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Draft: First-round thoughts

The first round of the 2010 NFL draft is in the books, and we have thoughts on what happened – and what should have. Some of these are the best of our draft-night tweets; others are thoughts on further reflection. We’ll go by division so you can easily compare teams against their biggest rivals. We’ll do a full draft recap next week after all seven rounds are complete; in the meantime we’ll tweet more thoughts throughout the weekend.

AFC East
At pick 9, Buffalo picked RB C.J. Spiller, which was a bit of a surprise. But Spiller was the most explosive offensive player available, and those picks between 7 and 10 didn’t really offer wonderful value. So we approve of the Bills taking the best available guy. We had Jimmy Clausen projected to go to Buffalo in our mock, and if the Bills like him they can still move up a few spots in the second round to get him. … The Dolphins started the night with the 12th pick, but they traded down to 28 and still got a solid 3-4 defensive end in Jared Odrick. Miami added the 40th overall pick in the deal (while giving up a sixth and moving back in the fourth), so they got great value for the move and got back a pick better than the one they traded for Brandon Marshall. The Fins could target a pass-rusher like Everson Griffen at 40 and end up really helping their front 7. … The Patriots started at 22, traded down twice and turned a fourth into a third, and still ended up with CB Devin McCourty, who they probably would have taken at 22. Give the Patrtiots credit for actually pulling the trigger and taking the guy they wanted instead of trying to extract value to the point that they didn’t get someone who could help now. … The Jets stayed put at 29 and got lucky that Kyle Wilson came to them. As Peter King said, Wilson teams with Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie to give the Jets a murderer’s row of corners that could help them leap over the Colts’ passing game in the AFC.

AFC North
The Browns got stuck at 7, which was the start of the second tier of prospects, as Pro Football Talk correctly diagnosed. In that situation, CB Joe Haden was a fine choice. Haden was the top corner in the draft, and he’ll help, and moving down wouldn’t have gained the Browns much. Now today, the Browns are in position to get Clausen or Colt McCoy, who seems to be more their style. … The Steelers took C Maurkice Pouncey at 18, which was a solid pick who really addressed a huge need. That’s not glamourous, but it will work. … The Bengals took TE Jermaine Gresham at 21 (as we projected in our mock), and that will really help their offense. This is an over-the-top move for the Bengals, but they have built their roster to the point that such a pick makes sense. … The Ravens traded out of the 25th pick, moving down to 43 with their first pick while adding third and fourth rounders. In a deep draft, that’s not a bad strategy. We’ll see if they can add some defensive end depth with their picks today.

AFC South
The Jaguars at 10 took the biggest reach in the first round in taking Tyson Alualu. But if the Jaguars believe Alualu was the best defensive tackle left, and if they couldn’t trade down, the pick is excusable. Maybe Jacksonville should have traded down, but maybe the value for such a move wasn’t there. Regardless, they had better hope Alualu pans out. … The Titans at 16 had to get a defensive end, and while they apparently coveted Jason Pierre-Paul, Derrick Morgan is a terrific consolation prize. Given the prowess of DL coach Jim Washburn, Morgan might be the luckiest guy in the draft. … The Texans at 20 didn’t get a shot at Ryan Mathews because of the Chargers’ big move, so picking a cornerback in Kareem Jackson made sense. Michael Smith did a great job explaining why Jackson, not Kyle Wilson, was the Texans’ choice. … Most people had the Colts at 31 looking at the offensive line, but DE Jerry Hughes is a Dwight Freeney/Robert Mathis type of small but speedy pass rusher. He’s a perfect fit for Indy’s system.

