Over the course of their nearly 55- year history, the Denver Broncos have employed an 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 back at the top-five tight ends in Broncos history. Over the years, the tight end position has had varying value. Some coaching staffs have valued the tight end position as a cornerstone of the offense; others used the tight end as little more than an extra blocker in the run game.
No. 5 Tony Scheffler
(2006-2009): 138 receptions, 14 touchdowns, zero Pro Bowls.
Had Tony Scheffler not been one of the many unceremonious casualties of the Josh McDaniels era, he very well may have found his way to a long and successful Bronco career. Scheffler was a quality two-way tight end, capable of both creating holes in the running game, and being a threat in the passing game.
Drafted in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft, Scheffler would make his mark in team history during the short-lived Broncos career of the team’s 2006 first round pick, Jay Cutler. Along with receiver Brandon Marshall, Scheffler was one of Cutler’s favorite targets in the late 2000s, and remains one of the greatest “what ifs” of Denver Broncos history.
No. 4: Clarence Kay
(1984-1992): 193 receptions, 13 touchdowns, zero Pro Bowls.
Drafted in the seventh round of the 1984 NFL Draft, Clarence Kay came into the league as an elite blocking tight end. By the end of Kay’s fifth season, Dan Reeves and the Broncos coaching staff had developed him into a quality receiving threat as well.
Kay spent all nine seasons of his NFL career in Denver, and became the second truly consistent Bronco tight end. While off-the-field issues certainly shortened Kay’s career, there’s little doubt his time in Denver made a monumental impact on the team’s history. Kay played on three AFC Champion teams, and helped the Broncos make the NFL playoffs five of his nine seasons.
No. 3: Julius Thomas
(2011-2014): 109 receptions, 24 touchdowns, 2 Pro Bowls.
It’s difficult to talk about a players’ role in Broncos history without the benefit of hindsight. Julius Thomas’ Bronco legacy is still being digested, and still very much up for debate. There’s no doubt that he was an athletic phenome— a total freak of nature, capable of winning virtually every one-on-one matchup.
However, when watching Thomas, it was easy to wonder whether he really wanted to be there. He rarely committed to the run game, and could make things difficult for the Broncos if he wasn’t interested in his role on a particular play.
Yet, during his time in Denver, Thomas became one of Peyton Manning’s most reliable weapons. He played with the team during an era of intense success, and can be credited with winning multiple games for the team.
No. 2: Riley Odoms
(1972-1983): 396 receptions, 41 touchdowns, 4 Pro Bowls.
Before Shannon Sharpe set the standard for Bronco tight ends, there was Riley Odoms. In 1972, Odoms became the second highest drafted tight end in NFL history. He’d spend the next twelve years reinventing the tight end position. Odoms started 134 games for the Broncos, and never averaged less than ten yards per game in any season.
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Odoms started on the Broncos first AFC Champion team in 1978, and became one of the most complete tight ends in NFL history. He’d retire as a four time Pro-Bowler, two time first team All-Pro. The fact that he’s yet to be inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame is genuinely upsetting.
No. 1: Shannon Sharpe
(1990-1998, 2002-2003): 675 receptions, 55 touchdowns, 7 Pro Bowls.
What can be said about Shannon Sharpe that Shannon hasn’t already said himself? He’s not only by far the greatest tight end in Broncos history, he’s perhaps the greatest in the history of the game. As a Bronco, he was a seven-time Pro Bowler, four-time first team All-Pro tight end, two-time Super Bowl champion, starter on the 1990s All-Decade team, Ring of Fame inductee, and a 2011 inductee of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Sharpe came into the league as a tweener. He was thought to be too small to play tight end, and too big to be a wide receiver. So, instead of adapting to the position, he made the position adapt to him.
Sharpe changed the way teams thought about the tight end position, and became an ever present threat in the passing game. Furthermore, while not exactly a people mover, Sharpe was always a willing blocker. Shannon Sharpe was a complete player, who permanently changed the tight end position.
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