Monday, March 22, 2021

Versatile Ones—Hidden Gems

 By John Turney 
Randall Cunningham rips off a 91-yard bomb
What if you had to build a modern team of 22 players with no Hall of Famers. Who would you pick? remember you need to fill all the positions and the special teams as well. So versatility counts here, it's not a "he should be in the Hall of Fame post, though some should me) it's picking guys who could do a lot of things and would fill out a 22-man roster and cover all your bases, kicking, punting, snapping, holding and coverage, and blocking on special teams. 

Here is our go at it—


C—Rich Saul. Saul was a very good center, All-Pro-level. He also was a long-snapper and a great special teams player. He could also fill in at guard and tight end and even tackle. At times he wore two jerseys numbers when he played both the offensive line and tight end (#87 so he would be eligible as a receiver). 
G—Doug Wilkerson. Again, a very good guard and was someone who could run down on kickoffs and was a great wedge blocker.
G—Bob Kuechenberg. He was a great guard, could play tackle at a high level, and could long snap.
T—Joe Jacoby. Great left tackle, both in run blocking and pass blocking, played right tackle and guard at a high level as well, whatever he was asked to do, and a good blocker on the kick protection teams. 
T—James Williams. Ended his career as a Pro Bowl-level tackle who blocked plenty of kicks and began his career as a defensive lineman so he can fill in there for you. 
TE—Marlin McKeever. A Pro Bowl tight end and a good linebacker as well, both as a middle linebacker and outside. Also blocked a slew of kicks.
QB—Randall Cunningham—had more than one MVP-level season and could punt well when needed.
FB—Tank Younger. A good runner, decent receiver, great blocker, and when he played linebacker was  All-Pro level based on film study
RB—Herschel Walker. A super talented runner and receiver and could return kicks as well and late in his career you could still see him running down on kickoffs making tackles.
SE—Del Shofner. A tremendous split end with great speed. For some reason, he was moved to defensive back for a year. He had is one of the few (perhaps the only) player that had a career sack, interception and touchdown reception, and also a punt. 
WR—Roy Green. A speedster who was a great deep threat and could play defensive back—was a fine nickel back.

DE—Lou Michaels. A left defensive end with some skill and a left-footed straight-on kicker. 
DE—Ron McDole. A defensive end who could get some rush, one of the best kick blockers ever, and could play guard (as he did early in his career).
NT—Joe Klecko. Nose was maybe his best position but he also played DE in both a 4-3 and 3-4 and 4-3 defensive tackle as well. Not a factor on special teams, though. 
ILB—Karl Mecklenburg. An inside linebacker who played RDE in nickel, but could play tackle was well and could do it on both the strong and weak side and also could play MLB in a 4-3. He does not get a checkmark for special teams, though but due to his versatility on we picked him anyway.
ILB—Bryan Cox. He was an excellent 3-4 OLBer, and played MIKE in base later, and RDE in nickel and some 3-4 inside linebacker as well. 
OLB—Matt Blair. A HOF-level SAM 'Backer and one of the top 2-3 kick blockers ever.
OLB—Cornelius Bennett. Outside linebacker, inside later in career, 3-4, 4-3 it didn't matter. A LDE in nickel early in career, run stopper, cover, everything. 
CB—Abe Woodson. A fine, fine cover corner. Four-time All-Pro as one of the best-ever combination kick and punt returners who was especially great on kick returns. 
CB—Albert Lewis. Clear HOF-lever corner and the best punt blocker ever.
Cromwell blocks a punt with his left hand
S—Nolan Cromwell. Another HOF-level player who could play strong or free safety. Was a slot corner in nickel, even started as cornerback a few games in 1979. He played "Buffalo nickel" under Fritz Shurmur. On special teams, he was perhaps the best holder ever with great hands and could execute fakes and was a fine punt blocker, and was the safety on kick coverage his entire career. And as a bonus could be your emergency quarterback.
S—Bill Bradley. An All-Pro safety and a good punter and a fair kick and punt returner and also held for placekicks. 


