Remember : This series lauds players who aren't, or maybe never will be, inducted into Canton.
QUARTERBACK : Frank Tripuka
The Broncos, other than John Elway and (seemingly now) Jay Cutler, have had a revolving door at this position. Craig Morton deserves mention, but I'm picking the first QB in Broncos history. Tripuka was drafted in the first round of the 1949 draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, but was traded to the Detroit Lions before the season commenced. He started 4 games wth Detroit, and threw 9 touchdowns versus 14 interceptions. He also punted the ball 28 times that year. 1950 saw Frank traded to the Chicago Cardinals. He played in 19 games, starting 5, before being traded to the expansion Dallas Texans mid season in 1952. He started the last 6 games for the Texans, and helped the 1 - 11 Texans win their only game by scoring on a 1 yard plunge late in the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bears. Tripuka threw 3 touchdown passes that year, and was victimized for 17 interceptions, and also had 4 punts blocked on a career best 35 attempts. The Texans then folded after their one year in the NFL. Tripuka found himself in the Canadian Football League in 1954. He joined the Saskatchewan Roughriders, and started for them until 1958. He was traded to the Ottawa Rough Riders, but was released into the 1959 year. He rejoined Saskatchewan, but as an assistant coach because Saskatchewan could not put him on the roster. The CFL had a rule then where only 12 non-Canadians could play on each team. Saskatchewan lost all of their quaterbacks with two more games on the schedule. The team decided to play Tripuka and forfeited the last two games because of this move. 1960 saw the inception of the American Football League, and the Broncos were one of the teams starting out under it. Tripuka was initially tabbed to be an assistant coach, but the quarterbacks the Broncos had in camp were not acceptable. Frank was asked to suit up, and started for the Broncos the next three seasons. He led the AFL in 1960 with passing attempts, completions, yards gained passing per game, and passing yards. He also led the AFL with a career high 34 interceptions thrown and had a career best 24 touchdowns thrown as well. Tripuka led the AFL again in passing attempts, completions, yards gained passing per game, and passing yards in 1962. He was named to his only All Pro Team that year. Tripuka saw mop up duty in 2 games during the 1964 season, then retired. He is still ranked 5th overall in Broncos history on the passing chart, and his number was the first retired by the Broncos. Some may know Frank is the father of former NBA All Star Kelly Tripuka too. Frank Tripuka is a member of the Broncos Ring Of Fame, and helped the Broncos get its franchise off the ground.
HALFBACK : Terrell Davis
Floyd Little is a future CCC profilee, so I'm going with Davis. Though some are pushing for Terrell's induction into Canton, I just do not see that happening. Otis Armstrong definetely deserves mention as well. Davis was a 6th round draft pick by the Broncos in the 1995 draft. He quickly won the starters job in his rookie year, and gained 1,117 yards at a 4.7 yards per carry average. He also caught a career high 49 passes, and scored 8 touchdowns total. Davis gained 1,538 yards the next year, at and scored 15 touchdowns total. He was named to his first All Pro Team, and was named the AP Offensive Player Of The Year. Terrell led the NFL with 15 rushing touchdowns in 1997, and gained 1,750 yards. The Broncos would go on to win Super Bowl XXXII , as Davis was named the games MVP for gaining 157 yards on 30 carries. He also scored 3 of the Broncos 4 touchdowns, including the winning score in the 4th quarter. 1998 was the best season Davis had in the NFL. He set career highs with 2,008 yards, 21 rushing TD's, a 5.1 yards per carry, and an average of 125.5 yards rushing per game. He led the NFL in those categories as well. He even found the end zone 2 more times on 25 receptions. He was named to his 3rd straight, and last, All Pro Team. Davis was named Player Of The Year by the AP and the Pro Football Writers of America, as well as the AP Offensive Player Of The Year. The Broncos repeated as champions by winning Super Bowl XXXIII. Davis was hurt early in 1999, and was never quite the same again. He carried the ball 145 times for 493 yards and 4 TD's in 1999 and 2000 combined. In 2001, Davis carried the ball 167 times for 701 yards, but failed the score for the first time in his career. He retired after that year. For a few years, there was few better in the NFL at Running Back than Terrell. He was fast and strong, with sure hands. In fact, he only fumbled twice on a whopping 397 carries in 1998. He is a member of the Broncos Ring Of Fame, and is one of the finest to ever have suited up in the Mile High.
