Friday, August 17, 2018

Mike Kenn—Never A Hall of Fame Finalist?

By John Turney
Art Credit: Chuck Ren
There has been some good publicity for Mike Kenn recently, the Talk of Fame Network has done a couple of fine pieces on his career for example. But since this is his final year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame as a modern day player, perhaps a review of his case is in order.

Back in the day, when we first began to follow the Hall of Fame process, longevity in career was considered a plus. The theory was sustained greatness was a tremendous thing. Yes, it did leave out some players who had shorter careers for a while, but when Dwight Stephenson was rightly voted in it showed that quality was important, as well as quality.

When the de facto battle between Stephenson and Mike Webster for the Hall of Fame occurred, we spoke to Will McDonough after the Class of 1996 was announced and Webster was not included, likely because of the strong support of Stephenson and the thought that at his peak he was superior to Webster. When I mentioned Webster to McDonough he just shook his head and muttered, "seventeen years".

All's well that ends well because Webster got in in 1997 and Stephenson in 1998. One note is though Webster played 17 years, he started for 15 years. Which brings us to Mike Kenn.
Kenn played for and started for 17 years. Other tackles have played for more years, namely Jackie Slater. However, Slater was groomed for three years before starting and his final year was kind of a gimme, 1 game, 1 start, 17 plays. Yes, it counts but was it meaningful? Not really. Kenn, though, started all of his 17 seasons and that kind of longevity for a tackle is unheard of, unprecedented even. No one has more starting seasons as a tackle in the history of the game.

Seventeen years as a starter. Think about it. Munoz's total was 13. Walter Jones, Jonathan Ogden and Orlando Pace, the three most recent tackle inductees started for 12 or 13 or so, depending on how one counts injury seasons.

The following is a compilation of information collected by us and sent to us from other researchers and writers about Mike Kenn's career. Our view is it makes a strong case for his candacy for the Hall of Fame and time is of the essence in that if Kenn does not make it this year (Class of 2019) then he goes into a pool of names not so kindly dubbed "the Senior Swamp", where there are scores of great names with little chance of making the Hall of Fame.

Kenn was a rookie starter and though he struggled some, he was an All-Rookie selection. In 1979 he was gaining national notice with Gannett News Service's and Pro Football Weekley's  Joe Buchsbaum writing, “Tall, long-legged, rawboned youngster with great speed, very quick feet, and superb blocking skills”. Buchsbaum rated him as the 9th best tackle in the NFL for that year.

In 1980 Kenn was All-Pro, and was rated 5th in NFL by Proscout, Inc. and 6th by Buchsbaum. Here are Buchsbaum's pre- mid- or post-season comments, year-by-year about Kenn.
1980—"Great pass blocker with quick feet and long arms. Keeps getting better and better”
1981—“Kenn is a great athlete with quick, quick feet and tight end’s feet”
1982—"Anthony Munoz, Marvin Powell, and Mike Kenn are the premier players. Kenn is the best pass blocker but not as strong as the others. Kenn is an excellent pass blockers with quick feet and excellent balance."
1983—"The finest pass blocking skills in football, Kenn is a superb athlete with long arms and quick feet."
1985—“Not as physically overpowering as some but as difficult to beat as any. Pass protection is Kenn’s forte."
1986—Bauchsbaum stated Kenn "should have been in the Pro Bowl" and was “snubbed” from the Pro Bowl.

Here’s where Joel Buchsbaum ranked Kenn in his pre-season or mid-season ratings:
1978 – Rookie
1979 – 9th
1980 – 6th
1981 – 1st (Marvin Powell was 2nd; Munoz, 3rd)
1982 – 2nd
1983 – 2nd
1984 – 1st (Powell was 2nd;; Munoz, 3rd)
1985 – 1st (Munoz 2nd)
1986 – 2nd
1987 – 9th
1988 – 26th
1989 – Not ranked among 15 tackles listed
1990 – Not ranked among 25 tackles listed
1991 – 12th
1992 – 5th
1993 – 7th
1994 – 13th

Things did slow down for a couple of years. In the late 1980s, Kenn didn't garner post-season honors such as Pro Bowls and was not rated as one of the top few tackles in the game.

