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Woody Paige: The Broncos' puzzling aversion to Alabama players

Woody Paige: The Broncos' puzzling aversion to Alabama players
Posted at 5:09 PM, Apr 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-23 19:09:06-04

The Broncos don’t like the Crimson Tide.

Never have.

During the Elway Era, the Broncos have not drafted a University of Alabama player. Even before, the Broncos selected only five Tide, the same number as they have picked from Alcorn State and fewer than the six chosen from Florida A&M and Northwestern.

Although coach Nick Saban has won five national championships, including last season, since taking over in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in 2009, the Broncos didn’t draft even one player from those title or playoff teams.

So, although the Tide had five players at the Senior Bowl (on the squad the Broncos’ staff didn’t coach), 14 players at the NFL Combine, as many as a dozen players who will be drafted, and possibly five in the first round, it’s highly likely the Broncos won’t draft any Alabama Alum.

It’s beyond bizarre.

Of the 57 draft prospects the Broncos have connected with at the Senior Bowl and the Combine, at Pro Days and in visits to Dove Valley, only one played at Alabama. Anthony Averett, ranked from the seventh-to-10th best cornerback in the draft, made a late visit to Denver recently. He was supposed to play in the Senior Bowl, but backed out because of a sprained ankle.

Yet, the Broncos have not talked with Minkah Fitzpatrick, who will be available at the Broncos’ draft position – No. 5. He is considered among the top 10 in every analysis because of his versatility as a safety, an outside and slot cornerback and even an extra linebacker.

An NFL theorist told me he believes John Elway and the Broncos are not committed to Alabama players because Saban may burn them out during their college careers. That notion seems completely illogical, but the Broncos haven’t acknowledged why they don’t draft Saban-trained players.

Last year 39 ex-Tide players were on the training camp rosters of 26 NFL teams. The Broncos were among the other six who didn’t have one.  This year more than 50 Alabama players will be in the league.

Only one Alabama player has spent at least one full season with the Broncos in their entire 68-year history. Hard to comprehend.

Running back Bobby Humphrey was chosen by the Broncos in a 1989 supplemental draft after the Broncos bid a No. 1 pick on him. In his first two seasons Humphrey became the first Broncos running back with back-to-back thousand-yard seasons as he rushed for 1,151 and 1,202 yards with seven touchdowns in 26 starts.

In 2001 he was a camp holdout, demanding a new contract. The Broncos had a strict team policy of no renegotiation, and Humphrey stayed away until the 14th game. When he returned out of shape, Humphrey barely played – and was traded to the Dolphins in the off-season. He spent one season in south Florida, was released, failed to make the Bills in 1993, and dropped out of the NFL. He had been a shooting star.

Surely the Broncos and Elway don’t hold a grudge against Alabama because of Humphrey, who was a leading rusher alongside Elway in the Super Bowl embarrassment against the 49ers.

The Broncos long ago drafted three other Alabama running backs, and none ever played a regular-season game with Denver.

Ah, there is one former Tidester on the current roster.  Offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio was picked up by the Broncos in November 2017 after being released by the Bills, then the Lions. Because of multiple injuries, Kouandjio started one game late in the season.

The Broncos haven’t revealed any antipathy toward other Southeastern Conference teams during Elway’s reign. In seven drafts they have picked 10 SEC players – including Von Miller from Texas A&M with Elway’s first choice (and No. 2 overall in the draft). The results of the other Big Five conferences are: Big Ten (nine players drafted by the Broncos), Pac 12 (six), Big 12 (five) and Atlantic Coast Conference (four).

Three were picked from the Mountain West.

The franchise has selected a half-dozen players from what would be considered smaller schools.

Nobody from Colorado, Wyoming, Air Force or Northern Colorado has been picked by the Broncos since 2011, although Kyle Sloter became a well-known free agent last year. The Broncos went for Colorado State tackle Ty Sambrailo in the second round in 2015’s draft.

In 2014 the Broncos selected three straight Big Ten players – Bradley Roby, Cody Latimer and Michael Schofield.

What schools have been most alluring to the Broncos in their drafts over six decades? The Broncos have chosen 19 players from Florida, 15 from Georgia, 14 from Colorado, Miami (Fla.) and Nebraska, 13 from Houston and Southern Cal, 12 from LSU and Michigan State, 11 from Michigan and Washington and 10 from Arizona State and Notre Dame.

And one each from the likes of Yankton, New Mexico Highlands, Augustana, Elon, Albion, Occidental, Savannah State, Valparaiso, Wayne State, Benedictine and, surprisingly, Vanderbilt (Jay Cutler).

The Broncos’ first round draft choices have come from 35 different colleges.

But Alabama, the country’s best college football program, never has been a favorite source of talent for the Broncos.