Over the course of their nearly 55-year history, the Denver Broncos have employed an enormous number of gifted athletes. Today, we at Mile High Huddle continue our celebration of the franchise by counting down the top-five players at each position in team 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 kickers in Broncos history. Now, you may be asking why we’d include kickers on our list. After all, the kicker is to football what the bumble bee is to the animal kingdom. You’re never quite sure why they exist until you need some honey. Placekickers have immense value for NFL teams, and throughout their history the Broncos have had a number of quality athletes at the position.
No. 5: Gene Mingo
(1960-1964): 60.5% field goal percentage, long of 53 yards.
The Broncos original kicker was an athlete of the highest order. Mingo wore many different hats during his five seasons with the Broncos. He was a kick returner, running back, and punter. However, it’s his work as a placekicker that earns him his place on this list.
Mingo was the first African-American placekicker in the history of professional football. With that mantle came an immense amount of pressure. Mingo rose to the challenge. He was a two-time American Football League All-Star, and is one of just two placekickers in the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame.
No. 4: Rich Karlis
(1982-1988): 70% field goal percentage, long of 51 yards.
The last of the barefooted kickers, Rich Karlis booted footballs through the uprights with a naked paw for seven of the most successful seasons in team history. During that time, Karlis made some of the most memorable kicks in NFL history, including the game-winning overtime kick that sent the Broncos to Super Bowl XXI, capping off the 1986 AFC Championship game.
However, Karlis’ time in Denver wasn’t all great. His 23-yard miss in Super Bowl XXI still holds the record for the shortest miss in the history of the big game. Nonetheless, having Karlis on the roster for seven seasons meant rarely having to worry about the stability of their kicker in the clutch.
No. 3: Matt Prater
(2007-2014): 82.9% field goal percentage, long of 64 yards.
If Saturday Night Live has taught us anything in its 40-year history, it’s that land-sharks are real, cowbell is a great treatment for headaches, and Jesus prays to Matt Prater. Had it not been for Prater’s herculean efforts during the 2011 season, the word, “Tebowmania” would never have entered into the American lexicon. During second half of that season, Prater made everything, including a 59 and 51-yard kick within about seven minutes of each other. His record during that campaign alone would land him on this list.
For nearly eight years Matt Prater was the most constant entity on Denver’s roster. If the Broncos were a field goal shy in the closing seconds of a ballgame, you knew the game was over. For the vast majority of his career, Prater was money. He represented the Broncos in the 2013 Pro Bowl, and was named an Associated Press Second Team All-Pro in 2013, not to mention he’s the NFL record holder for longest field goal kick in league history with a 64-yarder during a miserably cold 2013 game against the Tennessee Titans.
No. 2: Jim Turner
(1971-1979): 65.1% field goal percentage, long of 53 yards.
You may not remember Jim Turner, but his place in Broncos history cannot be understated. When he joined the team in 1971 after six years with the New York Jets, Turner gave the Broncos the first quality full-time placekicker in their brief history. He stabilized the position, and made Broncos fans confident in their special teams unit for the first time since Gene Mingo had left the team more than a half-decade earlier.
Turner helped kick the Broncos to their first Super Bowl berth in 1977, making 68.4% of his kicks that season. He was a gifted kicker with tremendous accuracy for the era. Inducted in 1988, Turner is still the only pure placekicker with his name enshrined in the Broncos Ring of Fame.
No. 1 Jason Elam
(1993-2007): 80.6% field goal percentage, long of 63 yards.
Jason Elam is not just one of the top-five kickers in Denver Broncos history; he’s one of the top-five kickers in NFL history. A Bronco for 15 remarkable years, Elam set the standard for every kicker who would wear orange and blue after him. His kicks possessed a kind of sharp accuracy and sneaky power that kickers like Denver’s current shoe jockey Connor Barth modeled their games after.
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When he left Denver in 2007, Elam was one of the franchise’s last remaining connections to their Super Bowl championship teams of the late 90’s, and even though Elam would continue his career—albeit for only a short while—with the Atlanta Falcons, he always thought of himself as a Bronco. When he retired from football in 2010, he came back to Denver to sign a one day contract with the team.
At that ceremony, owner Pat Bowlen was quoted by the Denver Post’s Mike Klis as saying of Elam, “He’s definitely going into the Broncos Ring of Fame. Hell, I think he’s a Pro Football Hall of Famer…I’ll try to use some influence if I can to see that he gets there.”