EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. --Seven Broncos advanced to the next stage of Hall of Fame voting this week, and for some, the case for eventual induction is strong, especially when comparing their accomplishments with players already enshrined in Canton and others whose names are coming up in the next few years:
RB Terrell Davis (1995-2002):
Worth noting: Eleven men have won Super Bowl and NFL MVP awards. Six of the seven who are eligible for the Hall of Fame are enshrined: Bart Starr, Roger Staubach, Terry Bradshaw, John Elway, Joe Montana and Steve Young. Davis is the notable exception to this. (Kurt Warner, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers are also in the Super Bowl/NFL MVP club, but none are eligible for induction.) Davis is also the only non-quarterback on this list. Davis' problem is a short career span, even though he had a stretch where he was clearly the best at what he did. This issue is not limited to this sport; Davis and former two-time National League MVP Dale Murphy are examples of players whose star shone brightest, but also briefly, thus keeping them out of the Hall of Fame honor they deserve in Canton and Cooperstown, respectively. It's why the process of Hall of Fame evaluation can't lean on fixed standards and milestones, but must be variable to account for factors beyond the player's control, like injuries.
S Steve Atwater (1989-98):
Worth noting: Atwater is one of the two first-team All-1990's safeties (along with Green Bay's LeRoy Butler) and made the Pro Bowl in eight of his 11 NFL seasons, including a final 1999 season with the New York Jets. Atwater, like Davis, has seen his case hurt by a relatively short career span, but played at a Pro Bowl level in 72.7 percent of his seasons and started in three Super Bowls.
S John Lynch (2004-07):
Worth noting: Every defensive back with at least nine Pro Bowl selections -- as Lynch had in his 15-season career, 11 of which came with Tampa Bay -- is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That's an impressive tally made even more notable when considering that Lynch had limited college experience at safety and did not become a full-time starter until his fourth NFL season, in part due to the steep learning curve the former Stanford quarterback and then-Florida Marlins farm-system pitcher faced in moving to defense. His years on a Buccaneers defense of the late 1990's and early 2000's that is arguably one of the best units in recent NFL history also help his cause, but Warren Sapp is already in the Hall of Fame and Derrick Brooks is a first-time nominee this year, which could leave Lynch waiting a little while longer.
LB Karl Mecklenburg (1983-94):
Worth noting: According to the numbers kept by Pro-Football-Reference.com, Mecklenburg is one of just five players since sacks became an official statistic in 1982 with at least 1,000 tackles and 70 or more sacks. The others include three Hall of Famers (Rickey Jackson, Bruce Smith and Reggie White) and Cornelius Bennett, who, like Mecklenburg, is perennially on this list but remains overlooked.
C Tom Nalen (1994-2008):
Worth noting: An offensive lineman's glory is often reflected, and that's the case for Nalen, whose proficiency is reflected in the consistency of the Broncos' running game while he played. The runners changed, but the 1,000-yard seasons remained the same, and Nalen blocked for six different running backs who combined for 11 1,000-yard seasons.
Head coach Dan Reeves (1981-92):
Worth noting: Reeves is one of eight coaches to take four teams to Super Bowls. Six are in the Hall of Fame. One is still coaching and not yet eligible (Bill Belichick). The exception is Reeves, and if the losses in the four games -- including Super Bowl XXXIII when coaching the Falcons -- are the excuse, that doesn't hold up, because Bud Grant and Marv Levy were also 0-4 in the Super Bowl and they're enshrined.
WR Rod Smith (1994-2008):
Worth noting: He's the most accomplished undrafted receiver of all time, but draft status really shouldn't matter when determining Hall of Famers; it's all about performance. And if you want to compare Smith to other likely Hall of Fame finalists in this year's class when trying to figure out who to free from the Hall's receiving logjam, consider this: among Smith, Marvin Harrison, Andre Reed and Tim Brown, Harrison has the most receptions and yardage per game of that group, followed by Smith, then Brown, then Reed. Smith's averages of 4.63 catches and 62.23 yards per game trail Harrison by 1.17 catches and 14.51 yards, respectively, but lead Brown by 0.34 receptions and 3.67 yards and are ahead of Reed by 0.57 receptions and 5.83 yards.