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FR: Pro Football Hall of Fame 2012 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. (Click on the Pro Football Hall of Fame category to find our analysis from past years.)

You can find the list of 17 finalists, along with outstanding profiles on each one, at the Pro Football Hall of Fame website. We didn’t have time to do our usual detailed post this year because of work commitments, but we did want to use our relativity poll to compare the finalists and say who we believe should be in this year’s class.

Is this Bill Parcells' year to make it to Canton? via profootballhof.com

10 – Bill Parcells – Now that Parcells is finally retired, he should make it in. His previous finalist berths in 2001 and 2002 were scuttled because selectors rightly suspected that Parcells was going to coach again. That reservation shouldn’t be a concern now.

9 – Cris Carter – We have believed that Carter belongs in the Hall for years, and we hope that Shannon Sharpe’s election last year clears the decks for Carter this year. He is more deserving than the other receivers in the class, Tim Brown and Andre Reed.

8 – Dermontti Dawson – The former Steelers center was the best player in the league at his position, and that merits induction. But a class that includes Willie Roaf and Will Shields could split the offensive line vote and leave all three out in the cold.

7 – Charles Haley – Haley, a long-time 49er and Cowboy, played well for great teams. And with Richard Dent’s election last year, Haley is the best defensive lineman left in the class (above Cortez Kennedy, Chris Doleman, and new finalist Kevin Greene). One of them figures to get in, and our guess is that Haley’s the one.

7 (con’t) – Jack Butler and Dick Stanfel – The two seniors nominees simply need to win a yes/no vote, and generally seniors candidates succeed. So our guess is that both make it to Canton.

6 – Curtis Martin – To us, Martin falls right on the borderline of Hall of Fame status. He deserves it more than Jerome Bettis, but Martin may not have quite enough on the resume to make it in.

6 (con’t) – Will Shields – Shields, a first-time nominee, joins former teammate Roaf in the class. Shields was a standout guard for many years, and unlike Roaf he was the best player at his position. It may come down to Shields vs. Dawson for a spot, and while we favor Dawson, both are deserving.

6 (con’t) – Eddie DeBartolo – DeBartolo, the former 49ers owner, is the contributor who could steal a spot in the class. He was a classic owner during the 49ers’ glory years, but the ignominious end to his tenure hurts. He’ll have strong support, but he’s not at the level that, say, Ed Sabol was last year.

5 – Willie Roaf – Roaf was a great left tackle for many years, but he wasn’t the best tackle in the league. That’s going to hurt him in this class, even though left tackle is a more important and more respected position than guard or center is.

5 (con’t) – Cortez Kennedy – Kennedy’s candidacy is slowing gaining, and he could jump over Haley to make the class. But a career spent in Seattle on bad teams hurts his profile.

4 – Tim Brown – Brown was a superstar, but he was never great. We have said throughout his candidacy that he falls short of Hall of Fame status.

3 – Jerome Bettis – Bettis saw a competitor make it into Canton last year with Marshall Faulk, but he still falls below Curtis Martin in the RB hierarchy. Ultimately, we don’t see Bettis as a Hall of Famer, despite his high profile and pleasant personality.

3 (con’t) – Kevin Greene – Greene moved into finalist territory for the first time after several years eligible, which is a nice step forward but also a sign that he will fall below other defenders like Haley and Kennedy in the voting.

3 – Andre Reed – Reed is hoping to make the leap out of the receiver gridlock this year, but we vastly prefer Carter and would endorse Brown before Reed. Just as Brown falls below the Canton baseline, Reed isn’t quite Canton caliber.

2 – Chris Doleman – Doleman was a terrific pass rusher, but he wasn’t a Hall of Fame player.

1 – Aeneas Williams – Williams, the former cornerback who spent most of his career in obscurity in Phoenix, was a great cornerback, but he wasn’t a Hall of Fame player. His move into the finalist group is recognition enough.

Our predictions for the class: Carter, Parcells, and Haley will make it in, along with the two senior candidates Butler and Stanfel. We believe Dawson should make it in over Shields, although that’s a toss-up, and that if a seventh player is elected, it will be Martin.

