When we think of the Denver Broncos, a few names come to mind. As it stands, two of them happen to be the greatest quarterbacks in the history of professional football. Broncos quarterback history is littered with famous, interesting, and unique stories.
When all is said and done, which Denver quarterbacks stand out as the best of the best? Who are the best quarterbacks from Colorado coming up the ranks of the Broncos? These 10 quarterbacks are the best to have done it in the Mile High City. Some are indisputable while others may garner a bit more of an argument.
Best Broncos Quarterbacks of All-Time
There have been more than a few famous Broncos quarterbacks over the years, Russell Wilson being the latest. Since the NFL merger, Denver Broncos QB history has had its share of big-time names at the position, including a few Hall of Famers.
Now it’s time to take a closer look at Broncos quarterback history to decide who did it best. Let the debate begin as we tick off the 10 greatest quarterbacks in Broncos history.
1. John Elway
With all due respect to the second man on this list, there is no other name that comes as quickly to mind when talking about Broncos quarterback history than Elway. Even his introduction to the team is the stuff of legend, shunning the Baltimore Colts as the top pick before being dealt to Denver.
Elway spent 16 illustrious seasons in Denver, playing at an All-Pro level every step of the way. His stats could speak volumes without saying anything else. He went 148-82-1 as a starter, throwing for 51,475 yards, 300 touchdowns, and 226 interceptions.
One of the most popular stars in the history of the league to that point, Elway did it all as a quarterback. He made it to nine Pro Bowls and left the game as one of the all-time greats statistically at the position.
Elway also ended his career in a way that every professional athlete dreams of. After 14 seasons without a championship, including a couple of Super Bowl losses, things finally changed in 1998. “This one’s for John!” rings throughout Denver history as the Broncos finally climbed the mountaintop. If that weren’t enough, they repeated the next year as champions, Elway riding off into the sunset.
— John Elway’s Official Fake Account (@LennyMartens) July 16, 2023
2. Peyton Manning
“The Sheriff” had one of the most interesting career renaissances in football history. He began his career as the vaunted number one overall pick in 1997 to the Indianapolis Colts. He did everything one could do there, winning an incredible four NFL MVPs and making two Super Bowls, winning one.
A neck injury ended his time in Indy and put his career in question. The drafting of Andrew Luck solidified the Colts’ decision to let him go. It would be one of the best things to happen to the Denver Broncos.
Manning would make it clear that he was far from done. He won his fifth MVP as a member of the Broncos, winning a Super Bowl (and losing another) at the helm of the franchise. He set just about every conceivable record at the position as well, including a single-season NFL record for touchdown passes with 55 in 2013.
Manning is one of the few quarterbacks to have a Hall of Fame-caliber career with two different teams. Though he wasn’t quite the same player the last year of his career (due to injuries), there is little question just how good he was during his tenure in Denver.
Here's a throwback featuring Peyton Manning coming off the bench to help usher the Bronco's to a divisional title win and become the AFC's top seed!
The Broncos are +4000 to win the Super Bowl this year and have a veteran QB at the helm again…pic.twitter.com/EOwBS5BLKf
— ZenSports (@zensports) July 18, 2023
3. Craig Morton
The man under center before Elway is oftentimes forgotten about. That man would be Craig Morton, who spent six seasons in Denver. Among Denver quarterbacks, he ranks highly and acquitted himself quite well as a pro overall.
Playing from 1977-1982, Morton went 41-23 as a starter. Over those 64 games, Morton threw for 11,895 yards, 74 touchdowns, and 65 interceptions. By the time he was done in Denver, he had a 56.9 completion percentage and a quarterback rating just a hair over 79.
Most people historically remember Morton as being a Dallas Cowboy because that’s where he had most of his success. Morton would ultimately take his new team (Denver) to the Super Bowl to face his old team (Dallas) in a losing effort. Morton is critical because he brought winning back to Denver before handing things off to Elway.
4. Jake Plummer
Jake “The Snake” Plummer has an interesting story. Plummer had sped a few mediocre years with the Arizona Cardinals before the Broncos took a flyer on him in 2003. Plummer doesn’t get the love he deserves in Denver Broncos QB history for revitalizing his career and becoming one of the better quarterbacks in the league.
Plummer would spend the next four years in the Mile High City. Like others in Broncos quarterback history, Plummer would have abbreviated success. He went 39-15 as a starter in Denver, throwing for 11,631 yards, 71 touchdowns, and 47 interceptions. His 84.3 quarterback rating is very solid all things considered.
