The greatest Denver Broncos players of all time
A multitude of players contributed to the Denver Broncos’ run of success over the past four decades, but a select few have left an indelible mark that will forever be felt by the franchise.
Let's examine the impact of those exceptional players and rank the five greatest Denver Broncos of all time.
5. Champ Bailey
Accolades: 12x Pro Bowl selection, NFL interceptions leader (2006), NFL record for passes defended
Years active in Denver: 2004-2013
In 2004, Champ Bailey landed in Denver, after the Broncos traded running back Clinton Portis to Washington.
From the start, the dynamic corner made his presence felt, when he intercepted his first pass for Denver during the NFL's opening Sunday Night Football game of the season.
He led the league in interceptions (10) in 2006 and broke the record for longest non-scoring play in NFL history, during a Divisional Round playoff game with New England. In that matchup, Bailey intercepted quarterback Tom Brady in the end zone and ran the ball 100 yards, before he was tackled at the New England one-yard line.
January 14, 2006. Divisional Playoffs. Tom Brady was undefeated all-time in the playoffs and had already won 3 Super Bowls. Late in the 3rd and the Patriots about to take the lead... Champ Bailey time! Mile High Magic! Broncos win 27-13!#BroncosCountry pic.twitter.com/rVWDKeNrvv— Broncos Outsider (@BroncosOutside) August 9, 2019
Regarded as one of the best at his position throughout his 15-year career, Bailey made the Pro Bowl 12 times, a record for a cornerback.
In his final season in Denver, he was limited to five games because of injury but returned in time for the postseason, where he recorded four tackles in a Super Bowl loss to Seattle.
Bailey retired in 2014, with the all-time record in passes defended (203), and finished his career with 908 tackles and 52 interceptions (26th all time).
In his first year of eligibility, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2019 and is a member of the Broncos Ring of Fame.
4. Peyton Manning
Accolades: 5x NFL MVP, 2x Super Bowl champion, Super Bowl XLI MVP, 14x Pro Bowl selection
Years active in Denver: 2012-2015
Peyton Manning spent the final chapter of his illustrious NFL career in Denver and brought renewed greatness to the franchise.
From 2012-2015, with Manning at the helm of the offense, the Broncos went 50-14, won four division titles, reached the Super Bowl twice, and earned the franchise's first title since 1998.
Manning's best individual season in Denver was 2013, when he collected a record fifth NFL MVP Award and set the single-season record for passing yards (5,477) and touchdown passes (55). Manning also became the sixth player to throw for seven touchdowns in a game, which he did in the season opener against Baltimore, the defending Super Bowl champion.
His final game with the Broncos was a 24-10 victory in Super Bowl 50. At the time of his retirement, in 2015, he held the record in all-time passing yards and touchdown passes, which has since been surpassed by Drew Brees and Brady. He also owned the most victories by a quarterback in the regular season and playoffs, until Brady passed the mark in 2016.
3. Shannon Sharpe
Position: Tight end
Accolades: 3x Super Bowl champion, 8x Pro Bowl selection, 4x first-team All-Pro
Years active in Denver: 1990-1999, 2002-2003
A former seventh-round draft pick, out of Savannah State, Shannon Sharpe initially struggled in Denver, until he switched to tight end in his third season.
From there, Sharpe revolutionized the position and became a nightmare for defenses. The sharp route runner became the first player at his position to accumulate 10,000 receiving yards and helped Denver win back-to-back Super Bowl titles in 1997 and 1998.
He retired in 2003 as the NFL’s all-time leader in receptions (815), receiving yards (10,060) and receiving touchdowns (62) by a tight end. He also ranks third-all time in franchise history in receiving yards (8,439) and touchdown receptions (55).
In 2011, Sharpe was enshrined in the Hall of Fame and is a member of the Broncos Ring of Fame and the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team.
2. Terrell Davis
Position: Running back
Accolades: 2x time Super Bowl champion, Super Bowl XXXII MVP, 1998 NFL MVP, 2x NFL Offensive Player of the Year, 3x Pro Bowl selection
Years active in Denver: 1995-2001
Another player who waited until late in the NFL Draft to hear his name called, Terrell Davis was a sixth-round pick for Denver who ended up an enormous steal.
In his first season, Davis became the lowest-drafted player to gain more than 1,000 yards rushing as a rookie.
Two seasons later, he guided the Broncos to the franchise's first Super Bowl win. In the matchup against Green Bay, he ran for 157 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries, which earned him Super Bowl MVP. His eight touchdowns during the 1997 postseason is still a record for running backs.
The following season, Davis topped the league in rushing, with 2,008 yards, and became the fourth player in NFL history to surpass the 2,000-yard rushing mark. His 21 rushing scores that year also made him the only player with 2,000 rushing yards and more than 20 rushing touchdowns in a season.
Davis was named NFL MVP that year, and he ran for 102 yards on 25 carries in the Broncos' second consecutive Super Bowl win.
The Hall of Famer finished his career with the franchise's all-time record in rushing yards (7,607) and rushing touchdowns (60).
He is also credited with starting the "Mile High Salute," the iconic touchdown celebration of the Broncos.
1. John Elway
Accolades: 2x Super Bowl champion, Super Bowl XXXIII MVP, 1987 NFL MVP, 9x Pro Bowl selection
Years active in Denver: 1983-1998
The quintessential Denver Bronco, John Elway played his entire 16-year career in the Mile High City, where he spearheaded two Super Bowl victories and later brought more success to the franchise as the president of football operations.
In 1986, he guided the Broncos to a Super Bowl berth, after a 98-yard, game-tying touchdown drive in the AFC Championship Game against the Cleveland Browns.
After 60 Broncos seasons, an appreciation:— Broncos Outsider (@BroncosOutside) January 26, 2020
My favorite playoff wins, counted down:
January 11, 1987. AFCCG. "The Drive". On the greatest drive in NFL history, John Elway led the Broncos 98 1/2 yards to tie the Browns! In OT, we win 23-20 to go to the SB!#BroncosCountry pic.twitter.com/e7k4fb1xE4
In that year's Super Bowl, the Broncos lost to the New York Giants and fell again in the big game in 1987 and 1989.
Elway finally got his first ring in 1997 and snagged another in 1998, along with Super Bowl MVP.
The nine-time Pro Bowler announced his retirement soon after and left the game as the leader in victories by a starting quarterback.
Elway also played a key role to convince Manning to play for Denver, when the former Colt entered free agency in 2012. The move resulted in two more Super Bowl appearances for the Broncos and gave Elway his third Super Bowl ring, this time as an executive.
In 1999, he was inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame. As a testament to his impact on the franchise, he is the only inductee to have the customary five-year waiting period waived.