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Thoughts on the Hall of Fame Class of 2011

Pro Football Hall of Fame, at Canton, Ohio, Un...

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Over the weekend, the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced its class of 2011. We predicted six of the seven inductees in our Football Relativity comparison, so we obviously support the class. Here are some other thoughts:

*Ed Sabol’s induction is well deserved. NFL Films gets a lot of credit for helping to build the league’s popularity and profile in the 1960s and 1970s, to the point that football is now America’s game. Like John Madden (the video game entrepeneur, not the coach), Sabol is one of the rare contributors whose legacy affects not only one franchise but generations of fans. He simply has to be included in any real Hall of Fame.
*Sabol’s induction cost a player a spot because of the Hall’s rules. The two seniors candidates – Les Richter and Chris Hanburger – get yes or no votes, while the other 15 finalists have just five spots. That’s why there gets to be such a backlog at certain positions. So only one pass rusher was going to get in – Richard Dent finally got that spot over Chris Doleman and Cortez Kennedy – and only one receiver – Shannon Sharpe over Cris Carter, Andre Reed, and Tim Brown.
*It was gratifying to see Dent and Sharpe get in after long waits. Both are completely deserving of induction.
*Carter is a cause celebre for fans who think he deserves induction. We agree, but Carter was in the first cut for the second straight year. Unless a bunch of Sharpe supporters swing to Carter, he could find himself behind Reed in the pecking order next year.
*The selectors chose the right running back in Marshall Faulk, and they rightly eliminated Jerome Bettis before Curtis Martin. Martin will be a curious case in coming years, because he’s right on the borderline of the Hall of Fame and the hall of the very good.
*Next year’s first-time eligibles are an interesting group. Of players, former Chiefs OG Will Shields is probably the best candidate (over Drew Bledsoe), but three prominent coaches – Bill Parcells, Marty Schottenheimer, and Bill Cowher – join the class. Cowher may get ignored because selectors believe he’ll return to the field – that’s the reason Parcells isn’t yet in. But if Parcells or Schottenheimer gets in, it’ll cost another player.
*With Shields coming on board, his former teammate William Roaf and ex-Steelers C Dermontti Dawson are facing an offensive line glut that only gets worse with Larry Allen and Jonathan Ogden in 2013. Next year needs to be Dawson’s year, or else he’s going to be facing a long wait.
*I had an interesting Twitter exchange with a buddy after the selection. He lamented the fact that both the baseball and football Halls don’t put everyone in who’s a Hall of Famer. But the problem is different in the two sports. In baseball, voters often vote for less than the 10 they’re allowed to vote for – even leaving ballots blank in some cases – and as a result the classes are small with one, two, or three inductees. In football, writers put the maximum number of candidates in pretty much every year, but there’s such a backlog (in part because there are 22 starters per team, vs. 9 in baseball) that it’s exceedingly hard to get in.

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FR: Pro Football Hall of Fame 2011 Class

Deion Sanders (left) and Marshall Faulk should lead the class of 2011

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.)

Jerome Bettis– Running Back – 1993-95 Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams, 1996-2005 Pittsburgh Steelers (first year eligible)
Tim Brown – Wide Receiver/Kick Returner – 1988-2003 Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders, 2004 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (repeat finalist)
Cris Carter – Wide Receiver – 1987-89 Philadelphia Eagles, 1990-2001 Minnesota Vikings, 2002 Miami Dolphins (repeat 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)
Chris Doleman– Defensive End/Linebacker – 1985-1993, 1999 Minnesota Vikings, 1994-95 Atlanta Falcons, 1996-98 San Francisco 49ers (eligible before but first-time finalist)
Marshall Faulk – Running Back – 1994-98 Indianapolis Colts, 1999-2005 St. Louis Rams (first time eligible)
Charles Haley – Defensive End/Linebacker – 1986-1991, 1999 San Francisco 49ers, 1992-96 Dallas Cowboys (repeat finalist)
Chris Hanburger– Linebacker – 1965-1978 Washington Redskins (seniors candidate)
Cortez Kennedy– Defensive Tackle – 1990-2000 Seattle Seahawks (repeat finalist)
Curtis Martin – Running Back – 1995-97 New England Patriots, 1998-2005 New York Jets (first year eligible)
Andre Reed – Wide Receiver – 1985-1999 Buffalo Bills, 2000 Washington Redskins (repeat finalist)
Les Richter – Linebacker – 1954-1962 Los Angeles Rams (seniors candidate)
Willie Roaf– Tackle – 1993-2001 New Orleans Saints, 2002-05 Kansas City Chiefs (first year eligible)
Ed Sabol– Founder/President/Chairman – 1964-1995 NFL Films (eligible before but first-time finalist)
Deion Sanders – Cornerback/Kick Returner/Punt Returner – 1989-1993 Atlanta Falcons, 1994 San Francisco 49ers, 1995-99 Dallas Cowboys, 2000 Washington Redskins, 2004-05 Baltimore Ravens (first year eligible)
Shannon Sharpe – Tight End – 1990-99, 2002-03 Denver Broncos, 2000-01 Baltimore Ravens (repeat finalist)

