Predicting Hall of Fame Class of 2018: Ray Lewis, then who?

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The Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2018 will be revealed during NFL Honors, which will be broadcast on NBC at 9 p.m. ET on Feb. 3 -- the night before Super Bowl LII. While we wait to learn which luminaries among the 15 modern-era finalists will get the call, Elliot Harrison has taken a swing at predicting who will get to don a gold jacket.

Note: The prediction below reflects who Elliot thinks will make it in based on how he sees the votes falling, not necessarily who he thinks SHOULD get in.

The projected Class of 2018

Brian Dawkins, safety: Dawkins was a finalist last year, and I don't see a player of his ilk being left out again. That's why I'm putting him here first, as he's the most deserving player on this list -- he was on Ray Lewis' and Randy Moss' level in many respects, and neither of those two candidates have been forced to wait yet. Dawkins could cover early in his career, although his strength was making impact plays. Not only was he a hitter, but he actually completed the tackle, unlike so many defensive backs today. The member of the All-Decade Team of the 2000s was darn near prolific on safety blitzes, registering 26 career sacks, and he was seemingly always around the football. Hall voters are consistently reminded of the shortage of defensive players in Canton. This year, Dawkins will help even the scales.

Ray Lewis, linebacker: Nearly every Hall of Fame class carries a shoo-in, and 2018 is no different: Lewis will hear his name called. No one is expecting the former middle linebacker to wait, as the Ravens star is already considered one of the greatest defensive players ever, irrespective of position. Having won Defensive Player of the Year honors twice and a Super Bowl MVP nod puts him in rarefied air -- extremely rarefied air, as no other player in NFL history has pulled that feat off. Lewis was also named first-team All-Pro seven times. Moving along ...

Randy Moss, wide receiver: This will be probably be the most controversial choice among Hall voters, though not among readers. Most fans feel Moss is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Voters? If they didn't buy into Terrell Owens the last two years, why would they check the box for a wideout who admittedly took plays off (whereas T.O. didn't)? The answer lies in two parts:

A) The general consensus around Moss is that no player in his era was scarier. Only Barry Sanders brought that kind of cachet to his position. Moreover, Moss might have been the premier player on the field the first time he stepped on it. He tipped the field, as they say. Among all-time rookies, only Eric Dickerson and Jim Brown had the same immediate impact. Being great out of the gate built a narrative that should lead to enshrinement in Moss' first year of eligibility. Oh, yeah, the second reason ...

B) Don't underestimate the age of the voters. There are so many in the room filling out a ballot who didn't start covering pro football until the 2000s -- members of the video-game generation. The Moss generation.

Tony Boselli, offensive tackle: I reserve the right to change my mind on this pick between now and Saturday. Boselli only played in seven seasons, but Terrell Davis broke down the Short-Career Wall last year. Like Davis, Boselli boasts postseason success, if to a lesser extent than the former Broncos' running back. Everyone over 30 seems to remember the day he shut out Bruce Smith in a 1996 AFC wild-card game between the Jags and Bills. Boselli was the standard at the left tackle position until injuries derailed his career. In six relatively healthy seasons, Boselli managed five Pro Bowls and three first-team All-Pro nods. The Jags made the playoffs in four of those years, making two AFC Championship Game appearances. I debated putting the great Alan Faneca in this spot, as I think there will be a lineman in this year's class. But after speaking with voters in Canton last August, I think Boselli's name has more juice.

Everson Walls, cornerback: Another reason Faneca -- along with Ty Law -- could be on the outside looking in: Walls' ascension. Walls' name hardly came up for 20 years. All of a sudden, he got discussed in the room (no, not every deserving player gets tossed around the room, as time and politics intervene) while his career resume became harder to ignore. Really hard. Consider ...

A) Among pure corners, Walls is tied for sixth all-time in interceptions with 57.

B) He tallied 11 interceptions in 1981. No one has done that since. (And he was on pace for 13 in the strike-shortened 1982 season, with seven in nine games.)

C) He picked off 18 balls in his first 25 regular-season games. Read that line again, please.

D) He's the only corner to lead the NFL in interceptions three times. Ed Reed is the only player to do it otherwise. (In related news: Reed will breakdance into the Hall next year.)

E) Walls intercepted six passes for the '90 Giants and won a Super Bowl ring in the process.

F) Twenty-six of his 34 picks from 1981 to 1985 came in the first half of the season. What's that tell you? Quarterbacks no likey.

This will be Walls' last chance to be inducted into the Hall before entering the Seniors' abyss. Ditto for Joe Jacoby. That's why I think one of those two will be called on Saturday. Walls has quantifiable numbers that are easier to discern -- and momentum.

These 10 are in line to wait

For more on the rest of the modern-era finalists, check out this collection of defining plays and moments for all 15.

» Ty Law, cornerback: My guess is that Law will get the closest of these 10. Some feel that Jason Taylor stole his spot last year. Guess Law didn't steal enough balls for the offensively obsessed.

» Edgerrin James, running back: Edge could get closer than T.O. among offensive players, as more interested folks are realizing we have few prolific RBs (with longevity) coming down the pike.

» Terrell Owens, wide receiver: Too many no votes that won't be swayed, at least not this year. Fair or not, he's viewed as a team distraction as much as he's viewed as a dominant player.

» Alan Faneca, offensive guard: Can't keep a top guard of his era out forever.

» Steve Hutchinson, offensive guard: Of the same ilk as Faneca, Hutchinson is in his first year on the list. Waiting game.

» Isaac Bruce, wide receiver: A real dark-horse candidate for this class. His numbers are out of sight, and he authored the biggest catch in Super Bowl XXXIV.

» Brian Urlacher, linebacker: The embodiment of the rangy middle 'backer. Fantastic player, but he will wait a year.

» John Lynch, safety: Lynch has been down this finalist road a few times (five). Sometimes these guys have a better chance when they first come up. Dawkins will go in first. Next year: Reed. 2020?

» Kevin Mawae, center: Like Bruce, Mawae could sneak in on the merits of a long, quality career. Center is a tough gig on the field -- and in the field of Hall consideration.

» Joe Jacoby, offensive tackle: There was more of a push for Jacoby last year, unless I've misread the tea leaves.

A note on the senior and contributor candidates

This year, there are two senior finalists, Robert Brazile and Jerry Kramer. I don't see either having trouble getting enough votes. Brazile owns the requisite number of Pro Bowl and All-Pro nods to merit inclusion, especially with those who never saw him play and must trust the acclaim of his peers. He was an impact player on a run-the-football-play-defense-and-special teams Houston Oilers outfit that went to two straight AFC Championship Games. Kramer's name has been brought up so many times (like Art Monk's) by fans and media alike that I can't imagine the author of the most famous block in NFL history would falter this late in the process.

As for the contributor candidate, Bobby Beathard's resume is so ridiculous that he should strut into Canton with a surfboard in hand. In fact, he had a hand in building seven Super Bowl teams. Seven!

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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