However, in 1990, Proscout, Inc., ranked him as the 3rd best tackle in the NFL. In 1991 he was a consensus First-team All-Pro. Here is a complete list of Kenn's post-season honors:

1980—Consensus All-Pro (AP, PFWA, NEA, PFW, SI, Gannett)
1981—Also named First-team All-Pro by Boston Globe
1982—Also named First-team All-Pro by Sports Illustrated and Gannett News
1983—Also named First-team All-Pro by PFWLos Angeles Times and Gannett News
1984—Also named First-team All-Pro by Gannett News
1986—Named Second-team All-Pro by Gannett News 
1988—Named First alternate to the Pro Bowl
1990—Named First-team All-Pro by Sports Illustrated
1991—Consensus All-Pro (AP, PFWA, NEA, PFA, SN)
1992 —Named to Boston Globe and Milwaukee Journal

Additionally, he was the NFC Offensive Lineman of the Year by the NFLPA in 1981 and 1982.
At Pro Football Journal we count as semi-official the AP, PFWA, NEA, Sporting News, Pro Football Weekly All-Pro teams. They are the ones who are used in Total Football: Official NFL Encyclopedia and are accepted by the NFL CBA. However, looking at esoteric teams chosen by the likes of Will McDonough, Paul Zimmerman, Joel Buchsbaum is informative.

Using just the "semi-official" All-Pro teams here is how Kenn compares to Hall of Famers and a few other tackles who have been on the Hall of Fame finalist list.

As can be seen, Kenn's honors compare favorably to Tony Boselli and Joe Jacoby, as well as Slater and others. He does lack the All-Decade designation. Jacoby and Boselli were both Second-team selections on the official Hall of Fame All-Decade teams. But it is worth noting that Gary Zimmerman was a 1980s Second-team selection and it's questionable to whether he should have been because he only played four seasons in the 1980s. He would have been a lock for the 1985-95 mythical team, but four years in the 1980s seems a bit light and either Kenn or Slater would have been a better fit for the decade of the 1980s.

Here is a list of the official team and some other publications as we published here:
So, it's arguable that the lack of an official All-Decade team shouldn't really be a big negative for Kenn, just as it wasn't for Slater who also didn't make the official team.

To us, a HOF should have it all, Honors, statistics, and what we call "testimonials" or "what they said" comments. Those are quotes from opposing players or coaches about the skills of a player. Also, there could be intangibles in a player's case as well. What are the intangibles? Well, if they were definable they would be tangibles. Leadership and playing with pain are two examples.

Here are some quotes about Kenn that seem to indicate he was one of the best and that his greatness led to being All-Pro in his third year and in his fourteenth year.

Dan Hampton 
“I would like to make a few comments on behalf of Mike Kenn, the fine left tackle of the Atlanta Falcons. Over the 1980’s the Bears had many games vs Atlanta and their excellent offensive line. In my estimation, Mike was the best player on maybe the best line in football.

"Equally adept at run or pass blocking, he was a fixture as a starter in the Pro Bowl for countless years. He, Munoz, and Covert were simply the best left tackles [easily the more difficult position of the two OT slots] in all of football. In a humorous way, he would force me to bring my “A” game every time we played because I knew Richard Dent would have his hands full all day, a fantastic player for well over a decade.”

Chris Doleman
"He was the prototype at the time. He moved well, great technique. He had great success against some great players. Hall of Famer? Yes, in my opinion."

Clyde Simmons
"Mike Kenn is a player who didn’t get the recognition he deserved. When he played he was one of the top five left tackles in the game. Rarely making a mistake on a pass set and a better run blocker than given credit for. If Mike was in a major media market like New York, the world would have known of how great a player he was. He wasn’t a flashy player which draws so much attention, but consistency was Mike Kenn."

Steve Bartkowski
“Mike Kenn should be in Canton,” Bartkowski said. “He was the best offensive tackle in football, if not the best, one of the top two or three for 17 years."

Art Shell 
When asked about the Hall of Fame and Mike Kenn Shell said, "Does he fit with that group? You're damned right he does. When he came into the league, he was the trendsetter of sorts. You know, tall, angular guy with a big wingspan. Then the game sort of gravitated toward the 300-pounders, "The Hogs" and people like that, and he was still excellent. And now it's come back his way again, and he's still good. My only question is, why's he leaving? On film, he looks damn good to me."

(In 1994 Shell has studied Kenn in person and on film this year and calls his play "among the best" he's ever seen.)
"He's a future 'Hall' guy, sure. If the folks who do the voting have any sense about them, he'll walk right in when it's his time. He's a master at some forgotten skills, a guy who still pays attention to the detail stuff that's foreign to a lot of linemen nowadays.''

Leslie O'Neal 
It was like playing against a human textbook"

Al "Bubba" Baker 
(Kenn) became the best tackle I ever faced, technically perfect. Kenn was No. 1, Anthony Munoz second, Jim Lachey third."