C—Doug Smith—Filled in as a rookie for Dennis Harrah. Won the left guard outright in 1979 until he was felled by a knee injury. In 1980 when Dennis Harrah held out he kept the staring right guard job even after Harrah returned. Harrah didn't get the job back until Smith hurt a knee again. In 1981 Smith filled in at both guards and right tackle. Finally, in 1982, he began his Pro Bowl career as a center. 
G—Randy Cross. A fine guard and also center. 
G—Leonard Davis. A huge man, played guard and both tackles. On all the protection teams. 
T—Flozell Adams. Solid tackle and was a very good kick blocker. Began his career as a guard, so he can players as well and can play both tackle spots.
T—Tim Irwin. Also, a solid tackle and could block kicks with the best of the offensive linemen (9 blocks).
TE—Leon Hart. They did not call his position tight end at the time, but he was aligned next to a tackle early in his career. He was huge for his era (6-5, 257) and even decent-sized for this era. He played defense and in his final three seasons converted to fullback was a starter for the Lions at that position.
QB—Kordell Stewart. A quarterback who was a winner, he could run, throw and we think, had he stayed at wide receiver, would have been an All-Pro at that spot. Was really uncanny out there. 
FB—Don McCauley. A fine combination of a decent runner but a very special third-down back who was really tremendous in short-yardage runs and also as a receiving back—a rare combination. He could also return a kickoff for you, even ran one back for a touchdown. 
RB—Greg Pruitt. He was a 1,000-yard runner a good receiver out of the backfield and a Pro Bowl lever kick and punt returner.  And he threw six career touchdown passes on halfback options, kind of a throwback to the Giffords and Hornungs, and even om Tracy's of the 1950s and 60s NFL. 
FL—Pat Studstill. A very good flanker, but could also punt and return kicks and punts. and he didn't just do those things, he did them all very well, his numbers were occasionally near-league leading in those categories 
WR—Troy Brown. A pretty good possession receiver who played defensive back for a couple of years.

DE—Richard Seymour. Was a 30 end but sunk the tackle in nickle. Was a good kick blocker (special teams skills) and also played some fullback on offense.
DE—Too Tall Jones. Played LDE in the flex defense and blocked ten kicks, likely should have blocked more given his height, but he did deflect over 100 passes and had over 100 sacks, and sometimes sunk to defensive tackle in nickel, though not often, mostly in 1975 and late in his career.
DT—Kevin Williams. Five career blocks and played end as a rookie and inside later where he was dominant. 
NT—Shaun Rogers. Stout nose who was special as a kick blocker (17 blocks) as well. 
ILB—Fredd Young. A Pro Bowl inside linebacker, before that, was Pro Bowl special teamer and while with Seattle was a standup defensive end in nickel situations.
OLB—Mike Vrabel. And outside linebacker, could rush and cover, could fill in and inside linebacker, could put a hand in dirt and rush as a DE. And on goalline as a TE—ten touchdowns.
OLB—(tie) Chad Brown and Larry Morris. Brown played great at outside linebacker and inside linebacker and also a guy who played defensive end in nickel with hand in dirt. Morris was a 4-3 linebacker who had a lot of sacks for his say but also could play fullback for you and also center. 
CB—Irv Cross. A complete corner who could cover, tackle, play the run. Also could return a kick and one of the best edge rushers on kicks ever (16 blocks of FGs and PATs). 
CB—Dave Whitsell. A Good corner who could hold for your kicker. And the best edge rusher on kicks ever (21 kicks blocked).
S—Eddie Meador. Like Whitsell, Meador blocked kicks (12 total), was a very good holder but in addition, an All-Pro level safety, and early in his career was a pretty good cornerback. 
S—(tie) Jerry Norton. A very good safety and also a good punter; Jim Norton. A safety who was an All-AFL level and a good punter as well—like Jerry Norton.

There are a couple of mentions we'd like to make concerning positions changed. Larry Brown, the Steeler's fine tackle began as a tight end and ended as a right tackle but he gained a ton of weight and really was a different player. So we decided to go against picking players like him. But, if you like, you can put him up there in place of one of the tackles. 

