In the continuing series looking at the great Broncos at each position, today we'll be looking at the offensive line. Now this could be done as three separate articles, but I felt looking at the line as a whole was a better plan. Having said that, let's get to the greats:
Quarterback: John Elway
Backup: Jake Plummer
Running Back: Terrell Davis
Wide Receivers: Rod Smith
Today well be selecting the five best lineman, now I doubt we'll have two tackles, two guards and a center, it will rather be the five best lineman you select, mostly because some positions would have so little competition (center for example). Here are the candidates:
TOM NALEN - CENTER - 1994-2007
Nalen was a diamond in the rough, taken in the 7th round out of Boston College, he started 188 games, spending his whole career for the Denver Broncos. He was selected to five Pro Bowls (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2003) and two 1st Team All-Pro's (2000 and 2003). He was considered one of the top centers of the late 1990's and early 2000's and was a key contributor to the two Broncos Super Bowl victories, with some of his best seasons even coming after John Elway retired. An incredible durable lineman, he started all 16 games ten times out of his thirteen seasons.
KEN LANIER - RIGHT TACKLE - 1981-1993, 1994
While Lanier never made a Pro Bowl or All-Pro team, he was one of the most consistent lineman for the Broncos while they had some inconsistent teams. Taken in the 5th round out of Florida St. Lanier earned the starting job in his 3rd season. He remained a solid tackle for the next ten seasons, helping the Broncos to three of their failed Super Bowl games. While he did take some time to spend a season in Oakland, heaven knows why, he did return to the Broncos for his final season in 1994, and while he didn't start, he did add depth to a Broncos squad getting ready for a future championships.
MATT LEPSIS - RIGHT TACKLE - 1998-2007
Seen as Laniers second coming late in his career, Lepsis was an undrafted free agent in 1998 and while he made little impact in Elway's final season, by 1999 he had seized the starting job and like Lanier, he began a consistent, though understated (neither made a Pro Bowl), careers marked by incredibly long stretches of steady play year in and year out. He was also seen as a huge part of the good mid-2000's Broncos teams where he covered the right side of the line for Jake Plummer at the height of his career. He started 133 games, all of which were for the Broncos.
DAVID STUDDARD - OFFENSIVE LINEMAN - 1979-1988
Like many lineman on this list, Studdard was a hard hat, lunch pail type of player. Being taken in the 9th round in 1979, he was moved around the offensive line, spending time at both right and left tackle with some time a guard and tight end thrown in for good measure. A player who was trusted quite a bit by both Reeves and Elway, he was asked to move depending on injuries and depth. He spent his whole career in Denver, starting 133 games across the offensive line.
GARY ZIMMERMAN - LEFT TACKLE - 1993-1997
Zimmerman was drafted in the 1st round, 3rd overall, by the New York Giants in 1984. While he never actually played for the Giants, he was sent to Minnesota, he spent the final years of his career in Denver. While his career in the NFL was long, 12 seasons, he also spent time in the USFL covering Steve Young for the LA Express. He made three Pro Bowls (1994, 1995, 1996) and one 1st Team All-Pro (1996) in Denver and while he did miss time for the 1997 Super Bowl run, he was key in the turn-around year prior to that. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008 for his accomplishments for both the Vikings and the Broncos.
MIKE CURRENT - RIGHT TACKLE - 1967-1975
A long time staple, though you have to go pre-merger to get some of his best seasons. While he was drafted to the Broncos in the 3rd down, he was traded to Miami his rookie year where he played one game and then was traded back, short team lease I suppose. While he would finish his career in Florida, he spent nine seasons in Denver, making one Pro Bowl (1969). When he earned the starting job he didn't miss a game for seven straight season. A massive lineman, he never saw a winning season during his time in Denver, despite outstanding play on his part.
KEITH BISHOP - GUARD - 1980-1989
Taken in the 6th round by the Denver Broncos, Bishop saw limited playing time until his third season where he would go onto earning two Pro Bowl nods (1986 and 1987). While he struggled with injuries throughout his career, when healthy he made a big impact on a Broncos team that had struggles running the ball inside. While he never got a Super Bowl ring, he was one of the better parts of the teams that made it to the big game but struggled to close it.
RYAN CLADY - LEFT TACKLE - 2008-2011
Seen as the next great Broncos lineman, Clady was a 1st round selection, taken 12th overall. After an amazing rookie season, where he made the 2nd team All-Pro squad, he really broke out in 2009 in new coach Josh McDaniels blocking scheme. He made the Pro Bowl and All-Pro team that season. He set a record in 2008 and 2009 going 20 games without giving up a sack for quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Kyle Orton. While he did sustain an injury before the 2010 season, he didn't miss any games, but his play struggled. Those struggles continued in 2011 where he began to regress. While he was considered among the best left tackles in the game in 2008 and 2009, he has lost form as he tried rehabbing his ache, though he is still seen by some as one of the better lineman.
MARK SCHLERETH - GUARD - 1995-2000
Known best for his time with the Broncos, he was drafted in the 10th round by the Washington Redskins where he spend six seasons, won one Super Bowl and earned a Pro Bowl invite in 1991. In 1995 he joined the Broncos and was one of the final pieces for the 1997 and 1998 Super Bowl runs. He made another Pro Bowl in 1998 and started 81 games. Considered an incredible tough player, he is known for having 29 surgeries during his playing career. Oh and who can forget his green chili.
JERRY STURM - OFFENSIVE LINEMAN - 1961-1972
Sturm was in a tough situation, he made two Pro Bowls (1964 and 1966), but he never saw the Broncos win eight games, and despite being among the first Broncos to make the Pro Bowl he, and the Broncos, never found consistence. He is also one a a limited party that have earned Pro Bowls at different positions, he earned Pro Bowl invitations at center and guard. He started 144 games and saw playing time at every position across the offensive line. While he spent his early career with the Canadian Football League and his final years in New Orleans and Philadelphia, he will always be remembered as a Bronco.
So there you go, good luck as you select the top five Broncos lineman: