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Preja Vu – The Football Relativity 2011 Mock Draft

Since the lockout has made a mockery of the NFL offseason, posts have been sporadic this month. But now it’s time to make up for all that with our 2011 mock draft.

Don’t forget to enter the Football Relativity draft contest to match wits with all of our readers. As we break down the 32 first-round picks, remember that we’ve written extensively on many top the draft prospects in our draft category.

1. Carolina Panthers – QB Cam Newton, Auburn
No matter whom the draft experts have slotted first – DaQuan Bowers, Marcell Dareus, or Blaine Gabbert – we’ve always believed that Newton is the guy for the Panthers to take as long as they held onto this pick. Of course, there are many non-complimentary rumors about Newton’s personality and genuineness, but those rumors can’t disguise the fact that Newton has been a big-time winner in college. He is, as 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh said, “plutonium-grade raw material.” And because of that, the Panthers have to take a shot on him. Yes, that means throwing off 2010 second-rounder Jimmy Clausen, and yes, it means developing a guy who hasn’t played a pro style offense. But if Newton hits, he can be the next Ben Roethlisberger/Josh Freeman type of quarterback. That’s major upside that the Panthers have frankly never had at quarterback in franchise history.

2. Denver Broncos – DT Marcell Dareus, Alabama
This is a tricky spot in the draft. New Broncos team president John Elway doesn’t seem sold on Tim Tebow, and so Blaine Gabbert is in play. Plus, we bet the Broncos would be happy to trade down a spot or two or three if the Bills, Bengals, or Cards covets Gabbert. But our hunch is that eventually the Broncos will settle into taking the best defensive front-seven player in the draft, and that’s Dareus. Perhaps Patrick Peterson is a better overall player, but Dareus is the top defensive lineman in the draft, and he can play either tackle in a 4-3 or end in a 3-4. At his best, he can be a destructive interior force a la Kevin Williams, and the Broncos desperately need that kind of up-front player. The fact that Dareus can help speed their transition to a 4-3 defense only makes things better. This isn’t the sexiest pick, but Dareus will be an impact player at a position of dire need. That’s enough for the Broncos to pull the trigger.

3. Buffalo Bills – DE Von Miller, Texas A&M
Miller isn’t a perfect fit for the Bills’ 4-3 system, but he’s so good that it’s worth tweaking the system to feature his talents. Buffalo hasn’t had an elite pass rusher in ages – since the Bruce Smith years – so Miller certainly will fit in well there. The question is whether the Bills will pass on Blaine Gabbert to pick Miller. With Ryan Fitzpatrick around, the Bills have the flexibility to wait if they’re not head over heels in love with Gabbert, and our sense is that they’d far prefer Newton to the Missouri product. So instead of trying to make it work with a quarterback they don’t lust after, picking the best pass rusher in the draft (and one of the draft’s sure things) is more appealing option.

4. Cincinnati Bengals – WR A.J. Green, Georgia
The Bengals are another team in the quarterback hunt, although Mike Brown may be too stubborn to admit to himself that Carson Palmer really is going to sit out rather than play another year in Cincinnati. So Gabbert would be in play here, at least for a team that has a good grasp on reality. But given the fact that Brown refuses to even consider trading Palmer, the self-delusion seems to indicate that the Bengals may try to appease him by drafting Green. The motivation behind that move would be wrong, but the pick itself will work. Green is a phenomenal receiver with good size and speed and ridiculously great hands. With Chad Ochocinco likely headed out of town (for nothing, two years after the Bengals could have had two first-rounders for him) and Terrell Owens as a free agent, Green also fits a need area. Teaming Green with young receivers Jordan Shipley, Jermaine Gresham, and Jerome Simpson would give the Bengals a true No. 1 wideout with the complimentary pieces already in place. Picking the sure-thing Green will work well for the Bengals, regardless of how they come to the decision.

5. Arizona Cardinals – QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
Gabbert was the trendy top pick a few weeks ago, but his stock has slipped in recent weeks, to the point that there are even rumors that the Cards would pass on him. Gabbert seems to fit the cookie-cutter mold for a franchise quarterback, which is great until you realize there is no mold. But Gabbert has nice tools, and he was generally productive in college. Maybe he doesn’t have the upside to be great, but he could be good, and that would be a major upgrade for the Cardinals. Arizona fell apart last year in large part because of horrific quarterback play. So we just can’t imagine Arizona not taking Gabbert if the opportunity presents itself.