AFC West
The Chiefs made lots of noise about whether they would take S Eric Berry at 5, but he was the right guy. K.C. already has invested a first-rounder in LT Branden Albert, and Berry was the only option worth that pick. As we tweeted, he can be the Rodney Harrison in this Patriots-style defense. … At 8, the Raiders picked one of the most solid players in the draft in LB Rolando McClain. McClain might have been a tiny bit of a reach, but if he plays well for Oakland this will go down as a great pick and a great value for Oakland. We have nothing but props for Al Davis after this pick. … The Chargers gave up the 40th pick (the Charlie Whitehurst reward) to move up from 28 to 12 to take RB Ryan Mathews. He fits a need, and the Chargers have always been aggressive about getting the guy they want in the draft. Maybe they overpaid, but this contending team filled it’s biggest need, and that’s a good thing. … We had anticipated the Broncos taking WR Demaryius Thomas in the first round at no. 11, and so it made sense to us that Denver took him over Dez Bryant at 22. The Football Scientist K.C. Joyner liked the pick, and we do too, although the ESPN report that the Broncos said Thomas reminded them of Brandon Marshall made Josh McDaniels look petty. But that pick was far better than McDaniels’ decision to move back in the first round to take QB Tim Tebow. Tebow has great intangibles, but he’s such a project that he won’t help the Broncos now. McDaniels has the confidence he can develop Tebow; we don’t – as this sarcastic tweet proved. With all its wheeling and dealing, the Broncos turned their second-rounder into a first and their fourth-rounder into a third, so McDaniels did a good job there.

NFC East
The Redskins had no choice but to take an offensive tackle at No. 4, given their needs and lack of draft picks, and they took the right one in Trent Williams. Williams has all the athleticism and skills to be Mike Shanahan’s next Ryan Clady; now Williams must prove he has the desire to do so. … The Eagles leapt up from 24 to 13 to take Brandon Graham, and it makes a lot of sense. The Eagles know how to get the most out of speedy pass rushers from defensive end, and Graham was the best of that type of player available. Giving up two thirds to move up was a stout price, but for a contender such a move makes sense. … The Giants missed out on Rolando McClain, so they added a defensive end (as they usually do) by drafting Jason Pierre-Paul. JPP is a great physical specimen, and Mike Mayock praised his consistent effort. Tools plus effort should spell success for Pierre-Paul. Now the question is whether Pierre-Paul’s arrival on the clock means Osi Umenyiora is on the block. … The Cowboys also moved up, from 27 to 24, to ensure they got WR Dez Bryant once Bryant fell down the boards. Bryant is a physical freak, and Jerry Jones decided he wasn’t passing on a Randy Moss type of talent again. While receiver wasn’t the Cowboys’ great need, Bryant was a good value.

NFC North
The Lions got not just a great player but a great fit for the defense in DT Ndamukong Suh at No. 2. He got high praise from MovetheSticks.com. Then Detroit traded back into the first round to take RB Jahvid Best at 30. Best is a talented breakaway back, but the question is if he can stay healthy enough to be a true building block. Still, he’s worth a shot for the Lions. … The Packers stayed put at 23 and lucked into OT Bryan Bulaga (which made Aaron Rodgers happy). We’re not sold on Bulaga as a for-sure left tackle, but the Packers have needs at both tackles in the long term and at guard in the short term, and Bulaga can answer those needs. At 23, he was a no-brainer. … The Vikings, slated to pick 30, traded with the Lions to move down four slots. They have the second pick tonight, but trading down cost them a shot at Patrick Robinson, the last of the first-round corners. That might be a sore spot in the Vikes’ war room today. … The Bears gave up their first-rounder in the Jay Cutler trade, and they’re not on the clock until midway through the third round tonight.

NFC South
The Buccaneers got an ideal Warren Sapp/John Randle style of three-technique defensive tackle in their 4-3 defense by picking Gerald McCoy at No. 3. McCoy apparently has the personality to be a team leader, not just a dominator, which is a big plus as well. … Atlanta got left out of the defensive end run, so at 19 they took OLB Sean Witherspoon. Witherspoon should help bring more dynamic play to a linebacker corps that features a good young middle ‘backer in Curtis Lofton but no big-play makers. … New Orleans took CB Patrick Robinson at No. 32, which was good value. That could allow the Saints to move last year’s first-rounder Malcolm Jenkins to free safety to replace Darren Sharper. Regardless, Robinson adds depth to an area that was exposed even in the Super Bowl last year. … Carolina didn’t have a first-round pick, and now they must fight the temptation to trade next year’s first to move up in the second round to take Clausen or Colt McCoy. The first two hours of tonight’s festivities will tell us a lot about the Panthers’ willpower.

