Sixteen Linebackers and one Center wore #51 in the Denver Broncos franchise history. So it's 16-1 odds that the Greatest Bronco to wear this number is a Defensive player. Here are the players for your inspection.
Joe Mays LB 2010-Present
Jamie Winborn LB 2007-08
Keith Burns LB 2005-06
John Mobley LB 1996-2003
Mike Croel LB 1991-94
Marc Munford LB 1987-90
Bob Swenson LB 1975-79, ‘81-83
Mike Simone LB 1972-74
Bill Butler LB 1970
Tim Casey LB 1969
Gordon Lambert LB 1969
Dave Tobey LB 1968
Henry Sorrell LB 1967
Eugene Jeter LB 1965-67
Jim Fraser LB 1964
Leon Simmons LB 1963
Lee (Mike) Nichols C 1960-61
Lee (Mike) Nichols played 28 games at Center for the Broncos in 1960 and 1961.
Leon Simmons played 2 games at Linebacker for Denver in 1963.
Jim Fraser was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the 21st round (250th overall) of the 1959 NFL Draft. He seems to have dropped off the grid at that point. Jim reappeared in Denver around 1962, donning #55 for the Broncos for 2 seasons. In his 3rd and final year in the Mile High City (1964), Fraser wore #51. He also went to the Pro Bowl for the third consecutive year. For the season in question, Fraser had one interception. But it was his punting that got him the All-Star status. Jim punted 73 times in 1964, with a 44.2 average and a long of 67 yards.
Eugene Jeter was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 10th round (73rd overall) of the 1965 AFL Draft and the Green Bay Packers in the 12th round (164th overall) of the 1965 NFL Draft. Opting for Denver, Jeter played 3 seasons (1965-67) for the Broncos and appeared in 30 games.
Henry Sorrell played 10 games at Linebacker for the Broncos in 1967, recovering one Fumble.
Dave Tobey was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 10th round (130th overall) of the 1965 NFL Draft. For some reason, he ended up playing for the Minnesota Vikings in 1966 and 1967. He played in 7 games for the Broncos in 1968.
Gordon Lambert was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 4th round (91st overall) of the 1968 NFL Draft. He played 2 seasons in Denver (1968-69), but only wore #51 in 1969 when he played 4 games for the Broncos.
Tim Casey suited up for 2 games for the Broncos in 1969.
Bill Butler played in 14 games for Denver in 1970.
Mike Simone played 3 seasons in Denver from 1972 to 1974. He started 3 of 42 games, recovering 3 Fumbles and returning one kickoff and one punt for minimal yardage.
Marc Munford was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 4th round (111th overall) of the 1987 NFL Draft. He started 16 of 48 games at the Right Inside Linebacker position for the Broncos from 1987 to 1990. Marc was a disappointment for a 4th-Rounder, compiling 1 Sack and 3 Fumble Recoveries.
Mike Croel was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 1st round (4th overall) of the 1991 NFL Draft. The No. 4 pick overall in the '91 draft, Croel was forced into the lineup by an injury to starter Tim Lucas. He ended up with 84 tackles and 10 sacks, forced four fumbles and was named NFL Rookie of the Year. Following his Rookie campaign, Mike failed to meet Denver's expectations of the 4th overall pick. There were various reasons for that. When Croel was a rookie, the coaches kept things simple for him: His only job was to rush the passer. With added responsibilities, his effectiveness waned. Another good reason was that he was dyslexic, a condition he fought from childhood. He started 54 of his 58 games in 4 years with the Broncos, recording 24 Sacks, 2 interceptions, one for a touchdown and 3 Fumble Recoveries. after playing out his Rookie contract, Mike had one-year stints with the New York Giants, Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks. He also played for the Los Angeles Xtreme of the XFL in 2001.
Jamie Winborn was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2nd round (47th overall) of the 2001 NFL Draft. He played 5 years for the 49ers before being traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jamie spent a year there before moving on to Tampa Bay the next year. On September 11, 2007, Winborn joined the Broncos. In two years with the team he started 13 of 30 games, recording 133 tackles, 12 pass deflections and a Sack. The Broncos released him on February 16, 2009.
