Broncos Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos are one of the most successful franchises in NFL history, playing in many Super Bowls and winning their fair share as well.

But the Broncos’ success didn’t just begin with the arrival of John Elway in the early 1980s. The franchise was highly successful in the 1970s and even made a Super Bowl. In the years since they’ve continued to put together strong teams, often built around solid quarterbacks. While they’re in the midst of a downturn, it’s hard to imagine the Broncos won’t be back on top soon.

Here are the 10 best players in Denver Broncos history:

10. Ed McCaffrey, wide receiver

Many modern-day fans know about San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey, but his father Ed was a superstar in his own right with the Denver Broncos. McCaffrey was John Elway’s go-to guy in that Denver offense in the late 1990s. He was a three-time Super Champion and Pro Bowler, ending his career with over 7,400 yards receiving and 55 touchdowns.

9. Rod Smith, wide receiver

Rod Smith spent his entire 13-year career with the Broncos, playing with both John Elway and Peyton Manning. Smith is a two-time Super Bowl champion, three-time Pro Bowler, and once led the NFL in receptions. He also was the first undrafted player to reach 10,000 receiving yards and the 24th in history overall. He also has the most receiving yards (11,389) and touchdown receptions (68) of any undrafted player in NFL history. Smith holds Broncos franchise records in career receptions, receiving yards, and touchdown catches. He’s still waiting on his call from the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

8. Karl Mecklenburg, linebacker

Coming out of college, Karl Mecklenburg was a 12th-round draft choice. That paid off for Denver as he was a huge part of that Orange Crush defense of the Broncos of the 1980s. His 79 sacks are the third-highest total in franchise history and he is one of only three Broncos with four sacks in a game and the only one to do so twice. Mecklenburg was a four-time Pro Bowler and ended his career with 1,100 tackles.

7. Floyd Little, running back

Floyd Little‘s career had an interesting beginning. He was supposed to attend the Army and was recruited by General Douglas MacArthur, but Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis persuaded him to attend Syracuse and wear the iconic No. 44. After earning All-American status for three straight years, he ended up with the Denver Broncos where he became a five-time Pro Bowler. He led the NFL in combined yards in 1967 and 1968 and retired as the NFL’s seventh all-time leading rusher with 6,323 yards rushing and 54 total touchdowns. He is a member of the College Football and Pro Football Hall of Fame.

6. Randy Gradishar, linebacker

Unless you a true-blue Broncos fan, you may not remember Randy Gradishar. Gradishar spent his nine-year career in Denver where he was a seven-time Pro Bowler and NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1978. He ended his career with almost 20 sacks and over 2,000 tackles. He is a member of the College Football and Pro Football Hall of Fame.

5. Von Miller, linebacker

Coming out of Texas A&M, Von Miller was a monster at linebacker. Miller was a two-time Super Bowl champion, AP NFL Rookie of the Year,  NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Super Bowl 50 MVP, and eight-time Pro Bowler. In Super Bowl 50, Miller played the game of his life to preserve the Broncos’ victory, causing Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton to fumble on 3rd and 10 leading to a Broncos touchdown. He also caused Newton to fumble again when the Panthers were about to score and take the lead. Miller ended the game with two and a half sacks, two forced fumbles, two quarterback hurries, and six tackles.

4. Peyton Manning, quarterback

Although most football fans associate Peyton Manning with the Indianapolis Colts, he spent the last few years of his NFL career with the Denver Broncos. Manning had some of his best years with the Broncos. During his four seasons there, he went to two Super Bowls, won his second Super Bowl, won NFL Comeback Player of the Year, won his fifth NFL MVP Award, and led the league in passing in 2013. Manning ended his Hall of Fame career with over 71,000 passing yards and 539 touchdowns.

3. Terrell Davis, running back

Terrell Davis was the special ingredient the Broncos were missing all those years in the 1990s. With Davis in the backfield along with John Elway, they won two Super Bowls. While he only played seven seasons in the NFL, he made the most of them, leaving as the Broncos’ all-time leading rusher and the NFL record-holder for most postseason single-season touchdowns (8). The 1998 NFL MVP and Super Bowl XXXII MVP rushed for over 7,600 yards and 60 touchdowns. He is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

2. Shannon Sharpe, tight end

Before Shannon Sharpe opened Club Shay Shay, he was an iconic Denver Bronco. Sharpe spent the majority of his NFL career in a Denver uniform. While Sharpe was known for his mouth, he often backed it up with his play. He is a three-time Super Bowl champ (twice with the Broncos). He is also an eight-time Pro Bowler and is part of the NFL’s 1990s All-Decade team. He also set the NFL record for most receiving yards by a tight end in one game (214). Sharpe ended his career with over 10,000 receiving yards and 62 touchdowns. Sharpe is also a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

1. John Elway, quarterback

If there is one guy who could call the face of the Denver Broncos, it’s John Elway. Coming out of Stanford, Elway spurned the Baltimore Colts, saying he wouldn’t play for them, and ended up with the Broncos. Elway was a running and a passing threat and often put the team on his back in his early seasons, taking the team to three Super Bowls by 1990. But as he got older, his game got better, and the franchise gave him the weapons he needed to win two Super Bowls in the late 1990s before retiring. Elway is a nine-time Pro Bowler, NFL MVP, NFL passing leader, part of the NFL 1990s All-Decade team, and a member of the NFL’s 100th Anniversary team. Elway ended his career with over 51,000 passing yards, 300 passing touchdowns, and 33 rushing touchdowns. Oh, and he helped the Broncos win another Super Bowl as general manager.

About Stacey Mickles

Stacey is a 1995 graduate of the University of Alabama who has previously worked for other publications such as Sportskeeda and Saturday Down South.