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Top 10 Denver Broncos in NFL History

Updated on September 8, 2014

They've had their share of success and disappointment in their history. Today, I rank the top 10 Denver Broncos of all time.

10. Rod Smith

He went from being unwanted, to being the best wide receiver in team history.

After going undrafted, Rod Smith joined Denver's practice squad in 1994. In 1995 in his first game, he caught the game winning touchdown over All-Pro Darrell Green to win the game against Washington which was his first career catch. In 14 seasons, he had eight seasons of at least 1,000 receiving yards and had two seasons of at least 100 receptions. In 2000, Smith and teammate Ed McCaffrey became only the second wide receiver duo on the same team to each gain 100 receptions in the same season.

Smith retired after the 2006 season as a three time pro bowler, two time All-Pro, and two time Super Bowl champion. He is Denver's all time leading receiver and is the all time leading receiver among undrafted players.

9. Steve Atwater

He is one of the hardest hitting safeties in league history.

A first round pick in 1989, Steve Atwater was brought in to improve a defense that ranked second to last the previous season. He was used close to the line of scrimmage in order to fortify Denver's run defense and he led the team in tackles finishing with 129 tackles his rookie season. Early in his career, Atwater teamed with fellow Broncos safety Dennis Smith to form one of the best safety tandems of their generation. In Super Bowl XXXII, he posted one of the better performances by a safety in a Super Bowl and one of the greatest games of his career. In that game, he is credited with six solo tackles, one sack, two passes defensed and a forced fumble.

Atwater spent his final season with Jets before retiring in 1999. He was an eight time pro bowler, three time All-Pro, and Super Bowl champion.

8. Karl Mecklenburg

"The Albino Rhino" was the Broncos defense for much of his career.

A 12th round pick in 1983, Karl Mecklenburg worked his way up into the starting lineup. He went on to become an integral part of the Broncos' Super Bowl teams of the 80's. His 79.5 sacks are the second highest total in franchise history. Considered one of the most versatile players ever, Mecklenburg played all seven positions on the defensive front. Denver's coaches wanted him to be at the point of attack so he would move positions through out the game.

Mecklenburg retired after 1994 as a six time pro bowler and four time All-Pro.

7. Tom Jackson

He was the vocal leader of the "Orange Crush" defense.

A fourth round pick in 1973, Tom Jackson was thought to be too undersized to play at the pro level. He then spent his first few years in Denver convincing his coaches he could handle the rigors of playing every down. He enjoyed a breakout season in 1976, intercepting seven passes. Big plays became his trademark. He was equally effective rushing the quarterback as he was dropping back in pass coverage. He was one of only four players to play for the Broncos in both of Denver's first two Super Bowls which were nine seasons apart.

Jackson retired after 1986 three time pro bowler and four time All-Pro.

6. Floyd Little

He is one of the most underappreciated running backs in league history.

A first round pick in 1967, Floyd Little made an instant impact on the Denver offense. During his rookie year, he led the league in punt returns with a 16.9-yard average. In 1967 and 1968, he led the league in total yardage. He was the first Bronco to win a rushing title, leading the AFC in rushing in 1970 with 901 yards and the following year he became the first Bronco to eclipse 1,000 yards, gaining 1,133 to lead the NFL. Little was the first player to lead his conference in rushing for a last place team. From 1968–1973, Little rushed for more yards and more yards from scrimmage than any running back in the league. He was Denver Broncos team captain all 9 seasons, including his rookie season.

Little retired after the 1975 season as a two time AFL All Star and three time pro bowler. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010.

5. Shannon Sharpe

He is one of the greatest tight ends in league history.

A seventh round pick in 1990, no one knew much about Shannon Sharpe other than the fact he was Sterling Sharpe's little brother. Thought of as a tweener, he proved his critics wrong by becoming the best tight end in football. Too fast for linebacker and too strong for defensive backs, Sharpe was a mismatch for defenses week in and week out. He was an instrumental part of the Broncos winning back to back Super Bowls. By the time he retired, he held every major receiving record for a tight end.

