Eleven-time Pro Bowler, four-time NFL MVP and Super Bowl champion, Peyton Manning, has all the accolades to be one of the greatest players of all time. But with Manning just joining the Broncos, he won't crack the countdown of greatest Broncos quite yet.
Manning will look to join a list of great players who have played before him in hopes of joining that one guy who wore No. 7—his name seems to have slipped my mind at this time.
I broke down the 20 greatest to wear a Bronco uniform. Those who missed the cut include John Lynch, Brian Dawkins, Ed McCaffrey, Lionel Taylor and Frank Tripucka.
So here comes the great debate: Who is the greatest Bronco of all-time?
It's a hard task to take an original AFL team and find the 20 best to play for them. During the 52 years the Broncos have played in the AFL and NFL, they have had a combined 194 Pro Bowlers and 57 first-team All-Pros.
But only 20 could make the list of the best.
Here is a list of those who fell just short:
- Brian Dawkins, safety
- John Lynch, safety
- Riley Adams, tight end
- Trevor Pryce, defensive end
- Rick Upchurch, wide receiver
It's hard to believe that a guy who had 97.5 sacks never made one Pro Bowl. But that's what Fletcher did.
The 97.5 sacks is the Broncos franchise record. He also holds the NFL record for most consecutive games with at least one sack (10).
Thompson was a three-time Pro Bowler and finds himself in the Broncos Ring of Fame. During his career, he had a knack for the ball while it was in air.
He had 40 interceptions (third in Broncos history) and three touchdowns in his 13 seasons with the Broncos. During that stretch, Thompson started 178 games, which ranks third all time in franchise history.
Thompson was inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame in 1987.
Probably the most underrated Bronco of all time. He was the leader of the Broncos defense for eight seasons from 1999-2006.
Wilson had 554 solo tackles and 21.5 sacks as a Bronco linebacker. He was a five-time Pro Bowl linebacker and also a two-time All-Pro.
Wilson's career was cut short when he suffered a neck injury that he couldn't fully recover from.
During his time, Gonsoulin was the best. He had the first interception in American Football League history, in the AFL's inaugural game. His 43 career interceptions is second all time in Broncos history.
During his rookie season he had 11 interceptions, which is still most in a season by a Bronco. He also had a four interception game in 1960 against Buffalo.
Gonsoulin was a six-time AFL All-Star and was inducted to the Broncos Ring of Fame in 1984.
It's hard to believe that a man heading into his 7th season would make this list. But the numbers can't be argued with. In fact, it could be argued that he could be higher on this list.
Dumervil has recorded 52.5 sacks (second in Broncos history), in just five seasons of playing. If he hadn't torn his pectoral tendon, those numbers would be even greater.
Since he signed a five-year extension last year, his numbers will only increase as a Bronco. And with that, he will move up the list of all-time greats.
Dumervil is a two-time Pro Bowler and an All-Pro in 2009, when he recorded a Bronco-record 17 sacks.
Smith played 14 seasons for the Denver Broncos. He was known for his hard hitting at the safety position.
He had 1,152 tackles, 15 sacks and 30 interceptions. The interceptions rank seventh in Broncos history.
During the 1992 season, Smith was voted by his teammates to be the most inspirational player. Not only was he an inspiration, he was a Pro Bowl safety. He was a six-time Pro Bowler.
Smith was inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame in 2001.
I know it's hard to believe a kicker makes a list of all-time greats, let alone the top 15 for the Broncos. But Jason Elam deserves to be on this list.
Elam played 15 seasons for the Broncos and is the franchise's all-time leader in games played (236). He converted 395 of 490 field goals (80.6 percent) during his 15 years with the team.
He hit a 63-yard field goal against Jacksonville in 1998, which is tied for the longest field goal in NFL history.
Elam was three-time Pro Bowler, two-time All-Pro and was the kicker for the Broncos' two Super Bowls (XXXII, XXXIII).
Louis Wright was great at cornerback for the Broncos. In his 12 seasons, he had 26 interceptions, 11 fumble recoveries and four touchdowns.
Wright was inducted in the Broncos Ring of Fame in 1993. He made five Pro Bowls during his stint with the Broncos. He also was a two-time Associated Press first-team All-Pro.
In 1977, Wright had his best year in a Broncos uniform. He was named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year. Wright was also named to the 1970s All-Decade Team.
