It could be argued that this year’s Denver Broncos has the most well-rounded roster in the entire NFL. They have above-average special teams, an explosive offense and a palpable level of dominance growing on the defensive side of the ball. The AFC West champs have ripped off nine wins in a row, and with just Cleveland and Kansas City left on the docket, a final record of 13-3 and possible home-field advantage are well within reach.
The Broncos are a well-respected franchise that has spent the time and money to grow their own draft picks, make shrewd trades and spend the necessary dollars. The current roster is a mix of Josh McDaniels’ courageous stabs in the dark and the Johns’ (Elway and Fox) calculated selection and recruiting.
These moves have led to a deep team that has playmakers on each side of the ball, a legendary quarterback to go with a vaunted pass rush. This holy trinity of traits is now imperative for greatness in today’s NFL. But, this is team is bordering on one that can be great now and potentially historical.
Historical in the collection of talent at different positions performing at the highest of levels at the same time. Great, dominant players doing it alongside a teammate on the other side of the ball or huddle. While the Hall of Fame gives fans a perspective on the game’s true greats, deciphering the GOAT—Greatest of All-Time—is a far more challenging an endeavor.
In rewinding the league’s history to the true “great” teams and the individuals that led them to repeat success, only a couple stick out: The San Francisco 49ers of the 1980s and the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s.
Those Niners teams can roll out a “tough-to-argue-with” tandem in Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. Are they not the greatest of all-time at their prospective positions? Rice’s on-field production is a “Gretzky-like” closed case, much like that of a current-day Bronco. Montana, on the other hand, doesn’t have the gaudy stats at his disposal, but plenty of jewelry. He led the most innovative offense on his way to four NFL titles, two MVPs and eight Pro Bowl appearances. I am biased towards a certain No. 7 that won two Super Bowls in Denver, but calling Montana the best ever is fine by me.
Then, there was safety Ronnie Lott. The USC legend is surely in a top-five discussion in regards to safety play. He was ruthless, intimidating and calculated. He became the prototype of safeties that now drive general managers to great heights to find the next Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu, or Brian Dawkins. All great in their own way, but all disciples of Lott.
The Cowboys teams that won three Super Bowls in 1992, ‘93 & ‘95 could boast some of the greatest at their positions. But, during the thought process of putting these words together, I “talked myself” out of even mentioning the trio of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin. Emmitt, maybe. If anything, Larry Allen could go down as the greatest guard to ever move mountains in the NFL trenches. So, I will amend the trio to include, Emmitt, Irvin and Allen. Still, this is fruitless based on the earlier assertion that Jerry Rice is the greatest wide receiver to play the game, no argument needed.
Which brings things back to the current day Denver Broncos. Last year, this team relied on fortunate bounces with a dash of divine intervention just to be average at 8-8.
But suddenly, here we are with a streaking team that has playmakers at every spot on the field. Much like Jerry Rice, Champ Bailey is the greatest player at his position, without any necessary discourse. He shuts down entire halves of the field and is the best tackling corner the game has ever seen. There may be guys patrolling the outside that were better cover guys (like whom?) but no one has come even close to doing both aspects of the position better for longer than Champ. Don’t even start. Not a two-way street.
Unlike Montana, Peyton Manning will retire with the necessary numbers to be a viable option as the greatest of all-time. He will have won Super Bowl(s), broken most of the league’s passing records and done everything the proper way on his path to greatness. Now 14 games into his first season in Denver, the summertime worry over his health is forgotten. He is having one of the best seasons of his illustrious career after being pretty much left behind after requiring four separate surgeries to his all-important neck. He has transformed the Broncos into a Super Bowl contender. He is without question a top-five quarterbacks, maybe the greatest.
Which leaves another spot to add to the necessary trio that was boasted by the great Bill Walsh Niner teams. Champ and Peyton fall right in-line with two of those three having a quarterback and a defensive back. Denver’s third all-timer might not be considered at that same level—yet—due to his relative youth. This guy has played less than thirty NFL games but is already considered one of the most dominant defensive players, period.
Von Miller won last year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year award and in year two is in the two-headed discussion with Houston’s JJ Watt for the league’s best defensive player. Miller is known as an ultra-quick edge rusher that beats offensive tackles to the quarterback with sheer speed. But what the outside linebacker has shown this year (all while still being third in the league with 16 sacks) is that he can dominate the run game, as well.
On Sunday, Miller made a play that spotlights the “high ceiling” that the A&M Aggie is just starting to scratch. Lined up in an upright position on the left defensive edge, Miller beat the right tackle and tight end, made a jackrabbit-like lunge to the middle and stopped the cutting Ravens running back for a three-yard loss. Granted, he is still learning to be consistent on every snap and has more than once found himself a bit out of position on certain running plays, but Miller is only going to get better. Only be more disruptive whether the opponent hands off or drops back to pass.
For the past twenty years, the outside linebacker position argument was a two-man race between Lawrence Taylor and Derrick Thomas. While it is way too early to put the Broncos’ Miller into that discussion, at his current rate of growth and production, there may not be any argument ten years from now.