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Mile High Morning: Who are the Broncos' best draft picks or college free agents from small schools?


The Lead

On Wednesday, ESPN posed an interesting question to their NFL reporters: Who's the best "small-college stud" to join each NFL team as a draft pick or undrafted free agent?

Venerable Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold selected Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe for Denver. Sharpe, who attended Savannah State, was a seventh-round pick by the Broncos in 1990 and went on to become one of the best tight ends in NFL history.

It may be no contest for the number one spot there — the Broncos have drafted no other Hall of Famers from a smaller school (at least since the common draft was instituted following the AFL-NFL merger) — but there are certainly some contenders for runner-up.

As Legwold points out, Sharpe's competition comes from two Ring of Famers: Rod Smith (Missouri Southern) and Billy Thompson (Maryland Eastern-Shore). Smith is the Broncos' all-time leader in receptions with 849, and he won two Super Bowls. Thompson was a key contributor on the Broncos' Orange Crush defense and helped the team reach its first Super Bowl appearance. He also ranks third in interceptions in franchise history.

Lyle Alzado was also definitely a good find by the Broncos. The two-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro was a fourth-round pick out of Yankton College in 1971 by the Broncos. Alzado was an imposing defensive lineman who helped the Broncos reach Super Bowl XII.

If you can consider San Jose State a small school, Ring of Famer Louis Wright can be in the conversation, too. Wright was a shutdown cornerback alongside Smith and Alzado after joining the team as a first-round pick in the 1975 NFL Draft.

There's also Gene Mingo, who joined the Broncos after serving in the military. The Ring of Fame halfback/kicker/return specialist was a Pro Bowler in 1962 and also had the game-winning touchdown for the Broncos in their first game.

An underrated pick to be in the conversation could be former Broncos defensive end Rulon Jones, who was a second-round pick out of Utah State. Jones was a two-time Pro Bowler and was a first-team All-Pro in 1986.

Below the Fold

You probably shouldn't expect any small-school prospect to be the Broncos' pick at 15th-overall, though — especially based on Mike Klis’ nine candidates for Denver at that spot.

NFL Network’s Charley Casserly has written a draft guide for each team based on their GM. It seems he's forgotten, overlooked or otherwise excluded John Elway's selection of Von Miller for some reason, but Casserly's insight on Elway's draft style is interesting: "Elway is unlikely to pass on a highly graded player, no matter the position."

As we hurtle toward the draft,’s Adam Maya is reviewing how each NFL division is shaping up after free agency. In his view, Broncos trade acquisition Jurrell Casey is the biggest newcomer to the AFC West.

The Unclassifieds

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