Keith Burns was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 7th round (210th overall) of the 1994 NFL Draft. Keith played Linebacker and was a prominent Special Teams standout for 11 seasons in 3 different stints with the Broncos. It was in his 3rd go-round (in 2005 and 2006) that he wore #51. In those two years, he started 1 of 30 games, making 30 total Tackles and Forcing one Fumble primarily on Special Teams. He won two Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos, though he was wearing #56. In 2007, Keith retired as Special Teams Captain and stayed with the team becoming the Assistant Coach for the Special Teams Unit.
Joe Mays was drafted by Philadelphia in the 6th round (200th overall) of the 2008 NFL Draft. He spent most of the 2008 season Inactive, but played in the last 2 games of the season on the Eagles Special Teams Unit. In 2009, Joe was 3rd on the Eagles with 19 Special Teams stops. Mays arrived in Denver via trade for Running Back J.J. Arrington on July 31, 2010. Joe started 5 of 12 games at Right Inside Linebacker accruing 40 total Tackles (7 on Special Teams) and one pass deflection last season for the Broncos. He got his first career start as a Broncos in Week 7 against Oakland. Against Kansas City in Week 10, Mays contributed to a team defensive effort that held Kansas City to 2.3 yards per rushing attempt. He racked up 7 solo tackles in his 3rd career start and welcomed Rookie Tight End Tony Moeaki to the NFL with a punishing block on a kickoff. The following game at San Diego, Mays led the team with 9 tackles on defense and 2 on Special Teams. Joe's season ended after the second game against Kansas City in Week 13, when he was placed on Injured Reserve with a knee injury, but not before laying out Moeaki once more. That hard-hitting style made Joe Mays a fan favorite in his short time in Denver.
Bob Swenson signed with the Broncos in 1975 as an undrafted free agent. His career spanned 8 seasons, from 1975 through 1983. He missed the 1980 season due to torn ligaments in his right knee. Swenson was part of the famed Orange Crush Defense that propelled the Broncos to Super Bowl XII in 1978. He was elected to the Pro Bowl after the 1981 season.
Swenson was a member of the great Linebacking Corp from the fabled "Orange Crush" Defense along side Randy Gradishar, Joe Rizzo and Tom Jackson. In 1977, they became the first Denver team to play in a Super Bowl. Opposing Running backs were funneled to Gradishar and Rizzo in the middle and on the outside, Swenson matched up with the Tight End and Jackson rushed. In 1981, he was selected for the Pro Bowl and was named 1st Team All-Pro.
Bob started 69 of 96 games at Left Outside Linebacker. He made 11 interceptions and recovered 9 fumbles. He returned a fumble 93 yards for a touchdown in 1979 during a Week 12 win over the San Francisco 49ers. There's no telling how many Tackles or Pass deflections Swenson amassed since those stats weren't recorded at the time, but Bob was certainly a valuable piece of the "Middle Four" of the Orange Crush.
John Mobley was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 1st round (15th overall) of the 1996 NFL Draft. He started immediately at Right Linebacker and in his 2nd season (1997), John made 1st Team All-Pro status. He was a member of the back to back Super Bowl wins (XXXII, XXXIII). In Super Bowl XXXII, Mobley deflected a Brett Favre pass on 4th and 6 from the 31-yard-line with just over 30 seconds left in the game. The deflection helped seal a 31-24 victory for the Broncos.
He missed most of the 1999 season because of a torn right anterior cruciate ligament in Week 2 at Kansas City. The Broncos placed him on Injured Reserve in 2003 as a result of the spinal injury he suffered in the 2nd quarter of the team's 26-6 defeat against the Baltimore Ravens. Mobley suffered a bruised spinal column when he and Herndon tackled Baltimore running back Jamal Lewis. The injury was severe enough that the Broncos cut him before the 2004 season in order to allow him time for recovery. He later re-signed with the Broncos and retired because of the injury. John Mobley started 102 of 105 games in 8 years with the Broncos, including all 9 postseason games the team played in that time. He amassed 606 total Tackles, 10.5 Sacks, 5 interceptions, one touchdown, 7 pass deflections, 5 forced Fumbles and 7 Fumble recoveries.
This was a little too close to call and in the event of a tie, the membership should make the decision. Personally, I give the slight edge to Mobley for the extra ring and being a part of the first of two Super Bowl victories, but I can't find fault with anyone who would choose Swenson here. MHR gives a Mile High Salute to bob Swenson and John Mobley as two of the Greatest players to wear #51 for the Denver Broncos.