Who is the greatest athlete in Colorado sports history?

That answer was pretty easy. But determining the other 24 greatest players that have graced Denver throughout its professional sports history proved much more difficult.

Our philosophy was simple when determining our top 25: Everything matters.

Regular season and playoff peak, longevity, championships, MVPs, All-Star selections, overall impact on the city — it was all considered.

 Here are DNVR‘s 25 greatest athletes in Colorado professional sports history.

25. Jamal Murray

1x NBA Champion

Highest increase in career points per game from regular season to playoffs in NBA history

At just 26 years old, the Blue Arrow is already a Denver sports legend. Murray’s 2023 playoff run and the leading role he played in bringing the Nuggets their first NBA championship gave him lifetime elite status among Colorado athletes. In the playoffs, Murray is as clutch as they come. In the game’s biggest moments, he always shows up. That was the case during the NBA Finals when Murray became just the fourth player in NBA history (Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, LeBron James) to average 20+ points and 10+ assists in a Finals series. In five years, with some All-Star appearances and potentially a few All-NBA selections, Murray could rank in the top 10 of this list. – Harrison Wind, DNVR Nuggets

24. Rod Smith

2x Super Bowl Champion | 3x Pro Bowls

Led the NFL in receptions in 2001 with 113

Smith’s 80-yard touchdown catch gave the Broncos a two-score lead before halftime in their second Super Bowl win. That season, he and Ed McCaffrey became the first NFL duo to each produce 1,000 receiving yards. Smith hit the 1,000-yard mark in eight of his 12 seasons, and his steady contributions helped him become an icon of the Broncos’ glory years. Smith has the most receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns in Broncos history. – Henry Chisholm, DNVR Broncos

23. Milan Hejduk

1x Stanley Cup | 3x All-Star 

Won 2002-03 Rocket Richard Trophy and is the only Avs player to appear in 1,000 games in Colorado

Milan Hejduk is an interesting entrant on this list because his longevity was unparalleled in Denver but his peak was also excellent as he scored 23 points in 23 playoff games during the team’s 2000-01 Stanley Cup run. He scored a 50-goal season two years later and was briefly the captain of the Avalanche near the end of his career. While he wasn’t quite the Hall of Fame type of player that some of his teammates were, his #23 jersey is retired in Ball Arena as he is one of the best to ever do it for the Avalanche. – AJ Haefele, DNVR Avalanche

22. Karl Mecklenburg

6x Pro Bowls | 4x All-Pro | Denver Broncos Ring of Fame

Broncos Ring of Fame member

The Albino Rhino played every front-seven position for the Broncos, bouncing from defensive line to outside linebacker to inside linebacker in the Broncos’ revolutionary 3-4 defense. His 79 career sacks, the third-most in Broncos history, speak to his dominance in the trenches, but he was considered a middle linebacker in all four of his All-Pro seasons. The Broncos appeared in the Super Bowl in three of those years, making him the easy choice for Denver’s defensive MVP in the first half of the Elway Era. – Henry Chisholm, DNVR Broncos

21. Randy Gradishar

7x Pro Bowls | Defensive Player of the Year (1978) | Hall of Fame finalist

Had the record for most tackles all time (2,049) when he retired

Gradishar’s 286-tackle season in 1978 is one of the greatest campaigns by a linebacker in NFL history. He was named the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year and earned his second consecutive first-team All-NFL nod. He finished his 10-year career with more than 2,000 tackles—more than 200 per season, despite playing 14-game seasons early in his career—five All-Pro honors and seven Pro Bowl appearances, serving as the heart of Orange Crush Defense. – Henry Chisholm, DNVR Broncos 

20. Carmelo Anthony

3x All-Star | 3x All-NBA

Scored the 3rd most points in Nuggets franchise history

Melo revitalized basketball in Denver. The Nuggets had been irrelevant for most of the previous decade before Anthony arrived in the Mile High City — and that changed once he put on a powder blue jersey for the first time. What followed was an exciting but ultimately disappointing era of Nuggets basketball where Denver won just one 1st round playoff series with Anthony as its best player. Of course, Melo was one of the greatest scorers that the NBA has ever seen. He was the definition of a ‘bucket’ and is a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. His ugly exit stained his reputation with the city, but the impact he had while in Denver was undeniable. – Harrison Wind, DNVR Nuggets