6. Cleveland Browns – DT Nick Fairley, Auburn
The Browns are in a weird position in this draft. Because there are seven elite players, picking sixth guarantees a good result. But the natural pick at this point – Patrick Peterson – duplicates Cleveland’s first-rounder from last year, Joe Haden. Of course, a team can never have too many corners, but for a team as bereft of game-breaking talent as the Browns, picking Peterson would be a misallocation of resources. So for Cleveland, the decision comes down to taking Julio Jones, who’s not among the top 7 players; reaching for a pass-rusher with injury questions in DaQuan Bowers or Robert Quinn, or taking Fairley. Most people have dropped Fairley lower than this, but there aren’t many impact defensive tackles on earth, and Fairley can be one. He had a Warren Sapp type of impact for Auburn last year, and so he brings the kind of disruption to a defense that we normally associate with defensive ends. Fairley has some character questions, but those questions aren’t any more damaging than what Bowers or Quinn faces. If the Browns go with the best player available here, Fairley should be the selection.

7. San Francisco 49ers – CB Patrick Peterson, LSU
We’ve dubbed Peterson as the third sure-thing player in this draft, and he fits a need area for the Niners. San Fran has been looking for cornerbacks for a while, but the high-dollar Nate Clements isn’t living up to the price. So the chance to add Peterson and lock down one side of the defensive backfield will be too tempting to pass up. Peterson has unusual size for a corner, yet he still has good speed and cover skills. And if he ever gets the ball in his hands, look out. The Niners will be thrilled if the draft falls this way.

8. Tennessee Titans – QB Jake Locker, Washington
This is where things get crazy. I’m not a huge fan of Locker (as detailed here), but he is a major physical talent and a great kid. So you can see a team throwing its weight behind Locker as a potential franchise quarterback. And with Fairley off the board, a defensive end like Robert Quinn or DaQuan Bowers would be just as much of a risk as Locker at this point. Yes, taking Locker would be a reach, but our sense is that with so many QB-needy teams, Tennessee won’t have the option to take Locker in the second round, and it may actually cost less (in draft pick cost) to take him here than it would to trade back into the end of the first round to get him. Reports say that Tennessee has gotten comfortable with Locker as a future starting quarterback, and if that’s the case this is where they would have to get him. So while it’s a reach, we’re putting Locker here as the successor to the disappointing Vince Young era.

9. Dallas Cowboys – OT Tyron Smith, USC
It seems like every mock draft out there has the Cowboys taking Smith, the most talented of the offensive line group. It makes sense. Other than CB Prince Amukamara, none of the top players left on the board really fits a need, and it seems like the second-round DB options will be a little better than the O-line choices. Smith should be able to immediately step into the starting right tackle role, and he has a chance to develop into a top-flight left tackle if the Cowboys lose Doug Free via free agency.

10. Washington Redskins – OLB Robert Quinn, North Carolina
The Redskins are really in a dilemma in this year’s draft. The trades for Donovan McNabb and Jammal Brown last year cost them third- and fourth-round picks in this year’s draft, which will really make it difficult for Washington to address all of its needs. Washington has so few playmakers that they need an impact guy with their first pick. That points to two guys among the available options – WR Julio Jones and OLB Robert Quinn. Given the fact that Mike Shanahan’s best receivers in Denver – Rod Smith, Ed McCaffrey, and even Brandon Marshall – were all mid-to-late draft picks or scrap-heap pickups, we’ll go the defensive route and give them Quinn as a counterpart to Brian Orakpo.

11. Houston Texans – DE Cameron Jordan, California
Once again, the Texans simply have to spend their first-round pick on defense. While they reportedly covet Patrick Peterson, he won’t be around without a trade-up. Prince Amukamara would make sense, but after spending a first-rounder on CB Kareem Jackson last year, picking a cornerback isn’t the best move unless it’s an exceptional prospect like Peterson. So the Texans need to turn their attention to the front seven and especially to the front line of their reworked 3-4 defense. With Mario Williams already in place as a pass-rushing fiend, the Texans need a two-way defensive end who can provide some push but also hold up well against the run. Two available players – Wisconsin’s J.J. Watt and Cal’s Cameron Jordan. We like Jordan’s upside better, so he’s the pick here.

