As we close out a decade of Broncos football, I thought it would be enjoyable to consider how one would construct a roster of Broncos players from the best that the franchise offered from 2010 to 2019. The following list is my opinion–and mine only–on how I would construct a 53 player from the decade in question.
Most of these choices will be obvious. Only a few will not be, and I am willing to have my opinion changed with a good argument, or if I just completely forgot about someone–just give a heads up in the comments.
All players that are starters will have their name in bold.
I will be using 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) as my formation to determine starting lineups.
Peyton Manning – Does he really need to be discussed further?
Drew Lock – The Broncos have little choice but to take a leap of faith here given the disparity between Manning and the rest of the quarterbacks they’ve employed. There’s a risk the future may make this choice look unwise, but it’s offset by the latest hope that Lock can proceed to be the answer at quarterback.
Phillip Lindsay – Two straight seasons of over 1,000 yards rushing, with almost another 500 yards receiving tacked on, has given the Broncos the most electric running back they’ve had since Clinton Portis.
CJ Anderson – Coming to the rescue as an undrafted free agent to help indemnify the unlucky draft selection of Montee Ball in the same rookie class, Anderson churned ahead as the primary rusher for four seasons, including being an integral part of the Super Bowl 50 winning squad.
Willis McGahee – He had only one and a half seasons of production in Denver, but that production was high: 1,199 rushing yards in 2011, followed up by 731 in 10 games in 2012 before injury ended his season.
Knowshon Moreno – After a shaky start to his career marred by injury, Moreno stepped up to the plate in 2012 when McGahee went down, making up for McGahee’s likely production by tacking on over 500 yards that year. Then, in 2013, the starting job now his, he rushed for over 1,000 yards and had over 1,500 yards from scrimmage.
Andy Janovich – Fullbacks have always had a rich history in Denver, and while the position went dormant there early in the decade, it came roaring back when the Broncos drafted Janovich in 2016, and he has been a key part of the offense whenever he’s been available.
Demaryius Thomas – In eight and a half seasons with Denver, all entirely within the 2010s, Thomas logged just over 9,000 receiving, good for 2nd all time in franchise history behind Rod Smith.
Eric Decker – A key weapon opposite Thomas in the first four years of the decade, Decker tallied up just over 3,000 receiving yards during that period.
Emmanuel Sanders – The successor across from Thomas after Decker left in free agency, Sanders assured that there would be no dropoff in quality, with his receiving yards total from five and a half seasons coming in at over 5,300.
Courtland Sutton – Sutton has all the makings of the next great Broncos wide receiver among a long list of entrants. Starting off with a respectable 700 yards his rookie season behind Thomas (who was traded midseason) and Sanders, Sutton broke out over 1,000 in Season 2.
Brandon Lloyd – He only had one notable year in Denver, but boy, was it ever notable: leading the entire league in receiving yards with 1,448, and preserving the Broncos’ long streak of first selection representation in the Pro Bowl.
Wes Welker – Poaching Welker from prime AFC competitor New England, he filled the slot receiver role admirably for two seasons, particularly in 2013 with 778 receiving yards.
Julius Thomas – In his last two seasons in Denver, Thomas came out of nowhere to log over 1,200 yards receiving–and more impressive, 24 touchdowns evenly split into 12 per season.
Noah Fant – There’s only one season in the books for Fant in this decade, but the production in it holds promise for the next one: 562 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
Jeff Heuerman – While his presence is felt more in blocking than receiving, Heuerman has still had four seasons of valiant service for the Broncos when available.
Ryan Clady – I don’t think it’s hyperbole to suggest that Clady could have been a Hall of Famer if he could stay healthy. When he was he was excellent, and it was cruel that the two seasons he almost entirely missed were the two seasons when the Broncos were AFC Champions.
Zane Beadles – Started all but two games in his stint in Denver, rarely missing a snap, and earning a Pro Bowl bid in 2012.
Matt Paradis – Never missed a snap from seizing the starting center job in the Super Bowl winning season of 2015 until he suffered a severe syndesmotic ligament tear in his last season in Denver.
Louis Vasquez – A nice free agency poach from the rival Chargers, Vasquez started all but one game in his three year tenure in Denver, earning a Pro Bowl bid in 2013.
Orlando Franklin – Elway nailed the right tackle position in his first rookie class, as Franklin started all but one game at that position in his first three years in Denver, before shifting over to left guard in 2014 to replace Beadles.
Garett Bolles – Bolles generates much grief for not playing up to the level that was expected of a first round draft pick, but he has at least been able to start every game and play almost every snap at left tackle in the three years to close out the decade for Denver.
Dalton Risner – Another selection with eyes for the future, Risner seized the starting left guard job as a rookie in 2019, and only injury and illness has been capable of slowing him down.
Connor McGovern – Drafted in the 5th round in 2016, McGovern did not play at all in his rookie season, and sparingly in his second, but since then has become a starter at right guard in his third, and center in his fourth.
Chris Kuper – Like with Clady, much of Kuper’s glory came in the previous decade, but he still played at a high level in 2010 and 2011 before a serious injury robbed him of his first chance at playing in a playoff game.
