Seventeen players wore #83 for the Denver Broncos in team history. Ten Wide Receivers, four Tight Ends, two Defensive Linemen and a Cornerback. The odds favor the Wide-outs in this discussion, but let's see how the story unfolds. Here are the candidates.
Mike Leach TE/LS 2003-08
Scottie Montgomery WR 2001-02
Travis McGriff WR 1999-2001
Justin Armour WR 1998
Willie "Flipper" Anderson WR 1997
Anthony Miller WR 1994-96
Melvin Bonner WR 1993
Michael Young WR 1989-92
Sam Graddy WR 1987-88
Rick Massie WR 1987
John Sawyer TE 1983-84
Wade Manning WR 1981-82
Jim Whalen TE 1970-71
Dave Washington TE 1968
Ray Jacobs DT 1963-66
Don Joyce DE 1962
John Pyeatt CB 1960
John Pyeatt, just like John Gonzaga (from the #79 post), is one of the few guys in NFL history who did not play college football. He signed with the Broncos in 1960 and started 14 games at Right Cornerback. Pyeatt made 4 interceptions and returned one for a 40-yard touchdown in a Week 2 victory over the Buffalo Bills. John played another 3 games for the Broncos in 1961.
Don Joyce was drafted by the Chicago Cardinals in the 2nd round (18th overall) of the 1951 NFL Draft. He spent 3 years with them before moving on to the Baltimore Colts. Don made the Pro Bowl in 1958 and was part of the Colts 1958 and 1959 NFL Championship teams. He spent 1961 with the Minnesota Vikings and joined the Broncos in his final season. Joyce played 6 games for Denver in 1962 and didn't record any stats.
Ray Jacobs was drafted by the Houston Oilers in the 1st round (7th overall) of the 1962 AFL Draft and the Dallas Cowboys in the 17th round (228th overall) of the 1962 NFL Draft. He spurned both teams and the NFL to play 4 seasons for the Denver Broncos from 1963-1966. Jacobs started 21 games at Left Defensive End and 25 games at Left Defensive Tackle, earning 2nd Team All-AFL honors from the Associated Press in 1965. He also played for the Miami Dolphins from 1967-1968 and the Boston Patriots in 1969.
Dave Washington was an Undrafted Free Agent who player Tight End for the Broncos in 1968. He started one of 2 games and had one 12-yard reception.
Jim Whalen was drafted by the Boston Patriots in the 3rd round (23rd overall) of the 1965 AFL Draft and the Minnesota Vikings in the 4th round (51st overall) of the 1965 NFL Draft. He chose the Patriots and played 5 seasons there, garnering 1st-Team All-Pro honors in 1968. Whalen joined the Broncos in 1970 and started 15 of 17 games at Tight End. He had 43 catches for 627 yards and 3 touchdowns. In 1971, Jim split the season between Denver (3 games) and Philadelphia (2 games).
Wade Manning was an Undrafted Free Agent who signed with the Dallas Cowboys out of Ohio State in 1979. He played with Denver in 1981-82. Wade was the starting Punt and Kick returner for the Broncos. In 25 games, he returned 41 Punts for 378 yards, a 9.2 average. He also had 41 kickoff returns for 860 yards, a 21 yard average. Manning caught 6 passes for 95 yards in his 2 seasons as a Bronco.
John Sawyer was drafted by the Oilers in the 11th round (271st overall) of the 1975 NFL Draft. He played in Houston from 2 1975-76, the Seahawks from 1977-82 and 7 games with the Redskins in 1983 before joining the Broncos for the 2nd half of the season. Sawyer started 12 of 17 games in Denver, catching 20 passes for 164 yards, recovered 2 Fumbles and Fumbled once in his 2 years as a backup Tight End with the Broncos.
Rick Massie was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 2nd round (46th overall) of the 1984 NFL Supplemental Draft. He played 2 years in Denver, but only in his first season did he wear #83. Rick started 4 of 9 games in 1987, with 13 receptions for 244 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Sam Graddy was signed by the Broncos in 1987 as an Undrafted Free Agent out of Tennessee. Graddy was a World Class sprinter and a member of the Gold Medal men's 4x100 meter relay team at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. He played 8 games in 2 seasons with Denver from 1987-88, catching one 30-yard pass. He played with the Los Angeles Raiders from 1990 to 1992. During his Raider career Graddy was blasted by Raider fans for dropping too many passes and as such, the Raider coaches reduced his playing time. Graddy was really an experiment that didn't pan out.
Melvin Bonner was drafted by the Broncos in the 6th round (154th overall) of the 1993 NFL Draft. He played 3 games at Wide Receiver that year.
Willie "Flipper" Anderson was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the 2nd round (46th overall) of the 1988 NFL Draft. He spent 7 years with the Rams from 1988-94 and a year each with the Colts and Redskins. Anderson became a Bronco for the 1997 season, appeared in 4 games without compiling any stats.
Justin Armour was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the 4th round (113th overall) of the 1995 NFL Draft. He spent 4 seasons in the NFL with the Bills, Eagles, Ravens and Broncos. Justin played in 8 games with the Broncos in 1998 and caught one pass for 23 yards en-route to winning a Ring in Super Bowl XXXIII. Armour was forced into retirement when NFL teams seemed disinterested in him in Free Agency despite 37 catches for 538 yards and 4 touchdowns for the Ravens in 1999. His football career came around full circle when he was named Head coach at Manitou Springs High School, his Alma Mater in 2010.
