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Photos: Gallery | Colorado Springs Gazette, News

Denver Broncos all-time leading receivers

The Broncos have a long history of star receivers, but surprisingly the top two are an undrafted free agent and a seventh-round draft pick. Here are Denver's 14 most prolific pass catchers.

14. Al Denson

14. Al Denson

Years: 1964-70

Catches: 250

Yards/Average: 4,150/16.6

Touchdowns: 32

Denson was the Broncos’ leading receiver between 1966-70, becoming the favorite target of quarterback Steve Tensi. A sixth-round pick out of Florida A&M in 1964, he led the AFL with 11 touchdowns in 1967. Denson was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1967 and 1969.

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13. Emmanuel Sanders

13. Emmanuel Sanders

Years: 2014-16

Catches: 256

Yards/Average: 3,571/13.9

Touchdowns: 20

Sanders has averaged 85.3 catches per season in his three seasons in Denver, which puts him ahead of Brandon Marshall (81.8), DeMaryius Thomas (78) and Lionel Taylor (77.6) as the Broncos’ all-time leader in that category. Sanders was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2014 and 2016.

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12. Rick Upchurch

12. Rick Upchurch

Years: 1975-83

Catches: 267

Yards/Average: 4,369/16.4

Touchdowns: 24

A running back in college, Upchurch burst onto the Broncos’ scene when he tied an NFL record by returning four punts for touchdowns in 1976. He led the NFL in punt returns with a 13.7-yard average in both 1976 and 1978. Wanting to get the ball in the hands of their most dynamic player more often, the Broncos elevated Upchurch to starting wide receiver in 1979. He was named first-team All-Pro three times. He is reported to have been engaged to Condoleeza Rice, who went on the become U.S. Secretary of State, in the 1970s.

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11. Mark Jackson

11. Mark Jackson

Years: 1986-92

Catches: 276

Yards/Average: 4,746/17.2

Touchdowns: 24

One of the “Three Amigos,” Jackson is best remembered for his rolling catch to end “The Drive,” sending the AFC Championship game on Jan. 11, 1987 into overtime. Jackson’s 20.29 yards per catch in playoff games is still a team record.

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10. Haven Moses

10. Haven Moses

Years: 1972-81

Catches: 302

Yards/Average: 5,450/18.0

Touchdowns: 44

One of Denver’s all-time greats came to the team as the result of a fight. Defensive end Lyle Alzado and wide receiver Dwight Harrison got into an argument that got so heated that Harrison got a gun and brought it into the locker room. Harrison was quickly sent to Buffalo for Moses, who had clashed with coach Lou Saban. Moses had five catches for 168 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Broncos past the Raiders in the AFC Championship game and into Super Bowl XII.

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9. Brandon Marshall

9. Brandon Marshall

Years: 2006-09

Catches: 327

Yards/Average: 4,019/12.3

Touchdowns: 25

Marshall caught a 71-yard touchdown pass from Jay Cutler, a fellow rookie making his first NFL start, on Dec. 3, 2006 and the duo was magic from that point. Marshall caught 100 or more passes in each of the next three seasons, one of only six players to reach the century mark in three consecutive campaigns. Marshall set an NFL record with 21 catches on Dec. 13, 2009 against the Colts.

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8. Steve Watson

8. Steve Watson

Years: 1979-87

Catches: 353

Yards/Average: 6,112/17.3

Touchdowns: 36

An undrafted free agent from Temple, Watson’s place on this list is impressive enough. He also made a contribution with a skill for which no stats are kept – nobody was better at drawing a pass interference call. Watson would race downfield, slightly overrunning a deep pass. He would then slow down and let the defender crash into him as the ball arrived.

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7. Riley Odoms

7. Riley Odoms

Years: 1972-83

Catches: 396

Yards/Average: 5.755/14.5

Touchdowns: 41

John Ralston’s first draft pick as coach of the Denver Broncos was Odoms, a big tight end from the University of Houston. He was a fixture in Denver for 12 seasons, catching 30 or more passes each season from 1973-81. Odoms was also a fierce blocker, giving the Broncos a de facto sixth offensive lineman. Odoms was named to the Pro Bowl four times and was first-team All-Pro twice. He’s the grandson of Baseball Hall of Famer Biz Mackey.