Ryan Harris – Harris’s tenure as the starting right tackle in Denver only dipped into the first year of the 2010s. However, what seals the deal in making this team was his underrated arrival that rescued the left tackle position in the Super Bowl winning season of 2015 when Clady went down for the season.
I will be using a 3-4 base formation (3 IDL, 2 EDGE, 2 ILB, 2 S, 2 CB) to determine starting lineups.
Interior Defensive Line
Derek Wolfe – Eight seasons, 33 sacks, 46 tackles for loss, 76 quarterback hits, 15 passes defensed, and plenty of leadership to go with all of that. Wolfe is clearly in Ring of Fame territory at this point.
Terrance Knighton – Thanks to previous experience that Jack Del Rio had with him in Jacksonville, Knighton moved on to Denver and provided two very strong seasons at nose tackle.
Malik Jackson – A key member of the 2015 Super Bowl defense, punctuated by recovering Von Miller’s first forced fumble for a touchdown.
Shelby Harris – One of several gems the Broncos regularly unearth as street free agents (and at the expense of the Raiders, who drafted him), Harris blossomed into a starter caliber level on the defensive line rotation in 2018 and 2019.
Sylvester Williams – Played alongside Knighton at defensive tackle when the Broncos ran a 4-3 defense in his first two seasons, then emerged as the starting nose tackle upon switching to a 3-4 defense in his final two seasons.
Kevin Vickerson – Quietly started 41 games over four seasons in Denver at the beginning of the decade.
Von Miller – Again, does he really need to be discussed further?
DeMarcus Ware – The leadership that the near certain future Hall of Famer provided to Miller and other young edge rushers in Denver cannot be understated. But that’s not all he helped deliver: 21.5 sacks, 26 tackles for loss, and 45 quarterback hits over three seasons directly contributed to Broncos defensive dominance.
Shaq Barrett – An undrafted free agent that was a key reserve at edge rusher in four seasons at Denver, Barrett never got a starting job opportunity, but made the most of his snaps that included 14 sacks. Barrett’s talent has been verified with the monster season he’s having in Tampa Bay to close out the decade.
Elvis Dumervil – Another player who had most of his production in Denver in the previous decade, but in 2011 and 2012 he still contributed 20.5 sacks to the cause.
Bradley Chubb – He has only been able to significantly contribute in one season for the Broncos in the 2010s, but that one season, as a rookie, was impressive: 12.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss, and 21 quarterback hits.
Danny Trevathan – Starter at linebacker on both the 2013 and 2015 AFC Champion teams, sandwiching an injury riddled 2014.
Brandon Marshall – Another good find by the Broncos in street free agency, Marshall stepped up for an injured Trevathan in 2014, then seized a starter role alongside him for 2015, and two more seasons after that.
Wesley Woodyard – Joining the Broncos before the decade started as yet another undrafted free agent, Woodyard transitioned from primarily on special teams to full starter at linebacker in 2012 and 2013.
Todd Davis – Claimed off waivers by the Saints in his rookie season, Davis was a key reserve his first two seasons with the Broncos, then transitioned to starter when Trevathan left for the Bears in 2016.
TJ Ward – One of the great Broncos unrestricted free agent signings of 2014, Ward’s physical play at strong safety set a tone for the revamped defense at two levels that contributed to a Super Bowl victory one season later.
Justin Simmons – Drafted with the compensatory pick the Broncos got for letting Julius Thomas depart for the Jaguars in free agency, Simmons seized a starting job from Ward his rookie season, to the extent that it cost Ward a roster spot. Simmons hasn’t looked back since, contributing his greatest season yet to close out the decade.
Darian Stewart – Yet another street free agency find, after five nondescript seasons elsewhere Stewart really found a home in the defense of Wade Phillips’s Super Bowl winning defense, staying as a starter in Denver for four seasons.
David Bruton – Likely the Broncos’ best special teams player of the decade, and also an outstanding humanitarian contributing to the Denver community in the seven years he played here, as well as after retirement.
Brian Dawkins – Well past his prime when he played in Denver in the 2010s, but getting one of the most vocal leaders in NFL history in the Broncos’ locker room still had plenty of value.
Chris Harris, Jr. – The founder of the No Fly Zone is one of only two players to spend nine of ten years of the 2010s in Denver. He played all of those nine years at a high level, locking down receivers wherever he went, and earned a disgracefully low four Pro Bowl trips over that time.
Aqib Talib – He was a controversial unrestricted free agent acquisition at the time, given that controversy had followed him in his prior career, and that the Broncos had signed him to a very lucrative contract. But that contract ended up being a relative bargain, as he fit very well alongside Harris to make passing a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks.
Bradley Roby – The #3 cornerback is a critical piece to any defense in today’s NFL, and Roby filled that role very well in his first four seasons in Denver, moving up to #2 once Talib was traded to the Rams.
Champ Bailey – He was past his prime in the 2010s, but even a Champ Bailey past his prime was still formidable in the early part of the decade.
Brandon McManus – It’s a tough choice between he and Matt Prater, given that the latter broke the record for longest field goal in this decade. But McManus’s six years of solid service in Denver, as opposed to four for Prater, is the difference here–especially when McManus gets a shoutout by the President of the United States.
Britton Colquitt – Battened down the punter position for six seasons in Denver in the 2010s, and did so at a higher level than anyone else in that time frame.