The Broncos have invested their 2023 first-round draft picks elsewhere, one going to the Seahawks for Russell Wilson and another, which the team acquired from the Dolphins for Bradley Chubb, going to the Saints for the right to sign newly minted head coach Sean Payton. They don’t have a second-round pick either because Wilson is only slightly less devastating than FTX.

So barring another epic trade, Denver won’t make a pick in the NFL Draft until Friday’s third round—which is fine with the Broncos’ brass. After all, they adore third-round picks, having made 15 over the past decade. But do those third-round picks pay dividends? We dug into the numbers to find out.

Sean Payton at his Denver Broncos introductory press conference.
Sean Payton. AP Photo

How do the Broncos’ third-round picks compare to the rest of the NFL’s?

As a group, they’re about average. According to an NCAA analysis of draft picks from 2012 to 2021, the average third-round pick plays 48.1 regular season games during his career, or 2.8 seasons. The Broncos’ third-round picks (we counted from 2013 to 2022) have played an average of 45.9 games in the NFL.

It won’t come as a shock to learn that first-round picks last longest in the NFL (62.3 games) while seventh-rounders wash out earliest, after only 28.1 games. What is surprising, however, is the position group with the shortest tenure: quarterbacks (just 30 games). Of course, if a QB is hit as often as Russ was last season—55 sacks, tied for most in the league—that figure is much less shocking. Want the longest career in the NFL? Learn to punt (70.1 games).

Who has been the Broncos’ most successful third-round pick?

The Bleacher Report draft profile of Justin Simmons concluded that the Boston College safety was “Backup Caliber” and suggested taking him in the fourth round. But the Broncos saw more potential there, taking Simmons a round earlier in 2016. He became a starter in 2017, second-team All-Pro in 2019, and was ranked number 81 in’s ranking of the league’s top 100 players in 2022. He’s also a really good dude.

Who has been the Broncos’ least successful third-round pick?

If we’re talking all-time, this “award” would be a no-brainer: Maurice Clarett, the former Ohio State star whom the Broncos drafted in 2005—only to cut before the season ever started. Less than a year later, Clarett pleaded guilty to charges of aggravated assault and carrying a concealed weapon, though he’s reportedly turned his life around.

But over the past decade, Carlos Henderson was the only Bronco third-rounder who never played a game in the NFL. A rookie out of Louisiana Tech in 2017, the receiver missed his rookie season due to a thumb injury, got arrested for marijuana possession in Louisiana that January (bro, just stay in Denver—it’s legal here!), and then failed a drug test. The Broncos cut Henderson before the beginning of the 2018 season.

What position group do the Broncos have the most success drafting in the third round?

It’s close between defensive backs and offensive linemen, but the hog mollies take the cake (to no one’s surprise). Drafted in 2014, Michael Schofield started for the Broncos for two years before becoming something of a journeyman starter for several NFL teams. Payton says that 2020’s Lloyd Cushenberry III will be his starting center this season, but the best of the hefty bunch might be Quinn Meinerz.

Known simply—and aptly—as “The Belly” before the 2021 draft, the Wisconsin-Whitewater alum ended up rating as the fifth-best guard in the NFL last season, according to Pro Football Focus. He didn’t allow a single sack in the final six games and only permitted 16 quarterback pressures in a season in which the injury-riddled O-line gave up the most sacks in team history.

Greg Dulcich is called during the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
AP Photo

Who did the Broncos draft in the third round last year?

The Broncos lucked out in 2022 when UCLA’s Greg Dulcich—the second-best tight end in the draft, according to Bleacher Report—lasted until the third round. During his rookie season, Dulcich snagged 33 receptions, third most on the team, which, considering the ineptitude of Denver’s offense, isn’t saying much. But he accomplished that feat in only 10 games, giving us hope that the athletic Bruin can reap more damage in Payton’s more dynamic scheme.

Who will the Broncos draft in the third round of the 2023 NFL Draft?

Denver actually has two third-round picks, back-to-back, numbers 67 and 68 overall. Not many outlets publish mock drafts beyond the first round, but fortunately ESPN’s Mel Kiper and Todd McShay have literally nothing else to do but quilt together fantasy drafts.

In their latest, Kiper snags linebacker Byron Young from Tennessee at 67, stating, “At 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds, Young is undersized, but he has a nose for pressuring quarterbacks. This is Denver’s first pick in this draft, and it should focus on the front seven with one of these selections.”

McShay follows with Tulane running back Tyjae Spears: “Denver can stay right there at the podium to announce its new third-down back. Spears makes defenders miss, has breakaway speed, and can make an impact in the pass game.”

The NFL Draft kicks off Thursday, April 27, at 6 p.m., though barring any last-minute changes, Denver won’t make a selection until the third round, which is scheduled for Friday, April 28. Tune in on ABC, ESPN, and NFL Network.