How to build a Super Bowl Team—Draft Status of Super Bowl 50 Starters

By Chris Malumphy

Thirty teams and their fans will be watching Super Bowl 50 this weekend with one nagging question in the back of their minds: how can our franchise duplicate the success of the 2015 Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers. Analyzing the starting lineups for the big game might provide some insight.

The Broncos offense is a potpourri of pieces and parts that did just enough, but not much more, to win games as Denver relied on its stellar defense throughout the year. Only five of Denver's 11 offensive starters were drafted by the team, and only one was among the first 50 players in a draft: wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, selected with the 22nd pick in 2010. The only other Denver offensive starter drafted in the 1st round is the aging quarterback Peyton Manning, who was drafted in another century by the Indianapolis Colts. The Broncos are proponents of running back by committee and have gotten good results from 2nd round pick Ronnie Hillman and undrafted C.J. Anderson. Besides Thomas, the primary receiving targets are Emmanuel Sanders and Owen Daniels who are both mid-round draftees of other teams. Each of the offensive linemen is a mid-to-late round pick, with the Broncos having drafted both tackles and the center and having obtained the guards from elsewhere. In terms of putting points on the board, the 2015 Broncos' offense is mediocre at best and no other team should want to count on building an offense in the way Denver has.

In contrast, the Panther's offense includes five 1st round draft picks, four at the skill positions and the other at left tackle. But the Panther's had even fewer of their own draftees starting on offense (4) than the Broncos (5). Quarterback Cam Newton and running back Jonathan Stewart were both high 1st round picks by the Panthers. Wide receiver Ted Ginn, tight end Greg Olsen and left tackle Michael Oher were 1st round choices by other teams. Right guard Ryan Kalil and center Trai Turner were drafted by the Panthers in the 2nd and 3rd rounds. Fullback Mike Tolbert, wide receiver Corey Brown, left guard Andrew Norwell and right tackle Mike Remmers were undrafted. Having 1st round talent at most of the skill positions helped Carolina score a league best 500 points, which is certainly worth emulating, but difficult to do if it entails obtaining three 1st round draft choices at skill positions from other teams. Better to draft them yourself.

Note that both starting quarterbacks were selected with the 1st pick in their drafts. Also note that the top wide receiver for each team was a 1st round choice and the top running back was either a 1st or 2nd round pick. In addition, Panthers starting tight end Greg Olsen and 49ers backup tight end Vernon Davis are also 1st round selections. But only one of the 10 starting offensive linemen was drafted in the first 50 picks of a draft.

On defense, the Broncos have 1st round draft choices at both outside linebacker positions (Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware), cornerback (Aqib Talib) and nose tackle (Sylvester Williams). Defensive ends Vance Walker and Malik Jackson and inside linebackers Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall were late round draft choices. Strong safety T.J. Ward was a 2nd round choice, and cornerback Chris Harris and free safety Darian Stewart were undrafted. Only four of Denver's defensive starters were actually drafted by the team (Williams, Jackson, Miller and Trevathan), the remaining seven were obtained in other ways. Note that none of the starting defensive backs began their career with Denver. Wade Phillips has always been a fantastic defensive coordinator and the Broncos's organization has done a terrific job in putting together one of the strongest defensive units in the league with a tremendous pass rush.

The Panthers' starting defense includes eight players drafted by the team. First round draft choices were used to fill a defensive tackle (Star Lotulelei) and two linebacker (Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis) positions. Defensive tackle Kawann Short was drafted in the 2nd round, defensive end Charles Johnson was selected in the 3rd and defensive end Jared Allen, originally a 4th round pick of the Chiefs, was obtained in mid season. Linebacker A.J. Klein was drafted by the Panthers in the 5th round. The Panthers selected cornerbacks Josh Norman and Robert McClain in the 5th and 7th rounds. Safeties Roman Harper (2nd round) and Kurt Coleman (7th round) were originally drafted by other teams. The Panthers have drafted well on defense and the unit is essentially home grown, with only the two safeties and pass rush specialist Jared Allen coming from elsewhere.

The Panthers and the Broncos each have two linebackers and an interior lineman drafted in the first round. Neither team drafted their starting safeties. While the Panthers drafted their starting cornerbacks in late rounds and the Broncos obtained theirs from other teams (one originally a 1st round pick and the other a late round choice).

