Could the Broncos get the best defensive player in the draft at 12?

Denver Broncos v Dallas Cowboys
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How often is the best defensive player in the draft with the 12th pick or later?

Using career AV (approximate value) I looked at the “best” defender in every draft this century to see where they were taken. This was done to answer the question of whether or not the Denver Broncos could use the 12th pick to get the “best” defender in the draft (by AV).

With apologies to Von Miller (who is still behind JJ Watt, but should pass him this season), the table below lists the best defender in every draft this century and when they were picked.

Year Defensive Player Career AV Draft Spot
2023 Will Anderson 10 3
2022 Sauce Gardner 26 4
2021 Micah Parsons 50 12
2020 Patrick Queen 39 28
2019 Nick Bosa 50 2
2018 Fred Warner 70 70
2017 TJ Watt 80 30
2016 Chris Jones 77 37
2015 Marcus Peters 64 18
2014 Aaron Donald 124 13
2013 Tyrann Mathieu 63 69
2012 Bobby Wagner 121 47
2011 JJ Watt 110 11
2010 Ndamukong Suh 100 2
2009 Clay Matthews 77 26
2008 Calais Campbell 109 50
2007 Patrick Willis and Darrelle Revis 93 – tied 11 and 14
2006 Haloti Ngata 100 12
2005 DeMarcus Ware 100 11
2004 Jared Allen 101 126
2003 Terrell Suggs 110 10
2002 Julius Peppers 130 2
2001 Justin Smith 101 4
2000 Brian Urlacher 119 9

Of course there are plenty of years when the best defender is taken very early like Will Anderson, Sauce Gardner, Nick Bosa or Ndamukong Suh. That being said there are many more years when the best defender is taken around 12th (Micah Parsons, Aaron Donald, JJ Watt, Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs) or significantly after the 12th pick but still in the first round (Patrick Queen, TJ Watt, and Clay Matthews).

There are other drafts when the best defender in the draft falls to the second round (Chris Jones, Calais Campbell, and Bobby Wagner) or later (Tyrann Matthieu, Frew Warner, and Jared Allen).

It’s also interesting to note that the first defensive player drafted is often not the “best” defensive player in the draft. Will Anderson currently is, but many years (including 2011) it is not. Only 20 times in NFL history has the first overall pick been a defensive player with Tavon Walker being the last instance of that. Myles Garrett in 2017 was the second most recent. Only three other times this century has the first overall pick been a defender

Jadeveon Clowney in 2014

Mario Williams in 2006

Courtney Brown in 2000 (if you could 2000 as part of this century)

No defender drafted #1 overall has ever been the best defender in the draft with the exception of Bruce Smith in 1985. That’s something that I would not have expected. In the 1994 draft the best defender was Bryant Young not #1 overall pick Dan Wilkerson.

  • In 1992 it was Troy Vincent not Steve Emtman.
  • In 1991 it was Aeneas Williams not Russell Maryland.
  • In 1988 it was Neil Smith not Aundray Bruce.
  • In 1982 was Andre Tippett not Kenneth Sims.
  • In 1979 it was Dan Hampton not Tom Cousineau.
  • In 1976 it Mike Haynes not Lee Roy Selmon.
  • In 1974 it was Jack Lambert not Too Tall Jones.
  • In 1973 it was Tom Jackson (!!!!) not John Matuszak.
  • In 1972 it was Larry Brooks not Walt Patulski.
  • in 1967 it was Alan Page not Bubba Smith.

Table below shows drafts when the first overall pick was a defender and the name of the player

Year Lg First Overall Pick Pos Tm College
2022 NFL Travon Walker DE Jacksonville Jaguars Georgia
2017 NFL Myles Garrett DE Cleveland Browns Texas A&M
2014 NFL Jadeveon Clowney DE Houston Texans South Carolina
2006 NFL Mario Williams DE Houston Texans North Carolina St.
2000 NFL Courtney Brown DE Cleveland Browns Penn St.
1994 NFL Dan Wilkinson DT Cincinnati Bengals Ohio St.
1992 NFL Steve Emtman DE Indianapolis Colts Washington
1991 NFL Russell Maryland DT Dallas Cowboys Miami (FL)
1988 NFL Aundray Bruce LB Atlanta Falcons Auburn
1985 NFL Bruce Smith DE Buffalo Bills Virginia Tech
1982 NFL Kenneth Sims DE New England Patriots Texas
1979 NFL Tom Cousineau LB Buffalo Bills Ohio St.
1976 NFL Lee Roy Selmon DE Tampa Bay Buccaneers Oklahoma
1974 NFL Too Tall Jones DE Dallas Cowboys Tennessee St.
1973 NFL John Matuszak DE Houston Oilers Tampa
1972 NFL Walt Patulski DE Buffalo Bills Notre Dame
1967 NFL Bubba Smith DE Baltimore Colts Michigan St.
1966 NFL Tommy Nobis LB Atlanta Falcons Texas
1956 NFL Gary Glick DB Pittsburgh Steelers Colorado St.
1949 NFL Chuck Bednarik LB Philadelphia Eagles Pennsylvania

So this gets us to the crux of the matter – would you rather take an almost sureshot pick on an elite defensive player or gamble on the third or 4th QB taken in the draft. The fourth or fifth QB taken in the draft has recently not been a bad pick, but historically these are terrible QBs who do nothing in the NFL.


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Title: Could the Broncos get the best defensive player in the draft at 12?
Author: Joe Mahoney

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