Over the past 40 years, perhaps no team aside from the Green Bay Packers has been richer at the quarterback position than the Denver Broncos. But even going further back than that, Denver has boasted some very good signal-callers. Here are the five best.
5. Brian Griese, 1998-2002
A third-round pick in 1998, Griese had the unfortunate responsibility of replacing John Elway in his second season. Griese would go on to start four seasons for Denver, going 26-24 and throwing for 11,763 yards, 71 touchdowns, and 53 interceptions. His best campaign came in 2000 when he made the Pro Bowl after tossing 19 touchdowns and just four picks in 10 games.
The Broncos also made the playoffs that year, losing in the Wild Card round. Griese never became a franchise QB, but considering his draft slot, his team got very good value with him. He was a decent starter, which is more than most QBs can say.
4. Craig Morton, 1977-1982
A longtime Dallas Cowboy, Morton spent nine-and-a-half years with America’s team, with three of those coming as a full-time starter. Overall, Morton went an impressive 32-14-1 with Dallas before being traded to the New York Giants halfway through the 1974 campaign. He started 33 games in The Big Apple, going 8-25 and throwing 29 touchdowns to 49 interceptions. At the age of 34, it looked like Morton’s NFL career was over.
Then, the Broncos called. Morton finished his career with the team, starting 64 games and going 41-23. He threw for 11,895 yards with 74 scores and 65 INTs. Morton did not have a losing season, made the playoffs in each of his first three years in Denver, and won the 1977 Comeback Player of the Year award as the Broncos made it all the way to the Super Bowl, losing to Morton’s old team, the Cowboys. Morton’s numbers aren’t fantastic, but his teams found enough success to land him on this list.
3. Jake Plummer, 2003-2006
Plummer, fresh off six inconsistent seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, signed with the Broncos during the 2003 offseason. In his three full years of starting, Plummer led Denver to three playoff appearances, including a berth in the AFC Championship Game in 2005. Plummers’ 2006 campaign wasn’t going as well, but the Broncos were still 7-4 after 11 games.
Head coach Mike Shanahan decided to replace Plummer with highly-touted rookie Jay Cutler, and Plummer retired after the season. As a whole, he went 39-15 while throwing for 11,631 yards, 71 touchdowns, and 47 picks. His time with team was relatively short, but Plummer’s strong play places him behind only two Hall of Famers in Broncos lore.
2. Peyton Manning, 2012-2015
No. He isn’t a Hall of Famer just yet (he will first be eligible in 2021), but Manning is the definition of a lock. He started for 13 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, winning a Super Bowl and putting together a truly Hall of Fame-worthy career. Then he missed the 2011 campaign with a serious neck injury, and the Colts parted ways with him. Manning then signed with Denver, but many wondered if he even had anything left in the tank at this point, given he was 36 years old.
In 2012, he led the Broncos to a 13-3 record by throwing for 4,659 yards, 37 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The next season, all he did was set the NFL records for passing yards (5,477) and touchdowns (55) in a single season, on his way to his record fifth MVP award and another Super Bowl appearance, although Denver was handily defeated by the Seattle Seahawks. Manning had another stellar season in 2014, but the Broncos again lost in the Divisional round of the playoffs.
2015 was a rough season for Manning. He missed the final six games of the regular season due to injury (the first time he had missed any games in his career aside from 2011), and before that, he had thrown just nine touchdowns compared to 17 picks. He didn’t play a whole lot better during the postseason, but the Broncos were able to make it back to the Super Bowl and defeat the Carolina Panthers for Manning’s second championship. He retired afterwards, going out on top.
1. John Elway, 1983-1998
16 years, nine Pro Bowls, one MVP, and two Super Bowl wins. Elway was originally drafted first overall by the Baltimore Colts, but refused to play for the team. Denver traded for him, which was the best decision the franchise has ever made.
Over his career, Elway lead the team to the playoffs 10 times, with five of those seasons ending in Super Bowl appearances. Elway started 234 games, going 148-82-1, and throwing for 51,475 yards and 300 touchdowns. His playoff heroics are legendary (just ask the Cleveland Browns), and even as good as Manning was during his time in Denver, there is no doubt that Elway is the greatest Broncos QB of all time.