Pat Swilling 
"I am not talking about Mike Kenn this week, I'll talk to you about anything but Mike Kenn. People have created a monster, and each time we play Atlanta, this monster seems to get bigger and bigger."

"It was tough going up against him but it was fun because it was such a challenge, he always knew what I was trying to do, whether it was making a move on the inside or blitzing on the outside. He's definitely a dying breed, a lot of the younger guys just don't prepare like Mike does. Every trick in the book? To tell you the truth, he might have written the book."

Bill Walsh (Offensive line coach)
 "Mike is not a power blocker, but he has real quick feet and is able to force his man to the outside, I've never seen anybody with his agility or quickness".

Fred Dryer 
"Kenn was a very fine player; big, smooth, with very good feet and balance with great technique and focus, very tough-minded and very mean."

Jackie Slater 
"He's always been considered by my teammates to be a very formidable foe, he's always brought more to the table than just athleticism. The thing I've been most impressed with is his adaptability. He played well when they were primarily a running team and he has played well in this wide-open offense."

John Madden (When picking his ultimate team in early 1980s)
 “I’d put Atlanta’s Mike Kenn at one tackle. He may be the best technical pass blocker in the league right now.”

 Len Pasquarelli 
"Members of the NFL's influential Competition Committee, which proposes rules changes and decided on areas of emphasis for on-field officiating, have frequently used video of Kenn to demonstrate pass blocking techniques."

Bill McPherson 
“Mike Kenn was something else. We played against him in the same division. You talk about a big sucker who could play. He was tough. Run block. Pass block. We didn’t know how the hell we could get by this guy. Fred Dean did it some. But Kenn was a hell of a football player. I’d say just a step below Anthony Munoz.”
(McPherson said that he thought Gary Zimmerman unquestionably should be in the Hall of Fame, but he’d give Kenn  a slight edge if he was comparing the two)

Jim Hanifan
“No question about it (that he’s a Hall of Famer). I coached Michael for three years. The guy was a great fricking football player. He was a great pass protector. As tall as he was, 6-7, I’d look at him and think, ‘God, he’s like a quarter horse.’ He could bend his knees so well. And he used his hands so well. He really struck, really punched. 

"How he could get so low and have leverage was amazing to me. He had longevity. He had durability. And he could pass protect out of his mind. He was great.”

"I just took out some film of him today to look at and, while I marvel at what he's done this season, I probably shouldn't be shocked by it. You're talking about a guy who knows and thoroughly understands his craft so well. If someone ever sits down to write a textbook about all the little intricacies and components of pass-blocking, for instance, they'd have to start by talking to Mike. Someone ought to put the films from this year into a time capsule. His career ought to be bronzed."

Mike Giddings Sr. 
“I’ve been doing this 32 years and if a guy is in the top 10 four or five times in his career – and it’s usually a short span – he’s worthy of Hall of Fame consideration. With that in mind, here’s a comparison of Kenn and (Anthony) Munoz. Kenn is nine times among the top eight tackles. Munoz is 10 times in the top 10. 

"We also do colors and blue is our top color. Those are your playmakers. Then reds are your solid starters. But years of blue is extremely important. Munoz 10 times with a blue. In nine years, Kenn had blue boxes. And I’ve always considered Munoz the best modern tackle of all-time. So Kenn has to be right there. 

"(Gary) Zimmerman is a left tackle who ought to be in the Hall of Fame. I could look up how many times Zimmerman was in the top 10, but he was a softer run blocker than Kenn. With Kenn, four of his first five years was a blue run-blocker. I’m not sure Zimmerman was ever a blue run-blocker. He was an elite pass blocker. Another thing about Kenn was that we had him at 287 and our 40 time was 4.8. These are outstanding P.Q.s.”

Here are the rankings and colors Giddings was referring to.
Statistically, it is hard to quantify offensive tackles. So many things go into it. Stats, LLC, since 1994 began to track sacks allowed and penalties committed by offensive linemen in the NFL. Their numbers are sort of a neutral observer and are often higher than the same stats given in offensive lineman coaches charts. But, it's the best we can do.
The following chart shows Kenn's totals by our research and the Stats, LLC numbers for other recent HOF and HOF caliber tackles:
The above numbers are per sixteen games. Kenn averaged just under 2 holding penalties and 4 total penalties per season and just under 5 sacks allowed per season. Orlando Pace didn't hold a lot but had an issue with false starts, Ogden and Jones were excellent at avoiding penalties. All averaged about 5 to 5½ sacks a season as per Stats, LLC. So, in a rough comparison, Kenn is right there with those guys.

