After humble beginnings in the AFL, the Broncos have gone on to make eight Super Bowl appearances. The Broncos have had some great defenders in the history of their franchise. They’ve had an exceptionally high amount of great linebackers in particular. A few guys who didn’t quite make the list include Tom Jackson, Rich Jackson, and Rick Upchurch. If I had started my list from 1960, I would probably have put Lionel Taylor on it. The guys who did make the list are pretty good.
10. Floyd Little: In 1975 Mel Brooks created a TV show called, “When Things were Rotten”. That would describe the Broncos' situation when Floyd Little joined them. They stayed that way for most of Floyd’s career. The Broncos had a winning record in the last two seasons of Floyd’s nine-year career in Denver. Little did help the team on the road to respectability. Floyd was named to the Pro Bowl five times and was named All-Pro once. In 1971 Floyd led the NFL in rushing with 1133 yards in 284 carries. During his time in Denver Little rushed for 43 TDs and caught passes for another nine. He even ran back two punts for TDs. Floyd helped right the Broncos ship.
9. Tom Nalen: I’ve got Tom Nalen rated as the best offensive lineman in Broncos history. I would have rated Gary Zimmerman higher, but he split his career between the Vikings and Broncos. Nalen spent all his 14 seasons in the NFL with the Broncos. He was named to five Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams during his tenure. He also was a big part of the Broncos Super Bowl winning teams in 1997 and 1998. All of those things led to him being on this list.
8. Terrell Davis: At his peak, Davis was a dominant force in the NFL. Terrell would have ranked higher but his dominance was limited to four seasons. From 1995–98 his rushing totals were 1117–1538–1750 and 2008 yards. He led the NFL in rushing TDs with 15 in 1997 and 21 in 1998. His 2005 rushing yards in 1998 also led the NFL. In addition to his 21 rushing TDs in 1998, Terrell also caught two TD passes. His total of 23 rushing and receiving TDs led the NFL. From 1996–98 Davis was named to both the Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams. Davis was also the AP NFL Player of the Year in 1996. In 1997 he was the Super Bowl MVP. In 1998 he was the AP Offensive Player of the Year. Terrell packed a lot of greatness into a small amount of time.
7. Steve Atwater: Generally you expect a great safety to intercept quite a few passes. That wasn’t the case with Steve. For his 10 seasons in Denver, Atwater intercepted only 24 passes. He also forced five fumbles and recovered eight. Atwater’s forte was playing the run. He played close to the line of scrimmage and limited the opponent’s running game. Atwater was named to eight Pro Bowl teams and three All-Pro teams. The Pro Football Hall of Fame has him on their first team All 90s team. Pro Football Reference has him on the second team. Atwater played on two Super Bowl winners. Steve put together an impressive resume.
6. Karl Mecklenberg: Karl is one of the great linebackers the Broncos have had throughout their history. Mecklenberg recorded a gaudy 79 sacks in his Broncos career. He also accounted for 16 forced fumbles and recovered 14. Karl also intercepted five passes. Mecklenberg was named to six Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams. Mecklenberg helped the Broncos get to three Super Bowls, but they lost all three.
5. Champ Bailey: On my baseball and basketball lists it’s not uncommon for a guy to appear on more than one list, but on my football lists it’s rare. Champ shows up on my Washington Redskins list, as well as my Broncos list. Champ spent 10 of his 15 seasons in the NFL with the Broncos. He also intercepted 34 passes during that time including a league-leading 10 in 2006. In addition, he also had a league-leading 162 interception return yards that season. While in Denver, Champ was named to eight Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams. Bailey was named to the Pro Football Reference’s 2000s team as well as the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All 2000s team. Bailey was of the better corners the NFL has seen since 1965.
4. Shannon Sharpe: Shannon spent 12 seasons with the Broncos and was an excellent receiving target throughout the 90s. For his career, his stat line was 675 catches good for 8439 yards and 55 TDs. Sharpe played in 12 playoff games for the Broncos and caught 47 passes for 505 yards and two TDs. Like most guys on this list, Shannon was named to multiple Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams. In his case, it was seven Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams. Sharpe was also named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Pro Football Reference All 90s Team.
3. Randy Gradishar: The most impressive thing about Gradishar to me was he averaged 14.1 tackles per game. That’s amazing. Randy played in Super XII, which saw the Broncos lose to the Cowboys 27–10. In all, Randy played 10 seasons in Denver and made it to seven Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams. Gradishar intercepted 20 passes and recovered 13 fumbles. Randy was the AP’s 1978 Defensive Player of the Year. Gradishar is an example of a great player who may actually be underrated.
2. Vonn Miller: Miller has been one of the most impactful defensive players in the NFL since beginning his career in 2011. In his nine-plus seasons with the Broncos, he racked up 110.5 sacks. He’s had double digits in sacks in seven of his seasons with the Broncos. The term, “perennial Pro Bowler” is appropriate with Miller. He was selected to eight Pro Bowls along with three All-Pro teams. Vonn also forced 26 fumbles and recovered nine. He’s also picked off two passes. Miller was named the 2011 defensive Rookie of the Year. Vonn turned in a dominant performance in the 2015 Super Bowl, being named the MVP in the Broncos 24–10 win over the Panthers. Miller is the greatest Broncos defender in the history of their franchise.
1. John Elway: In some respects, Elway’s stats aren’t as impressive as some other guys on this list. Counteracting that, the QB has more bearing on a team’s success than any other player. In addition, winning covers a lot of sins. The Broncos won a lot of games with Elway as QB, including two Super Bowls. The Broncos went 148–82–1 with Elway at the helm. He was also 14–7 in playoff games. Not that Elway was a slouch when it came to stats and personal awards. John was named to nine Pro Bowls. He was also named the 1987 NFL MVP by the AP. (Got those initials?) The Pro Football Hall of Fame named him to their first team All 90s Team. Pro Football Reference had him on their second team. Going out after quarterbacking two Super Bowl champions is also a great way to leave.