NFC West
The Rams did what they had to do in taking QB Sam Bradford. He’s a building block who has a full tool belt himself but not a lot of co-laborers. (Proof positive: This stat from Michael Smith.) St. Louis still has a long way to go talent-wise, but if they can keep Bradford together physically and mentally, he’ll be a part of the solution. … Seattle had two picks at 6 and 14, and in both spots good players slipped to them. The Seahawks should consider themselves lucky to land OT Russell Okung and S Earl Thomas. As we tweeted, it’s a much-needed talent upgrade for the Hawks. … San Francisco got tough with its two picks, trading up two spots to take OT Anthony Davis at 11 and then taking OG Mike Iupati at 17. Those guys should help a run game that sputtered last year and provide some punch to an offense for a team with a playoff-ready defense already. … The Cardinals stood pat at 26 and ended up getting NT Dan Williams, who’s a great find at that point in the draft. Williams may not be a game changer, but he can plug the nose of the defense well enough to set other playmakers like Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell free. The Cards, like the Jets and Packers, had the first round break just right for them.

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Thoughts on the Hall of Fame Class of 2010

Over the weekend, the 2010 class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame was announced, and since we broke down and predicted the class, we thought we’d give our thoughts. On the whole, the seven who were elected deserve induction. Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith were easy choices since they are the all-time leaders in receiving and rushing. Dick LeBeau was also an easy choice based on his resume as a player and coach. Those three we predicted would get in. We thought Floyd Little would get shut out, but he won election as a seniors candidate too. If anyone makes it to the stage of being a senior candidate, he almost always deserves to get in, so we’re good with that too.

The other three choices were perhaps a little more controversial. We thought Dermontti Dawson was a more deserving lineman than Russ Grimm (who we broke down in more detail here), but Grimm deserves to be in as the leader of the great Hogs offensive lines that played such a huge role in Washington’s success in the 1980s. Dawson still deserves to get in, but he’ll have to wait another year.

At the pass rusher position, we favored Richard Dent over Rickey Jackson, but we’re convinced Jackson deserves it. Dent continues to wait, but his time should come. Dent made the final 10, which is a good sign.

John Randle is a little bit of a surprising kick, but as K.C. Joyner pointed out last week, he’s part of an elite group as a six-time first-team All-Pro guy. Randle was an elite defensive tackle during his era, so we won’t quibble with his induction, although we would have rather seen a receiver like Cris Carter or Shannon Sharpe get in.

And our sleeper choice, Don Coryell, fell out of the first five in voting (along with Carter, surprisingly), which doesn’t bode well for him returning to the finalist group.

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FR: Pro Football Hall of Fame 2010 class

Each year on FootballRelativity.com, we compare the 17 Hall of Fame finalists in terms of whom we think should be elected. So here’s a look at this year’s contenders for enshrinement in Canton. (Here are links to a comparison of last year’s finalists, and thoughts on the class that was elected.)

