This isn’t going to be easy to do.
I am going to try and make a hero out of the ultimate Denver Broncos’ villain. In 2009, the Broncos fired iconic head coach Mike Shanahan and hired 33-year-old Josh McDaniels.
McDaniels went on to win the first six games of his coaching career, but then went 5-17 after his fast start and was fired before the completion of the 2010 season.
However, during his short tenure McDaniels was more than just a coach. McDaniels, like Shanahan, was given general manager power as well as head coaching duties and was able to orchestrate the 2009 and 2010 NFL Drafts for the Broncos.
What McDaniels did — and didn’t do — with those two drafts would eventually lead to John Elway’s eventual hire, as well as Peyton Manning’s historic swan song that he is currently leading. Let me explain.
Denver had five picks in the first two rounds of the 2009 draft. The Broncos had two first round picks selected Knowshon Moreno No. 12 overall and then Robert Ayers No. 18 overall.
McDaniels then drafted Alphonso Smith, Darcel McBath and Robert Quinn all in the second round.
Five seasons later none of those five Broncos remain with the club and those misses in the draft played a giant role in the Broncos having little success and going 4-12 in 2010.
But the 2010 draft would go on to be one of the most historic in the team’s rich history for a lot of different reasons.
Denver again had two first round picks in 2010 and would draft Demaryius Thomas No. 22 overall with their first pick.
The Broncos and McDaniels then shocked the sports world by trading back into the first round and drafting Tim Tebow with the No. 25 overall pick.
Also in the 2010 draft Denver selected Zane Beadles in the second round followed by both J.D. Walton and Eric Decker in the third round.
Again, the Broncos were a complete disaster in 2010, leading to McDaniels firing before the season’s end. Elway and then John Fox were then hired by the team.
2011 brought in new hope but with Kyle Orton still the team’s starting quarterback the team started 1-4, and possibly due more to fan reaction than actually earning the job, Tebow was inserted into the lineup and NFL history was made.
Tebow led the Broncos to six straight wins, an AFC title and an incredible playoff win over the Steelers, all with a team that had no business even making the playoffs.
Credit Tebow, credit Elway or Fox, credit Mile High Magic, but I am going to credit McDaniels — not only for what played out in 2011 but moreover for what has played out since.
Hidden under the Broncos’ miracle 2011 season was an ugly 2010 4-12 disaster. But somehow, someway, Tebow covered up that stink and the Broncos won the AFC West in 2011.
The following offseason Peyton Manning became a free agent. Manning flirted with the San Francisco 49ers, the Tennessee Titans and the Houston Texans, but because of the Broncos surprising success in 2010, Denver became a proposition that looked more and more enticing to the future Hall-of-Famer.
The combination of that 2011 success paired up with a great young offensive group that consisted of Thomas, Decker, Beadles and Walton — all 2010 McDaniels’ draftees — made the Broncos the most attractive team to Manning.
Since Manning chose the Broncos the club has had two of the most prolific seasons in the franchise’s history.
Whether or not Denver will go on to win a Super Bowl under Manning is still very much an unknown. But one thing that has become clearer is that McDaniels drafting of Tebow and Thomas helped lure Manning to Denver and helped lay down the groundwork for much of their current success.
Is McDaniels a hero? That might be pushing it. But is he the ultimate Broncos’ villain? Not to me.