The Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors will meet, as they always do, on the day before the Super Bowl and announce this year’s class on Saturday night. This is an important and diverse class of finalists. Only Will Shields is in his first year of eligibility, and there are no clear cult first-time eligible players, like Deion Sanders and Marshall Faulk last year, who will sweep in with nary a discussion. Next year, Warren Sapp, Johnathan Ogden, Michael Strahan, John Lynch and Larry Allen – all guys who will warrant discussion as finalists in their first years – become eligible.
Thus, the 2012 debates should be heated and diverse, as up to five of this year’s finalists should be selected and not getting in this year might mean waiting a few more.
The finalists can be divided into some groups, and you can bet their will be some debates within these tiers.
The Offensive Linemen: Willie Roaf, Dermontti Dawson, and Will Shields
Last year, when Willie Roaf did not make it, it set Jason Whitlock off. I also had Willie Roaf in my selections for last year, as well as Dermontti Dawson. Let’s be clear about all three of these guys–they are easily within the standards of what a Hall of Famer is. Willie Roaf is among the best tackles in the modern game. Dawson was an awesome center, and was selected as a first team all pro six different seasons, tied for most among eligible interior offensive linemen who are not in the Hall. Shields was selected to 12 pro bowls over his career (most among interior linemen not in the Hall) and along with Roaf, was part of the most dominant offensive line of the last decade.
The question is simply how many will be selected at one time, and in what order.
The Wide Receivers: Tim Brown, Cris Carter, and Andre Reed
Chase Stuart did a post about these three receivers two years ago, because they have now been on the ballot as a trio for three seasons. The actual Hall of Fame selectors have been the opposite of Stuart’s statistical look at the receivers, and Andre Reed has a lot of support, whether it’s because he’s been on the ballot longer, or because of more powerful lobbyist. Each of the last two years, Reed has lasted longer in voting than the other two and just come up short.
Tim Brown and Cris Carter seem like clear cut Hall of Fame choices, Reed’s case seems more borderline, but he has clear support where it matters. Last summer, I wrote about my frustration with the Hall of Fame selectors (and specifically Len Pasquarelli and Terrell Owens) when it came to receivers. They’ve thrown their hands up and can’t seem to make up their minds.
Let’s hope this year they start resolving that logjam, because guys like Harrison, Owens, Moss, and others that should at least garner some discussion, like Rod Smith, are coming.
The Pass Rushers: Chris Doleman, Kevin Greene, and Charles Haley
These three were all semifinalists a few years ago, so I wrote about all three collectively, comparing their careers. Charles Haley has been the one who has consistently been among the finalists, though as you can see, he has far fewer tackles and sacks than the other two. It’s a question of how much you credit Haley for playing on great teams with Jerry Rice and Joe Montana, or Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin.
I have Doleman as a Hall of Famer, and Greene with a pretty solid case, whereas Haley is a No for me, though his role in championship teams certainly has garnered him some support. (In that post I did, I cite a poll done in the mid-90′s, where virtually no writers identified Haley as a Hall of Famer).
The issue here is how the selectors separate these three, and then whether any of them break through versus the other positions, because I don’t think any are a slam dunk relative to the other candidates. With Dent getting in last year, the committee may take a year off.
The Running Backs: Curtis Martin and Jerome Bettis
Curtis Martin is 4th all-time in rushing yards; Jerome Bettis is 5th. They have similar rushing touchdown totals, and both were more workman-like than spectacular. I think they both get in. Unless Bettis being from Detroit and playing in a Super Bowl there (plus his continued presence on TV) matters more, Martin seems to have a similar case, but slightly better across the board. Both were good at a young age, and continued to be among the 5-10 best at their position for a decade. Martin was the more useful receiver, and averaged more yards per game. Martin also had the amazing season in 2004, at an age when many backs would have been in part-time roles, like Bettis was when he got his ring.
The Coaches & Owners: Eddie DeBartolo & Bill Parcells
I’m not a fan of pitting players against others who were “contributors” in the selection process. How do you compare someone who got to make money versus an actual player? For me, DeBartolo is a No, especially with so many qualified player candidates. Parcells will get in, I’m just not sure if it is this year. He is on the ballot for the first time since retiring from Dallas, but was on the ballot twice before after his Jets stint, before returning. Voters may want to wait a few years just to make sure Bill doesn’t resurface.
The Defensive Stars on Not-So-Great Teams: Cortez Kennedy and Aeneas Williams
Cortez Kennedy won a Defensive Player of the Year award while playing for a 2-14 team. Think about how amazing that is. He also made 8 pro bowls and 3 first team all pro selections. I thought he should have been a choice ahead of John Randle a few years ago, so of course I think he is in.
Aeneas Williams, like Kennedy, and perhaps even more, was cursed by being part of bad teams for his career (he did join St. Louis late in his career and played in the Super Bowl in 2001). Even when playing in relative anonymity in Arizona, he was selected to 8 pro bowls, was a first team all pro corner three times, and second team for two other seasons. He had two or more defensive touchdowns in five different seasons.
I think both Kennedy and Williams are clearly Hall of Famers, and join guys like Lee Roy Selmon (rest in peace) and Dick Butkus as shining despite their teammates. Williams finally made it through to the finalists this year, while Kennedy has been waiting.
My Personal Picks: I would take the maximum five, and I would start with Willie Roaf, who should have been a first ballot guy last year, plus Dermontti Dawson, who has been waiting too long. I would take Tim Brown first among the receivers, just pipping Cris Carter because as far as we know Brown recognizes that Calvin Johnson is really good. Curtis Martin would get in. For my final slot, I would take Cortez Kennedy.
Who I think the Hall of Fame actually selects: Willie Roaf. Andre Reed seems to have the most traction among the receivers. I think they take Curtis Martin and Jerome Bettis. The last one could go to Dermontti Dawson, though I never want to pick what the committee will do with him.
[photo via Getty]