FULLBACK: Jon Keyworth
This choice was made on longevity, because the Broncos have had many players at this position for brief times. Cookie Gilchrist is the first All Pro in the team's history at this position. Armstrong was the second, when he played alongside Little in 1974. Howard Griffith deserves mention too, due to his blocking abilities. I chose Keyworth, an undervalued man in the teams history. Keyworth was a 6th round draft choice of the Washington Redskins in the 1974 draft, but did not make the team. The Broncos quickly picked up the former Colorado University star, and quickly made Jon their short yardage specialist. Though he ended up starting 5 games as a rookie as well, he ended up scoring a career high 10 touchdowns for Denver on 81 carries. When starting Fullback Otis Armstrong went down early in 1975, Keyworth took over. He gained 725 yards on 182 carries, and had 42 receptions, all of which led the team. These are his career highs for one season, and he also scored 4 times. With Armstrong healthy in 1976 and now playing Halfback, Keyworth spent most of the rest of his time blocking for Denver. In 1977, the Broncos played in Super Bowl XII. Though Keyworth missed 3 games that year due to injury, his highlight was scoring a TD in the AFC Championship win over the defending champion Oakland Raiders. Jon retired after the 1980 season with 699 carries for 2,653 yards and 22 rushing TD's. He also caught 141 passes for 3 more scores, and even tossed his only pass for a 32 yard score in 1979. Though guys like Little and Armstrong were considered the stars on the backfield in Keyworth's time with Denver, he may be the best Fullback in Broncos history.
WIDE RECEIVER : Haven Moses
Lionel Taylor will be a future CCC profilee, so I'm picking Haven. Moses was a 1st round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills in the 1968 AFL Draft. He caught 42 balls for 633 yards and 2 scores in his rookie year. Haven then caught 39 balls in each of the two following years, and averaged 19 yards per catch to go with 7 scores. He made the All Pro Team in 1969. 1971 saw Haven snare 23 balls at a 20.4 yard average. He also scored twice. Haven only caught 3 balls for 60 yards and a touchdown for the Bills in the first 5 games of 1972. He was then traded to the Broncos and caught 15 passes for 5 scores in 8 games. One score was off a career long 76 yards pass, and he even scored another touchdown on a 22 yard run. Haven caught 28 balls for 518 yards and had a career best 8 TD's the following season. He was named to his last All Pro Team that year. Moses then caught 34 balls for 2 TD's the next year, and 29 passes and 2 scores in 1975. He had 7 touchdowns on 25 catches the following year. The Broncos reached Super Bowl XII in 1977, and Haven was a big part of the reason. He averaged 20 yards on 27 receptions, to go with 4 TD's. Haven averaged 20 yards on 37 receptions the next year, and scored 5 times. 1979 was his best season, as Haven set career highs with 54 receptions for 943 yards. He also scored 6 times. 1980 saw Haven snag 38 passes and 4 scores. Moses started just 6 games in 1982, and had 15 catches and his last touchdown. He retired after that season with 448 receptions for 8,091 yards and 56 touchdowns. His career average of 18.1 yards per catch is very impressive in any era. Haven Moses is in the Broncos Ring Of Honor, and is certainly one of the best Wide Receivers in the franchises history.
WIDE RECEIVER : Rod Smith
Rod was a free agent rookie signed by the Broncos before the 1995 season. He did start one game and had 6 catches for 154 yards and a score. He also returned 4 kickoffs for 54 yards. Rod started 1 game again the next season, and had 16 catches for 237 yards and 2 TD's. He also had a career high 23 punt returns for 283 yards, and a 29 yard kickoff return. Rod really broke out in 1997, when he had 70 receptions for 1,180 yards and a career best 12 touchdowns, which helped the Broncos go on to win Super Bowl XXXII. Smith then had 86 receptions for 1,222 yards and 6 scores the following year, as the Broncos repeated as NFL Champions. He also threw a 14 yard pass completion. He had 79 catches for 1,020 yards and 4 scores the following season. Rod earned his first Pro Bowl honor, when he had 100 receptions for a career best 1,602 yards and 8 touchdowns in 2000. He also rushed 6 times for 99 yards, including a 50 yard touchdown run. 2001 was a year where Rod set a franchise record of 113 catches, which led the NFL. He had 1,343 yards and 11 scores as well, and made his second All Pro Team. He had 89 catches for 1,027 yards and 5 TD's the next year. 2003 was the first time Rod did not gain 1,000 yards receiving since 1996. He had 74 catches for 845 yards and 3 TD's. He also tossed a 72 yards pass that year, and returned a punt for a score on 6 attempts. In 2004, he had 79 balls for 1,144 yards and 7 scores, to go with 22 punt returns for 223 yards. Rod made his final All Pro Team in 2005, when he had 85 catches for 1,105 yards and 6 scores. Rod was hurt in 2006, but managed 52 receptions for 512 yards and 3 scores. He tried to come back healthy, but ultimately decided to retire with team records of 849 receptions for 11,389 yards and 68 touchdowns. He also had 53 punt returns for 647 yards and a score. Though Rod made get some consideration for Canton, his only having played 3 All Pro games will work against his cause. Still, he most definetely will be put in the Broncos Ring Of Honor soon, and is one of the best Wide Receivers the Broncos have ever had. Al Denson and Steve Watson are just a few other excellent Broncos WR's that deserve mention.