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 – Deion Sanders – Sanders wasn’t the most complete corner ever, but he may have been the best cover man of his or any era. Combine that with his electric returning ability, and you have a no-doubt Hall of Famer. Sanders’ career was a bit strange because he played both in the NFL and in Major League Baseball, and because of his prodigous ego and love of the spotlight he bounced around quite a bit. But there was plenty of substance beneath the flash. The accolades are there – a member of the all-1990s team, eight Pro Bowl appearances and six All-Pro nods, and two Super Bowl rings – but the fact that Sanders at his apex was the scariest player on the field is enough for us. Some voters might be put off by Sanders’ bombastic nature or his unwillingness to tackle, but even those issues won’t be enough to keep Sanders out of the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

9 – Marshall Faulk – Of the three running backs on the ballot for the first time this year, we believe Faulk is the clear-cut leader of the group for first-year enshrinement. Faulk was the ideal running back for the Greatest Show on Turf in St. Louis because he was just as deadly catching the ball out of the backfield as he was running the ball. He won league MVP honors in both 2000 and 2001 and was part of two Rams Super Bowl teams. And that St. Louis dominance came after an incredibly productive five-year stint with the Colts. Faulk played 13 years, and his rushing total of 12,279 place him 10th all time, below fellow nominees Curtis Martin and Jerome Bettis. But Faulk added another 6,875 receiving yards, which is the reason we put him ahead of those two nominees. In yards from scrimmage, Faulk is fourth all time, behind only Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, and Walter Payton. That elite company better reflects Faulk’s career. We believe Faulk deserves enshrinement right away, even if it comes at the expense of Martin and Bettis in 2011.

8 – Cris Carter – We don’t get it. For the last two years, we’ve endorsed Carter as a Hall of Famer. In our minds, he’s an easy choice over fellow finalists Andre Reed and Tim Brown at the position, as well as a narrow choice over receiving tight end Shannon Sharpe. But apparently that clump of receivers in the final 17 have kept Carter out. Instead, seniors candidate Bob Hayes and no-brainer Jerry Rice have been enshrined the last two years. Carter will still need to clear Brown and Reed, but that shouldn’t be a problem. Carter has 1,101 career catches to place third all-time. That’s seven more catches than Brown (despite playing one fewer season) and 150 more than Reed. And Carter was always on the list of the five best receivers in the league throughout the 1990s, as shown by his all-decade team accolades. At some point, voters will have to admit the next receiver, and Carter should be the guy.

7 – Ed Sabol – Sabol has been eligible for the Hall of Fame for many years, but he finally crossed into finalist territory this year. He’s become a cause celebre of Peter King and others for his role in creating NFL Films. For nearly 50 years, NFL Films has promoted and propagated the popularity of the NFL. Sabol started NFL Films and worked there until retiring in 1995. It’s hard to compare a contributor like Sabol to a class otherwise filled with players, but if ever a contributor deserved one of the seven Hall of Fame spots, it’s Sabol. Our hunch is that there’s enough momentum behind him that he’ll be inducted now that he has finally made it to finalist status.