Another guy like that is Keith Traylor who began as a linebacker, got bigger and bigger and moved to nose tackle, and was a good one. However, neither had a special teams skill that was special. 

The Rams Cullen Bryant was a big safety as a rookie and he could run. But he got into weight lifting and was moved to running back, but could still run, in 1976 he returned his third kickoff for a touchdown and he also returned punts those first four years of 235 or so pounds. But he just kept hitting the weights and was a good all-around fullback who could run, catch, and was an excellent blocker. 

Paul Costa of the Bills was a good tight end and moved to tackle in the same way Larry Brown did but did not have as long a career. Ronnie Lee of the Dolphins with a similar career path. 

The Chargers Russ Washington was a defensive tackle (even a nose at 6 foot seven inches) for a couple of years before moving to right tackle but again, not much of a special team's presence.  AJ Duhe could play inside linebacker, outside, and defensive end—very similar to Karl Mecklenburg.

Current players like Elgton Jenkins and Taysom Hill are on track to be on teams like this in the future. And as we know there are Hall of Famers that were very versatile as well like Bruce Matthews (C/G/T) and Deion Sanders with his return skills added to his coverage skills. Night Train Lane, Ted Hendricks, Alan Page with their kick blocking prowess, and so on.

Then you could throw in a Steve Tasker who was a great special teams player and could fill in very well as a wide receiver or Ivory Sully who was every bit as good a special teams player as Tasker (don't @ us) and was a very versatile safety who played linebacker in dime and dollar packages and was a starter for the Bucs a couple of seasons. So guys like that would be fun to put in the mix, too.

We are sure to have missed some from your favorite team, so tell us, who are your 22 with no Hall of Famers?

Edited: Original post had Ray Childress as Second-Team DE. After consideration, we changed to Richard Seymour due to his ability to play fullback and also his kick blocking. We omitted Seymour because we think he will be in the Hall of Fame soon but then realized the ground rules were if a player were in HOF now. So, we made the change. 


  1. This team would be so good if they went out and took the field together! I don’t think I would make many changes.

  2. Brian Jordan and Bo Jackson both can moonlight on your city's local baseball team

    1. true, and we could bring Kirk Gobson over from MLB as a WR

  3. Was kuechenbergs level of play at tackle all pro caliber, or pro bowl, or good starter level?

    1. ranks 23rd among tackles, call it low red...better than Ed Ehite 1984 season at tackle, prob less than that

  4. Yeah kind of what I thought. I saw Kooch playing tackle opposite don Reese of the saints in 1980 and he gave up at least 3 pressures. I think his lack of length hurt him out there.

  5. "...he also returned puns..." is one of the best puns/typos ever!
    Or, as a friend might say "He has bad punmanship!"

    OK, on a more serious note, Thank you, John for another fine article!
    You always have an informed and interesting opinion.
    I might question Kordell Stewart being second best at anything but until I can come up with a better option I'll remain mostly mum.

    1. Maybe in 10 years Taysom Hill could do it, but a lot of the multi-skilled Qbs are in teh HOF-- so choices limited...and Stewart did win a lot of games and could run like the wind...

  6. Dilweg and Lewellen could also do it all. Maybe Wistert and Kilroy as well, though this is a modern team.

  7. Cookie Gilchrist. Great fullback who was also the Bills placfekicker for a while. Also played linebacker while in the CFL.

  8. Just spit balling an article idea but how about a team full of guys playing postions they never played in the pros. For example I think a guy like Rod Woodson might have been a quality WR.

    1. I think Rod Woodson could have done anything---I don;t know how great his hands might have been, but sure, I think as a slot he'd couold have esaily had the athletic ability and smarts to do it

    2. Yeah his cuts were very good. He played on the balls of his feet if you will

  9. yeah i could see rod being a functional receiver. julian edelman is a guy who might have qualified for a team like this. he might have played some nickel back in 2011 if i remember correctly.

    1. there were several Patriots that did a lot---Belechcick is someone who did a lot of crossing voer. wanted to get a lineman that blocked kicks and was also a fullback---that is not in HOF--Seymour was considered...I may go back to him over Childress.

  10. Was Childress rated blue more often than Seymour was?