Tim Brown – Wide Receiver/Kick Returner – 1988-2003 Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders, 2004 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (first-time finalist)
Cris Carter – Wide Receiver – 1987-89 Philadelphia Eagles, 1990-2001 Minnesota Vikings, 2002 Miami Dolphins (repeat finalist)
Don Coryell – Coach – 1973-77 St. Louis Cardinals, 1978-1986 San Diego Chargers (eligible before but first-time finalist)
Roger Craig – Running Back – 1983-1990 San Francisco 49ers, 1991 Los Angeles Raiders, 1992-93 Minnesota Vikings (eligible before but first-time finalist)
Dermontti Dawson – Center – 1988-2000 Pittsburgh Steelers (repeat 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)
Charles Haley – Defensive End/Linebacker – 1986-1991, 1999 San Francisco 49ers, 1992-96 Dallas Cowboys (eligible before but first-time finalist)
Rickey Jackson – Linebacker – 1981-1993 New Orleans Saints, 1994-95 San Francisco 49ers (eligible before but first-time finalist)
Cortez Kennedy – Defensive Tackle – 1990-2000 Seattle Seahawks (repeat finalist)
Dick LeBeau – Cornerback – 1959-1972 Detroit Lions (seniors candidate)
Floyd Little – Running Back – 1967-1975 Denver Broncos (seniors candidate)
John Randle – Defensive Tackle – 1990-2000 Minnesota Vikings, 2001-03 Seattle Seahawks (repeat finalist)
Andre Reed – Wide Receiver – 1985-1999 Buffalo Bills, 2000 Washington Redskins (repeat finalist)
Jerry Rice – Wide Receiver – 1985-2000 San Francisco 49ers, 2001-04 Oakland Raiders, 2004 Seattle Seahawks (first time eligible)
Shannon Sharpe – Tight End – 1990-99, 2002-03 Denver Broncos, 2000-01 Baltimore Ravens (first year eligible)
Emmitt Smith – Running Back – 1990-2002 Dallas Cowboys, 2003-04 Arizona Cardinals (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 is home to an incredible trove of research. Consider this a recommendation.)

10 – Jerry Rice – Two of the first-year eligible players are slam dunks. Rice is arguably the greatest player of all time at any position – I have no qualms about saying he’s the best I’ve seen with my own eyes. He was an unstoppable force on San Francisco’s dynastic teams of the 1980s and 90s, and he has ever receiving record ever imagined. He’s been a future Hall of Famer since halfway through his career, so his day will certainly come in Miami.

10 (con’t) – Emmitt Smith –  Smith isn’t in the list of the 10 best players ever like Rice is, but the league’s all-time leading rusher was a keystone of the Cowboys’ three Super Bowls in the 1990s and is an easy first-ballot choice. He was undoubtedly one of the top 2 backs of the 1990s (along with Barry Sanders), and his longevity and productivity are distinguishing figures for his career.

Note: Rice and Smith will certainly go in together as the highest profile names from the 2010 class. That leaves just three spots for the other 13 modern-day finalists, with seniors finalists Dick LeBeau and Floyd Little getting yea-or-nay votes on their own. Keep that in mind as you read the remaining profiles.

9 – Dick LeBeau – People today know LeBeau as the architect of the zone blitz defense and the defensive coordinator on many great defenses over much of the past two decades. But before he became a coach, LeBeau was a terrific cornerback for the Lions. With 62 career interceptions, he stands tied for seventh on the all-time list. LeBeau was a borderline Hall of Famer as a player, and his contributions as a coach will push him over the line to induction as a seniors candidate.

8 – Cris Carter – We said Carter should have gotten into the Hall of Fame last year, but the selection committee went for Art Monk instead. Carter still deserves induction, and if he misses out it will be because with Rice going in voters wanted to focus on other positions. Carter should get in, and he will someday. But we can’t say for sure that day will come this year because of the tight window for election.

7 – Richard Dent – Last year we pegged Dent (and seniors candidate Claude Humphrey) as the pass rusher who should get in. The late Derrick Thomas got in instead. Dent faces the test of being the third player from the great mid-1980s Bears defenses to get in (behind Mike Singletary and Dan Hampton), and that costs him support. But when you look at his sack numbers (137.5) compared to his era, it’s hard to say Dent doesn’t belong. He was a dominant, game-changing player and a Super Bowl MVP, which are both huge calling cards. It’ll be interesting to see whether he gets one of the two or three spots for modern candidates this year.