12. Minnesota Vikings – OT Anthony Castonzo, Boston College
The Vikings have a glaring quarterback need, but unless they’re head over heels in love with Andy Dalton or Christian Ponder or Ryan Mallett, pulling the trigger on a QB here would be foolhardy. It seems like Colin Kaepernick in the second round might be a nice fit as a long-term answer at the position. So if not a quarterback, who should they draft? Our sense is that this is a line pick. Maybe an offensive tackle like Anthony Castonzo to replace Bryant McKinnie, or maybe a defensive end like DaQuan Bowers to replace departing free agent Ray Edwards. Bowers has more upside, but Castonzo could be a Steve Hutchinson-type of player for the Vikings, which would be a welcome change from McKinnie, who has been less than an ideal effort guy in recent years. That’s more of a need for the Vikes than defensive end, so we’ll point this pick toward Castonzo.

13. Detroit Lions – CB Prince Amukamara, Nebraska
The Lions’ rebuilding process is going well, and last year’s first-rounder Ndamukong Suh is an elite talent. Now they try to build onto their defense with another prime player. The secondary was a big-time weak spot last year, and so having Amukamara fall into their laps would be serendipitous. Amukamara is a quality cover man who will immediately become a No. 1 cover man, and his presence would help guys like Alphonso Smith slide down the ladder to spots better befitting their talents. He would be another nice piece for a team that should be making a playoff push soon.

14. St. Louis Rams – WR Julio Jones, Alabama
The Rams would be doing backflips if Jones slipped this far. He will be in play as early as pick 6 in Cleveland, and preeminent wideouts are hard to find. The position certainly has been troublesome for the Rams since the departures of Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, and Jones would immediately become Sam Bradford’s top target. And getting Jones would let Mark Clayton (who’s expected to return) and Danny Amendola slip into better roles. The Rams could also spend a pick on a defensive linemen, and Mike Pouncey would also fit nicely, but Jones would be simply too appealing to pass up.

15. Miami Dolphins – C/OG Mike Pouncey, Florida
The Dolphins are in an interesting position in this draft. They need a quarterback of the future, but unless they fall in love with Ryan Mallett or another prospect, it would be a reach to take one here. They need a running back, but spending their only pick in the first two rounds on Mark Ingram wouldn’t really address needs long term. There are tons of defensive linemen and pass rushers on the board here, but with guys like Paul Soliai, Cameron Wake, Koa Misi, and Jared Odrick, the Dolphins have lots of good young players in the front seven. Ultimately, a trade down is probably in their best interest. But if they stay in place, Pouncey would be a nice addition. Miami has solid terrific tackles in Jake Long and Vernon Carey, so they’re more likely to pull the trigger not on a tackle like Nate Solder or Gabe Carimi but on Pouncey, who is versatile enough to play any of the three interior positions and talented enough to step right in and make a difference.

16. Jacksonville Jaguars – DE DaQuan Bowers, Clemson
Bowers was once considered a potential first overall pick, and with good reason. But questions about his knee’s long-term health have dropped him down the board. But at some point, a contender who falls in love with Bowers’ massive potential will take the risk. Jacksonville seems like a good spot for that risk. The Jaguars have been building their lines in the last two drafts successfully, with OTs Eugene Monroe and Eben Britten two years ago and DTs Tyson Alualu and D’Anthony Smith last year. But while those moves have worked, defensive end has been a trouble spot, as former first-rounder Derrick Harvey hasn’t panned out, and free-agent Aaron Kampman didn’t make a huge splash either. Bowers would add elite talent and would ratchet up the scare factor for the Jags D several notches.

17. New England Patriots (via Oakland Raiders) – OLB Aldon Smith, Missouri
The Patriots rarely make the trendy pick, but the fact that they’ve had to rely on Tully Banta-Cain for outside pass rush in recent years highlights the fact that an impact pass rusher is a big-time need. Smith played as a smallish defensive end in college, but he could move to outside linebacker in the 3-4 to be a bigger, Willie McGinest-sized rusher for the Pats. The Pats could also take a five-technique defensive end like J.J. Watt or Ryan Kerrigan, but they have other options at those positions. Smith would add a unique element that’s not currently on the roster, and that’s why he’s the pick here.

