshall had all the talent in the world, though off-the-field issues finally moved him out of Denver. And, well, Jay Cutler had his faults but was better than many quarterbacks in the league.
Now the Broncos have another fresh start with the draft under the watchful eyes of John Elway and head coach John Fox. While this is Elway's first jump into the draft as an executive, John Fox is no stranger to the war room. How well has he fared?
First round, No. 2 overall: Julius Peppers, DE, North Carolina - Peppers was the clear-cut choice for John Fox to choose in his first draft as the Panthers' head coach. When the Houston Texans settled on quarterback David Carr, Fox had a building block for defense. In 122 careers game with the Panthers, Peppers had 81.0 sacks, won the 2002 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award and made five Pro Bowls. He moved to the Chicago Bears in 2010.
Other Draft selections: UCLA running back DeShaun Foster, a second-round pick, missed his first season due to injury, but did well in the Panthers' run for the playoffs the next season. He split time with Stephen Davis first and then DeAngelo Williams. He has not played since the 2008 season. Third-round pick Will Witherspoon spent four seasons with the Panthers and was a full-time starter at linebacker in three of them. He played 2010 with the Titans. Fourth-round pick Dante Wesley has been a role player in the NFL and spent a few weeks with the Lions in 2010.
First round, No. 8 overall: Jordan Gross, T, Utah - Outside of a broken leg during week 10 of the 2009 season, Gross has been a mainstay on the Panthers' line. He's made the Pro Bowl in two of the last three seasons.
Other Selections: None of the other draftees are currently in the league. However Ricky Manning Jr. (4th, CB) and Kindal Moorehead (5th, DT) last played in 2008. Moorehead totaled 9.5 sacks in five seasons with Carolina.
First round, No. 28 overall: Chris Gamble, CB, Ohio St. - Gamble played both sides of the ball for the Buckeyes, but has been exclusively a cornerback in the NFL. In seven years, Gamble has made 24 picks and been the team's top corner. Though he suffered through a variety of injuries and had issues with Fox in 2010, new head coach Ron Rivera will rely heavily on him.
Other selections: Third-round pick Travelle Wharton (T/G, South Carolina) has started 83 games for the Panthers at either left tackle or left guard, but looks to be a guard going forward with Rivera. He played in only nine games in 2010 due to turf toe. Second-round pick Keary Colbert did not build on a decent rookie season of 754 yards and five touchdowns.
First round, No. 14 overall: Thomas Davis, LB, Georgia - Davis has been a hard-hitter for his entire career and looked poised for big things after a 2008 season in which he made 92 tackles and 3.5 sacks. But then he required ACL during the 2009 season and then tore it again during OTAs in 2010. He missed the last season.
Other selections: Guard Evan Mathis, center Geoff Hangartner, defensive end Jovan Haye and tackle Joe Berger are all playing in the league, but have moved on to other teams.
First round, No. 27 overall: DeAngelo Williams, RB, Memphis: With Stephen Davis gone and DeShaun Foster needing a complementary back, Fox selected Williams out of Memphis. He was the third back taken in the first round, behind Reggie Bush (No. 2) and Laurence Maroney (No. 21). He made 2nd team All-Pro in 2008 for his 1,515 rushing yards and league-leading 18 rushing touchdowns. He made the Pro Bowl in 2009 with 1,117 yards in 13 games. A foot injury landed him on injured reserve in 2010.
Other selections: Second-round pick Richard Marshall (CB), third-round pick James Anderson (LB) and fifth-round pick Jeff King (TE) are still with the team. Marshall is Gamble cornerback partner.
First round, No. 25 overall: Jon Beason, LB, Miami - Beason has been a beast at linebacker for the Panthers in his four seasons in the league. He's posted at least 120 total tackles every season and has been able to move between the middle and the weak-side on the field. He appears in line to receive a long-term contract soon.
Other selections: Second-round pick Dwayne Jarrett (WR) has been a bust. Lack of production on the field and run-ins with the law left the Panthers no choice but to cut him early in the 2010 season. Fellow second-round pick Ryan Kalil has established himself as the team's center and made the Pro Bowl each of the last two seasons. Third-round pick Charles Johnson had a breakout season in 2010 with Julius Peppers gone. He had 11.5 sacks.
First round, No. 13 overall: Jonathan Stewart, RB, Oregon - Splitting carries with Williams has prevented Stewart from emerging as a feature back, but with Williams likely to leave as a free agent (be it as a restricted or unrestricted one, it depends on the new CBA) that opportunity may arise. Though he started only three games in 2009, he edged out Williams for the team-lead in rushing yards (1,133 vs. 1,117). He had 10 touchdowns as well. A concussion and a foot injury limited his playing time in 2010.
First round, No. 19 overall: Jeff Otah, T, Pittsburgh - Otah started for the Panthers his first two seasons, but a scoped knee and rushing back from rehab caused him to miss all of 2010.
Third-round pick Charles Godfrey established himself as the team's strong safety in 2010. Also drafted in the third round, Dan Connor emerged as a force at middle linebacker before a hip injury prematurely ended his season. Guard Geoff Schwartz (7th) became a full-time starter in 2010.
First round - No selection. Traded in 2008 to Eagles for No. 19 pick used on Jeff Otah.
Other selections: Second-round pick Everette Brown (DE) was part of rotation to make up for Julius Peppers' loss. He played in 13 games and accumulated 3.5 sacks before a fractured wrist ended his season. Fellow second-rounder Sherrod Martin (FS) became a starter in 2010 and will stay there in 2011.
First round - No selection. Traded in 2009 for No. 43 pick used on Everette Brown and pick No. 111 that year.
Other selections: Selected 48th overall, quarterback Jimmy Clausen was forced into action as an unready rookie for a team that eventually finished 2-14. He was sacked 33 times and threw nine interceptions. While the Panthers have heavily been favored to draft a defensive lineman, don't rule out a quarterback.
John Fox has a good record in selecting players in the first-round. The Peppers selection is on a level all to itself since he is one of the premier pass-rushers in the league today. All the others first-round picks have been successful starters for years, though in the DeAngelo Williams-Jonathan Stewart case the running back tandem has worked out well in most regards.
Unless Henry Ford is right about history, that it is bunk, we should have some comfort in knowing that John Fox has had a successful track record with his first-round picks. While Mike Shanahan and Josh McDaniels failed on many of their draft picks, Fox's guiding influence with John Elway and Brian Xanders should lead the Broncos to selecting an impact player in April.