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Broncos top 10 draft classes -- No. 1: 1975

1975_draft_CP.jpg

Highlights:

CB Louis Wright (Round 1, No. 17 overall)
WR/PR/KR Rick Upchurch (Round 4, No. 95 overall)
DT Rubin Carter (Round 5, No. 121 overall)
S/QB Steve Foley (Round 8, No. 199 overall)

John Ralston's 1973 draft class laid the foundation. But the 1975 class provided the structure that would turn the Broncos into one of the league's skyscraping franchises for decades to come.

The 1975 class remains the only collection of draft picks that included two Ring of Famers -- Wright and Upchurch.

Three members of the draft class were still with the Broncos for Super Bowl XXI; Louis Wright and Steve Foley started, while Rubin Carter was on injured reserve. It was the final week as players for all three, but their presence helped bridge the gap between the Orange Crush era and the Elway era.

Carter was the prototypical nose tackle; the mayhem of the Orange Crush started with his work in the middle and his ability to occupy multiple blockers, creating space for Randy Gradishar to stuff one ballcarrier after another. He was the face of the emerging nose-tackle position league wide, earning a Sports Illustrated cover in 1977 as a result of his play.

Upchurch remains the standard by which Broncos returners are measured. With eight touchdowns on punt returns, he has more than twice as many scores as anyone else (Darrien Gordon had three). With 5,363 yards on punts and kickoffs, he remains the Broncos' all-time leader in total kickoff and punt return yardage. Further, his average of 12.13 yards per punt return is the most for any NFL player with at least 150 career punt returns, according to pro-football-reference.com.

Wright was simply one of the best lockdown cornerbacks to ever play the game, a dominant mix of sprinter's speed, length and long arms. A five-time Pro Bowler, Wright remained effective all the way up until his retirement after the 1986 season.

Foley was a key partner of Wright's in the secondary, working at cornerback and safety over 11 seasons that included an All-AFC selection from UPI in 1978. He didn't report to the Broncos until 1976, as he wanted to try his lot at his college position (quarterback) with the Jacksonville Sharks of the doomed World Football League.

But once Foley arrived in Colorado, it didn't take him long to establish himself; he became a starter at cornerback nine games into the 1976 season. He was a mainstay on the first team for the rest of his career.

Four long-term starters. Two Ring of Famers, one of whom (Wright) could be a Seniors Committee Hall of Fame nomination someday. And a player with a case for being the best punt returner in NFL history.

The class of 1975 was transformative. It provided the final crucial pieces to the Orange Crush defense, with Upchurch adding a dose of complementary explosiveness the Broncos desperately needed.

Forty-one years later, this class remains tough to top.

Also of note:

Sixth- and 11th-round selections in the 1975 draft were sent to Washington in exchange for running back Jon Keyworth, would start in 69 games over seven seasons (1974-80) and ran for 2,653 yards and 22 touchdowns with the Broncos. He also chipped in another 1,057 yards and three touchdowns through the air and scored a controversial touchdown in the 1977 AFC Championship Game win over Oakland.

THE FINAL RANKING:

1. 1975
2.1983
3.2011
4.2006
5.1973
6.2012
7.1994
8.1995
9.1980
10.1997

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