18. San Diego Chargers – DE J.J. Watt, Wisconsin
It’s hard for a fan base to get excited about their favorite team picking a five-technique defensive end, but it’s imperative that teams pick them when they get a chance because they’re so hard to find. Watt fits the profile of that position to a T. He can provide the kind of stability up front that helps pass-rushers like Shaun Phillips and Larry English create havoc. That’s why Watt, more than outside players like Ryan Kerrigan or Adrian Clayborn, makes sense here. Note that the Chargers have been very aggressive about moving up to get their guy recently – with English, Ryan Mathews, and Eric Weddle, to name a few – so a trade up makes sense if A.J. Smith falls in love with a certain guy.

19. New York Giants – OT Nate Solder, Colorado
The Giants have long been strong in the trenches under head coach Tom Coughlin, but the offensive line is starting to show the cracks that come with age. Young OT William Beatty hasn’t really emerged as a difference-maker, so adding one of this year’s top tackles makes sense here. Solder is a big, physical specimen who has the potential to play either side, and his physical style makes him a better fit for Big Blue than Gabe Carimi.

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – DE Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
Clayborn’s stock has slipped because of a injury that occurred at birth that still impacts the strength in his right arm. As a result, Clayborn will have to lock in on one side of the defense. That lack of versatility is a drawback, but Clayborn can still provide a ton of pass-rush pop. After investing in Gerald McCoy and Bryan Price last year, the Bucs need to step up their outside threats on defense, and Clayborn is the best option at this point to do that. Tampa Bay could also use a cornerback, but given the legal problems Aqib Talib and Tanard Jackson are facing, the Bucs can’t afford to gamble on Jimmy Smith at this point.

21. Kansas City Chiefs – OT Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin
This is a popular pick, since it’s clear to see the Chiefs’ gaping hole at right tackle, and Carimi seems to be around at this spot on just about every mock draft you see. But the pick makes a ton of sense. Branden Albert is a decent starting left tackle, but not dominant, and Carimi could either fill in the RT hole or take Albert’s job and force him to jump over there. Either move should help to stabilize the Chiefs’ front line.

22. Indianapolis Colts – DT Corey Liuget, Illinois
The Colts usually spend their top pick on offense. That strategy worked well as Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark became stars playing with Peyton Manning, but more recent picks like Anthony Gonzalez and Donald Brown haven’t panned out. Last year, the Colts picked DE Jerry Hughes, who didn’t make much of an impact as a rookie. We see them going defense this year, in part because the top group of offensive linemen has been picked through in our mock draft, and in part because there’s such value along the defensive line, which is another huge need area. Liuget would be a three-technique, penetrating tackle; a widebody like Phil Taylor or Muhammad Wilkerson would also be an option.

23. Philadelphia Eagles – DE Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
Under Andy Reid, the Eagles always, always, always spend their first-round pick on a lineman. Given how the offensive line crew has been picked through a bit at this point, instead of taking guard Danny Watkins or OT Danny Sherrod, we’ll point the Eagles toward defense. Kerrigan is a nice player with a high motor who makes some plays but may not have the punch of some other prospects. Still, he seems like he could develop into a Kyle Vanden Bosch type of end, and that would be a terrific addition at this point. The fact that the Eagles hired Jim Washburn, the league’s best D-line coach, in the offseason makes picking a guy like Kerrigan even more attractive – because they can trust Washburn will get the best out of him.

24. New Orleans Saints – QB Andy Dalton, TCU
Dalton is the flavor-of-the-month West Coast offense quarterback, and there have been enough rumors linking him to the Seahawks at 25 that some team will trade back into the first round to pick him. The Saints should get a premium to trade out of this spot so that Cincinnati or San Francisco – or another team that has kept its Dalton love quiet – can beat Seattle to the punch. We’ve already discussed how Dalton is our choice as the No. 3 QB in the draft.

25. Seattle Seahawks – QB Christian Ponder, Florida State
The Seahawks still need a quarterback, given the fact that Matt Hasselbeck is hitting the open market. Ponder is also a West Coast style quarterback, but he has a little more elusiveness and a stronger arm than Dalton. Ponder’s big question (as we detailed before) will be durability. But with OL cornerstones center Max Unger and OT Russell Okung in place, the Seahawks are better positioned to protect Ponder than many other teams.