19. David Thompson

Hall of Fame | 5x All-Star | 2x All-NBA

Scored 73 points in a game, tied for the fourth-most in NBA history

Whenever I talk with the old heads about the Denver Nuggets, their first story always seems to be about David Thompson. Tales of seeing Skywalker in person almost seem too good to be true, like a legend that grows with each passing year. Thompson was one of the best dunkers to ever step on the hardwood and one of the most creative scorers. His 73-point game on the final night of the regular season in 1978 remains one of the best single-game scoring performances in NBA history. – Adam Mares, DNVR Nuggets

18. Nolan Arenado

5x All-Star | 8x Gold Glove | 4x Silver Slugger

First third baseman in MLB history to win four Gold Gloves in his first four seasons

One of only six active players and, along with Von Miller, one of only two not still in Colorado on our list, Arenado was traded at the height of his abilities ahead of the 2021 season. Before then, he won the Gold Glove Award at third base eight years in a row, a streak that continues to this day as the longest for an infielder to start their career. Arenado led the Rockies to back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time in franchise history and finished third in MVP voting in 2018, his third consecutive season in the top five. – Patrick Lyons, DNVR Rockies

17. Floyd Little

Hall of Fame | 5x Pro Bowler | 1x All-Pro | Broncos Ring of Fame member

Led the NFL in total yards in back-to-back seasons

The two-time All-American was the Broncos’ seventh first-round draft pick but the first to sign a contract with the team. He quickly earned the nickname “The Franchise” for sparking enough interest in the Broncos to avoid relocation and eventually build Mile High Stadium. Little led the NFL in total yards in back-to-back seasons in the late 1960s, and no NFL player had more rushing yards from 1968 to 1973. He appeared in five Pro Bowls in that six-year span and is second on the Broncos’ all-time rushing leaderboard behind Terrell Davis. He is one of four Pro Football Hall of Famers to earn a gold jacket without appearing in the postseason. – Henry Chisholm, DNVR Broncos

16. Alex English

Hall of Fame | 8x All-Star | 3x All-NBA | 1x NBA Leading Scorer

Leading scorer of the 1980s

Alex English was the face of the Denver Nuggets for one of the best decades in franchise history. A sharpshooter with a soft touch, English scored more points in the 1980s than anyone in the NBA, including Magic, Bird, and Jordan. One of the classiest and most gracious stars in Denver history, English was a perfect representative of the Mile High City. He sits atop the franchise leaderboard in games, minutes, and points, and ranks top-10 in virtually every other category – Adam Mares, DNVR Nuggets

15. Todd Helton

5x All-Star | 3x Gold Glove4x | Sliver Slugger | 1x Batting Title

First player to have his number retired by the Rockies

The man known as Mr. Rockie holds nearly every hitting record in franchise history thanks to a 17-year career that ended with his jersey being the first retired by the team. A five-time All-Star, four-time Silver Slugger Award winner and three-time Gold Glove Award winner, The Toddfather led a young group of players to the club’s only World Series appearance in 2007.  Helton received MVP votes in six different seasons and despite being overlooked for the award during an outstanding campaign in 2000 — finishing fifth in NL MVP — he was voted as the Player of the Year by Sporting News.

14. Steve Atwater

Hall of Fame | 2x Super Bowl Champion | 8x Pro Bowler | 2x All-Pro | Broncos Ring of Fame member

NFL 1990s All-Decade Team

From his hit on Christian Okoye in 1990 to his hit in Super Bowl XXXII that knocked out three players (including himself), the Smiling Assassin was one of the NFL’s most intimidating physical presences for a decade. (He finished that Super Bowl with six tackles, two pass breakups, a sack and a forced fumble, which put him in the conversation for MVP.) Atwater appeared in eight Pro Bowls during his 10 years in Denver, becoming an icon in the Broncos’ long defensive tradition.

13. Champ Bailey

8x Pro Bowler | 3x All-Pro | Hall of Fame

Holds the record for most Pro Bowls by an NFL defensive back.

Bailey’s 2006 season is the greatest by a cornerback in NFL history. He faced a murderer’s row of legendary receivers, including Randy Moss, Chad Ochocinco, Larry Fitzgerald, Hines Ward, Marvin Harrison and more, but he only allowed four catches in man coverage compared to 21 pass breakups. His 10 interceptions were the most by a defender in two decades. Bailey earned six All-Pro nods in 10 seasons in Denver, and still holds the record for most Pro Bowls by an NFL defensive back.