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6. Vance Johnson

6. Vance Johnson

Years: 1985-95

Catches: 415

Yards/Average: 5,695/13.7

Touchdowns: 37

A model of consistency for the Broncos after being drafted in the second round in 1985 out of Arizona State, where he was as highly regarded as a track & field star as he was as a football player. While he averaged a modest 44.5 catches per season, he was at his best on the biggest of stages with three 100-yard playoff games, which is still tied for a team record.

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5. Ed McCaffrey

5. Ed McCaffrey

Years: 1995-2003

Catches: 462

Yards/Average: 6,200/13.4

Touchdowns: 46

Before he was a broadcaster, a purveyor of name-brand condiments or father of an NFL first-round draft pick, McCaffrey was a tall, skinny and oh-so-reliable compliment to Broncos’ all-time leading receiver Rod Smith. From 1997-2003, the duo started together and in 2000 became just the second WR tandem on the same team to catch 100 passes each. McCaffrey is still beloved in Colorado, where he remains active in charities.

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4. Lionel Taylor

4. Lionel Taylor

Years: 1960-66

Catches: 543

Yards/Average: 6,872

Touchdowns: 44

The 1960 Denver Broncos were a new team in a new league, wearing probably the ugliest uniforms ever donned by a professional football team. They needed familiarity with a skeptical fan base. They needed an identity. They needed a star.

Enter Lionel Taylor. After not playing in the team’s first two games, Taylor broke out in game 3 and went on to accumulate an AFL-best 92 catches over the final 10 games of the season. In seven seasons in Denver, Taylor led the league in receptions five times. His 100 catches in 1961, then a record for all of professional football, was a team record until Ed McCaffrey grabbed 101 in 2000.

Taylor was an inaugural member of the Broncos’ Ring of Fame in 1984.

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3. DeMaryius Thomas

3. DeMaryius Thomas

Years: 2010-16

Catches: 546

Yards/Average: 7,704/14.1

Touchdowns: 52

In the 2010 NFL Draft, the Broncos held the 11th pick thanks to the trade that sent quarterback Jay Cutler to the Chicago Bears. Denver moved down twice, then up once before landing Thomas, the man they wanted all along. The deft maneuvering netted them two extra picks in the third round and one in the fourth. They then packaged most of that bounty to move up and select quarterback Tim Tebow. Oh, well.

Since becoming a full-time starter in 2012, Thomas has averaged 98.4 catches per season and has been selected to the Pro Bowl five consecutive times.

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2. Shannon Sharpe

2. Shannon Sharpe

Years: 1990-99, 2002-03

Catches: 675

Yards/Average: 8,439/12.5

Touchdowns: 55

When he was drafted in the seventh round out of Savannah State in 1990, Sharpe was notable mostly as the brother of Packers star wide receiver Sterling Sharpe. The Broncos saw a tight end in the big wide receiver; a brilliant insight as Sharpe finished his career as the NFL’s all-time leader in receptions (815), receiving yards (10,060) and receiving touchdowns (62) by a tight end. Sharpe was named first-team All Pro four times and played in eight Pro Bowls.

Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011, Sharpe has had a successful career as a broadcaster since retiring.

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FBN BRONCOS SMITH

1. Rod Smith

Years: 1995-2006

Catches: 849

Yards/Average: 11,389/13.4

Touchdowns: 68

Smith’s first career catch was one to be remembered. It was the third game of the 1995 season and Smith, who was an undrafted free agent out of NCAA Division II Missouri Southern State that spent all of 1994 of Denver’s practice squad, had seen action mostly on special teams. The Broncos and Redskins were tied in the waning seconds and Denver had the ball 47 yards away from the end zone – too far for a field goal. Quarterback John Elway launched a pass towards the end zone, where Smith reached over future Hall of Famer Darrell Green to grab the game-winning score.

Smith went on to be among the most reliable Broncos ever. He missed only three games over his final 10 seasons and caught 70 or more passes in nine straight campaigns. He still holds 11 team records, including his 113 catches in 2001.

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