26. Baltimore Ravens – CB Jimmy Smith, Colorado
It seems like the Ravens have a strong roster with two continually glaring holes in recent years – wide receiver and cornerback. Given the way the draft board breaks down, receiver isn’t going to be an option this year. So while the cornerback play was a bit better last year, Josh Wilson’s free agency leaves it as a need. Smith would really help in that area. Smith is an ubertalented cover man with a rough reputation, but Baltimore seems to have the veterans like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed in place to help Smith grow up more quickly. But he could end up being a home run pick, which would be a coup this late in the first round.

27. Atlanta Falcons – OG Danny Watkins, Baylor
The Falcons are solid across the board, and so they can afford to spend a first-rounder on a less premium position like guard to get a premium player. That’s what Watkins, an ex-firefighter, can be. With OGs Justin Blalock and Harvey Dahl and OT Tyson Clabo all facing free agency, adding depth up front is crucial for the Dirty Birds. Watkins could step in and start at a guard spot, which would give the Falcons some financial flexibility without losing performance.

28. New England Patriots – NT Phil Taylor, Baylor
The Pats are, as always, prime targets to trade out of the first round, especially if a team is gaga over Ryan Mallett (bad idea) or Colin Kaepernick. But if they stay put, they can add to their defensive line once again either with Muhammad Wilkerson, who would play defensive end in their system, or with Taylor, who would apprentice under Vince Wilfork on the nose. Given the fact that the Pats had success with Wilfork playing end last year, Taylor would be a better fit. Adding a sturdy defensive lineman and a pass rusher would make for a terrific first-round haul for the Pats – especially with the first pick in the second round in their pocket.

29. Chicago Bears – OLB Akeem Ayers, UCLA
The Bears could use an offensive lineman, but they don’t seem too high on Derek Sherrod, the one first-round-level prospect left on the board. So we have them turning to Ayers, a versatile outside linebacker who’s big enough to play on the strong side in the Bears’ 4-3 scheme. Ayers would add youth to a linebacking corps held down by linchpins Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, and Ayers seems to have the skills to play on the strong side instead of sitting behind one of the stars. Ayers is a physical freak whose performance on the field wasn’t always consistent, but his ability could be too much to ignore at this point.

30. New York Jets – DE Muhammad Wilkerson, Temple
The Jets need to add some depth in their front line on defense, given the departure of Kris Jenkins and the age of Shaun Ellis. Wilkerson, who has the skills to play as a defensive end in the 3-4 and also play inside in 4-3 sets, would add a nice piece for Rex Ryan’s attacking defense. The Jets could also look at Cameron Heyward in a similiar role, but Wilkerson’s a higher rated prospect.

31. Pittsburgh Steelers – OT Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State
The Steelers have been beset by offensive line injuries in recent years, and it would be wise to add a first-round talent like Sherrod instead of having to depend on a fill-in like Flozell Adams again. The other spot they could address is at cornerback, where big, physical Aaron Williams of Texas may be tempting as well.

32. Green Bay Packers – DE Cameron Heyward, Ohio State
The Packers are loaded on the defensive line because they have invested so heavily there in the draft. But with Johnny Jolly’s career likely over and Cullen Jenkins looking to hit the jackpot via free agency, adding a player at the position would be wise. Heyward can play as a defensive end and add a little bit of pass rush push at the position. He’s a better fit than Marvin Austin, more of a 4-3 defensive tackle.

Guys who we considered for first-round spots:

QB Colin Kaepernick
QB Ryan Mallett
RB Mark Ingram
DT Marvin Austin
CB/S Aaron Williams

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Filed under Football Relativity, NFL draft, preja vu

Hall of Fame review

In the midst of all the Super Bowl fallout, I didn’t want to ignore the Pro Football Hall of Fame results. We picked the 2 obvious selections, Rod Woodson and Bruce Smith, but missed out on the rest. Why? The reason is sentamentality.
Bob Hayes, who was a second-time seniors nominee, is the epitome of a borderline case. The fact that he missed out on election just before he died seemed to loom over this year’s process. Does he deserve a spot? Maybe, but not more than Cris Carter (overlooked again) or even Shannon Sharpe (who may have to wait for Carter to get in before his turn comes).
Ralph Wilson, age 90, deserves a spot, but he takes a spot that should have gone to a player like Carter.
The other two choices are more understandable. I’d have chosen Richard Dent over Derrick Thomas, but both merit enshrinement. The same is true with Dermontti Dawson (who didn’t get in) and Randall McDaniel (who did). In both cases, the players who got elected clear spots that should begin to open the door to Canton for Dent and Dawson.
So the choices weren’t choice, but the selection committee did a decent job. But if Carter wants to use his ESPN bully pulpit to scream, I won’t argue. He continues another year as the guy who most deserves a gold blazer but doesn’t yet have one.