12. Shannon Sharpe

7x Pro Bowler | 2x Super Bowl Champion | 4x All-Pro | Hall of Fame

4-straight First Team All-Pro selections

Sharpe entered the NFL as a “tweener”—too big to play receiver and too small to play tight end—but left as a revolutionary of the tight end position, retiring with the most receiving yards ever as a tight end. The seventh-round draft pick broke through in his third season to earn his first of seven consecutive Pro Bowl appearances, a stretch that included four first-team All-Pro nods. He was a key piece of the Broncos’ dominance in the 1990s, which was capped off with a pair of Super Bowl wins.

11. Cale Makar

1x Stanley Cup | 1x Conn Smythe | 1x Norris Trophy | 3x All-Star

First player in NHL history to win the Hobey Baker, Norris Trophy and Conn Smythe in his career.

Among just seven other active athletes in the Top-25 list, Makar is a truly special record-buster not long for Top-5 considerations. Since he entered the league, he’s had a franchise-changing impact on the Colorado Avalanche starting with a playoff goal in his NHL debut — the first defenseman to do so. His support lifted the Avs past Calgary for their first playoff series victory in 11 years. Since then he’s been nominated for the Norris Trophy three times, was the first franchise defenseman to win the Norris, the fastest defenseman in League history to reach 200 points, and his 86-point season in 2022 set a new franchise record for points at the position. This Stanley Cup Champion and Conn Smythe MVP of the ‘22 playoffs isn’t just a top athlete recognized in Colorado, Cale Makar is changing the game. – Meghan Angley, DNVR Avalanche

10. Larry Walker

4x All-Star | 5x Gold Glove | 3x Batting Title | NL MVP | Hall of Fame

Won three batting titles in four years

The first and only current member of the Colorado Rockies to enter the hallowed Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, Walker is also the only player to be recognized as the Most Valuable Player. Signed as the franchise’s first major free agent ahead of the 1995 season, he immediately elevated the team into their first postseason in only their third season of existence, a record for an expansion club at the time. Not only did Walker win three batting titles in four years while playing at Coors Field, the Canadian holds many of the single-season records for the team. – Patrick Lyons, DNVR Rockies

9. Nathan MacKinnon

6x All-Star | 1x Calder Tropy | 1x Lady Byng | 1x Stanley Cup

Youngest player in NHL history to win the Calder Memorial Trophy

It almost feels too soon to even have the conversation with MacKinnon because it’s very likely he has more accomplishments on the way. He won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie in 2013-14 and took a few years to really find his legs but he’s become one of the NHL’s fiercest competitors and most dominant players since. While two second-place finishes for the Hart Trophy as near-misses for the trophy cabinet, MacKinnon can take solace in knowing he’s already a Stanley Cup champion. – AJ Haefele, DNVR Avalanche

8. Von Miller

8x Pro Bowl | 7x All-Pro | 1x Super Bowl | 1x Super Bowl MVP

All-Pro honors in seven of his first eight seasons.

Miller led the Broncos to their third Super Bowl win, providing five sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception during the three-game postseason run in which he won Super Bowl 50 MVP. He was an immediate force for the Broncos starting with his Defensive Rookie of the Year campaign in 2011 and then earning All-Pro honors in seven of his first eight seasons. He missed the other with a torn ACL. He is the Broncos’ all-time leading sacker. – Henry Chisholm, DNVR Broncos

7. Peyton Manning

3x Pro-Bowl | 1x Super Bowl | 1x MVP | 2x All-Pro | Hall of Fame

Set the NFL record with 55 touchdowns in his second season in Denver.

Manning’s four-year run in Denver rewrote NFL history books. He carried the Broncos to a 13-3 record in his first season while leading the league in completion percentage. He set the NFL record with 55 touchdowns in his second season, in which he won MVP, the greatest statistical season ever for a quarterback. In his final season, he helped the Broncos to their third Super Bowl title. – Henry Chisholm, DNVR Broncos

6. Peter Forsberg

2x Stanley Cups | 1x Hart Memorial | 1x Calder | 1x Art Ross | 5x All-Star | Hall of Fame

Named one of the ‘100 Greatest NHL Players’ in history

Inducted into the Hall of Fame, two gold medals a piece at the Olympics and World Championship, a two-time Stanley Cup Champion, and his jersey retired to the rafters – Peter Forsberg is forever cemented in Colorado’s history. Perhaps what stands out most in his legacy is the imprint he left despite a career hampered by injury which culminated in over two dozen surgeries. He was magnificent even in spite of the ankle troubles that robbed him of even more years of incredible hockey. A pivotal player in bringing his team across the finish line, he was one of the Avs’ best playoff performers with the second-most postseason goals and points in Avs history. Together Joe Sakic and Forsberg are regarded as among the best 1-2 centermen tandem of all time. – Meghan Angley, DNVR Avalanche

5. Terrell Davis

3x Pro Bowls | 2x Super Bowls | 1x Super Bowl MVP | 1x NFL MVP | Hall of Famer

Holds 46 Broncos records, including the record for the most career rushing yards.