6 – Dermontti Dawson – We pushed for Dawson to make the Hall last year, but Randall McDaniel was the offensive lineman who got the nod. Now that McDaniel’s in Canton, Dawson should be the offensive lineman next in line. Dawson’s career wasn’t especially long, but the Steelers center was unquestionably the best center in the league during his prime, as his six straight All-Pro nods indicate. Dawson certainly merits induction over Grimm among this year’s protectors, and he should get in eventually. Perhaps this is his year.

6 (con’t) – Shannon Sharpe – Sharpe is the preeminent pass-catching tight end that is eligible for enshrinement at this point. But as a receiver, I’d put Sharpe behind Rice (obviously) and Carter in the receiver pecking order, but Sharpe is more deserving than former AFC West rival Tim Brown or Andre Reed. Sharpe needs to get in the Hall before guys like Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates are on the Hall of Fame horizon, because I’m not sure he will beat those guys in the voting. Sharpe has a case to make it to Canton, but his chances this year slip a little bit because Rice and Carter appear to be in line ahead of him.

5 – Don Coryell – Coryell has been eligible for induction before, but this is the first time he’s reached the finalist level. That’s not surprising, considering his victory total as a head coach with the Cardinals and Chargers is just 114-89-1, far below an elite level. But Coryell is considered an offensive innovator, as his Air Coryell type of vertical attack inspired prominent coaches such as Mike Martz, Norv Turner, and others. That’s the reason Coryell could make it in – almost as a contributor and not just a coach. My sense is that Coryell could gather support in that vein and end up sneaking into the class in a final spot, kind of like Ralph Wilson did last year.

5 (con’t) – Floyd Little – Little is a fascinating Hall of Fame case. As a seniors candidate, he doesn’t have to contend with anyone else for a spot – he’s simply subject to an up-or-down vote by the committee. And the fact that seniors candidate have a better rate of success getting in bodes well for Little too. But Claude Humphrey missed from this position last year, and Little’s numbers (12,000 all-purpose yards including kick and punt returns but just 6,300 rushing yards) aren’t awe-inspiring. Maybe the fact that Little is an all-time great Bronco and that the Broncos are underrepresented in the Hall of Fame will get him in, or maybe whoever presents Little’s case has the kind of ammo that will spark his election. But it seems to me that he’s no better than a 50-50 shot to make it in.

4 – Russ Grimm – We’ve already talked a little bit about the Grimm options, but now let’s focus in on Grimm’s HOF chances. Last year, we rated Grimm behind Randall McDaniel on the guard list, and McDaniel got in. This year, Grimm has a bit of a better chance because the offensive line class isn’t as packed. I’d still favor Dawson over Grimm, but the fact that none of the Hogs from the Redskins’ 1980s lines has gotten in gives Grimm a shot. There are still some voters who favor Joe Jacoby over Grimm as a Hall of Famer from that group, but since Grimm has generally established his candidacy as the best of that group, he has a shot.

4 (con’t) – Charles Haley – Haley is another of the candidates in this year’s class who made it to finalist level for the first time after years on the preliminary ballot. That doesn’t seem to be a good omen for his election. The most sterling part of Haley’s resume is that he played for five Super Bowl champs (two in San Francisco and three in Dallas), but the fact that he was an all-pro both at defensive end and linebacker is just as impressive. He won NFC defensive player of the year honors in those two years (1990 in S.F. and 1994 in Dallas), and he made five total Pro Bowls. His sack total of 100.5 isn’t stunning compared to guys like Dent or Rickey Jackson, but the fact that he played so much time at linebacker without being in a 3-4 zone blitz system explains that a bit. We put Haley behind Dent on the list, and on first blush we’d support Jackson over him as well, but Haley’s role on dynastic teams gives him a better shot than Jackson has. That’s probably not enough to sneak into this year’s class, but Haley could start building support for induction in a year without Rice and Smith-level guys on the top of the ballot.

