Von Miller is already one of the greatest Denver Broncos of all time. This status is based on what he has done and a projection of what is to come from the rest of his career.
However, the coming 2021 season will determine where he ultimately ranks among the all-time greats when his career is finished.
Let’s face it, if Miller has a subpar season in 2021 and the Broncos move on from him, it would put a dent in the legacy. What if he then were to sign on with a mediocre team and had a couple more mediocre seasons, would that change where he lands among the greats? I believe it would because his projected final seasons change.
What happens if his 2021 season is truly remarkable? That will be explored in a moment.
First, we must understand where Miller currently ranks. To do that, certain criteria must be met. For instance, Tony Dorsett is a Hall-of-Fame running back who played one season with the Broncos, but a single campaing in the Orange and Blue isn’t enough to be tallied. My cutoff (and it can and will be argued) is this: a player needs to have played at least a third of his career in Denver to be considered.
Peyton Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time and did incredible things while slinging the ball in the Mile High City, but he doesn’t meet the criteria. Neither does John Lynch. They may be great players, but they qualify for the rankings.
Now, I could make a list of the top-15 Broncos or top-25, but where would it stop? Top-50? Top-100? In my opinion, if we're talking about the club's truly elite players ever, it must be a top-5 ranking.
Thus, this will only include the greatest of the greats. Unfortunately, this does weed out some really great players and a few of my favorites. It pains me to not consider Karl Mecklenburg or Louis Wright — players who deserve their recognition in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but aren't yet represented there.
The top-5 is reserved for players who are Hall-of-Famers or will be in when eligible. They must be a huge factor in the Broncos' success and are considered to be among the best amongst their peers in NFL history.
Floyd Little can be seriously considered for a top-5 ranking because of what he meant to the Broncos. However, he is another unfortunate cut, albeit barely, because he isn’t considered one of the greatest running backs of all time (maybe erroneously) and, although he is in the Hall of Fame, it was no slam dunk.
No. 1: John Elway | QB
Without a doubt, Elway sits atop the heap. He was a no-brainer vote as first-ballot Hall-of-Famer and is often argued in discussions of the best quarterbacks of all time. His contribution to the Broncos is well known and needs no itemizing from me. He is the unquestioned number one.
No. 2: Champ Bailey | CB
Next in line is Champ Bailey. He waltzed into Canton as soon as he was eligible and is often argued as the best cornerback of all time. He had two of the greatest seasons by a cornerback ever while roaming the field at a Mile High.
Bailey was truly elite. His legacy for the Broncos is somewhat difficult to assert because he did not reach the pinnacle of success, failing to get a Super Bowl ring. However, his talent is too great to overlook.
No. 3: Terrell Davis | RB
Sitting at the No. 3 spot is Terrell Davis. His career was short, but it was incredible. Without Davis, the Broncos would not have won back-to-back Super Bowls.
Davis was the fourth member to enter the 2,000-yard club (arguably producing the best season of the bunch considering touchdowns and fumbles), a league MVP, a Super Bowl MVP, and is the greatest playoff running back of all time.
Davis' ascent into the Hall of Fame wasn’t as quick as Elway and Bailey due to his injury-shortened career, but it is tough to argue against him being one of the greatest running backs for a four-year period.
Davis' four seasons of greatness may be the best four consecutive campaigns of any running back in history. His ultimate contributions to the Broncos outweighs his short career and this is why he is the third-best all time.
Now, here is where Miller comes into view. There is an argument that could be made for Gary Zimmerman in the No. 4 spot. Zimmerman has his bronze bust in Canton and is considered as one of the best offensive tackles in history as a key cog in Denver's first World Championship. He was a member of two All-Decade teams.
With that said, Miller ranks above Zimmerman. Miller's career to date has been spectacular. He is arguably the best edge rusher since 2011 in the entire NFL and that landed him on the 2010s All-Decade team.
Miller was the leading member of one of the best defenses of all time, culminating in a Super Bowl MVP award and World Championship. His play on that Super Sunday was head-and-shoulders above other players on that incredible defense.
Most future hall-of-fame players tend to have solid productivity late in their careers. Miller appears to be no different. Judging by his training regime and determination before the 2020 season, he looked ready to have a banner year.
Unfortunately, a freak injury before the season ruined that possibility. It is crucial for Miller to have huge success in 2021. If he does, he is likely a Bronco until he retires.
What would a banner season look like and what would it mean for his final ranking? What would a projection of his post-2021 years do to that ranking? It would definitely move him up the list. How far, is the question.
I could see a scenario that catapults Miller to the top of the list and even knocking the legend out of the top spot. It sounds like blasphemy, but hear me out.
If Miller were to break the single-season sack record and win Defensive Player of the Year in 2021, he would have some very incredible awards in a competition versus Elway. This would force the Broncos to sign him to a deal that would nearly guarantee that he finishes his career in Denver.
If Miller plays five more seasons as he plans and his productions trails off each season from 2021 on, he will challenge the all-time career leader in sacks.
Miller most likely would fall short, but he would end up third behind Bruce Smith and Reggie White all time. This type of career projection would make him the undisputed No. 1 edge rusher from the outside linebacker position in NFL history and a guaranteed no-brainer, first-ballot entry into Canton.
If Miller could somehow be a significant factor in Denver hoisting another Lombardi Trophy, he could claim the top spot in the rankings.
Obviously, this is an exercise in a doomsday-scenario projection versus wishful thinking. Miller's career will most likely fall somewhere in between the two edge case scenarios.
His legacy hinges on 2021 because it the is key to determine the course of the rest of his career in Denver. If Miller has a very good season, he will stick around and most likely end his career as the No. 2 Bronco of all time.
Follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasHallNFL.
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