Davis was crucial in bringing the Broncos their first Super Bowl championship. He scored eight touchdowns in the 1997 postseason and ran for at least 100 yards in each game, eventually winning Super Bowl MVP. Davis solidified himself as the most dominant postseason runner in league history, averaging 142.5 rushing yards per game, far more than any other player. In 1998, he was the fourth NFL player to run for 2,000 yards in a single season, which helped him win NFL MVP and another Super Bowl. Davis holds 46 Broncos records, including the record for the most career rushing yards. – Henry Chisholm, DNVR Broncos

4.  Patrick Roy

5x All-Star | 2x Stanley Cups | 1x Conn Smythe | Hall of Fame

His 63-save shutout of the Florida Panthers clinched the Avs the Stanley Cup in 1996.

Patrick Roy’s arrival in Colorado was an immediate boon to a franchise that had all the other pieces to win a championship. While Roy never won a Vezina Trophy during his Avalanche tenure, he did backstop the Avalanche to their first Stanley Cup in 1996 with a 63-save shutout of the Florida Panthers. His Conn Smythe trophy in guiding the Avalanche to the 2001 Stanley Cup made him the only player in NHL history to win the award three times — one of those came with the Avs — as he bested Martin Brodeur in a head-to-head duel for the ages. The man who ushered in a new age of goaltending in the NHL has his number retired in the rafters of Ball Arena. – AJ Haefele, DNVR Avalanche

3. Nikola Jokic

5x All-Star | 5x All-NBA | 2x MVP | 1x NBA Champion | 1x Finals MVP

First player in NBA history to lead the playoffs in total points, rebounds, and assists.

You could whittle the life of a diehard sports fan down into 4 or 5 eras that contain the overlapping career arcs of just 6 or 7 athletes. Right now, Denver sports fans are living in the Nikola Jokic era. The two-time MVP is already the undisputed greatest player to ever put on a Denver Nuggets uniform. His 2023 postseason run is as good as any we’ve seen from an athlete in this town. He’s as unique and loveable an athlete as you will find in sports. And with half of his career still ahead of him, he has a real shot at rising to number one on this list. 

2. Joe Sakic

7x All-Star | 2x Stanley Cups | 1x Conn Smythe | 1x Hart Trophy | Hall of Fame

Only player to register 1,000 career points in an Avalanche sweater.

The quintessential captain, Sakic’s quiet leadership style belied a fierce on-ice competitor whose career was nothing short of spectacular. His 18-goal, 34-point performance in the 1996 Stanley Cup Playoffs remains one of the great postseason performances in NHL history and earned Sakic the Conn Smythe Trophy. Sakic’s brilliant 2000-01 season when he captained the President’s Trophy winning Avalanche to the franchise’s second Stanley Cup victory was capped with a dominant awards haul as he walked away as the winner of the Hart Trophy, Lester B. Pearson Trophy, and Lady Byng Trophy while finishing a mere second place for the Selke Trophy. All of that was the result of a 54-goal, 118-point campaign that remains one of the greatest individual seasons in Colorado sports history after he then led the NHL in postseason scoring that year with 26 points in 21 games. He is the only player to register 1,000 points in an Avalanche sweater and will be very hard for anybody to chase down as one of the best sportsman Colorado has ever seen. – AJ Haefele, DNVR Avalanche

1. John Elway

9x Pro Bowls | 2x Super Bowls | 1x Super Bowl MVP | 1x NFL MVP | Hall-of-Fame

Retired with the most wins of any quarterback in NFL history.

The Duke was the Broncos’ identity for a decade and a half. He led the Broncos to five Super Bowl appearances and two championships. He retired with the most wins of any quarterback in NFL history and the second-most passing yards and Pro Bowl appearances. He was a league MVP, a Super Bowl MVP and holds 33 Broncos franchise records. He is an icon of the NFL and one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the sport. – Henry Chisholm, DNVR Broncos


Harrison Wind is the Denver Nuggets beat reporter for DNVR Nuggets. Hear him every day on the DNVR Nuggets Podcast. Follow Harrison on Twitter - @HarrisonWind