Welcome to PredominantlyOrange’s new series, “Remembering the Broncos”. In this series, we’ll go back in time and spotlight former players in Denver Broncos history who may not have been Hall of Famers but who were perhaps underrated and more than left their mark in the Bronco canon.
Oh, yeah. We’re talking about not only a former member of the Denver Broncos, but also of the United States Marine Corps.
I loved this guy. I had 3 reasons to. He went to my alma mater, the University of Utah, served his country, and played for my beloved Broncos. And he did it all with aplomb.
Anderson came to the Denver Broncos via the 6th round of the 2000 NFL Draft. And then he blew the doors down.
A lot of people point to the Pro Bowl-caliber play of Brian Griese that year as the biggest reason why the Broncos made the playoffs as a Wildcard team. But I would put Anderson’s level of play that year above it.
Griese never was a game changer. Even his one Pro Bowl season, 2000, he did have a high QB rating (102.9) but nothing else about his stat-line was particularly impressive. He threw for 2,688 yards, 19 TDs and only 4 INTs. I guess that’s a relatively respectable TD/INT ratio.
But Anderson’s stat line that year was rindonkulous. As a rookie, he averaged 5.0 YPC, rushed for a then franchise rookie record 1,487 yards and a whopping 15 TDs. It was good enough for him to earn the AP’s Rookie of the Year award.
Offensively, he was the reason the Broncos made it to the playoffs. Greise essentially just had to make sure he didn’t screw it up. It didn’t take long for opposing defenses to key in on Anderson. Griese and Mike Shanahan would make them pay with the play-action pass.
But even then, defenses would still stack the box to stop Anderson and he’d still produce.
Anderson struggled with health issues throughout his career, which opened the door for rookie 2nd round pick, Clinton Portis, to break out in 2002. Portis went on to break Anderson’s franchise record for most rookie rushing yards with 1,508.
Knowing that he had Mike Anderson stashed away on the roster, I’m sure was one of the reasons Shanny felt confident in pulling the trigger to send Portis to Washington, in exchange for Champ Bailey and a 2nd round pick.
However, Anderson’s issue with the injury bug definitely curtailed his NFL career. He had the ability to be one of the all-time greats in Broncos history, and to many he still is from an emotional standpoint.
Anderson didn’t crack the 1,000 yard barrier again until 2005, when he rushed for 1,014 yards. That gap of time between 1K seasons ended up putting him in the NFL record books for the following:
- Longest stretch between seasons leading a team in rushing.
- Longest stretch between a player’s first and second 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
- Greatest number of seasons passed between 1,000-yard rushing seasons with no intervening seasons rushing for that distance
As a member of the Denver Broncos, Mike Anderson racked up 3,822 rushing yards and 36 TDs. He and Tatum Bell almost became one of the few duos to each rush for 1,000 yards in a single season in 2005, but Bell fell short by 79 yards. Close, but no cigar.
Regardless, that duo was a big reason that the Broncos made it all the way to the AFC Championship game that year, only to be dismantled by the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Broncos released Anderson in March of 2006 and he subsequently signed with the Baltimore Ravens, where he played for 2 seasons before retiring.
Mike Anderson was a valuable cog in the Broncos’ rushing attack in Mike Shanahan’s post-Super Bowl era. Again, had it not been for Anderson’s inability to stay healthy, he could very well have ended up as one of the Broncos’ all time greats at running back.