Illustration by Mike Meredith

For a little more than 40 years, the Denver Broncos have been one of the most consistent contenders in the NFL. They've made the playoffs in 22 of the last 43 seasons and appeared in eight Super Bowls, with three victories.'s Franchise Five series dives into five most impactful people in each NFL team's history. Our rules here allow us to pick one head coach, one quarterback and three non-quarterback players. 

Let's take a look back at some of the men who are legendary Broncos.

Coach Mike Shanahan

Broncos tenure1995-2008
Broncos resume: 

  • Two-time Super Bowl champion
  • Three-time AFC West winner
  • Most wins in Broncos history (130)
  • Most playoff wins in Broncos history (8)

After learning under Bill Walsh in San Francisco, the Broncos made a monster hire of Shanahan in 1995, and after an 8-8 debut year in Denver, Shahanan went 39-9 in the next three regular seasons, two of which ended in Super Bowl titles. 

Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme was the catalyst in Terrell Davis' late-career dominance, and that run-game style proved to maximize the talents of essentially all running backs in the system. Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Clinton Portis, Reuben Droughns, and Tatum Bell all eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark during Shanahan's tenure with the Broncos. 

Denver had just two losing seasons under Shanahan and made the playoffs in half of his seasons with the team. His teams were consistently competitive, even after John Elway retired. 

QB John Elway

Broncos tenure: 1983-98
Broncos resume

  • Two-time Super Bowl champion
  • Super Bowl XXXIII MVP
  • NFL MVP (1987)
  • Two-time AFC Offensive Player of the Year (1987, 1993)
  • First-team All-Pro (1987)
  • NFL leader in passing yards (1993)
  • NFL's 100th Anniversary Team member
  • Broncos Ring of Fame member
  • Pro Football Hall of Famer

Elway remains one of the most highly touted draft prospects in NFL history, and after getting traded to the Broncos, he lived up to the immense hype during his illustrious stay in Denver. 

His bazooka arm was his calling card throughout his career with the Broncos, as was his high-level athleticism he often showcased as a scrambler. Author of "The Drive" in the 1986 AFC championship against the Browns, Elway marched Denver 98 yards down the field and threw a touchdown with under a minute to go to tie the game. Denver kicked a field goal in overtime to win 23-20. It's one of the most iconic offensive possessions in league history. 

Late in his career, Elway matured as a passer, never finishing a regular season with an interception rate over 3.0% in his final six seasons, and his heroics in 1997 and 1998 were the driving force in Denver's back-to-back Super Bowl titles. His 40 career game-winning drives still rank seventh all time. 

Illustration by Mike Meredith

TE Shannon Sharpe

Broncos tenure: 1990-99, 2002-03
Broncos resume:

  • Four-time first-team All-Pro (1993, 1996, 1997, 1998)
  • Second-team All-Pro (1995)
  • NFL 1990s All-Decade Team member
  • NFL 100th Anniversary Team
  • Broncos Ring of Fame member 
  • Pro Football Hall of Famer

Sharpe was the NFL's most dominant tight end during his prime in Denver. From 1993 to 1997, Sharpe averaged nearly 77 receptions, 986 yards, and six touchdowns during a time when that position was rarely a central figure of a team's passing game. 

Twice he hit the 10-touchdown mark, and besides an injury-riddled 1999, Sharpe never had below 681 yards in a given season during his 30s. Sharpe went for 13 catches for 156 yards and a score in a playoff loss to the Los Angeles Raiders in 1993. 

He was dazzling after the catch and significantly outplayed his status as a seventh-round pick in 1990. At the height of his career, there was no better tight end in the NFL, and Sharpe's prime lasted five seasons. 

S Steve Atwater

Broncos tenure: 1989-98
Broncos resume

  • Two-time first-team All-Pro (1991, 1992)
  • Second-team All-Pro (1996)
  • NFL 1990s All-Decade Team Member
  • Broncos Ring of Honor member
  • Pro Football Hall of Famer

Lauded for his destructive hitting, Atwater was one of the NFL's ultimate enforcers at the safety position. But his pure power when flying downhill didn't solely get him into the Hall of Fame. 

Atwater registered 10 interceptions in his first three seasons in Denver after being the team's first-round pick in 1989 out of Arkansas. He was ubiquitous on the Broncos defense during his decade-long stint with the team. He went over 125 tackles in his first five seasons -- including a brilliant 150-tackle, five-pick third year -- and was the true heartbeat of one of the best defenses in the AFC during that stretch. 

Not many players in league history struck fear into opposing running backs like Atwater -- and his large shoulder pads -- from the safety spot. 

OLB Von Miller

Broncos tenure: 2011-
Broncos resume

  • Super Bowl 50 MVP
  • Three-time first-team All-Pro (2012, 2015, 2016)
  • Four-time second-team All-Pro (2011, 2014, 2017, 2018)
  • Broncos' all-time leader in sacks (106)
  • NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year (2011)
  • NFL 2010s All-Decade Team member

Miller is well on his way to getting a Hall of Fame bust in Canton, and he's only 31 years old. He hit the ground running after going No. 2 overall in the 2011 NFL Draft out of Texas A&M, winning Rookie of the Year after an 11-sack, 19-tackle for loss, three-forced fumble debut season in Denver. He's been a superstar ever since. 

Miller had 18.5 sacks and six forced fumbles in his second season, and outside of his phenomenally consistent pass-rushing prowess, he has long been one of the league's best run defenders for the edge position. He has the complete pass-rusher's toolbox -- elite burst, freaky dip/bend, powerful/refined hand work, and a relentless motor. Miller can easily pick and choose how he wants to win around the corner. 

If 37-year-old Terrell Suggs isn't signed by a team or retires, Miller will assume the label of the NFL's active career sack leader.