For Wright's career, the Broncos recognized him as one their best and inducted him to the Broncos Ring of Fame in 1993.
Wright begins the portion of Broncos who should be in the Hall of Fame some point in the future.
Like Louis Wright, many have to wonder when Tom Jackson's call to Canton will come. He is third in Broncos history in games played (191).
Jackson finished his career with 13 sacks, an impressive 20 interceptions and three touchdowns. He was a three-time Pro Bowl linebacker and a four-time All-Pro.
He was named to the Broncos 50th Anniversary team and was named to the Broncos Ring of Fame in 1992. Jackson was voted the team's most inspirational player six times during his 14-year career.
With the quarterbacks always getting the recognition, the center deserves even more credit. He is the quarterback of the offensive line and has to change protection just as much as the actual quarterback.
Nalen did all that at a very high level. Nalen anchored the Broncos offensive line for 15 seasons. He was part of both Super Bowl victories and had six different running backs eclipse the 1,000-yard mark with his hand snapping the ball.
Nalen went to five Pro Bowls, was named an All-Pro three times and was the NFL Alumni Offensive Lineman of the Year in 2003.
It's only a matter of time until Nalen is a member of the Broncos Ring of Fame.
Little was one of the best running backs of his time. When he retired in 1973, he ranked seventh in league history in rushing yards (6,323).
Little led all American Professional Football in rushing for six straight years (1968-1973). Little was the first Bronco to lead the league in rushing and then he was the first to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark.
Little finished his career with 43 rushing touchdowns and nine receiving touchdowns. He was an AFL All-Star twice and three-time Pro Bowler.
1984 marked the first year of the Broncos Ring of Fame, and the Hall of Fame running back joined the inaugural group that recognizes the Bronco greats.
In 2010, Little finally found his bust in Canton, Ohio as he was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.
The heart and soul of the Orange Crush, Gradishar was one of the best linebackers in football. In his 10 years in the league, hardly any were better at the position.
He went to seven Pro Bowls, was named first-team All-Pro five times and second-team All-Pro once. Gradishar was named the 1978 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and was the Broncos MVP.
He had over 2,000 tackles, 20.5 sacks and 20 interceptions in his career. It is absolutely crazy that Gradishar isn't in the Hall of Fame, but the people who followed the Broncos know how great he truly was.
Gradishar was inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame in 1989.
I know Zimmerman was only with the Broncos for five seasons, but when he wanted to be inducted to the Hall of Fame as a Bronco, he can be on this list.
While he was on the Broncos, he went to three Pro Bowls, was named to the All-Pro team in 1996 and the second-team All-Pro in 1993 and 1995.
He started every single game he ever played (184) in the league. In total, Zimmerman went to seven Pro Bowls and was a five-time first-team All-Pro selection. He was named to the All-Decade Team for the 1980s and 1990s.
Zimmerman was inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame in 2003 and into the Hall of Fame in 2008.
There's no argument who the greatest running back in team history is. Yes, Floyd Little is in the Hall of Fame, but he doesn't quite stack up to Terrell Davis.
Davis finished his career with 7,607 yards and 60 touchdowns in just eight seasons. He as a three-time Pro Bowler, three-time All-Pro and two-time Super Bowl winner.
In 1998, Davis was named the NFL MVP when he rushed for 2,008 yards and 21 touchdowns. He also won the Super Bowl XXXII MVP when he rushed for 157 yards and a Super Bowl-record three touchdowns.
Davis is the Broncos all time leading rusher and was inducted the Broncos Ring of Fame in 2007 and he hopes the Hall of Fame will come calling in the near future.
Smith is the definition of a hard working wide receiver. He was an undrafted rookie out of Missouri Southern State who was determined to make his name known.
Smith spent his entire 14-year career in blue and orange. He went to three Pro Bowls and was a two-time All-Pro.
He finished his career ranked 15th in NFL history with 849 catches and 16th in receiving yards with 11,389 yards. Smith also had 68 receiving touchdowns.
Smith's touchdowns, yards and catches are all franchise records.
Last year, Smith was told that he will be inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame this coming season. A place he rightfully deserves.
Now for the top five.
Steve Atwater controlled the back end of the Broncos secondary for 10 seasons. Atwater combined with Dennis Smith to put fear into opposing wide receivers and tight ends.
Atwater was an eight-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro selection. He was also a part of the Broncos two Super Bowl victories. Atwater finished his career with 1,180 tackles and 24 interceptions and was named to 1990s All-Decade team.