TIGHT END : Riley Odoms
Riley was the Broncos 1st round draft pick in 1972. He was put to use immediately. Riley caught 21 balls for 320 yards and a touchdown. Denver also liked to hand the ball off to Odoms, and he carried the ball 5 times for 72 yards. 1973 saw Odoms snag 43 balls for 629 yards and a career high 7 TD's. He also carried the ball 5 times for 53 yards, and was named to his first All Pro Team. Odoms followed that up in 1974 with another All Pro season. He caught 42 passes for 639 yards and 6 scores. He also carried the ball 4 times for 25 yards. Riley had 40 catches for 544 yards and 3 touchdowns in 1975. He also had 5 rushing attempts for 27 yards, and was named to his 3rd All Pro Team. Riley caught 67 passes for 908 yards and 6 TD's over the next two years. He also ran 3 times for 36 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Broncos would go to Super Bowl XII in 1977. Riley had the best season of his career in 1978. He set career highs with 54 receptions for 829 yards. He also scored 6 times, and was named to his final All Pro Team. From 1979 to 1981, Odoms had 117 receptions for 1,744 yards and 12 scores. Riley was known as a ferocious blocker, and began to help the Broncos offensive line in 1982, seeing time as a Tackle. He only caught 8 balls that year. 1983 would be his last in the NFL, and he caught 4 passes in the 2 games he played. Riley retired with 396 receptions for 5,755 yards and 41 touchdowns receiving. He also carried the ball 25 times for 211 yards and 2 more scores. Odoms was an excellent blocker, and a threat downfield with an average of 14.5 yards per reception in his career. He was consistent and dependable. How many TE's can you think of that had 25 rushing attempts? For some reason, he has yet to be put in the Broncos Ring Of Honor, but Riley Odoms is the most complete Tight End in Broncos history.
TACKLE : Eldon Danenhauer
Eldon joined the expansion Broncos in 1960 as a 25 year old free agent rookie. He started right away at Right Tackle, and would do so until he retired after the 1965 season. He even got to play 4 games with his older brother Bill in his rookie year. Though the Broncos were not an AFL powerhouse, they did have a fairly prolific offense during Eldons tenure. In 1962, he was named to his first All Pro Team, and even got to return the only kickoff of his career for 11 yards. Eldon made his final All Pro Team in 1965, then retired. Though the Broncos have had many fine blockers in their history, Danenhauer's 2 Pro Bowls rank second behind Hall of Famer Gary Zimmerman's 3 in Broncos history. Though he may get lost in the shuffle by some due to the teams lack of success, Eldon Danenhauer is certainly one of the best offensive tackles in Broncos history.
TACKLE : Mike Current
Mike was drafted by the Broncos in the 3rd round of the 1967 AFL Draft. He was traded to the Miami Dolphins for 1 game, then was then traded back to the Broncos and played 3 games for them. Mike was named a starter before the 1968 season, and would remain firmly entrenched as one for the rest of his career. In 1969, Current was named to his only All Pro Team. After playing just 7 games in 1975 due to injury, the Broncos left Mike exposed to the veterans allocation expansion draft for the fledgeling Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He played just one year for Tampa Bay in 1976, a year most noted for the team going winless. Current then rejoined the Dolphins in 1977, and started for them until he retired after the 1979 season. The Broncos got lucky that the Dolphins traded Mike back to them in his rookie year. He was a dependable stalwart on a line that opened holes for Floyd Little and Otis Armstrong. Though Claudie Minor and Matt Lepsis surely deserve mention as well, Mike Current is certainly one of the best blockers in Broncos history.
GUARD : Keith Bishop
Keith was drafted by the Broncos in the 6th round of the 1980 draft. He spent his first 2 seasons as a reserve, before earning a starting job in 1983. Bishop made the Pro Bowl twice in his career in 1986 and 1987. He retired after 1989 to become a DEA agent in Washington D.C. Noted for his toughness and extraordinary trap blocking skills, Keith Bishop is one of the finest Guards to have ever played for the Denver Broncos.
