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Hall call coming? Under-the-radar candidates for Canton

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Greg M. Cooper / US Presswire
Eli Manning is having a great season, and a playoff run could help his résumé in what might become a HOF career.


 

The Hall of Fame can be a hot-button issue. Now, I'm not talking about guys who have already punched their ticket to Canton like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Ray Lewis. The debate comes down to those borderline guys. Do they belong in the Hall of Very Good or deserve to be fitted for a gold jacket?

I've been part of drafting seven players good enough to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. In trying to project current stars who might get a bust one day, there are a few who could surprise if they continue along their current career path. A few veterans coming to the end of their careers also deserve consideration after being underappreciated.

I've compiled a list of players who fall into one of the two categories. To be clear, here's my definition of a Hall of Famer: A dominant player at his position during his era.

With that, here are six players I could see being enshrined in football immortality.

Eli Manning, QB, Giants

He's a Super Bowl champion, has made 119 straight starts and is having his best season in an already stellar career. Gradually people are starting to appreciate his game more. The interceptions have been a problem in the past, and many pointed to his 25 picks as a reason the Giants missed the playoffs a year ago, but he's really cut down on the mistakes.

Manning's career completion percentage of 58.4 doesn't sound all that good, but playing in New York, where the wind is so bad, it's very hard to be in the 65-percent range.

Another deep playoff run culminating with a trip to the Super Bowl would help his Hall cause. Quarterbacks are judged on wins and losses, a second ring or at least getting the Giants back to the ultimate stage could push him over the top.

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Devin Hester, PR/WR, Bears

Special teams accounts for 22 percent of the game, and it's hard to find a return man who's ever had a bigger impact than Hester.

He consistently gives the Bears great field position and is only going to add to his record for punt return touchdowns. Granted, he's not a full-time receiver, but he contributes on offense and has altered how teams defend him in the return game.

He deserves the moniker best-ever returner and Hall recognition.

Hines Ward, WR, Steelers

There are a lot of top-end receivers not in Canton, Tim Brown and Cris Carter to name a few. Both of those guys have better numbers than Ward, but catching 900 balls isn't as special now with the growth of the passing game.

So when the numbers bunch up between comparable players, the difference could come down to jewelry. Ward has two rings; Brown and Carter never won a title.

Ward is likely to surpass 1,000 catches and 12,000 yards receiving by the end of the season. He probably does as good a job of catching the ball on crossing routes as anyone and he'll block in the running game.

Richard Seymour, DL, Raiders

He has 143 regular-season starts during his 11-year career. During that span, Seymour has done it all. He's played in a 3-4 and 4-3. He's played both tackle and end. He played in Super Bowls with the Patriots and then became a leader as the Raiders rebuilt.

For him, critics are going to point out that he's never had double-digit sacks and only 53.5 in his career. However, he was a dominant player for three Super Bowl champions.

Jeff Saturday, C, Colts

He's an outstanding blocker who makes line adjustments for Peyton Manning, probably one of the toughest jobs you can have in this game. As an undrafted free agent, Saturday was originally signed by the Ravens, but ended up with the Colts after getting cut and hasn't looked back.

Saturday has 182 regular-season starts and has made five Pro Bowls during his 13 seasons. The Colts have piled up wins during that time. Obviously, people will ask, is a center that important to the success of a team? Well, just ask Manning, who has operated primarily out of the shotgun for his entire career, how many bad snaps his center has had. My guess would be not many.

Shane Lechler, P, Raiders

We don't have a punter in the Hall of Fame and there has to be a first. Lechler has been the best at his position for over a decade and has created countless opportunities for the Raiders because he's pinned so many people deep. He has a career average of 47.5 yards per punt with a 38.8 net.

Again, all he does is punt and that will hurt his case. But he's a dominant player at his position, which is the definition of a Hall of Famer.

NFL odysseys

» Drew Brees has now thrown a touchdown pass in 37 straight games, which is the second-longest streak in NFL history to Johnny Unitas' 47. Brees passed Brett Favre's mark of 36 in Sunday's win over the Falcons.

» With a win over the Bengals, the Steelers are 12-1 against rookie quarterbacks since 2004.

» The Saints now have a 10-game winning streak in the month of November dating back to 2008. They won't lose this week either, since they're on a bye.

» The Colts are the eighth team to start a season 0-10 in the past 25 years.

College watch

Over the past two weeks, I've spent a lot of time watching tape on Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. He has the ability to feel the rush and move away from it, much like Philip Rivers in college. He's got that feel for stepping up in the pocket. Luck does not get rattled and does a good job encouraging teammates after a drop or a mistake.

Luck has good, but not outstanding arm strength. His throws up to 20 yards are very accurate, but that starts to change on deeper passes. He's not playing as well as last year. To be honest, he could be somewhat bored with the lack of challenges left to conquer in college.

I'll have a more-detailed look at Luck next week.

Game of the week: Bengals at Ravens

The Bengals are coming off a tough loss to the Steelers, while the Ravens were stunned at Seattle. But if the playoffs were to start today, these two teams would be the wild cards.

Baltimore is a different team at home. The Ravens are relying on the passing game a lot more this season (throwing 63 percent of the time), and that could be an issue with the Bengals losing corner Leon Hall for the season. Joe Flacco could look to go at veteran corner Nate Clements, who will have his hands full with Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith.

Another critical matchup will be Andrew Whitworth vs. Terrell Suggs. These guys face each other twice a year, and it's going to be a battle. Whitworth is very underrated and will need to negate Suggs' pass rush. He has six sacks and two picks this year.

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