April 17, 1999 might ring many football fans memory bells as the day the Saints sold every draft pick for Running back Ricky Williams, but from a Bronco point of view it’s the day one of my favourite Broncos was drafted. With the 31st pick, the defending double Superbowl Champion Denver Broncos selected from the University of Tennessee, middle linebacker Al Wilson.
Wilson wasn’t always just a linebacker, he played both running back and linebacker in high school, topping off his senior year with 1,150 yards and 16 TD’s. Wilson then attended the University of Tennessee where he played for 4 years from 1995-1998. In 1997, Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer made Wilson the team captain and the Volunteers went on to win the first of back-to-back SEC titles. Wilson’s final game for the Volunteers was a national title Fiesta bowl game against FSU which Tennessee won, allowing Wilson to leave as a champion.
His Bronco career started with a game against the Miami Dolphins, a game that ended in defeat and started a 4 game losing streak before finally tasting victory against the Oakland Raiders. Wilson played all 16 games in a 6-10 season forcing 2 fumbles, recovering 2 fumbles and accounting for 71 tackles.
In his 8 seasons, he became a firm favourite amongst the fans with many crippling hits that made fans wince at home, in bars and in the stadiums. Al Wilson was a tremendous leader both on and off the field and he regularly made players around him a lot better than they actually were. Between 2001 and 2006 Wilson only missed 1 Pro Bowl in 2004 and was also named the best middle linebacker in football with his 2005 first team All-Pro selection.
The beginning of the end for Wilson came on December 3rd, 2006 in a game against the Seahawks in which he hurt his neck on a fake field goal play that saw him rushed to hospital before being cleared to play the next week by Bronco team doctors. The following offseason, the Broncos tried to trade Wilson to the Giants which subsequently failed due to him needing neck surgery. Wilson was released April 13th, 2007 and never played another NFL game.
At 6 foot and 240 pounds Wilson was my early Bobby Wagner. Wagner and Wilson match up so well together in terms of coverage skills, leadership skills, height and weight, football knowledge and instincts. Every year, I look at the Broncos and wonder where our leader is. Since Wilson left the Broncos in 2007, they have never filled his role. It’s like every player playing middle linebacker has been a stop-gap until they find someone with his unique skill set.
The future at middle linebacker could well come in the form of 4th round pick from 2018, Josey Jewell. At 6 foot 1 and 236 pounds he fits the Wilson mould, he also has a superb mix of youth and experience around him. I’m excited to see The Outlaw in orange and blue, I have high hopes for Al Wilson 2.0.
The ultimate end game for Wilson should be entry into the Bronco ring of fame. The way he left, the disrespect he has shown to the organization after failed lawsuits might well stop him from getting the nod. I will always remember Wilson for his on field actions though and for that alone he should be idolized as a Bronco god.