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The Broncos' top draft pick from each decade

You don't always need to find franchise greats in the first two rounds of the draft, as these 20 examples show.

[Editor's note: The following selections reflect the opinions of the editorial staff.]

Earlier this month, the team at identified the franchise's top draft pick at each position for Round 1, Rounds 2 and 3 and Rounds 4 and beyond.

With the 2024 NFL Draft less than a week away, there's time for just one more ranking.

This time, we're picking Denver's top draft pick from each of the Broncos' six-plus decades in the organization's history. In some of the decades, the choice was clear. In others, the decision could not have been more difficult.

Ultimately, we came up with a list of six players that represent the very best of the Broncos' draft selections.

[Editor's note: These selections are the opinion of the author.]

As we start our list, let's head back to the beginning:

1960s: RB Floyd Little (1967, No. 6 overall)

We couldn't begin this list with anyone other than "The Franchise." Little wasn't inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame until 2010, but his impact in Denver was felt decades earlier. Little earned five all-star nods and a first-team All-AFL honor in 1969, and he helped the Broncos earn their first winning record in 1973. In an era in which top players spurned the AFL for the NFL, Little joining the Broncos was a turning point for the organization.

1970s: LB Randy Gradishar (1974, No. 14 overall)

The Broncos' lone Hall of Famer drafted in the 1970s, Gradishar is the clear choice here. Gradishar earned 1978 Defensive Player of the Year honors and was the key cog in the famed Orange Crush defense. Denver selected him in the first round of the 1974 NFL Draft, and the team's choice proved prescient. Gradishar is one of just two Hall of Famers selected in the first round of that year's draft, joining wide receiver Lynn Swann. Cornerback Louis Wright, with his five Pro Bowl selections and two first-team All-Pro honors, was another stellar Broncos pick who is deserving of recognition — and also perhaps of enshrinement in Canton, Ohio.

1980s: S Steve Atwater (1989, No. 20 overall)

Linebacker Karl Mecklenburg and safety Dennis Smith are among the Ring of Famers the Broncos selected in the 1980s, but safety Steve Atwater earns this selection. Drafted in the final year of the decade, Atwater played in a Super Bowl as a rookie and would later be a key piece of the Broncos' back-to-back championship teams. He earned two first-team All-Pro nods and eight Pro Bowl appearances, which earned him a spot in the Hall of Fame in 2020.

1990s: RB Terrell Davis (1995, No. 196 overall)

A truly impossible choice. Deciding between a pair of Hall of Famers in Davis and Shannon Sharpe — selected in the sixth and seven round, respectively — is an unenviable task. Sharpe posted more Pro Bowls and All-Pro selections, but Davis gets the slight nod here for reaching heights that just two other players in franchise history have also attained. Davis earned league MVP honors in 1998 for his 2,000-yard campaign — joining John Elway and Peyton Manning as the only MVPs in team history — and he also earned MVP honors in Denver's first Super Bowl win.

2000s: T Ryan Clady (2008, No. 12 overall)

There were plenty of deserving choices in the 2000s, including wide receiver Brandon Marshall, EDGE Elvis Dumervil and running back Clinton Portis. Yet while all three of those selections played significant portions of their careers with other teams, Clady earns the nod for spending the bulk of his career in Denver. Clady was a six-year starter and earned four Pro Bowl nods and two first-team All-Pro selections. Were it not for injuries, Clady's career may have reached even greater heights.

2010s: OLB Von Miller (2011, No. 2 overall)

Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas had a stellar career, and a couple of Broncos still with the team have also posted promising starts to their careers. And yet, Miller stands alone. The Super Bowl 50 MVP was the first defensive player selected in 2011, and he earned three first-team All-Pro nods and eight Pro Bowls during his career in Denver.

2020s: CB Pat Surtain II (2021, No. 9 overall)

The decade is not yet halfway done, but Surtain already has a strong resume. The second defender off the board in 2021, Surtain has posted a pair of Pro Bowl appearances and a first-team All-Pro honor. The exciting part of the NFL Draft, though, is you never know which player could come next. When the Broncos make their selections in less than a week, perhaps they'll find a player that can challenge Surtain for a spot on this list.

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