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Filed under Football Relativity, Pro Football Hall of Fame

FR: Pro Football Hall of Fame

I only got to go to Super Bowl week once (budget killed my other trip), but my personal highlight was the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection ceremony. The year I went, Steve Young and Ronnie Lott headlined the class. And while I was at Pro Football Weekly, I got to interview a couple of electees. I interviewed Tommy McDonald, a former Eagles wide receiver who got in through the veterans’ committee process. I asked three questions in 45 minutes, and there wasn’t a moment of silence because he talked the rest of the time. He was an old player with great stories. It was quite the experience.

So I thought that during the bye  week, we’d play football relativity with this year’s 17 Hall of Fame finalists. We’ll see how close we get to hitting the actual election results, which are announced the day before the Super Bowl.  Between 4 and 6 of these 17 people will make it into the Hall this year:

Cris Carter – Wide Receiver – 1987-89 Philadelphia Eagles, 1990-2001 Minnesota Vikings, 2002 Miami Dolphins (repeat finalist)
Dermontti Dawson – Center – 1988-2000 Pittsburgh Steelers (eligible before but first-time finalist)
Richard Dent – Defensive End – 1983-1993, 1995 Chicago Bears, 1994 San Francisco 49ers, 1996 Indianapolis Colts, 1997 Philadelphia Eagles (repeat finalist)
Russ Grimm – Guard – 1981-1991 Washington Redskins (repeat finalist)
Bob Hayes – Wide Receiver – 1965-1974 Dallas Cowboys, 1975 San Francisco 49ers (seniors candidate)
Claude Humphrey – Defensive End – 1968-1978 Atlanta Falcons, 1979-1981 Philadelphia Eagles (seniors candidate)
Cortez Kennedy – Defensive Tackle – 1990-2000 Seattle Seahawks (eligible before but first-time finalist)
Bob Kuechenberg – Guard – 1970-1984 Miami Dolphins (repeat finalist)
Randall McDaniel – Guard – 1988-1999 Minnesota Vikings, 2000-01 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (repeat finalist)
John Randle – Defensive Tackle – 1990-2000 Minnesota Vikings, 2001-03 Seattle Seahawks (first year eligible)
Andre Reed – Wide Receiver – 1985-1999 Buffalo Bills, 2000 Washington Redskins (repeat finalist)
Shannon Sharpe – Tight End – 1990-99, 2002-03 Denver Broncos, 2000-01 Baltimore Ravens (first year eligible)
Bruce Smith – Defensive End – 1985-1999 Buffalo Bills, 2000-03 Washington Redskins (first year eligible)
Paul Tagliabue – Commissioner – 1989-2006 National Football League (repeat finalist)
Derrick Thomas – Linebacker – 1989-1999 Kansas City Chiefs (repeat finalist)
Ralph Wilson – Team Founder/Owner – 1960-Present Buffalo Bills (repeat finalist)
Rod Woodson – Cornerback/Safety – 1987-1996 Pittsburgh Steelers, 1997 San Francisco 49ers, 1998-2001 Baltimore Ravens, 2002-03 Oakland Raiders (first year eligible)

Let’s play relativity. 10 points will be an automatic yes vote, 1 point is someone who should not be a finalist again.
(By the way, all links to players are from the Pro Football Hall of Fame website, which I wish I had discovered before. Consider this a recommendation.)

10- Bruce Smith — Holds the all-time sack record with 200, and was also a sturdy defensive end against the run. Along with Reggie White, Smith was the dominant defensive end of the late 80s and early 90s. If he doesn’t get in as a first-time eligible, it’s a crime.

10 (con’t)- Rod Woodson — He made the NFL’s 75th anniversary team, which says enough about him by itself. Played at cornerback for most of his career, then moved to safety at the end when he was a Raven and a Steeler. Finally won his Super Bowl ring with Baltimore in the 2000 season. Another guy who isn’t even a question.

