How Watt, Matthews might help Mecklenburg's Hall-of-Fame case

Former Denver Broncos' linebacker Karl Mecklenburg could do just about anything when he played, one reason the Broncos played him at seven different positions -- sometimes all in the same game. What he couldn't do, however, was make it to Canton, and maybe, just maybe, guys like J.J. Watt and Clay Matthews underscore the value of Mecklenburg's vestatility and help the semifinalist's chances in 2016 to make it to the final 15.


(J.J. Watt photo courtesy of the Houston Texans)

(Karl Mecklenburg photo courtesy of the Denver Broncos)

Talk of Fame Network

Karl Mecklenburg was one of the best defensive players of his era –and we say defensive players because the Denver Broncos lined up Mecklenburg at more than his linebacker position. In fact, they sometimes moved him to seven different spots ... and all in the same game.

The Broncos liked what they saw in Mecklenburg, and what they saw was someone so good that his resume includes All-Pro and Pro-Bowl recognition, three Super Bowl appearances and enshrinement in the Broncos’ Ring of Fame and the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame. What’s more, his 79.5 career sacks are second most in Denver Broncos’ history.

So why isn’t he in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

Good question. He’s one of the 25 semifinalists for the Class of 2016, but that’s old news. This is the fifth time he’s been a semifinalist. He hasn’t, however, graduated to the final 15, and there’s a suggestion that maybe, just maybe, the Broncos’ failure to win one of those three Super Bowls has something to do with it.

“I’m not sure,” Mecklenburg said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “There are a lot of guys in Canton who never played in a Super Bowl. There are guys in Canton who never played in a playoff game. It’s interesting the different kinds of filters people use to decide if you’re a Hall-of-Fame player or not.

“I mean, Randy Gradishar was an unbelievable player (who) was dominant. And they say, ‘Well, he played for 10 years. He didn't play as long as some guys.’ We’ve got Louis Wright, who was the original shutdown corner, and he doesn’t get mentioned. We have Dennis Smith, and he scared running backs. I heard an interview with (former Buffalo running back) Thurman Thomas about the Broncos, and he said, ‘Dennis Smith is crazy.’

"We had some unbelievable players through the years here in Denver that obviously deserve recognition, but there are players across the league who deserve recognition.”

He’s right, of course, but Gradishar, Smith and Wright never played seven positions. Mecklenburg did, a testament not only to his ability but to his versatility. Then-defensive coordinator Joe Collier put him, as Mecklenburg said, “at the point of attack,” and you can’t argue with the results. Mecklenburg made a zillion plays for a defense that was one of the NFL's best at that time.

But while that versatility benefited the Broncos then, it might hurt Mecklenburg now. Reason: He doesn’t have the statistics that others who stayed at one position do, and numbers always come into play when Hall-of-Fame consideration is the topic of a conversation.

“My position is strange,” Mecklenburg conceded, “because I played all seven front positions, and my statistics don’t match up with someone who just played one position. I don’t have as many sacks as someone who rushed the passer every down. I don’t have as many interceptions or tackles as someone who played middle linebacker every down.

“So I think one of the challenges I face in having the opportunity of going to the Hall of Fame is that, statistically, people don’t know what to do with me. I’m thinking, though, this year with some of the things J.J. Watt is doing and Clay Matthews is doing … as far as moving around, and, obviously, Matthews is just moving around as a linebacker and Watt is just moving around as a lineman … (but) maybe the difficulty of being able to play all seven front positions – a lot of times in a single game – is brought to light by what they’re able to do.”

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