Over the course of their nearly 55-year history, the Denver Broncos have employed an enormous number of gifted athletes. Over the next several days, Mile High Huddle will be celebrating the history of the franchise, and remembering some of the greats who’ve played in Denver by selecting the top-five players at every position in franchise history. These ratings are based off of statistical greatness and film study. Longevity will play little to no factor.
Today, we’ll be looking at the top-five wide receivers in Broncos history. Now, the Broncos have had a number of great receivers over the years. So, in order to keep the list as succinct as possible, we’ll only be selecting players who spent their entire career at wide receiver. That means you won’t find Lionel Taylor, a linebacker who was converted to safety in the team’s first year on this list.
No. 5: Ed McCaffrey
(1995-2003): 462 receptions, 6,200 yards, 46 touchdowns
Long before he was selling orthotics and doing color on the Broncos radio broadcasts, Ed McCaffrey was one of the most feared No. 2 receivers in professional football. At a lanky 6-foot-5, McCaffrey was able to create space using his impressive size and sneaky speed.
Before coming to Denver, McCaffrey spent three seasons with the New York Giants and a year with the 49ers. He’s a three-time Super Bowl Champion, whose unique skill-set and offensive grit played a key role in the Broncos success in the late ‘90s.
No. 4: Haven Moses
(1972-1981): 302 receptions, 5,450 yards, 44 touchdowns.
Perhaps the most talented player on the Broncos 1977 AFC Championship team, Haven Moses made a career out of being a big play threat for mediocre quarterbacks. During the course of his ten-year Broncos career he averaged 18 yards per reception, an astonishing figure for the era.
Inducted into the Broncos “Ring of Fame” in 1988, Moses was widely regarded as the best receiver in team history, prior to 1990. To this day, he’s considered one of the most gifted deep threats in NFL history, and has even merited some hall of fame discussion over the last two decades.
No. 3: Brandon Marshall
(2006-2009): 327 receptions, 4,019 yards, 25 touchdowns.
When Brandon Marshall was drafted in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL draft, few expected him to become the force of nature he was during his three seasons in the Mile High City. To say that Marshall was Jay Cutler’s favorite target would be an understatement. No receiver has ever been as integral to a Broncos offense as Marshall was during the Cutler years.
He’s the only receiver in Broncos history to record three consecutive 100-reception seasons, and his 60.33% reception rate (receptions/targets) is among the best in team history. During his time with Denver, Marshall was a freaky athlete, with a powerful motor and ideal size for the position. Had it not been for off-the-field concerns and attitude issues, he very well could have become the leading receiver in Denver Broncos history.
No. 2: Demaryius Thomas
(2010-Present): 351 receptions, 5,317 yards, 41 touchdowns.
Thomas may very well be the most talented offensive weapon in Broncos history. His unique combination of size and speed make him an incredibly dangerous outside threat. He’s been a tremendous asset to the team during their recent history.
His big play capability and tremendous athletic gifts have put Thomas on the fast track for Hall of Fame consideration by the end of his career. However, he’ll need to refocus on football this season if he’s going to overcome some ongoing contract issues.
No. 1: Rod Smith
(1995-2006): 849 receptions, 11,389 yards. 68 touchdowns.
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Was there really any doubt? Rod Smith is the franchise leader in nearly every statistical receiving category, he was a three-time Pro Bowler, two-time All Pro, and was a key contributor to the Broncos championship teams in 1997 and 1998.
Smith is one of the greatest undrafted players in NFL history, and served as the top receiving target for seven Broncos quarterbacks in his 11 seasons with the team. Smith was inducted into the “Ring of Fame” in 2012, and very well could find a place in Canton, OH.