Based on the Super Bowl 50 starting lineups, the 30 other teams and their fans can ask a few basic questions if they want to emulate the success of the Broncos and the Panthers. Do we have a quarterback who is qualified to have been the top pick in the draft (in retrospect we can conclude that Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers should have been and that Russell Wilson could have been in certain years)? Do we have at least one wide receiver of the caliber to be a top half of round one pick? Is our running back worthy of a 1st or 2nd round choice. Is our left tackle of 1st round quality. How about our tight end? Do we have at least two linebackers and an interior defensive lineman worthy of a first round choice. Do we have a shutdown cornerback? If the answer to any of those questions is no, your team better start looking towards the draft and at available free agents. If the answers to all those questions are yes, your team might get to play in February someday.

Draft Status of Super Bowl 50 Starters
(* Key Alternates)
Denver Broncos Offense
Position Name Drafted Team Round Pick Player Position College
QBPeyton Manning1998Colts111QBTennessee
QB*Brock Osweiler2012Broncos22557QBArizona State
RBRonnie Hillman2012Broncos3467RBSan Diego State
RBC.J. Anderson             California
WRDemaryius Thomas2010Broncos12222WRGeorgia Tech
WREmmanuel Sanders2010Steelers31882WRSouthern Methodist
WR*Jordan Norwood             Penn State
TEOwen Daniels2006Texans4198TEWisconsin
LTMichael Schofield2014Broncos33195 TMichigan
LGEvan Mathis2005Panthers31579 GAlabama
CMatt Paradis 2014 Broncos 6 31 207 C Boise State
RGLouis Vasquez2009Chargers31478 GTexas Tech
RTRyan Harris2007Broncos3670 TNotre Dame
Denver Broncos Defense
Position Name Drafted Team Round Pick Player Position College
DEVance Walker2009Falcons71210DTGeorgia Tech
NTSylvester Williams2013Broncos12828DTNorth Carolina
DEMalik Jackson2012Broncos52137DTTennessee
OLBDeMarcus Ware2005Cowboys11111DETroy
OLBVon Miller2011Broncos122LBTexas A&M
ILBDanny Trevathan2012Broncos618188LBKentucky
ILBBrandon Marshall2012Jaguars57142LBNevada
CBAqib Talib2008Buccaneers12020DBKansas
CBChris Harris             Kansas
FSDarian Stewart             South Carolina
SST.J. Ward2010Browns2638DBOregon
Denver Broncos Special Teams
Position Name Drafted Team Round Pick Player Position College
KBrandon McManus             Temple
PBritton Colquitt             Tennessee
KRAndre Caldwell2008Bengals33497WRFlorida
PREmmanuel Sanders2010Steelers31882WRSouthern Methodist
LSAaron Brewer             San Diego State
HBritton Colquitt             Tennessee
Carolina Panthers Offense
Position Name Drafted Team Round Pick Player Position College
QBCam Newton2011Panthers111QBAuburn
RBJonathan Stewart2008Panthers11313RBOregon
RB*Fozzy Whittaker             Texas
FBMike Tolbert             Coastal Carolina
WRTed Ginn2007 Dolphins 1 9 9 WR Ohio State
WRCorey Brown             Ohio State
WR*Jerricho Cotchery2004Jets412108WRNorth Carolina State
TEGreg Olsen2007Bears13131TEMiami (FL)
LTMichael Oher2009Ravens12323 TMississippi
LGAndrew Norwell             Ohio State
CTrai Turner2014Panthers32892 GLouisiana State
RGRyan Kalil2007Panthers22759 CUSC
RTMike Remmers             Oregon State
Carolina Panthers Defense
Position Name Drafted Team Round Pick Player Position College
DECharles Johnson2007Panthers32083DEGeorgia
DTStar Lotulelei2013Panthers11414DTUtah
DTKawann Short2013Panthers21244DTPurdue
DEJared Allen2004Chiefs430126DEIdaho State
WLBThomas Davis2005Panthers11414DBGeorgia
WLB*Ben Jacobs             Fresno State
MLBLuke Kuechly2012Panthers199LBBoston College
SLBA.J. Klein2013Panthers515148LBIowa State
CBJosh Norman2012Panthers58143DBCoastal Carolina
CBRobert McClain 2010 Panthers 7 42 249 DB Connecticut
FSKurt Coleman2010Eagles737244DBOhio State
SSRoman Harper2006Saints21143DBAlabama
Carolina Panthers Special Teams
Position Name Drafted Team Round Pick Player Position College
KGraham Gano             Florida State
PBrad Nortman2012Panthers637207 PWisconsin
KRTed Ginn2007 Dolphins 1 9 9 WR Ohio State
PRTed Ginn2007 Dolphins 1 9 9 WR Ohio State
LSJ.J. Jansen             Notre Dame
HBrad Nortman2012Panthers637207 PWisconsin