Hall of Fame 2015  

 

Junior Seau, Orlando Pace headline likely Hall of Fame finalists

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The field of candidates for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2015 was narrowed from 113 modern-era nominees to 26 semifinalists in November. Ahead of January's cutdown to 15 finalists, NFL Media historian Elliot Harrison ranks each of the 26 contenders. Click here for more analysis on the 26 semifinalists.

The top 10

1) Junior Seau, linebacker: The 12-time Pro Bowler is the slam-dunk choice among this year's nominees. I can't envision any scenario in which the perennial All-Pro gets left at the altar. Seau is, quite simply, one of the best defensive players ever, regardless of position.

2) Orlando Pace, offensive tackle: Another first-year eligible who should be a lock for enshrinement, Pace is a stronger candidate than anyone but Seau. He was a contemporary and equal of Walter Jones, who was just welcomed into the Hall in his first year of eligibility.

3) Tony Dungy, coach: While some were a tinge surprised when Dungy didn't get the call from Canton in 2014, I thought he would have to wait at least one year. That said, reviving one franchise from the doldrums of the perennial 6-10 year (Buccaneers) and earning another a Lombardi Trophy (Colts) is special.

4) Marvin Harrison, wide receiver: If Pro Football Hall of Fame voters are not supposed to consider off-the-field issues, then there really isn't any explanation for a guy with Harrison's numbers (eight straight years of at least 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns) to be left out.

5) Kurt Warner, quarterback: Spoke with Warner about his impending candidacy at the 2014 enshrinement ceremony. Kurt was humble; I won't be. He did for the Cardinals and Rams what Dungy accomplished for the Buccaneers and Colts -- making one franchise relevant and another a champion.

6) Charles Haley, defensive end/outside linebacker: I have been driving the Charles Haley bandwagon alongside colleague Michael Silver. Haley was the dominant pass rusher on two title teams in San Francisco. He was the final piece of the '90s Cowboys dynasty. And he has five Super Bowl rings. He is Hall of Fame fabric. Period.

7) Kevin Greene, outside linebacker: Part of the reason I have Greene here is because I feel his 160 sacks stick out more than Tim Brown's 1,094 receptions. Jerome Bettis presents competition, yet Greene was the better player throughout the entirety of his career.

8) Jerome Bettis, running back: Will 13,000-plus rushing yards be enough? If Curtis Martin is in, then technically you can make the case for Bettis, too. We will all see how few running backs rack up 13,000 yards in the years to come. #runningbackbycommittee.

9) Will Shields, offensive guard: Some people have no idea who Shields is. I think 12 Pro Bowls and an All-Decade Team honor for the 2000s are enough to make the top 10 on this list. Shields is one of the top players to ever call Arrowhead home.

10) Terrell Davis, running back: Perhaps more than ever before, I feel TD is gaining momentum with voters and fans alike, as appreciation of his four-year run of brilliance is growing faster than the argument about his career's brevity.

Five who could sneak through to the finalist stage

11) John Lynch, safety: Lynch's sterling 15-year career is one stake to put down when setting up an argument for his Hall of Fame candidacy. Another? The fact that both Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks -- both first-ballot guys -- mentioned him so prominently in their acceptance speeches. Oh, and his work on TV -- and, thus, continued presence in the public eye -- makes Lynch even more formidable.

12) Tim Brown, wide receiver: Few argue with Brown's career numbers (1,094 receptions, 105 touchdowns). But the question for many is whether he was ever the best at his position (or among the top two or three). The lack of playoff success hurts his candidacy.

13) Jimmy Johnson, coach: The more I think about this guy, the more I realize how difficult it will be for him to not get in -- in large part due to the respect he has around the NFL. The way he conducted drafts and trades with the Cowboys and Dolphins is still held in the utmost esteem across the league. Throw in two Super Bowl wins and six playoff appearances in nine seasons, and you have a solid case.

14) Don Coryell, coach: Some momentum is growing for Coryell, an innovator like few others in the history of pro football ... or any football, for that matter. Coryell's numbered route tree in San Diego -- and generally easy-to-consume system -- helped give rise to the modern passing game. And the fact that he took the Cardinals to two straight playoff appearances -- after a 26-year postseason drought -- certainly doesn't hurt his cause.

15) Morten Andersen, kicker: The NFL's all-time leading scorer absolutely got a boost in street cred when punter Ray Guy made it into the Hall of Fame. Guy's enshrinement in August was well received. Andersen's 2,544 points will be difficult for anyone to catch.

Eleven who might have to wait a while ... or forever

16) Ty Law, cornerback
17) Edgerrin James, running back
18) Isaac Bruce, wide receiver
19) Steve Atwater, safety
20) Darren Woodson, safety
21) Torry Holt, wide receiver
22) Joe Jacoby, offensive tackle
23) Mike Kenn, offensive tackle
24) Roger Craig, running back
25) Kevin Mawae, center
26) Karl Mecklenburg, linebacker

Law could be this year's Aeneas Williams surprise, as voters seem to value the shutdown corner. James was first-team All-Decade for the 2000s, along with LaDainian Tomlinson -- the running back position won't be churning out guys with their numbers in years to come (LT will be eligible in 2017). Meanwhile, Craig doesn't have the career numbers to match, and he lacks the peak years of Davis. It also might be a numbers game for Bruce and Holt, who are cannibalized not only by the wideouts who will be eligible soon (with better numbers), but also by each other. Jacoby and Kenn were outstanding offensive linemen, but lack the perception of dominance of a guy like Pace. Mawae and Mecklenburg probably fall into the Hall of Very Good category.

The two most interesting names here are Woodson and Atwater. Playing safety has hardly presented the quickest road to Canton, but you can make the case both were equal to (or better than) Lynch. Woodson could do it all and owns no less than three Super Bowl rings. Atwater was a fierce hitter who earned first-team All-Decade honors for the '90s.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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