Analysis  

 

Hall of Fame finalists: LaDainian Tomlinson closest to lock status

Print

The 15 modern-era finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2017 are as follows (presented in alphabetical order): Morten Andersen, Tony Boselli, Isaac Bruce, Don Coryell, Terrell Davis, Brian Dawkins, Alan Faneca, Joe Jacoby, Ty Law, John Lynch, Kevin Mawae, Terrell Owens, Jason Taylor, LaDainian Tomlinson and Kurt Warner.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2017 will be announced during the FOX broadcast of "NFL Honors" from 8-10 p.m. ET on Feb. 4 (the eve of Super Bowl LI).

NFL Media historian Elliot Harrison breaks down the hopefuls' chances of enshrinement below.

Lock city

LaDainian Tomlinson, running back: If Tomlinson is not a lock, he certainly resides closest to lock status among the 2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame finalists. I've heard from a couple of long-time voters that Tomlinson is not a shoo-in this year. Absent other surefire inductees, I don't see how he doesn't make it. Tomlinson is the NFL's fifth all-time leading rusher, won a league MVP and is one of just three running backs (along with Matt Forte and Larry Centers) to ever post a 100-catch season. Not to mention, there aren't any certifiable Hall of Fame running backs coming up whom voters must worry about cramming into the bust room. Adrian Peterson? Maybe, but he hasn't retired yet. Ditto Frank Gore. Not much else.

The other top candidates

Terrell Davis, running back: Forget the short-career argument -- Davis' candidacy is picking up steam. Davis has waited a decade to hear his name called, but this could be the year for the best running back of the late-'90s. His 2,000-yard campaign, Super Bowl MVP and league MVP haven't been enough to merit inclusion ... yet. That said, the telltale sign that 2017 could be the year is the emergence of Tony Boselli in the finalist discussion -- as well as Kenny Easley being the Seniors nominee. Both, like Davis, only played seven years in the NFL.

Alan Faneca, offensive line: If he wasn't the top guard in the business while he was playing, Faneca certainly belonged in the conversation for several years. His teams won -- in Pittsburgh and New York -- and most importantly, he was a six-time first-team All-Pro. OK, honestly, Faneca probably has the lowest probability of enshrinement among these top candidates. That said, how long can you keep out a six-time All-Pro with a Super Bowl ring?

Joe Jacoby, offensive tackle: Jacoby didn't receive as many individual accolades as Faneca (two first-team All-Pro nods). Yet, along with Russ Grimm, he represented the dominant side of the top offensive line of the 1980s. Every decade has an offensive front that made its mark on the league: Lombardi's Packers of the '60s, the '70s Raiders, Jacoby and "The Hogs" in the '80s and "The Great Wall of Dallas" in the '90s. Jacoby helped Washington win three Super Bowls during a stellar 13-year career. Even more relevant here: A few voters have told me that the mammoth left tackle will be the surprise of the 2017 Hall class.

John Lynch, safety: Sans multiple locks -- and multiple players who have been finalists five times or more -- I believe this is the year for the Buccaneer great. So much Hall accounting work has gone on over the last few years, "cleaning up" the Charles Haleys and Tim Browns of the world who kept missing the final cut, that Lynch was perhaps an afterthought. There are also those voters who feel Brian Dawkins (see below) or Darren Woodson (a semifinalist who missed this cut) were equal to or better than Lynch. But I don't think there are enough of those voters to take down his candidacy.

Terrell Owens, wide receiver: Owens is no lock. All of the numbers are there: He's second all time in receiving yards and third in receiving touchdowns. Unfortunately for T.O., the Pro Football Hall of Fame doesn't always simply boil down to numbers. Voters have brought up that no less than five teams were ready to let Owens go. While the Bills and Bengals were the last stops of a 15-year career, that argument has some validity when it comes to the 49ers, Eagles and Cowboys. My prediction: Owens gets the nod in 2017.

Kurt Warner, quarterback: So much has been said and written regarding Warner's mid-career lull. At this point, it's a tired discussion. The bottom line: Warner owns a résumé that is very difficult for other players to match: two MVPs, a Super Bowl MVP and leading the Cardinals to the big game in 2008. Prior to that year, the franchise had won all of one playoff game since 1947. Read that line again. The dearth of locks -- and quarterbacks -- makes Warner a strong possibility.

Stock rising

Morten Andersen, kicker: The more field goals Adam Vinatieri pushes through, the stronger Andersen's case gets. Why? Because Vinatieri still trails Andersen by over 150 points in the NFL's all-time scoring chase ... which means Andersen's name will come up on broadcasts ... which means he will seep into voters' consciousness more and more. Oh, and he put the Falcons in the Super Bowl. That has to count for something.

Tony Boselli, offensive tackle: Boselli's name has come up quite a bit over the last two years. With contemporaries Jonathan Ogden, Walter Jones and Orlando Pace all enshrined in Canton, Boselli isn't waiting in line anymore. Will the voters select another '90s-era left tackle?

Will be there soon

Don Coryell, coach: The former Cardinals and Chargers head coach has been in the pipeline, but despite the lack of any absolute locks in this class, I don't think Coryell makes it this year. If for no other reason than the voters I've spoken with always mention other names. It's going to take a real push from someone in the voters room to push through the passing game innovator.

Brian Dawkins, safety: Initially, I thought Dawkins had a spectacular shot of being a first-ballot guy. Like Coryell, however, the buzz from voters = not deafening. Dawkins won't make it until Lynch does.

Ty Law, cornerback: While not considering Law a top nominee, he's my sneaky candidate. Forget the three Super Bowl rings and the three picks of Peyton Manning in the 2003 AFC Championship Game for a moment. How many corners coming down the pike can boast 53 picks? Here's a couple I can think of: Charles Woodson and Charles Woodson.

Jason Taylor, defensive end: At some point, Taylor's 139.5 sacks and Defensive Player of the Year award will become too difficult to ignore. Yet, I don't think the former Dolphins great stands out enough as a first-time eligible to leapfrog players like Lynch and Warner, who've waited several years.

On the outside looking in

It could take a while for these two to receive the call from the Hall ...

Isaac Bruce, wide receiver: Bruce carries impressive numbers to go with his shiny Super Bowl ring, as part of the "Greatest Show on Turf" Rams. Most notable are his 15,208 receiving yards, currently fourth-most in NFL history. Bruce's lengthy touchdown reception in Super Bowl XXXIV is one of the most important catches in the history of Super Sunday. Yet, there are those who feel his counterpart on that team, Tory Holt, had the superior career. That includes my colleague Gil Brandt.

Kevin Mawae, offensive lineman: Mawae was one of the finest centers of the last 25 years. But given the competition, it might be hard for voters to think of the 16-year vet before other names on this list of finalists.

Quick notes on the Contributor/Seniors Committee nominees

It's simply a matter of time until this year's Contributors selections -- Jerry Jones and Paul Tagliabue -- are enshrined in Canton. Jones' impact on the NFL ranges from the financial to television (the FOX deal in 1994), but most importantly, lifting a franchise that was losing millions per year to being worth billions. Tagliabue presided over a tenure of immense growth -- and health -- for the NFL from 1989 until 2006, sans any major P.R. Nightmares. His candidacy has picked up major steam over the last couple of years.

Kenny Easley was one of my favorite players as a kid. The guy was a legit safety who could do it all: cover, blitz and hit (hard). He was Defensive Player of the Year in 1984. Interesting that the former Seahawks safety was nominated by the Seniors Committee, given that he played just seven NFL seasons -- the primary complaint about Terrell Davis' candidacy.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

Print

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop