Karl Mecklenburg a late-round draft jewel for Broncos

Mecklenburg the Broncos' best late-round pick (0:57)

ESPN Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold reflects on 1983, when 309 players were selected before Denver took an undersized nose tackle from the University of Minnesota named Karl Mecklenburg. What the Broncos got was a future member of the team's Ring of Fame. (0:57)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Through the years, the Denver Broncos have found plenty of success in reeling in undrafted rookies who become top-tier players, including guys such as Rod Smith, Chris Harris Jr. and C.J. Anderson.

But when it comes to the players the Broncos select with late-round picks in the draft, any team would be hard-pressed to do better than the Broncos did with Karl Mecklenburg in the 12th round of the 1983 draft. Mecklenburg was the 310th player chosen in that draft.

Mecklenburg had been an undersized nose tackle/defensive end at the University of Minnesota, where he earned second-team All-Big Ten honors. He arrived in Denver as a defensive end, but in his second season, the Broncos moved him to linebacker and found a football gem for their fabled 3-4 defense.

Joe Collier, a longtime Broncos defensive coordinator, has called Mecklenburg “one of the most versatile players I’ve even been around, and I absolutely felt like I could put him anywhere on the field."

Collier did just that. There is plenty of game film that shows Mecklenburg lining up at seven different positions during the course of those games.

By the time Mecklenburg’s 12-year career was over, he had played for teams that won five division titles and advanced to play in three Super Bowls. Mecklenburg was selected to six Pro Bowls and is still second in Broncos franchise history in sacks (79).

In all, he played 180 regular-season games, with 141 starts, and 14 playoff games. Mecklenburg, who was put into the Broncos’ Ring of Fame in 2001, has made the cut to 25 semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in each of the past five years.


Shannon Sharpe, TE, Savannah State: Sharpe was a seventh-round pick by the Broncos in 1990 -- as a wide receiver. Then came a position switch, and the rest is history. Sharpe was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2011 and is in the team’s Ring of Fame.

Terrell Davis, RB, Georgia: Mike Shanahan has repeatedly said the Broncos would not have won Super Bowls to close out the 1997 and 1998 seasons without Davis, a sixth-round pick in 1995. His 142.5 rushing yards per game in the postseason is the highest postseason average in league history, and Davis is in a select group of players who have won both league MVP and Super Bowl MVP awards.