Writers, fans, critics and media personalities have become obsessed in recent years with an adjective for describing sports figures, particularly players in the NFL:
At this point, we're all very familiar with this word. It's thrown around like confetti on New Year's. It's come to describe the best of the best in the NFL, and using it as a descriptor for a player comes with a severe gravity.
To call someone elite is to call them better than the rest, and for someone to call themselves elite is almost an unspoken taboo around the league. We all remember Eli Manning's comments before the start of last season, right? He said he considered himself one of the elite quarterbacks in the league.
People went bonkers.
The word elite comes from the French noun élite, which means a "selection or a choice." The French word likely comes from the Latin word eligere, which simply means "to choose."
So there we have it. "The elite" are chosen, supposedly by the general public's majority opinion, as being the best in a particular group of society. But if the elite are chosen, then to what degree is their title cemented? Isn't all just a matter of opinion and thereby up for debate?
It eventually occurred to me "elite" is indeed a choice, but a choice based off of objective fact. So as I prepared to write this article by watching tapes and reviewing statistics, I began to ask myself, "What wows me?"
Is it consistent play? Fantastic character? Perhaps it's fantastic decision-making, but these characteristics don't show up on a stat sheet or in the box score. I'm trying to choose one player on the Denver Broncos as elite, and all of the qualities I want to look for in a player are not noted by the game's statisticians. I had to dig deeper.
To begin, I took another look at my assigned question. "Who is the best player on the Broncos right now?" Those ending words, "right now," are truly important. Should they be left out or disregarded, my choice could be greatly skewed.
Thankfully, they are there, and this made my job easier. Right now. Who stands the tallest and strongest amongst their competition in this present moment? I think I asked myself what defines "best."
Does "best" mean scoring the most points? If that's the case, kicker Matt Prater was the "best" player on Denver last year. Perhaps "best" means scoring the most touchdowns, and not simply the most points. This would have made Eric Decker the best player on Denver last year.
After ruminating further, I concluded that "best" could not be defined so literally or in such concrete terms. The "best" player is the one who is an asset in multiple situations. This includes on the field, in the locker room, and on the sidelines.
The "best" is what we all want to be - the whole package.
With that being said, I narrowed down a list of five finalists for the position of king. I made this list based solely on a player's career statistics, and for a player to be eligible, they must be healthy and in good standing with the Denver Broncos in the present moment.
The first player that I considered was none other than aforementioned kicker Matt Prater.
Prater has wowed Denver faithful with his distance, accuracy and poise since becoming the starter in 2008. Prater never looks nervous when taking the field for a clutch kick. He always maintains his composure and focuses his mind and energy on the task at hand: putting the football through the uprights.
He was 3-4 on kicks over 50 yards last season and was the team's leading scorer with 87 points—certainly a vital part of the offense. To have a kicker that you can confidently rely on is quite the asset, and Prater definitely earned the franchise tag that he received this offseason.
He's been a perfect four-for-four on field goals so far in 2012, yet he will not be garnered with the title of the best player's on the Broncos, since his skills are rather one dimensional and extremely situational, as are all kickers.
The next player who was considered for the title was defensive end Elvis Dumervil. Aside from a few blips of injuries and off-field incidents, Dumervil has been a model of consistency for the Denver Broncos.
As a rookie in 2006, Dumervil collected 8.5 sacks without even starting a game. He's totaled 53.5 sacks in his career so far, including a monstrous 17 in 2009. He also had a career high 49 tackles in 2009, which is high for a defensive end who is almost always being used as a pass-rusher.
If I was doing this assignment in 2009, Dumervil would be my pick for the best player. Right now, he has a few guys above him, as he's certainly lost a notch in the speed category that once helped account for his crazy numbers.
Cornerback Champ Bailey and quarterback Peyton Manning will both be inducted in the National Football League's Hall of Fame one day.
They have both, at one point, been "elite" at their respective positions, and they both still play the game with great impact. Bailey has 50 career interceptions, which is good for 22nd best of all-time. Should he collect four more this season, he will tie Willie Brown, Darnell Green, and Eric Allen at the 19th spot.
During his heyday, Bailey's physicality was relentless. In addition to being a pass snatcher, Bailey was a violent tackler who collected more than 80 tackles in 2006 and 2007. He's still a feared shut-down corner, yet age is starting to take its toll on him and younger receivers are beginning to take advantage—as we saw in Sunday's loss to the Houston Texans.
Manning signed with Denver this offseason and is possibly the biggest free agent signing of all-time.
He's not only a respected and recognized figure to NFL fans, but to people all over the world. In addition to being one of the most consistent, decisive, and aware quarterbacks to ever play the game, Manning has defined himself as a charitable figure and an absolute crack-up. His many appearances in TV commercials never fail to get a smile out of anyone, and his well-put insight about games and fellow competitors always wows even his biggest rivals.
Manning turned the Indianapolis Colts from a small-market team that was struggling for attendance into a football dynasty of the early 2000s. Lucas Oil Stadium is often referred to as "The House that Peyton Built" for good reason.
I still consider Manning one of the league's better quarterbacks, yet he is no longer as dominant at his position, relatively speaking, as the next player on this list.
Outside linebacker Von Miller, whom the Broncos drafted with the second pick of the 2011 NFL Draft, has turned out to be one of the best franchise investments in a while.
Actually, since trading for John Elway, Miller may be the best offseason addition that the Broncos have had. As a rookie, Miller became one of the most feared pass-rushers in the league. He collected 11.5 sacks, batted down four passes, and forced two fumbles.
What's even more impressive is that he was doing all of this as a linebacker in a 4-3 defense, which meant he was often blitzing from behind the defensive line. This proved to be no challenge for him, as his unique combination of speed and strength made it a near impossibility for many offensive lineman to stop him.
Miller also accumulated 64 tackles last season, which is great for a linebacker who primarily pass rushes. With three sacks and 10 tackles already this season, Miller is on track for another Pro Bowl year and might possibly be up for Defensive Player of the Year, which would look great on his trophy shelf next to his Defensive Rookie of the Year award from last season.
Miller is, objectively, one of the best defensive players in the league. He is an all-around model of speed, size, and strength. He can rush the passer, stop the run, and has made great strides in defending the pass.
At the pace he is going, Miller will one day see himself in Canton, among the many other NFL greats who defined themselves as "elite" during their playing tenures.
Off the field, Miller has become a celebrity figure around the Denver area and is committed to giving back to the community that roots him and his teammates on every Sunday. He is starting up a charity called Von's Mission, which will provide state-of-the-art eye care for children in need. You can read more about it.
Remember, "elite" means chosen, and I choose Miller as the best player on the Denver Broncos. He is the king, and he certainly wears the crown.
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