Denver Broncos | News

Mile High Morning: Who are the five scariest players in Broncos history on offense and defense?


The Lead

Happy Halloween, Broncos fans!

Let's get in the spirit with a fun question: Which Broncos players in team history are the scariest on each side of the ball? The way I see it, this is a weighing of talent and personality, and the Broncos have no shortage of either.

My list is below, but here are some honorable mentions before we begin: Brian Dawkins, Randy Gradishar, Tom Jackson, John Lynch, Karl Mecklenburg, Bill Romanowski, Mark Schlereth, Rick Upchurch, Derek Wolfe, Louis Wright, Gary Zimmerman.


5. S Dennis Smith

We'll get to his Hall of Fame counterpart shortly, but Smith somehow flies under the radar a bit now, almost two decades after his career ended. Smith was a wild and violent hitter, and alongside Steve Atwater, the Broncos had perhaps the hardest-hitting safety tandem in NFL history. Running backs looking for daylight and receivers coming across the middle had to think twice when they heard Smith's footsteps. But don't take my word for it; here's Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas talking about Smith in 1994: "He just scares the hell out of me."

4. DE Lyle Alzado

Though the Broncos' Orange Crush defense had lots of great talent, no one was more terrifying than Alzado, who called sacking quarterbacks "a product of uncontrolled rage." And boy, did Alzado turn his rage into a lot of sacks. The Brooklyn native's reputation also gained notoriety because he was likely to use his rage after the whistle, too.

3. OLB Von Miller

Pure and simple, Von Miller is a game-wrecker. His first step is as fast as anyone's, and his ability to bend low as he goes under offensive linemen when he turns the corner may be the best we've seen. For offensive linemen, that's scary enough — blink and you'll miss him — but he's also got an underrated strength and the savvy understanding of when to use it. If you're a quarterback or a tackle, watch his 2015 postseason tape and you'll stay up all night.

2. Rich Jackson

No player in team history has a nickname more fitting for this holiday than "Tombstone," and he earned it. During his heyday, Jackson was a ruthless monster who engulfed quarterbacks and running backs in the backfield. But the scariest thing about him may have been his favorite moves, the head slap and the halo spinner — moves that were later banned.

"When I think of him, I think of pain," Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson once said.

1. S Steve Atwater

What's scarier than seeing "The Smiling Assassin" bearing down on you? At this point, I have the audio of his hit on Christian Okoye seared into my memory. The 2020 Hall of Famer had fantastic timing on his hits to dislodge passes at the time of reception, and he filled running holes in the trenches like a linebacker. "You knew when you got off the bus that he was going to be coming after you," Hall of Famer receiver James Lofton said earlier this year.


5. WR Brandon Marshall

Perhaps the most physically gifted receiver the Broncos have ever had, Marshall could put the fear of God in cornerbacks. He was big enough to go over the top and Moss them, but even if he caught shallower passes in front of coverage, he was nimble enough break defenders' ankles.

4. RB Terrell Davis

The fear of playing Terrell Davis didn't come from his personality. No, it was the fear of holding your own against a player of his talent. He could see the running lanes, and he could hit the hole like few others with his speed, agility and ability to break tackles. More than that, he was relentless. One play after another, he wore down defenses, and it was then that he would be his scariest.

3. TE Shannon Sharpe

With Shannon Sharpe's arrival in Denver, John Elway got the kind of reliable, dominant receiver that he long needed, and as part of that pairing, Sharpe would become the next step in the evolution of the tight end position. Physically, Sharpe was a mismatch for linebackers and safeties alike, and by the time he retired, he was the NFL's leading tight end in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. And as if that wasn't intimidating enough, Sharpe would make sure you heard about it the entire day as the most prolific trash talker of his day.

2. QB Peyton Manning

Every defense has its weakness. Peyton Manning knew that, and every defense could count on him knowing where to find it. Perhaps it was his preparation that made him so good — his offseason work with receivers to build chemistry and timing or his work in the film room — or his ability to adjust on the fly during games. For the opponent, it didn't matter much. The end result was mostly the same: By the game's end, Peyton Manning had carved you up and walked away with the win.

1. QB John Elway

When Elway was under center, no lead was too big and no game or play was ever over. Think you had the game sewn up with a three-possession fourth-quarter lead? Think you had him dead to rights with several linemen bearing down on him? Guess again. To other teams, John Elway made the Broncos zombies.

Below the Fold

As the Broncos prepare to make adjustments after Mike Purcell was placed on injured reserve, former NFL general manager and current columnist Charley Casserly wrote Thursday that in addition to Williams, he thought McTelvin Agim could be an option. "Agim, a rookie defensive tackle who's played in two games this year, shows quickness and the ability to win on the edge," Casserly wrote.

The NFL trade deadline, which is on Tuesday at 2 p.m. MT, is rapidly approaching. Amid all the COVID-19 protocols and other impacts of the pandemic, the trade deadline may look different this year, ESPN staff writer Dan Graziano writes.

The Unclassifieds

Related Content