7 (con’t) – Richard Dent – We’ve endorsed Dent for enshrinement the last two years, but he’s been passed over for Derrick Thomas in 2009 and John Randle last year. Dent was a dominant force for the classic Bears teams in the 1980s, and he won Super Bowl 20 MVP honors. He has 137.5 career sacks, which doesn’t live up to the total Chris Doleman posted but doesn’t reflect Dent’s dominance. Dent has been a finalist every year since 2005, and at some point he has to get over the hump. Given the defensive crop this year, it may be now or never for Dent. We believe it should be now.

7 (con’t) – Chris Hanburger – It’s never easy for us to evaluate the seniors candidates, but history indicates that most of them win election if they make it past the seniors committee. That bodes well for Hanburger, who started at linebacker for the Redskins for 14 years in the 1960s and 70s. With four All-Pro selections and nine Pro Bowl nods, Hanburger has the resume to merit election, and the fact that he started 135 straight games during the prime of his career is a good sign as well. He had a great career given the fact that he started out as an 18th-round draft pick, and it now appears that this career could well end up in the Hall of Fame.

6 – Shannon Sharpe – Tight end isn’t a prolific position in terms of producing Hall of Famers, and that plus the surplus of receivers have worked against Sharpe in his candidacy thus far. Like Dent, we have endorsed Sharpe the first two years of this post, and we’re doing so again. He merits inclusion, because he was the perfect West Coast offense tight end. He wasn’t an outstanding blocker, but he was effective, and he played a key role on three Super Bowl teams – two in Denver and one in Baltimore. But Sharpe is 250 catches (and counting) behind Tony Gonzalez, which isn’t helping his cause. But Sharpe’s high level of play for championship teams is something Gonzalez can’t rival. Sharpe deserves induction.

6 (con’t) – Les Richter – Richter, already a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, played his entire nine-year career for the Rams, who had acquired him in an 11-for-1 deal. He debuted two years after being drafted, after serving in the military, and made the Pro Bowl in each of his first eight seasons as a linebacker. He also served as a placekicker and even played some center for the Rams. No wonder he was first- or second-team All-Pro in each of his first six seasons. Now that Richter has made it past the seniors committee, the late Richter should find his way into the Hall of Fame.

5 – Curtis Martin – Martin was rarely a great, but he was very good for a long time for the Patriots and Jets. As a result, his accumulated totals put him in the pantheon of the all-time greats. But Martin made just five Pro Bowls in his 11 seasons, and he was an All-Pro just twice and led the league in rushing just once. That makes his candidacy wobbly, despite the fact that he’s currently the fourth all-time rusher in the league. Martin’s going to be an interesting case, because he (like Bettis and future nominee Edgerrin James and Fred Taylor) have monstrous numbers but rare moments of dominance. That, to us, means that Martin doesn’t pass the smell test, at least in his first season. Faulk must go in ahead of Martin, and while Martin leads Bettis, we don’t see room for more than one running back in this year’s class. Maybe Martin will sneak in in the future, but this shouldn’t be his year.

5 (con’t) – Dermontti Dawson – We moved Dawson down a level from last year, because while we would still vote for him, we don’t have a good feeling about his chances. Dawson played 13 years and was a six-time All-Pro, which clearly established him as the best center of the 1990s. He had a long career and was dominant at his position. For Dwight Stephenson a decade before him, that meant induction. But Dawson needs to get in soon, before other linemen like Walter Jones, Orlando Pace, and Jonathan Ogden start hitting the ballot. Otherwise Dawson’s wait will be prolonged.

4- Charles Haley – Haley’s an interesting case, because he was such a big factor for two dynastic teams – the 49ers and the Cowboys. As a result, he has an unprecedented five Super Bowl rings. That’s the cornerstone of his Hall of Fame candidacy. He also played well both as a 4-3 defensive end and a 3-4 outside linebacker, which is a credit to his ability. but his sack numbers – 100.5 – pale in comparison to Richard Dent and Chris Doleman, making it hard to justify choosing Haley over those players. It wouldn’t be a travesty to put Haley in the Hall of Fame, but there are more deserving guys in the group of finalists this year.