Playing in Denver gave Plummer new life. In just four seasons in Denver, Plummer took Denver to a trio of playoff appearances as well as the 2005 AFC Championship Game. Of the many former Broncos quarterbacks, Jake does not get the love he deserves.
5. Frank Tripucka
Of the franchises that go back decades, every one of them seems to have that old-school name somewhere on the list. Tripucka is that name, playing for the Broncos from 1960-1963 after spending time in the NFL and CFL with the Eagles, Lions, Chicago Cardinals, Dallas Texas, and both the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Ottawa Rough Riders.
What’s interesting is that Tripucka would come back after a seven-year absence from the NFL to take the starting helm in Denver beginning in 1960. For the next four seasons, he would be one of the better quarterbacks in the league on bad Broncos teams.
Tripucka led the NFL twice in passing yards, attempts, and completions in Denver. He also had an incredible 34 interceptions in 1960, a mark that he’d like to forget. Still, Tripucka slung it like few Broncos quarterbacks had to that point, even if it was an abbreviated career.
6. Tim Tebow
Like many of the quarterbacks on this list, Tim Tebow had a short stint in Denver (two years in total). After one of the most prolific and legendary college football careers ever, he was made the 25th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, though many doubted whether he could play quarterback.
Tebow started three games as a rookie, ultimately leading one of the most dramatic playoff victories in franchise history over the Pittsburgh Steelers. That led to a 2011 season in which Tebow would be given the reigns and a chance to succeed.
Tebow wouldn’t be able to live up to the hype, though he went 7-4 as a starter that year. He even threw for 1,729 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions. But his 46.5 completion percentage is ultimately what did him in, seeing him off to the Jets for the final year of his three-year NFL career. He remains one of the most polarizing players in franchise history.
7. Marlin Briscoe
Marlin Briscoe is an interesting case because the bulk of his NFL career came with teams other than Denver. But it was there that he got his start, a 14th round pick (357th overall) in the 1968 NFL Draft. Briscoe started five games his rookie year, going 2-3 while throwing for 1,589 yards and 14 touchdowns.
From there, Briscoe would make the switch to receiver, playing in Buffalo and Miami over the next four years. He would bounce around for a few more years before ultimately calling it a career at age 31 after 14 games with the Patriots.
Briscoe is an interesting case of what could have been. His rookie year numbers were fairly good, aside from the 41.5 completion percentage. With a little development, there’s no telling where he would have wound up.
8. Steve DeBerg
DeBerg had a long career in the NFL, spanning 19 seasons. Over that time, he would play for five different teams but spent three seasons as a quarterback in Denver, starting 11 of the 33 games in which he would suit up for the franchise.
DeBerg and Morton would share starts over that time, giving way to Elway becoming the full-time starter in the 1984 season (when DeBerg would move on to Tampa Bay). DeBerg made his name as a serviceable starter, though typically on bad teams until he found success in Kansas City at the end of his career.
During his time at the helm in Denver, DeBerg had solid numbers. He completed 57.5 percent of his passes for 3,819 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 24 interceptions. More importantly, he served as a veteran presence for the young Elway before giving up the starting job to him. That role can’t be understated in the history of the franchise.
9. Charley Johnson
Johnson, originally drafted in the eighth round of the AFL Draft in 1961, had an interesting career as something of a journeyman. He had nine years in St. Louis, starting for the majority of six seasons before moving on to the Houston Oilers for a couple of years.
Beginning in 1972m, the 34-year-old Johnson would take over the starting job in Denver. His best year, 1973, saw him throw for an impressive 2,465 yards and 20 touchdowns. At the time, Johnson was actually one of the more prolific names at the position.
At the time of his retirement, he was in the top 15 all-time in touchdowns (170), yards (24,410), and attempts (3,392), though he was also 14th in interceptions (181). Johnson’s time in Denver came in his twilight years but he was part of the move to making Denver respectable again.
10. Norris Weese
We know that Craig Morton was the man to precede John Elway but what about before that? The answer to that question would be Morton Reese, picked 99th overall in the 1974 NFL Draft by the Broncos out of Ole Miss.
Weese, like Plummer much later after him, spent four solid seasons in Denver. As it turns out, however, those four years would encompass his entire career. Over that time, he would start seven games under center, winning five of them.
Weese and Morton played together on the team that faced the Cowboys in Super Bowl XII. Weese replaced Morton in the third quarter after the latter came this close to throwing his fifth interception. A knee injury in 1979 would ultimately end his career in the NFL, giving way to Morton for good.