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Mile High Morning: 'Orange Crush' defensive coordinator Joe Collier makes the Hall of Fame case for Randy Gradishar


The Lead

With Steve Atwater, Peyton Manning and John Lynch all being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the past two years, the Broncos contingent in Canton, Ohio, has grown considerably in recent years. But despite this, there's still one legendary Bronco whose continued absence frustrates fans year after year.

That would be Randy Gradishar, the 1978 AP Defensive Player of the Year who earned seven Pro Bowls and two first-team All-Pro selections over a 10-year career.

And it's not just fans who are frustrated; so is Joe Collier, the only defensive coordinator Gradishar ever played for in the NFL. In an interview with Hall of Fame voters Clark Judge and Ira Kaufman on their podcast, "The Eye Test for Two," Collier reflected on Gradishar's struggles to make the Hall and looked back on the linebacker's stellar career.

"I've known for years that Randy deserves to be in the Hall of Fame," Collier said. "To me, he was one of the top linebackers in the history of the NFL, and I'm very sorry that he's not been able to get into the Hall of Fame by now."

During Gradishar's time in the NFL, he was one of the most dominant middle linebackers. A sure and ruthless tackler, Gradishar was the reliable center of the famous "Orange Crush" defense that led the Broncos to their first playoff and Super Bowl appearances.

"He had the attributes that you need in a linebacker," Collier said. "He had the size. He was about 6-3 and 230 [pounds]. He had the speed. He was very intelligent. He led our defense in calls and all that stuff. And he was very durable. He didn't miss any games."

Why Gradishar hasn't yet been inducted is hard to pin down. He was a finalist twice as a Modern-Era candidate and once as a Senior candidate in 2020.

"All the things he did as a linebacker are unbelievable," Collier said.

Perhaps one reason is the effort to quantify his contributions, as the 2,049 tackles he's credited with raise some skepticism. That would require an average of more than 14 tackles per game throughout his career.

Collier, though, knows that it's accurate. After all, he's the person who watched all the tape and recorded them.

"By looking at the film, I would make sure the tackles were accurate," Collier told Judge and Kaufman. "Randy made a lot of first hits, and he made a lot of assisted tackles. A lot of people probably don't give credit for assisted tackles. If a ballcarrier is still moving and the whistle hasn't blown, and a guy gets there to help with the tackle that's an assisted tackle.

"I think the guys up in the press box didn't pay much attention to a guy who came in with the second or third hit on a ballcarrier. To me, taking tackles the next day off of the film … they're accurate tackles. No question about it."

Below the Fold

In a new NFL Draft mailbag for ESPN, Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay answered questions from fans. Asked which teams are most likely to trade up if a top quarterback falls, Kiper put the Broncos as the second-most-likely team. "Are the Broncos sold on Drew Lock? They have the No. 9 pick and wouldn't have to move up as many spots," Kiper wrote. "They could also pick the best player available and give Lock one more year to prove he's a legit NFL starter."

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