4 (con’t) – Cortez Kennedy – When Kennedy first showed up on the Hall of Fame radar, we wrote off his candidacy, but he seems to be a legitimate borderline candidate. He was a dominant defensive tackle for years, although the fact that he played in Seattle his entire career kept him under the radar to some degree. Still, he earned eight Pro Bowl berths and three All-Pro nods, made the 1990s All-Decade team, and won defensive player of the year honors in 1992. Kennedy’s position keeps him from having numbers to bolster his case, but he was a dominant force, and that may be enough to sneak him into a class as a compromise candidate.

4 (con’t) – Willie Roaf – Roaf played in a golden era of tackles, yet he still carved out a niche as an elite left tackle. He wasn’t quite the pass blocker that Walter Jones or Jonathan Ogden were, but like Orlando Pace he was a good pass blocker who also handled his business in the run game. The question is how many of those tackles will get into the Hall of Fame, because Roaf is probably third or fourth in that elite group. With six first-team and three second-team All-Pro nods,  Roaf clearly belongs among those four, and the former Saint and Chief also made the all-decade team for both the 1990s and the 2000s. And coming up for election before the other three guys could help him, since the ballot isn’t as crowded at this point. We could see Roaf getting in, but our sense is that he should probably wait until at least Jones and Ogden of his contemporaries get in first.

3 – Tim Brown – Brown was a terrific player for many years, and the former Heisman Trophy winner is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame based on his Notre Dame career. But we believe he falls just short of the level required to be a Pro Football Hall of Famer. Brown has 1,094 career catches, placing him fourth all-time. He was also a dynamic return man for much of his career. But Brown never was the dominant receiver of his era – while he was a nine-time Pro Bowler and a 1990s All-Decade player, he wasn’t ever a first-team all-pro. So to us, Brown doesn’t feel like a Hall of Famer. We won’t start a riot if he gets in, but like Curtis Martin, Brown falls just below the standard to us.

2 – Jerome Bettis – Bettis is perhaps the trickiest of any of this year’s first-time nominees, because he had a strange career. Here’s the good of his candidacy: He is fifth all-time in rushing yards, thanks to eight 1,000-yard seasons with the Rams and Steelers. He’s also a unique player – the first big back to be a full-time runner instead of a short-yardage specialist. But Bettis made the transition to short-yardage specialist late in his career, and in his last eight years he averaged more than four yards a carry just once. He declined pretty quickly after age 30, and he also had two below-par years early in his career. So while Bettis had four great seasons and impressive career statistics, to us he is not a Hall of Fame back. He certainly falls below Marshall Faulk in the pecking order, and we’d prefer Curtis Martin as well. Bettis’ gregarious nature will help his chances, but ultimately he feels like a lost cause in terms of Canton.

2 (con’t) – Andre Reed – Reed was a great receiver for the Bills’ teams in the early 1990s, and his career total of 951 receptions for more than 13,000 yards is impressive. But he’s not a Hall of Famer. He was never an All-Pro – considered one of the top two receivers in the league in any given year. He was a second-team all-pro just twice. He did make seven Pro Bowls, and he was a key part of Buffalo’s AFC dynasty. But compared to other receivers like Cris Carter, Shannon Sharpe, and even Tim Brown, he doesn’t measure up. That’s why we’ve moved Reed down our comparison vs. last year. Reed belongs in the Hall of the Very Good, not the Hall of Fame.

1 – Chris Doleman – Doleman has been eligible for several years, but he moved into the realm of the finalists for the first time this year. And his chances are tied almost solely to his sack total. He had 150.5 career sacks, good for fifth all-time, and parlayed his ability to get to the quarterback into three first-team All-Pro selections and eight Pro Bowl berths. We’d prefer Richard Dent to Doleman, but strange things have happened in the pass-rushing category in recent years, so we can’t write Doleman off completely. Still, for our tastes he was too much of a one-dimensional player to merit inclusion in Canton.

So who will make it in? We believe Sanders and Faulk are shoo-ins, and we also think Richter and Hanburger will get thumbs up. That leaves three spots. Sabol gets one of those spots, while the other two should go to Carter and Dent. We’ve been wrong on those last two for two years running, but we’ll assert once again that this should be their year.

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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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Filed under Football Relativity, outlandish prediction, 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