Our own film study of about 25 Falcons game show what the comments, stats, and honors show. With his right hand down, Kenn was light on his feet, and was very quick. He didn't get confused on stunts by the linemen when they'd twist or cross. Didn't seem to get beat, especially when games were on the line, which is saying a lot. We don't suppose our study would supplant what Giddings or Shell or Hanifan have said, but we do concur with what they said, for what little that is worth.

Closing thoughts
We are very aware that there is a push for Tony Boselli's candidacy to be the first Jacksonville Jaguar to be inducted. Boselli is worthy and will get it. However, if it happens this year rather than in the very near future what cost will it come with it? It already, in our view it cost Joe Jacoby a slot in the Hall of Fame. With limited slots and many good candidates sometimes positions get stacked and wide receivers compete with wide receivers and safeties compete with safeties and tackles compete with tackles.

Right or wrong, it is our view that this kind of things a happens. And that kind of debate knocked Jacoby out of the finals and now into the senior pool.

Now, if Kenn were to make it to the Final 15, if he does not get past Boselli (again, HOF-worthy) he will be in the same position as Jacoby. In a big pool of great players who were overlooked. Not exactly an Island of Misfit Toys for close. Kenn had too good a career to be relegated to that (So did Joe Jacoby but that ship has sailed).

But if it comes to fairness and an apples to apples comparisons, here is Boselli's complete career compared to the first seven years of Kenn's career.
So that chart begs the question this begs to be put to those who honestly feel Boselli's deserves to go in before Kenn is this—Was Boselli really so superior that he deserves to leapfrog Kenn when their first seven seasons are nearly the same and then you add ten years of starting NFL football, including what was All-Pro-level football for Kenn in those ten years?

The solution is simple—vote Kenn in this year, keep him out of the swamp and vote Boselli in next year. He has time. And the evidence is, and even in my own research, these are very similar in terms of their peak. And in terms of longevity, Boselli had the bad luck, and there is no comparison.

When a player plays for and starts for 17 years, and is at an All-Pro level as early as his third year and as late as his 14th year, who ranks very near the tackle many (including us) call the G.O.A.T (Munoz), who is a technician, who players like Bubba Baker call the "best he faced", who outpaces other players at his own position who are currently up for the Hall of Fame (Boselli), whose stats are similar to other Hall of Famers in terms of penalties and sacks allowed, what is the holdup?

Just asking.


  1. Outstanding article again. Love the testimonials.

  2. Wonder what happened in 1990 with people seeing differences in Kenn's play. Dr Z had him on his all pro team that season and said he had his best run blocking campaign. Buchsbaum doesn't even have him in his top 25?

    1. remember most of the Buchbaum stuff, thought not all, is pre-season or mid-season. There was a scheme change too, to the run and shoot or Red Gun or whatever, so there was that.

      With Joel were around to ask

  3. So the notion seems to be that Kenn really slipped in the late 80s i guess? His 89 year was that bad huh?

    With the PSI stuff if blue is all pro and red is solid starter what do the other colors indicate?

    1. Blue it tops, followed by red, then purple, then orange and then green.

      But it gets tricky because each player was 3 grades, run, pass, nickel. So a DL could be blue run, purple pass, red nickel. So it has to be graded out. So a player could be "purple" but have one "red box". But overall grades are what is seen there.

      I guess purple is starter level. Orange is low level starter, needs to be replaced. Green in not NFL quality.

      And each position has maybe 12-20 points to be graded on.

  4. That is unbelievable. Giddings must have an army of assistants correct? That must take a ton of man hours to break all that down?

    Could a red grade still mean pro bowl level or close to it?

    Oh, and I promised on twitter that I would provide my grades on Mike Kenn and I have them now. I never played football at all and don't have a ton of knowledge about the schemes but I tried my best. This is based on the Dr Z system of tiering it by drive blocking and pass protection.

    35 views of Kenn: 63 B's (outstanding run blocks) 1.8 average, 15 sacks allowed, 6 forces (qb getting forced to throw early for incomplete), 6 holds (only those accepted), 6 assists on sacks.

    If the score got too out of hand in the fourth quarter I stopped grading.

  5. Hmm, john, I was cribbing buchbaums all pro team in 1980 and Kenn was on of his tackles. It looks like he picked his team with 2 games left in the regular season. Did Kenn struggle in his last two games to fall to sixth in his rankings. If kenn was rated sixth how was he in Joel's starting all pro team?

    1. Don't know about Joel's stuff... maybe he did...Doss got a couple of sacks in Week 16---but no idea why Joel did that.