Sharpe also spent time in Baltimore before retiring with Denver in 2003. He was an eight time pro bowler, five time All-Pro, and three time Super Bowl champion. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011.

4. Champ Bailey

He is the best shutdown cornerback of the last 15 years.

After spending time in Washington, Champ Bailey was traded to Denver in 2004. In 2005, he recorded a league leading 10 interceptions and didn't allow a touchdown the entire season. In 2009, Bailey did not allow a touchdown in 80 passes thrown his way that year, played in 98% of the snaps and remained one of the best-tackling cornerbacks in the game. He holds the NFL record for most pro bowls by a cornerback and youngest player to intercept three passes in a game.

Bailey was cut after the 2013 season. He has been a 12 time pro bowler, 10 time All-Pro, and two time defensive back of the year.

3. Peyton Manning

He's only been with the team for two years, but he's already made a lasting impact on the team.

After spending years Indianapolis, Peyton Manning was cut by the team after going through multiple neck surgeries. Denver decided to take a chance on him and signed him before the 2012 season. In his first game with the team, he completed 19 of 26 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns, and no interceptions while posting a 129.2 QB rating in the 31–19 win and becoming the third quarterback in history to throw for 400 touchdowns. That season he set the franchise single season record for highest completion percentage. On the opening game of the 2013 NFL season, Manning became one of only six players in NFL history to throw seven touchdowns in a game. He also regained the single season passing touchdown record 55 touchdowns and also broke the single season passing yards record. The 2013 Broncos offense became the first in history to score over 600 points in a season.

In his two seasons in Denver, Manning has been a two time pro bowler and All-Pro, the 2012 comeback player of the year, and the 2013 NFL MVP.

2. Terrell Davis

A sixth round draft pick in 1995, running back Terrell Davis was a long shot to make the Denver Broncos roster. After making a big impression during the preseason, Davis started 14 games his rookie year and proved to be a corner stone for the team moving forward.

Davis rushed for at least 1,000 yards in each of his first four seasons. He helped the team to back to back Super Bowl wins in 1997 and 1998. He set a Super Bowl record with three rushing touchdowns in Super Bowl XXXII and was named the game's MVP. In 1998, Davis became the fourth running back in NFL history to rush for over 2,000 yards in a single season and was named the league MVP that year. After the 1998 season, injuries derailed his promising career. In his final three seasons, he only played in 17 games and the injuries ultimately forced him to retire.

In seven NFL seasons, Davis was named All-Pro three times, offensive player of the year twice, and was a member of the leagues All-decade team of the 1990s. You can also make an argument that without Terrell Davis, John Elway would not have retired with a Super Bowl ring.

1. John Elway

Was there really any question who is number one.

After refusing to play for the Colts, John Elway joined Denver in 1983 as one of the most anticipated players in history. He is one of the greatest fourth quarter quarterbacks in league history. In the 1986 season, he led the Broncos to Super Bowl XXI, after defeating the Browns on a famous possession at the end of the fourth quarter that became known as "The Drive." After three Super Bowl loses, Elway finally one two back to back in 1997 and 1998. He retired with more regular season wins than any starting quarterback. He is fourth in career passing attempts, passing yards and completions. His four total rushing touchdowns in his Super Bowl games are the most ever by a quarterback and is the first quarterback to start in five Super Bowls.

Elway retired after 1998 as a nine time pro bowler, three time All-Pro, 1987 NFL MVP, two time Super Bowl champion, and Super Bowl XXXIII MVP. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004.

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    • Sam Montana profile image

      Sam Montana 

      3 years ago

      That is an impressive list of football players for the Broncos. I think somewhere on the list, you would have to make room for Randy Gradishar. Which means someone would have to be left off the list, which would be tough to do.

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