Who is the best Bronco not in the Hall of Fame?

Karl Mecklenburg photo courtesy of the Denver Broncos

Loyalists of the Denver Broncos believe there’s a prejudice against their team at the Hall of Fame.

They have a point.

The Broncos have been to eight Super Bowls yet they only have five players enshrined in Canton: Terrell Davis, John Elway, Floyd Little, Shannon Sharpe and Gary Zimmerman. Four skill players and a blocker. No defenders from a franchise that produced an “Orange Crush” defense that was among the league’s best in the 1970s.

Like the Broncos, the Oakland Raiders were a charter AFL franchise. Both teams have won three Lombardi Trophies and the Broncos went to three more Super Bowls than the Raiders. Yet the Raiders have nine more players (14) in the Hall of Fame than the Broncos.

So that’s the subject of our weekly Talk of Fame Network poll – who is the best Bronco not in the Hall of Fame. Denver loyalists will tell you there are plenty of good candidates – and we agree. Here are your options:

Steve Atwater, S. A first-team NFL all-decade selection for the 1990s. The thumper on a defense that helped the Broncos win back-to-back Super Bowls in the 1997 and 1998 seasons. Atwater was voted to eight Pro Bowls and was a two-time first-team all-pro. A former first-round draft pick, Atwater collected 1,356 and 24 interceptions in his 10-year career. He has been a Hall of Fame finalist once.

Randy Gradishar, ILB. The 1978 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Gradishar played 10 seasons and went to seven Pro Bowls — the most of any middle linebacker eligible for the Hall of Fame but not yet enshrined. He is a member of Ohio State’s all-century team and his college coach Woody Hayes called him, “the finest linebacker I ever coached.” Gradishar collected 200 or more tackles in six of his 10 NFL seasons and played in one Super Bowl. He has been a two-time Hall of Fame finalist.

Rich Jackson, DE. In the late 1960s, there was no better pass rusher in football than Jackson. He collected 10 sacks in 1968, 11 in 1969 and 10 more in 1970 before suffering a knee injury midway through the 1971. He was still voted to his fourth and final Pro Bowl that season and was a three-time first-team all-pro. His nickname was “Tombstone.” Why? “Tombstone is the termination of life,” Jackson explained. “The stone is the symbol of death and when you put the `tomb’ and the `stone’ together that’s the end of the road.” Jackson has never been a Hall of Fame finalist.

Karl Mecklenburg, LB. The Swiss army knife of defense. He played anywhere and everywhere in Denver’s front seven, from game to game and often from play to play. He lined up in his career at right and left end, nose tackle, right and left inside linebacker and right and left outside linebacker in Denver’s 3-4 scheme. Plus middle linebacker in a 4-3 scheme. He went to six Pro Bowls and was a three-time first-team all-pro. He collected 79 career sacks, including 13 in 1985. He has never been a Hall of Fame finalist.

Tom Nalen, C. The anchor of Denver’s offensive line for 13 seasons – seasons that produced a pair of NFL rushing champions and a pair of Lombardi Trophies. A seventh-round draft pick, Nalen went to five Pro Bowls – the most by any offensive lineman in franchise history — and blocked for 11 single-season 1,000-yard rushers. His 188 career starts rank second only to John Elway in franchise history. Nalen has never been a Hall of Fame finalist.

Dennis Smith, S. Another former first-round draft pick, Smith plated 14 seasons and teamed with Atwater for six seasons to give the Broncos one of the best safety combos in the history of football. He collected 1,171 tackles and 30 interceptions and went to six Pro Bowls. Smith posted career highs a career-high five sacks in 1983, five interceptions in 1991 and 120 tackles in 1992. He has never been a Hall of Fame finalist.

Lionel Taylor, WR. Taylor led all of pro football, the AFL and NFL, in receiving four consecutive seasons and five times total in the 1960s. Only Hall of Famer Don Hutson led football in receiving more times (eight) and more consecutive seasons (five). Taylor was the first receiver to catch 100 passes in a single season in 1961. He was a first-team all-pro four times and went to three AFL All-Star Games. Taylor has never been a Hall of Fame finalist.

Louis Wright, CB. An NFL all-decade selection from the 1970s. Wright played 12 seasons with the Denver Broncos and was a member of the Orange Crush defense that lost in the 1977 Super Bowl to the Dallas Cowboys. He intercepted 26 career passes and played in five Pro Bowls. He has never been a Hall-of-Fame finalist. Wright has never been a Hall of Fame finalist.

Vote now!

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  1. Ron
    October 3, 2018

    Its amazing that Gradishar had more tackles than Hamm or Lambert and there in with as many years of 200 plus tackles as he had its a crime that Randy has not been voted in

    • bachslunch
      October 4, 2018

      The gripe on Randy Gradishar’s tackle stats is that the Broncos were historically one of the most generous teams in handing them out. That to me doesn’t preclude Gradishar for the HoF, but he certainly has enough of a case without considering tackle numbers, which are very subjective.

  2. brian wolf
    October 4, 2018

    The First great defensive player the Broncos ever had was CB Willie Brown but Denver traded him to the Raiders where he became a Hall of Famer…The Raiders in turn let Rich Jackson go to the Broncos where he turned into a great pass rusher whose career ended way to soon after a knee injury in 1971. He might have been Denvers first Hall of Fame player who teamed with a very quick tackle in Paul Smith and tutored a very young Lyle Alzado. This was the beginnings of the Orange Crush Defence, especially when NT Rubin Carter, LBs Gradishar, Jackson and Rizzo and CBs Bill Thompson, Louis Wright and Safety Steve Foley joined.

    Gradishar, Carter, Alzado, Jackson(Tom) and Wright stood out during the late 70s, early 80s but my vote would go to Wright to be their next Hall of Famer…Tom Nalen in later years also stood out and Mecklenberg was an excellent player as well along with Rulon Jones.

    I like Atwater at safety but Dennis Smith’s play made up for alot of Atwaters coverage deficiencies, especially in his early seasons. He finished strong however with the two Super Bowl wins. Lets not forget about other great Broncos players like Habib, Schlereth, Price, Romanowski, McCafferey, Smith and Darden, who Atwater replaced.

    He may not ever be remembered in Denver but CB John Rowser to me set the tone for the future Orange Crush Defence with his physical play and leadership that he brought over from the Steelers. He had the mentality of a LB.

  3. brian wolf
    October 4, 2018

    Haha thats Pryce not Price, Darden was mostly a corner, Thompson a safety and who could forget Odoms, Upchurch, and Moses. Steve Watson and Vance Johnson were also underrated. Especially catching Elways fastballs. Sorry Bronco fans.

  4. bachslunch
    October 4, 2018

    Good choices to consider, and it’s tough to choose just one. Can definitely get behind Gradishar, Atwater, and Mecklenburg, and Taylor, Wright, and Jackson wouldn’t be terrible choices either.

  5. Jeff
    October 4, 2018

    I always assumed Steve Atwater would waltz right in to the hall of fame, and am really puzzled that he can’t pick up any steam. I think he’s at the top of this list, with Gradishar second. Mecklenburg wouldn’t be a terrible choice but I think he’s behind Gradishar.

  6. J D Smith
    October 12, 2018

    Atwater collected 1,356 and 24 interceptions in his 10-year career. He has been a Hall of Fame finalist once.

    What does “1,356 and 24 interceptions” equal? — proof of challenged proofreading

    One must assume a word is missing.

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