4 (con’t) – Cortez Kennedy – Last year we gave Kennedy virtually no chance of induction in his first year as a finalist, but it seems like the former Seahawks defensive tackle actually got more support than we expected. The durable former all-pro was defensive player of the year in 1992 and was an eight-time Pro Bowler and three-time all-pro. Kennedy still falls below our standard for induction, but we now believe he has a better shot than fellow defensive tackle John Randle of making it to Canton, even though Randle has gaudy sack numbers that Kennedy, a run-stuffer, never compiled.

3- Rickey Jackson – Jackson has a shockingly good resume, considering he’s been eligible for 10 years but has never before reached the finalist level. His sack numbers (128 not counting his rookie season, in which sacks were not an official statistic), aren’t as good as Dent’s, but Jackson played in an era before 3-4 outside linebackers were pure pass rushers. Instead, he was a complete player on some of Jim Mora’s terrific defenses, and he was the best of a linebacker corps that included Sam Mills. Jackson probably won’t go from first-time finalist to induction, but his presence on the list is a deserved honor, and he has an outside chance of building a candidacy over the coming years. For now, though, he’s behind Richard Dent and Charles Haley in line.

3 (con’t) – John Randle – Last year we gave Randle more of a shot than this, but it seems like Kennedy has gained more steam in his candidacy than Randle currently has. Randle was a terrific 4-3 under tackle for the Vikings and Seahawks, and he used his slashing skills to pile up 137.5 sacks. That number compares favorably with Haley, which could help him in this year’s class, but the fact that Randle too often came off as a one-dimensional player hurts his cause. He’s been a finalist both years he’s been eligible, which means he has a shot to make it in, but the sense here is that he still has a wait before that happens – if it ever does.

3 (con’t) – Andre Reed – Reed finished his career with 951 receptions, which puts him sixth all-time, and he was the best receiver on the terrific Bills teams of the 1990s. But like Tim Brown, Reed was never among the best two or three receivers in the league. He never was a first-team All-Pro, although he did make seven Pro Bowls. That puts him behind Carter and Sharpe and of course Rice in the receiver pecking order when it comes to a place in Canton. I do give Reed a razor-thin edge over Brown, but to me that’s more of a decision for who should remain a finalist instead of a call about who should actually be elected.

2 – Tim Brown – Besides Rice and Smith, Brown is the only other first-time eligible to make it to finalist status. But it’s hard for me to see Brown as a Hall of Famer. The long-time Raider (and cameo Buccaneer) had nearly 15,000 receiving yards, which puts him up the list, but there was rarely a time when Brown was one of the best two or three receivers in the game. The fact that he was never a first-team All-Pro (voted as one of the top two wideouts in the league) bears this view out. Instead, guys like Rice and Carter (early in Brown’s prime) and Randy Moss easily outpaced Brown. Brown strikes me as a compiler, and to me that puts him behind not only Rice but also Carter and even Reed in this year’s class. In this year with election spots extra tight and the receiver spot so well represented among the finalists, there’s no way Brown gets in. But even if Brown were the only receiver among the finalists, I’d have a hard time supporting his induction. He belongs in the hall of the very good, not among the game’s ultra-elite in the Hall of Fame.

1 – Roger Craig – Craig is another long-time eligible player who finally crossed the border into the realm of finalists. Craig was the running back on the 49ers’ 1980s dynastic teams, and his ability to both run the ball and catch it out of the backfield made him a perfect fit there. Craig was the first player to total 1,000 yards both rushing and receiving in the same year back in 1985, and he made the Pro Bowl both as a running back and a fullback. His role on three Super Bowl winners is admirable, but the truth is that Craig fell well below Joe Montana and Jerry Rice in significance on those teams. Making the group of finalists means that Craig will be remembered for his fine play, but he fell below Hall of Fame level in his career. The reality is that he’ll probably be fortunate to make the list of finalists again after this year.

So what’s our prediction: There are three gimmes in the class – Rice, Smith, and LeBeau. To that we’ll add three more names – Dent, Carter, and Coryell in an upset instead of Dawson, who deserves the sixth spot. We’ll see how this outlandish prediction does on the Saturday before the Super Bowl.

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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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