9 – none

8 – Cris Carter – If you listen to Carter introduced on ESPN, his home network, you’d think Carter is a 10. He’s not, because I still don’t think he’s automatic. That said, he’s the best receiver eligible in this class. (Above Hayes, Reed, and Sharpe, who was a receiving tight end.) The electors will elect at least one receiver – if nothing else to eliminate the backlog – and Carter’s the most likely. He was very good for a long time and made the all-decade team of the 1990s. This should be his year.

7 – Claude Humphrey – Generally, when the seniors committee nominates someone, that person gets in. (One big exception is Bob Hayes, which is why he’s below Humphrey on the relativity list.) Humphrey was outstanding for the Falcons, and he went to a Super Bowl with the Eagles late in his career. A five-time all-pro (which means he was one of the top 2 DEs in the league that year.) But it’s harder to get a grasp on his impact because he’s from the era before sacks were an official statistic. There are a ton of defensive linemen in the class, so it would seem that at least one if not two have to get in. Humphrey will get one of those spots.

7 (con’t) – Shannon Sharpe — Sharpe is another first-time eligible, and a lot of talking heads have put Sharpe on the list of those who will get in. I don’t think that’s a guarantee — more like a 50-50 shot. Sharpe was the best receiving tight end of all time when he played (Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates have arguments now), so he has that going for him. And he was a leader on three Super Bowl teams – he was key in Baltimore’s run, as well as Denver’s double. But Sharpe was not highly respected as a blocker, and tight end is a notoriously tough position for Hall of Fame election. The tiebreaker may be the fact that Sharpe’s on TV every week. That shouldn’t matter, but it has definitely helped recent candidates like Howie Long and John Madden. So figure Sharpe gets in first time around.

7 (con’t) Richard Dent – When I first did this list, I had Dent below Derrick Thomas. Then I looked at the numbers. Dent had more sacks than Thomas, and he also has the edge of having played on a superstar defense with the 1985 Bears. He was MVP of Super Bowl 20 as well. He would be the third Hall of Famer off that Bears defense, joining Mike Singletary and Dan Hampton, and that could work against him. But the fact that Dent was third all-time in sacks when he retired should count for something. The guess here is that Dent joins Humphrey as the defensive ends making it in this year.

6 – Derrick Thomas – Now we’re squarely on the bubble. Thomas was a dominant pass rusher for 11 years, and his career was cut short by his death at age 33. But Thomas wasn’t all that much more than a pass rusher, and his sack total (126.5) doesn’t match up with either Richard Dent or John Randle (both of whom coincidentally finished with 137.5). So Thomas could get edged out by either of those players, or all three could get left out this year. But there is a backlog of quality candidates here, and I’m guessing one gets in (in addition to Humphrey). And if I had to pick the one, I’m guessing Dent.

6 (con’t) – Dermontti Dawson. It seemed like Dawson was the all-pro center forever. Turns out, it was six straight years (1993-98). It’s hard to separate offensive linemen, because there are no universally accepted statistics for them. Dawson was eligible for the Hall last year but didn’t even reach the finalist round, which doesn’t bode well for his chances.  I think that it will take a big class (6 or 7) for Dawson or any of these offensive linemen to have a chance. But if an offensive lineman gets in this year, I would take Dawson by a hair over Randall McDaniel and Bob Kuechenberg and by two hairs over Russ Grimm.

5 – Randall McDaniel – I felt like I had to distinguish between the offensive linemen, and so McDaniel falls a rung below Dawson. McDaniel made all-pro nine straight times, from 1990-1998. That means he was voted one of the top 2 guards in the league. But the end of that run happened when I was at Pro Football Weekly, and there was a little bit of a backlash against McDaniel at that point, saying he was getting recognition based more on reputation than performance at that point. He also played in a record 12 straight Pro Bowls. If voters look straight at numbers, McDaniel has a shot. But I would expect Dawson or even Kuechenberg (a long-time finalist) could get the nod instead.