Atwater was greatly feared by his opponents for the hits that he was able to deliver.
He was inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame in 2005.
Mecklenburg played a critical role in helping Denver to the Super Bowls during the 1980s. He wasn't selected until the 12th round of the NFL Draft, but Mecklenburg wasn't going to let that stop him.
A six-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time All-Pro selection, Mecklenburg found his place with the Bronco greats.
He finished his career with 79.5 sacks and five interceptions. The 79.5 sacks rank second in franchise history only behind Simon Fletcher. He had 11 games with multiple sacks during his 12 seasons with the Broncos. He finished his career with 1,104 tackles and 16 forced fumbles.
Mecklenburg was introduced into the Broncos Ring of Fame in 2001.
The future first-ballot Hall of Fame cornerback comes in at No. 3 for greatest Broncos. Roland "Champ" Bailey does just about everything great on the outside.
He can defend against the run and he can be put on an island to defend the receiver he plays across from. Bailey didn't start his career with the Broncos, but the trade that brought him to Denver has worked out mighty well.
He has recorded 705 tackles, three sacks and 50 interceptions in his whole career. Since he's been in a Bronco uniform, he snapped 32 of the interceptions. That number ranks him sixth in Bronco history.
Bailey is possibly the greatest cornerback to play the game of football. He has been to a record 11 Pro Bowls. In those 11 Pro Bowls, Bailey has intercepted four passes, which is tied for most in Pro Bowl history.
Bailey's accolades continue to show why he is the greatest to play his position. He has been named All-Pro six times and he was named the NFL Alumni Defensive Back of the Year twice during his stellar career.
Champ will go down as one of the greatest to ever play and one of the greatest to ever put on a Bronco uniform.
There might not have been a more emotional Hall of Fame speech than Shannon Sharpe's in 2011. Sharpe is one of the few great players who doesn't believe he is the greatest.
Sharpe himself said he's not even the best tight end in his own family, paying homage to his brother Sterling. But my job isn't to be modest. Sharpe is one of the greatest to ever play at his position and to put on a Bronco jersey.
Sharpe played 12 seasons as a Bronco and two seasons as a Baltimore Raven. He helped the Broncos win both their Super Bowls and help Baltimore win its only Super Bowl.
Sharpe is second in Bronco history with 675 receptions, 55 touchdowns and 8,439 receiving yards.
In total, Sharpe finished his Hall of Fame career with 815 receptions, 10,060 yards and 69 touchdowns. All of which were NFL records for tight ends until Tony Gonzalez passed all three categories.
The skinny, undersized tight end never allowed his haters to be right. Instead he proved everybody wrong and went out as the greatest.
Sharpe went to eight Pro Bowls, seven of them with the Broncos. He was also a four-time Associated Press first-team All-Pro and was named to the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team.
Sharpe joined the Bronco greats in the Ring of Fame in 2009.
Drum roll please... like it's a surprise. Yes, the greatest Bronco ever is John Albert Elway, Jr.
Elway put Denver on the map from day one—the moment he declined to be drafted by the Baltimore Colts, forcing them to trade him and landing in the Mile High City.
Elway possessed everything a quarterback could dream of. A rocket arm, pinpoint accuracy, the ability to scramble and the ultimate quality of leadership.
Elway brought a new standard to how quarterbacks were looked, especially in Denver. He is the franchise's record holder in every statistical category possible for a quarterback.
He threw for 51,475 yards on 4,123 completions for 300 touchdowns. He also added 3,407 yards with his feet and 33 touchdowns. Elway is fourth all time in completions, attempts (7,250), yards and fifth in touchdowns.
Elway led the Broncos to 34 comeback wins in the 4th quarter and overtime, most in franchise history and tied for third in NFL history with Johnny Unitas.
If Elway had won his first three Super Bowls, there would be no doubt he's the greatest quarterback in the game. After the failed victories, Elway and the Broncos finally got over the hump and won Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII. Super Bowl XXXIII was Elway's last game.
In his last game, he won the Super Bowl MVP with 336 passing yards with a touchdown. He also added one on the ground. That moment of him running around the Miami stadium lives in infamy.
Elway finished his Hall of Fame career with nine Pro Bowls and was a three-time second-team All-Pro selection. His No. 7 is retired for the Broncos and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004 and the Ring of Fame in 1999.
John Elway is the greatest Bronco of all time.