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The 1973 Draft: When the Broncos turned the corner

Take a look back at the Broncos' draft history when it comes to running backs, including Terrell Davis and Floyd Little.

While it is almost impossible for a current fan to fathom, the Denver Broncos' first 13 years were horrid.

One of the persistent topics on play-by-play man Bob Martin's radio show was, "Will the Broncos ever have a winning season?"

Hard to imagine today, but true.

A part of that pattern was the draft, which had sustained the roster with a few fine players here and there (and a future Pro Football all of Famer in Floyd Little in 1967), but mostly the draft had been a series of duds for Denver.

It all changed with the arrival of John Ralston as head coach and general manager. Ralston was hired in 1972 after an outstanding career at Stanford University, including two Rose Bowl wins that really put him on the map.

He was a Dale Carnegie-power of positive thinking member and had a profound influence on the Broncos' roster via the draft. His forte turned out to be player evaluation and Ralston put most of the roster together for the first American Football Conference championship and Super Bowl XII, although those accomplishments came the year after he was let go by Denver.

The cornerstone of this roster came via the 1973 draft. The year became the one in which the Broncos turned the corner as a franchise, never to be perpetual losers again.

Go back in Broncos history with our gallery of their finest linebackers they drafted.

The Broncos had never had a winning season before 1973, and it was no coincidence that the team's first winning campaign followed on the heels of the first great draft in team history.

In 1973, Ralston had a great first four rounds, adding a starter with each selection and marking the only time in the history of the Broncos that they added a long-term starter in each of the draft's first four rounds.

The Broncos had the ninth overall pick in the draft and the round one selection was a no brainer as Ralston selected Otis Armstrong, the great running back from Purdue.

Armstrong, a member of both the College Football Hall of Fame and the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame, rushed for 1,000 yards twice as a Bronco and led the NFL in rushing. He was a key member of the offense as Denver began its winning tradition and was a starter in Super Bowl XII.

The Broncos' second round choice, the 36th selection overall, became Barney Chavous, from South Carolina State University.

Barney became a starter for almost the entirety of his 13 seasons in Denver, 1973 through 1985. He was a rock at defensive end, particularly against the run.

In the third round, Denver selected offensive lineman Paul Howard, the 54th pick in the draft, and Howard became a fixture at guard from 1973 through 1986, missing one year due to injury.

And in what arguably was the best overall pick of the draft, Denver selected linebacker Tom Jackson from the University of Louisville in the fourth round.

T.J. became one of the greatest leaders and most popular players in franchise history as a cornerstone of the Orange Crush defense that powered the Broncos to Super Bowl XII in 1977. He was named by his teammates as the team's most inspirational player for six consecutive seasons and had a career long and successful enough that he still was a starter in his last season, when the Broncos again reached the Super Bowl in 1986.

Jackson played 14 years in Denver and his 191 regular season games stand as the fourth-most in team annals. T.J. made the Pro Bowl three times (1977, 1978 and 1979) and was First-Team All-Pro twice (1977 and 1978). Jackson is tied with fellow Ring of Famer Randy Gradishar for the most interceptions by a linebacker in Broncos history with 20.

The Broncos have drafted impact bruisers to hold up their offensive line throughout their history.

Four rounds, four long-term starters who all were vital cogs in the growth of the franchise from one that had never had a winning season to one that has now made seven Super Bowl appearances and is regarded as a crown jewel among National Football League clubs.

And now, we embark upon a new draft in advance of a new season, but the standards and expectations of excellence remain the same as they have been since that first winning season in 1973 and that first Super Bowl year of 1977.

We have certainly had many great players over the years, but the 1973 draft remains the only one to produce that many long-term impact players among the selections taken in the first four rounds, but without a doubt, John Elway is looking to match and exceed that standard in the 2015 draft.

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