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Mile High Morning: Peyton Manning is No. 7 on The Athletic's all-time ranking of top 100 NFL players


The Lead

The number seven is a fixture of Denver's football legacy, worn by QB John Elway as he led the Broncos to two Super Bowl championships in the '90s. So it is somewhat fitting that legendary former Broncos QB Peyton Manning, who was recruited by Elway, then the GM, to play for Denver, has earned the No. 7 overall spot on The Athletic’s ranking of top 100NFL players of all time.

Manning left Indianapolis, where he spent the first 14 seasons of his NFL tenure, and joined the Broncos in 2012. Manning was recovering from surgery and learning a new system when he arrived in Denver, but would go on to bounce back in epic fashion to lead the Broncos to two Super Bowl appearances and finally a Super Bowl championship to cap the 2015 season, his last in the NFL.

"It was [the] first time I'd been hurt, which was bad enough," Manning said. "Then, I had to learn how to be an effective quarterback again, even though it meant adjusting my game. To be able to come back with a new team and be part of an organization that won another championship was very special."

Manning's Super Bowl wins are not the only reason he landed so high on The Athletic's all-time rankings — he earned more accolades, awards and titles during his career than most football players could ever hope to.

"In 17 NFL seasons with the Colts and Broncos, Manning won more MVP awards (five) than any player in NFL history and retired as the league's all-time leading passer," The Athletic's Jeff Duncan wrote. "He was the first NFL quarterback to win Super Bowls with two franchises. (Longtime rival Tom Brady became the second in February.) At the time of his retirement, Manning held NFL records in career passing yards (71,940), passing touchdowns (539) and consecutive seasons with at least 25 passing touchdowns (13). He earned Pro Bowl honors 14 times and All-Pro honors seven times. And last month, he was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame after being elected on the first ballot and a presentation to the voting committee that required less than five seconds."

In addition to his countless accomplishments on the field, Manning had another quality that set him apart from other quarterbacks and gave him an edge over the competition.

"What separated Manning from his peers was his beautiful mind," Duncan said. "Few quarterbacks in NFL history could process information as quickly and voraciously as Manning. When it came to reading coverages and making split-second decisions on where to throw the ball, he was a gridiron supercomputer."

Manning's football knowledge was equalled only by his work ethic and preparation — qualities that became synonymous with him name during his NFL career.

"There are a lot of talented players who don't work hard and some who do work hard but maybe don't have the physical ability," Manning said. "But if you can combine the two and have a passion for the game, well, then you have a chance to be really good."

"Good" is an understatement when it comes to Manning's tenure. The two-time Super Bowl champ and perennial Pro Bowl and All-Pro QB has left a legacy that will impact the league, the QB position and the Denver Broncos organization for the foreseeable future.

Below the Fold

It's obvious that Von Miller has panned out well for the Broncos as the No. 2 overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft. The defensive juggernaut has earned a number of Pro Bowl and All-Pro nods through his illustrious career, as well as securing Super Bowl MVP honors in the Broncos' Super Bowl 50 championship.

So when's Gil Brandt ranked the best members of the 2011 rookie class heading into 2021, Miller was at the top of the list. The dominant OLB is No. 1 on Brandt's rankings.

This season, Miller will reunite with fellow OLB Bradley Chubb to form a one-two punch on defense. The tandem should strike fear in the heart of opposing quarterbacks, as they proved to be a dangerous combination when they last played a full season together. 

"Miller (who missed most of 2020) will be on the field with Bradley Chubb (who missed most of 2019) on a regular basis for the first time since Chubb's rookie season in 2018, when they combined for a hearty 26.5 sacks," Brandt said.

Miller should also benefit from a reinforced Broncos secondary, who added a bevy of cornerback talent to their impressive safety duo of Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson. Brandt believes Miller is in line for a strong season as part of one of the top defenses in the NFL.

"Strong coverage from the Broncos' recharged secondary should give the pair even more time to wreak havoc with opposing QBs in 2021," Brandt said. "The Dallas product is primed for a big year."

The Unclassifieds

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