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Players Who Got Away in the Draft

Every team has a list of players they passed on in the draft who went on to be big stars elsewhere, so no one team can moan about players whom they did not choose.

After all, we get to our pick, and we choose.  We get to select whomever we want, so no beefing about the guys we do not select.

However, in the early years of the American Football League, which began with the Denver Broncos as one of the eight charter members in 1960, the AFL competed with the well-established National Football League for players.

So there were two drafts from 1960 through 1966.  The top players got drafted by both leagues and had a chance to listen to sales pitches on both sides.

Some of the AFL teams in better financial situations that Denver—which was every one, except Oakland—signed some real stars.

That is how the Houston Oilers quickly became good enough to win the first two league titles—they had signed, among others, the fabulous Billy Cannon from LSU.

The Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers and the Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs quickly developed into great teams, due largely to being able to sign top flight talent,

When the New York Jets, who had signed Joe Namath away from the St. Louis Cardinals, upset the Baltimore Colts for the first Super Bowl win by an AFL team, the Chiefs followed up the very next year by upsetting the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV.

But the Broncos were living life on the other side of the tracks.

In fact, where the Broncos were living, the tracks were just a rumor.

Denver made all the right choices, but never signed a number one draft choice before the first "common draft" in 1967, when they selected and chose three-time Syracuse All-American Floyd Little as their first pick.

Prior to that year, as long as the top players had a choice, not one chose Denver.

Here are some top players the Broncos chose and watched as they signed in the NFL.

In 1962 Denver's first selection was future Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive tackle Merlin Olsen.  Olsen was one of the great linemen in pro football history and went to college right next door at Utah State, but Merlin signed with the Los Angeles Rams.

In 1963 Denver's first selection was defensive back Kermit Alexander of UCLA, a great player who had an 11-year career, primarily with the San Francisco 49ers.  Alexander had 43 career interceptions, multiple Pro Bowl selections, and scored six times on returns during his career.  Thanks, Denver, but I don't think so!

In 1964 the Broncos selected tackle Bob Brown ("The Boomer") from nearby Nebraska, but Brown instead signed with Philadelphia.  He was a stalwart at left tackle for 10 years, one of the first nimble giants at his position.

That same year, just to rub some serious salt into our wounds as we read this, Denver selected future Hall of Fame safety Paul Krause of Iowa in the 12th round.  Krause had 81 career interceptions in 16 years with Washington and Minnesota!

And that same year, 1964, just two picks after choosing Krause, the Broncos selected Florida A & M sprinter Bob Hayes.  Hayes signed with the Dallas Cowboys, as pretty much everybody knows, and like fellow Bronco draftee Krause, "Bullet Bob" also is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

And...are you ready?  The very same year, the Broncos, who seemed to spend their first decade looking for a quarterback, used their very last selection, in the 26th round, to choose Bob Berry of Oregon.  He was a competent NFL quarterback for 11 years in the NFL.

In 1965 Denver's first choice in the draft was Dick Butkus.  Yes Dick Butkus.  However, Denver did not have the money to sign any top pick, and they knew, like the whole world did, that Butkus would sign with Chicago.  So, knowing they had no chance on earth to get him, staged a move based on winning some goodwill among Bronco fans, choosing Butkus and announcing they would top any offer the NFL could make.  Of course, it helped that the Bears actually had money in the bank,  and so Butkus signed with Chicago.

By the way, that year, due to a trade, the Bears had consecutive first round selections and likely made the best two back-to-back first round choices in NFL history, selecting Gale Sayers with their other choice.  A pretty good 15 minutes of drafting for the Bears.

Just to finish this off, with a player most are unfamiliar with but who still is on the list...

In 1966, the last year of the warring drafts, the Broncos' first round choice was Jerry Shay, who was chosen by the Minnesota Vikings.  He played six years total for the Vikings and New York Giants.

So you can see how badly the Broncos needed a common draft.

That did not solve all of Denver's problems, however.

In 1968, the second year of the common draft, Denver head coach Lou Saban used the Broncos' first choice to draft defensive end Curley Culp, also a great college wrestler, from Arizona State.

But Saban told Culp he was going to convert him to guard, and Culp wanted no part of that position move.  Saban could be very inflexible, so he turned around and traded Culp to Kansas City for a fourth round draft choice.

Nice move.

Culp played 14 years in the NFL and in 2013 was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Sometimes there is a fine line between fame and infamy in selecting players.

Readers are aware of a Broncos history that has a lot of greatness to it.  But there is always the other side, and this is a look at that part of the equation.

Thanks for reading.

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