5 (con’t) – John Randle – Even though Randle played defensive tackle, he was best known for his pass rush. (Well, that, and his legendary trash talk backed up by media-guide research.) He had great energy and got a lot of attention, even though the Vikings defenses he led weren’t spectacular. My guess is that, based on his game, Randle will be compared against other pass rushers in the class even though he played inside. It’s an accomplishment for him to make the final 17 in his first year of eligibility, but he’s a guy who will probably have to wait a few years before his chance for election really comes. Humprhey and Dent are above Randle in the pecking order.

5 (con’t) – Bob Hayes – This is the most curious guy on the board. He’s a second-time seniors committee nominee, which probably actually hurts his chances for election. Most of the time, the seniors candidate gets rubber-stamped by the voters, but Hayes didn’t get in. Maybe it’s because his stats pale in comparison to today’s wideouts. Whatever the case, it’s going to be hard for Hayes to surpass Carter and Sharpe to get in this year. If he doesn’t get in, it’ll probably never happen, which means his supporters will be very ardent, but I doubt it will be enough. But if he does get in, then Sharpe or even Carter will be shockingly disappointed.

4 – Andre Reed – For years, Art Monk was the cause celebre among Hall of Fame candidates. His backers said that his numbers didn’t tell the true story, that he deserved election for all he did for great teams. Now that Monk is in, I expect Reed to take over that mantle. But here’s the problem: Reed wasn’t the best receiver of his era — not even close. Jerry Rice was better. Michael Irvin was better. Cris Carter was better. Tim Brown, Isaac Bruce, Marvin Harrison might well have been better. So Reed is a borderline candidate. He might get in eventually, but he’s the last receiver in line this year.

4 (con’t) – Bob Kuechenberg – I can’t tell you how many articles I’ve read where Dr. Z of Sports Illustrated has railed about the fact that Kuechenberg isn’t in the Hall of Fame. Dr. Z won’t be in the election room this year because of health problems, which actually may help Kuechenberg’s chances. (Dr. Z’s impassioned and some would say long-winded defenses of his favorites can actually turn off electors instead of helping.) Kuechenberg has been eligible before, but his honors (only two all-pro nods) don’t help. It’s hard to see him getting in this year, unless electors simply decide he’s been waiting too long and overlook numbers to elect him. That may sound unlikely, but it’s much like what happened to Art Monk last year.

4 (con’t) Ralph Wilson – It’s always weird when owners are compared to players in the Hall of Fame process. If there was simply a contributors wing with one person elected each year, Wilson would deserve it. He was a founding father of the AFL who has been in pro football business for almost 50 years now. So Wilson could get in based on that. But is he more deserving than the players eligible? It’s just too hard to say. It would be ironic if the last spot came down to Reed or Wilson.

3 – Russ Grimm – Grimm was a member of the famous “Hogs” that led the Redskins during their heyday. He played on four Super Bowl teams (with three wins) and was all-pro four times. These are impressive numbers, but they don’t match Dawson or McDaniel. The one thing working in Grimm’s favor is that none of the Hogs have made the Hall. But should Grimm get in before Joe Jacoby? The fact that this question exists hurts Grimm’s chances. All in all, Grimm’s individual accomplishments just can’t match up to Dawson or McDaniel, and that means he’s not getting in this year.

3 (con’t) – Paul Tagliabue – It’s fair to say that every NFL commissioner will be at least nominated for the Hall of Fame, and any commissioner who serves for 18 years as Tagliabue did probably deserves to be a finalist. Tags probably deserves to get in one of these years — he did preside over the period in which the NFL once and for all passed baseball as America’s No. 1 sport. But my sense is that he’ll need to be on the list for another couple of years before he finally gets over the hump. The list of good candidates is too deep this year for him to deserve a spot.

2 – none

1 – Cortez Kennedy – This was the one name that really surprised me on the list of finalists. Kennedy was a very good run-stuffing defensive tackle for the Seahawks, and he was defensive player of the year in 1992. But he made just three all-pro teams, and his Seahawks defenses were never terrific. In my opinion, a different semifinalist such as Chris Doleman, Lester Hayes, or Ray Guy (another cause celebre) probably deserved the finalist spot. Kennedy was a good, sometimes even great, player, but not a Hall of Famer.

So where does that leave us? Here’s my prediction for the class: Smith, Woodson, Carter, Humphrey, Sharpe, and Dent.

If a sixth gets in, it’ll be Dawson over McDaniel. 

We’ll see how I do on the 31st.

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Filed under Football Relativity, Pro Football Hall of Fame