GUARD : Jerry Sturm
Jerry was signed as a free agent rookie by the Broncos in 1961. His rookie season saw him carry the ball 8 times for 31 yards, and catch a pass. He then played as a Tackle the next year, and moved to Center the next 2 years. Jerry made his first AFL All Star Team in 1962 at this position. He was then moved to Guard the next year for the remainder of his time with the Broncos. He made his final All Star Team in 1966. Jerry then went on to the New Orleans Saints the next year, and played Tackle for them for 2 seasons until being moved to Center in 1969. He was then playing for the Houston Oilers as a Center in 1971. He then joined the Pittsburgh Steelers the next year, and suited up for one game. He retired after that year. Though Jerry Sturm was a versatile lineman who played all positions, he is certainly one of the better blockers in Denver Broncos history. George Goeddeke and Mark Schlereth deserve mention as well.
CENTER : Tom Nalen
Tom was a 7th round pick of the Broncos in 1994. He spent his first year as a reserve and suited up for 7 games, though he did start 1. He was named a starter the next year, and would start every game he played in for the Broncos until he retired in 2007. He made his first All Pro Team in 1997, and even made his only pass reception that year. He continued to be an All Pro until 2000. He was a key member of the excellent offensive line that helped lead the Broncos to back to back championships in 1997 and 1998. Nalen got hurt in 2002, and started just 7 games. He returned strong the next year, and made his final All Pro Team. Tom suffered another injury in 2007, and played just 5 games. He tried to rehabilitate the injury, but then decided to retire. Tom Nalen will most likely find his way into the Broncos Ring Of Honor soon, because he is probably the greatest Center in Broncos history.
KICKER : Jason Elam
There are other Broncos kickers who deserve mention. Gene Mingo was a two time AFL All Pro who led the league in scoring twice, and is the first black place kicker in pro football history. He also returned the first punt for a touchdown in AFL history, and holds the franchise record for the longest rushing touchdown of 82 yards. Jim Turner was a long time kicker who is in the Broncos Ring Of Honor. David Treadaway had a Pro Bowl season for Denver as well. Still, Elam has to be considered the best in Denver Broncos history. Elam is mostly known for tying the NFL record of a 63 year yard field goal by casual fans, but he meant more to the team than that. No player in NFL history has scored more points for one team than Elam has with the Denver Broncos. Elam was drafted in the 3rd round of the 1993 draft by the Broncos. He has NFL records for most consecutive extra points made, best extra point conversion percentage, most consecutive seasons with at least 100 points, most seasons with at least 100 points, fastest to 300 successful field goals, fastest to 1,600 points and fastest to 1,700 points. Elam was the first player in NFL history to score at least 200 points against three or more teams as well. Factor in his 2 Super Bowl rings as well, and it's an easy call here for Elam. He may actually get into Canton one day, but we have seen several great kickers and punters get neglected before him. Players like Ray Guy, and many more, await their call. I have long stated the under appreciation of specialists by some voters. Jason Elam deserves the call, and is easily the best Kicker in Broncos history. He still is going strong as a member of the Atlanta Falcons currently.
RETURN SPECIALIST : Rick Upchurch
Rick was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 4th round of the 1975 draft. He was used as a return specialist immediately. He had 1,084 yards on 40 kickoff returns for an impressive 27.1 average. He also had an 11.6 yard per punt return average on 27 attempts. Upchurch exploded onto the NFL scene the next year, and was named to his first All Pro team. He scored 4 times on punt returns that season, which tied an NFL record. He also led the league with a 13.7 average, and a career best 92 yard return. Rick led the NFL in 1977 with 653 punt return yards. He also scored on a 87 yard return, helping the Broncos capture the AFC Championship. Upchurch, now primarily a punt returner and wide receiver, went back to the Pro Bowl in 1977. He led the NFL with a 13.7 punt return average, while scoring on a 75 yard return. 1979 was Rick's best year as a pass catcher. He had career bests with 64 receptions for 937 yards and 7 touchdowns. He also averaged 10.1 yards on punt returns, as he was honored as an All Pro. Upchurch spent his last few years as a wide receiver mainly. In 1982, Rick returned 15 punts and scored the last 2 touchdowns of his career via special teams. He also led the NFL with a career best 16.1 yards per return. His leading the NFL in punt return average 3 times is tied for an NFL record. Rick Upchurch retired after the 1983 season with 267 receptions and 24 touchdowns. He also rushed for 349 yards on 49 attempts, and scored 3 times. Rick had a 24.8 average on 95 kick returns, and a 12.1 average on 248 returns. His 8 punt return touchdowns are tied for the third most in NFL history.
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