Travis McGriff was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 3rd round (93rd overall) of the 1999 NFL Draft. He played sparingly in 34 games during a 3-year career with the Broncos from 1999-2001. Travis returned 7 punts for a 7.1 yard average on Special Teams. He made 5 catches for 88 yards and one touchdown, Fumbled once and Recovered a Fumble.
Scottie Montgomery was signed as an Undrafted Free Agent by the Broncos out of Duke in 2000. He wore #81 in his rookie year and switched to #83 for the next 2 seasons. During 2001-02, Scottie caught 15 passes for 150 yards and one touchdown. He also had 5 carries for 32 yards and returned 15 kickoffs for a 24.7 yard average.
Anthony Miller was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the 1st round (15th overall) of the 1988 NFL Draft. He spent 6 years in San Diego, making the Pro Bowl 4 times (1989-90, 1993-93). Anthony was signed by the Broncos via Free Agency in 1994 and he started 44 of 46 games during his 3 seasons in Denver. During the 1995 season, Miller had 14 touchdown receptions which got him a 5th ticket to the Pro Bowl. From 1994-96, he had 175 catches for 2,921 yards, a 16.7 average, 22 touchdowns and 5 carries for 47 yards, one touchdown, one Fumble and a Fumble Recovery. Miller ended his career with the Dallas Cowboys in 1997.
Michael Young was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the 6th round (161st overall) of the 1985 NFL Draft. He played 4 seasons with the Los Angeles Rams, 4 seasons with the Denver Broncos and one year each with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs. Under the NFL's Plan B free-agent system, Young was among the players the Rams left unprotected and the Broncos took advantage of that. Michael was considered one of the NFL's most reliable 3rd-down receivers and was the Broncos' leading receiver in 1991. A headline in the Rocky Mountain News once read: "Broncos Blessed With a Fourth Amigo." Vance Johnson, one of the 3 Amigo's referenced said, "Call us Three Amigos Plus One."
Young's 70-yard touchdown reception was one of the biggest plays in the Denver Broncos' 37-21 victory over the Cleveland Browns in the AFC championship game. As a Bronco from 1989-92, Young started 14 of 51 games, with 95 catches for 1,427 yards, a 15.0 average, 8 touchdowns and one Fumble."It's good to have a receiving corps like we have right now with the four receivers," said Johnson, who had 52 catches for 878 yards at the time. "They can't just double up on one guy. That's why I'm having such a good year."
After a 10-year career as a player, Mike began his career as an executive. He spent 13 years in the front office of the Denver Broncos, where he was responsible for corporate partnerships, marketing and branding. While serving as the Senior Director of Special Projects for the NFL club, he doubled as the Executive Vice President of the Colorado Crush, the city's Arena Football League team until the league folded . He played a key role, along with owner Pat Bowlen, in developing the Broncos' relationship with Nike and orchestrating the re-branding of the organization, including new uniforms, which have become the template for the majority of all new uniform designs in football today.On May 22, 2009, Young was appointed as Chief Revenue Officer for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
This number was kind of bland, but I did come up with a winner. The Greatest Bronco to wear #83 is...
Mike Leach was signed by the Tennessee Titans as an undrafted free agent in 2000 out of William & Mary. He played 2 years as a Tight End with the Titans before being released by the team. Leach signed with the Chicago Bears in 2002, but was waived near the end of Training Camp. Mike joined with the Broncos on November 4, 2002, and served as the team's Long Snapper for all 108 games through the 2008 season. He was released on March 1, 2009 after the team signed Free Agent Long Snapper Lonie Paxton, finishing with 30 Special Teams Tackles, a Downed Punt and a Fumble Recovery.
Although it remains a mystery why the Broncos would allow Josh McDaniels to release such a reliable player as Leach, his replacement did not pay the same dividends. Leach was scheduled to make a Base salary of $740,000 in 2009. Lonie Paxton was given a 5-year, $5.38 million deal that included a $1 Million signing bonus. The irony is, that Paxton flubbed at least 2 snaps in each of the last two seasons, whereas Leach did not. Mike signed with the Arizona Cardinals on March 11, 2009 and will make $975,000 in 2011.
SI's Peter King wrote an article on Leach in 2007 saying that Leach had made 641 regular-season snaps in his then 4.5 years with Denver, and not botched one snap. Further on in the article Mike gives an account on becoming a Long Snapper. It was his first season with the Titans:
"One day (at Training Camp) I just picked up a ball and snapped it to (punter) Craig Hentrich. The Special-Teams coach, Alan Lowry, noticed something in that snap and told me, 'A tight end who snaps can stay in this league a lot longer than a tight end who punts.' "
Leach has never caught an NFL pass, but his value as a Long Snapper has been remarkable. As it turns out, that initiative he showed in a Tennessee Training Camp was a great career move. And considering one bad snap on Special Teams can be a big difference in the outcome of a game, okay that and his service time, Mike Leach wins this by the nose of a football.
MHR gives a Mile High Salute to Mike Leach as the Greatest Bronco to wear #83.