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Broncos, Briefly: Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018

"Karl is absolutely worthy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame," said former teammate John Elway. "The combination of the positions he played … no one else did."

No need to sell me. I covered the Chargers for a decade and saw Mecklenburg at least twice a year. And what I saw was a defensive standout on a club that won 60 percent of its games, went to the playoffs seven times, won five AFC West titles and three AFC championships.

Look, I'm under no illusions here. I saw what happened to Walls a year ago when he became a finalist, and it was quick. Voters never responded to him. I saw what happened to Jacoby, too. That was quick, too. Two years after he was a Top-10 finalist and in his last gasp as a modern-era candidate, he was kicked to the curb in favor of five candidates who had a total of eight years of eligibility among them.

Jacoby was in his 20th.

So here's hoping Karl Mecklenburg gets his shot. No, I'm not arguing for his inclusion … though he's Hall-of-Fame worthy, just like the rest of this group. What I am saying is he deserves to have that chance, which means he deserves to have his case heard.

Is any challenge to big for them?

"No," Lindsay replied. "We're in the NFL. The biggest challenge was getting here. Now, it's about us playing together. We know what we have to do. At the end of the day, we're all grown men. And we're not just going to let somebody punk us."

While there's no replacing the talent of Harris or Sanders, this much I know is true: During the Broncos' rise from the depths of a 3-6 record that had the whole city buzzing about when Joseph would get fired, Lindsay, Chubb and Sutton became the beating heart of a team that has stubbornly refused to quit.

"This isn't just a regular rookie class," Lindsay said. "This is a unique rookie class that is really mature. You're not going to get a rookie class like this in the NFL. I don't care what anybody says."

As I mentioned above, Lindsay is having himself a banner year in his first NFL season. The reason he sits at No. 5 is simply because he has only played 12 games. Those above him have been effective in some way for most of their careers. If Lindsay continues to be lightning in a bottle beyond the 2018 season, he could give Foster a run for his money.

Denver Broncos coach Vance Joseph has watched his team overcome obstacles this season, using words like "grit" and "fight" to describe his players' efforts.

Now they'll need those two things more than ever, as wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was lost for the season Wednesday with what team officials believe is a torn left Achilles tendon. Sanders suffered the injury in Wednesday's practice, or roughly 72 hours after cornerback Chris Harris Jr., a three-time Pro Bowl selection, fractured a fibula against the Cincinnati Bengals.

That's one of their premier players on offense and one of their premier players on defense out with injuries just as the team had finally clawed its way back into the playoff race.

"This is the 2018 Denver Broncos," said quarterback Case Keenum. "Nothing's been handed to us -- we're going to earn everything we get."

Sanders' injury paves the way for Courtland Sutton, the Broncos' second-round rookie who leads the league with 19.9 yards per catch, to take on a bigger role in the offense, along with fourth-round rookie DaeSean Hamilton.

Sutton, who has started five games this season, had a career game at Cincinnati with four catches for 85 yards and a touchdown.

"Seeing Emmanuel go down was a very sad situation," Sutton said. "The guy works his ass off. You all see it. Everybody sees it. You hate to see that for somebody in this position. He's having a great season. However, we're all professionals now."

Hamilton missed two games before the bye with an MCL sprain and has totaled five catches and 61 yards on the season. Asked if his knee was fully healed, Hamilton said: "It's good enough. I'm going to keep going. I've been playing and been fine with it. It hasn't been bothering me at all."

Added Joseph: "It's Week 14. He's no longer a rookie, so he has to go play — along with Tim Patrick and with River Cracraft. We have capable guys and I'm very comfortable with that room. It's young, but it's a proven room."

The setback hurts Sanders more than it hurts the Broncos. His contract is up after the 2019 season, and, after the Broncos drafted Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton, his future in Colorado already was up in the air. Could the Broncos part with both Sanders and Demaryius Thomas in a span of six months? It's possible. For Sunday's game at San Francisco the focus of a moody offense turns to a rookie class of Sutton, Hamilton and Phillip Lindsay to save the season.

"It's a role that any young guy wants to have," Sutton said after learning the bad news.

"It sounds cold, but it's not. It's about the next man has to be prepared," said Lindsay, who was named the offensive player (not rookie) of the month in the AFC. "That's just how football is."

In a conference call with reporters, San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan compared Lindsay to San Francisco starting running back Matt Breida, who has 744 rushing yards this season but is out for Sunday's game because of an ankle injury.

"Just watching (Lindsay), he's very similar to the guy we have," Shanahan said. "They hit the hole fullspeed, they don't mess around, they put their foot down and they go straight downhill. And when they get to one (tackler) left, they don't slow down and try to make them miss, they make one cut and run away from them."

Lindsay's role could expand after receiver Emmanuel Sanders sustained a season-ending torn Achilles on Wednesday. The Broncos may become even more committed to the run game.

"My role is whatever it needs to be," Lindsay said. "Whether it's less touches or more touches, it's going to be what it has to be."

**Lynch has leaned on Elway from field to front office** (Arnie Stapleton, Associated Press)

General managers John Elway and John Lynch share a bond going back three decades, one built on respect, rivalry and reverence.

"He was the poster I had on my wall," said Lynch, who's 11 years younger than Elway, 58. "He was the idol I had growing up."

The Broncos (6-6) play the 49ers (2-10) Sunday in the latest chapter of the friendly feud between the two superstars-turned-GMs whose paths have crisscrossed throughout their careers, both on the football field and the front office.