Though they may not be mentioned in the same breath as franchises like the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, and San Francisco 49ers, the Denver Broncos have a long, storied history. And in that time, a lot of great players have donned the uniform, including running backs, quarterbacks and defenders.
When focusing on the position of wide receiver, there are plenty of choices that could make the all-time list for other franchises. Without further ado, let’s look at the list of the greatest wide receivers in Denver Broncos history.
The Best Denver Broncos Wide Receivers of All-Time
As it turns out, narrowing the list of the greatest Denver Broncos wide receivers of all-time down to just a few was harder than it seemed. Here are the names that made the cut as the best to do it in the blue and orange.
1.) Rod Smith
There is no debate as to who the best receiver in Broncos history is. Picking anyone else would just be a contrarian moment because Smith is not only the leader in just about every statistical category but ranks in the top 25 in NFL history in most major categories.
The undrafted free agent out of Missouri Southern State has a lot of impressive accolades. Perhaps the most impressive is that he racked up five 1,000-yard receiving seasons without John Elway throwing him the ball.
He had guys like Brian Griese, Bubby Brister, Gus Frerotte, and Steve Beuerlein throwing him the ball and it didn’t matter. He racked up 849 catches for 11,389 yards and 68 touchdowns, winning a pair of Super Bowls along the way. He’s not only the best receiver in Broncos history but should be a Hall of Famer as well.
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2.) Lionel Taylor
Lionel Taylor was a human highlight reel. He is the first player to catch more than 100 passes in a season. He also had three of the 15 highest single-season reception totals in the league for more than two decades after he hung up his cleats and retired.
Taylor was an automatic catch, leading the league five times in catches during his 10-year career. He was a regular AFL All-Star and All-Pro, earning four All-Star game trips and four First-Team All-Pro awards during his decade in the Mile High City. What’s even more impressive is that he played his first season in Denver as a linebacker, not a receiver.
Taylor did it all while wearing a Broncos uniform. His efforts were no more prevalent than finishing as a finalist for the 1960 AFL Player of the Year, underscoring his importance to not only the offense but the team as a whole. He doesn’t get the love that others on the list get because of recency bias but Lionel Taylor will always be one of the greatest receivers in Denver Broncos history.
Lionel Taylor Tuesday pic.twitter.com/xhkZt0cE9j
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3.) Shannon Sharpe
If you wanted to get technical, Sharpe played tight end during his time in the NFL. But there is no doubting the kind of elite receiver he was during the 1990s for the Broncos. He is second ever in tight end receiving yards (8,439) and touchdowns (55).
He became arguably the first hybrid tight end, lining up at receiver at times. He also played with a memorable attitude, leaving his mark on the franchise that won back-to-back titles in 1997 and 1998. His style and confidence may be unmatched by any Bronco ever.
.@ShannonSharpe React To Russell Wilson & His Denver Broncos 0-2 Start
What’s going on with Russell Wilson? Is football still No. 1 to him? pic.twitter.com/UtIu5egEKa
— Club Shay Shay (@ClubShayShay) September 18, 2023
4.) Vance Johnson
In the 1980s, the Broncos had the famed “Three Amigos” receiving corps. Alongside Mark Jackson and Ricky Nattiel, Johnson stood a cut above. He racked up 415 catches, 5,695 yards, and 37 touchdowns while helping the Broncos to three Super Bowls.
Johnson’s small size played a role in his inability to stay on the field. When he was on the field, however, he was Elway’s primary target. He is also remembered for some pretty controversial moments with fans and media as well.
5.) Demaryius Thomas
There may have been no more physically gifted receiver in Broncos history than Thomas. With tremendous size and speed, he made a deadly duo with quarterback Peyton Manning. Thomas currently owns four of the 10 best receiving-yards seasons in Broncos history, still holding the current single-season record.
Thomas went to four Pro Bowls and earned a pair of Second-Team All-Pro honors. Manning’s retirement put a dent in his production before injuries ultimately played their role. Thomas may have had a run like Rod Smith’s if he could have had more consistent quarterback play during his career. Unfortunately, Thomas passed away unexpectedly in December 2021 but has left an indelible mark on the Broncos.
6.) Haven Moses
A member of the Broncos Ring of Fame, Moses arrived in a 1972 trade with the Buffalo Bills. For 10 years, he made his mark, catching 302 passes for 5,450 yards and a whopping 44 touchdowns over that span.
Moses is perhaps most remembered for a pair of catches he made in the 1978 AFC Title game. It was a key part of sending the Broncos to their first Super Bowl. Combining with QB Craig Morton, Moses became part of the famed M&M connection that lives on in the memory of fans.
7.) Rick Upchurch
Though Rod Smith would take the #80 uniform to new heights, it was Upchurch that really made the number famous. For eight years, he was an elite receiver who did it all. He returned punts and kicks, ran the ball, and even threw a few passes.
Upchurch had just north of 4,600 receiving yards and 24 touchdowns during his time in Denver. He was electric in all aspects, racking up more than 10,000 total yards in his career and landing on the NFL’s All-80s team.
Let the debate begin! There are a few clear-cut names on the list, though they may not be exactly agreed upon from a universal standpoint. Still, there is no denying that these names have carved out a memorable path while in Denver, creating some big moments fans won’t soon forget.