Gary Downs, sons of former Bronco Cedric Tillman, are the best receivers going into the draft (2023)

Widebody Cedric Tillman played for the Broncos from 1992 to 1994 and still has some left over jerseys from his time on the team. However, he wouldn't mind buying a new one to wear.

"It would be nice to see Tillman back on the back of the Broncos jersey," he said. "I would feel like I was born again."

Tillman's son, Cedric Tillman Jr., is a Tennessee receiver likely to be selected in the second or third round of the April 27-29 NFL Draft. And the Broncos will be drafted, with their first picks in the third round being #67 and #68.

It's uncertain if Denver would try to pick up the camera at this point, but the elder Tillman would like his son to join the Broncos.

Tillman Jr. he is not the only high-rated receiver in the draft who is the son of a former Broncos player. North Carolina's Josh Downs, scheduled to be drafted at the end of the first or second round, is the son of Denver's 1995 back-runner Gary Downs. Josh is also the nephew of former Pro Bowl cornerman Dre' Bly, who has played for the Broncos since 2007 until 2008 and is currently an assistant coach for the Detroit Lions.

Draft analyst Dane Brugler ranks Josh Downs 6th overall and 41st overall in the draft, while Tillman Jr. for his son going to the Broncos as hard as Tillman Sr.

"We're hoping he'll be out early," Gary said of his home in suburban Atlanta, where he works in the college admissions department. "I hope that won't be the case this time."

Whether Josh Downs or Cedric Tillman Jr. ended up in Denver, it would be a rarity. The only father and son to play on the team were Broncos defenseman Tom Graham from 1972-1974 and tight end Daniel Graham from 2007-2010.

Gary, 50, does not have the Broncos ties that Tillman Sr., 52 has. During his only season with the team, Gary was inactive for the first 14 games before entering the final two games, which were mostly special teams. He played a few midfielders in those matches, but didn't get any touches.

Mr. Tillman was an 11th-round pick by the Alcorn State Broncos in 1992 and had 57 receptions for 859 yards and four touchdowns in three seasons with them. He had several memorable moments, including an 81-yard pass from wide receiver Arthur Marshall in 1992 against Dallas for his first career mark and receiving eight balls for 175 yards against Atlanta in 1994.

"The Broncos were my favorite team and I couldn't wait to be drafted there," said Tillman Sr. from Las Vegas, where he is a partner in an accounting firm. "I liked the Three Amigos (Mark Jackson, Vance Johnson and Ricky Natiel wide receivers) and was a great admirer of John Elway."

Mr. Tillman recalled his first meeting with the legendary quarterback.

"I was speechless," he said. "In the end, he just said, 'Get the damn ball.'

During his year with the Broncos, Gary Downs developed a good relationship with Elway.

"I didn't think much about it, but now I look back and think, 'Wow, my locker was right next to his,'" said Gary.

Gary was drafted in the third round by the New York Giants of North Carolina in 1994 and ended up playing in the NFL for seven years. In two runs with the Giants, and with Denver and Atlanta, he had just 149 rushing yards. But he was a specials team ace and had two tackles to open comebacks for the Falcons in a 34-19 loss to the Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII after the 1998 season.

"I remember when I went to Miami for the Super Bowl, the first person to check in was John Elway," Gary said. "He said, 'Hey Downsy.'

Gary and Tillman Sr. he missed being teammates in 1995, as the latter was incorporated into the Jacksonville expansion project earlier that year. Mr. Tillman played one final NFL season for the Jaguars, catching 30 passes for 368 yards, before saying disagreements with head coach Tom Coughlin led to his departure.

Now Gary Downs and Tillman Sr. they are linked because they are former Broncos players with children who are top picks going into the draft.

"That's very interesting," Gary said.

"I've never met Gary, but I know about his son," said Tillman Sr.

Josh Downs caught 101 passes for 1,335 yards in 2021 and 94 for 1,029 yards in 2022. Most recruiting analysts predicted he would be the slot machine receiver in the NFL, but his father said he was "put in a box" and could throw out as well.

"I started working with him when he was 5 or 6, working on his jumping and lateral mobility," said Gary. “I worked with him at the block level. And now Josh can take the hit. He's used to beating. He was very persistent and the blows didn't bother him."

Part of the reason Josh ended up in rival North Carolina instead of his father's alma mater was because Bly was an assistant to the Tar Heels at the time. Josh is very close to Bly whose wife Kristin is the sister of Gary's wife Tanya.

Mr. Tillman also started teaching his son about football at a very young age and his son became a huge fan of the Broncos. Mr. Tillman would tell him stories about how Shannon Sharpe is his teammate. His son wore a Sharpe Broncos jersey as a child and is now a regular Hall of Fame viewer on his TV show Undisputed.

Tillman Jr. he was not the first recipient his father taught. Playing for the Navy from 2013 to 2016, Tillman Jr.'s older brother Jamir caught 91 passes for 1,626 yards. Today he is a Navy pilot.

Tillman Jr. he caught just eight passes for Tennessee from 2018 to 2020 before breaking out for 64 receptions for 1,081 yards in 2021. In 2022, he caught 37 passes for 417 yards and missed six games due to ankle surgery. On his professional day, he recorded a 4.51-second 40-yard rush.

"I've always coached him from Pop Warner to (Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas)," Tillman Sr. he said. "He's a little more athletic than me. It's a little faster. He is very determined. It has a large capture range."

Tillman Sr., who has been a school receiver and freshman coach for the past 15 years, has worked with his two sons at Bishop Gorman. He works full-time at Business Tax Solutions, a company of which he has been one of the three owners for seven years.

Mr. Tillman was Alcorn State's chief accountant. He started working in taxes while still a competitor as an intern with a Denver-based company and filled out forms in the off-season for two years before joining the Jaguars.

"I used to go to the locker room and tell the guys that there are other tax laws," said Tillman Sr. about his years with the Broncos. "They would laugh and say, 'What do you know about taxes? I said, "I can help you."

Mr. Tillman admitted what he could but said he had never filed a tax return for an NFL player. That should change as your child prepares to enter the league.


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