The 15 modern-era finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2019 are as follows (presented in alphabetical order): Steve Atwater, Champ Bailey, Tony Boselli, Isaac Bruce, Don Coryell, Alan Faneca, Tom Flores, Tony Gonzalez, Steve Hutchinson, Edgerrin James, Ty Law, John Lynch, Kevin Mawae, Ed Reed, Richard Seymour.
NFL.com's Elliot Harrison breaks down the hopefuls' chances of enshrinement below.
Tony Gonzalez, tight end: Gonzalez is going to walk right into Canton, past the gift shop, won't stop to collect $200 when he passes go -- all on the first ballot. Mark it down. As the NFL tight end, generally speaking, has become more of a passing-game weapon -- and less of a run-blocking component -- Gonzalez is often cited as the prototype. He was the floppy disk before the remote hard drive. Except he was hard enough to go over the middle, go up for the football and play the position like an all-around athlete. Being the position's all-time leader in receptions (1,325) and yards (15,127) doesn't hurt, either.
Ed Reed, safety: There are those who feel Ed Reed is the best pure safety of the modern, modern era. Put another way: Post-Ronnie Lott, he's the man. Reed was known for playing a rangy center field and jumping routes. Or, when called upon, sticking a running back near the box. With 64 career interceptions and nine defensive touchdowns, Reed was instant offense on defense. The 2004 AP Defensive Player of the Year was known for owning an immense football IQ, which allowed him to discern formations and play evolvement far before things unfolded. Guess I feel like those mentioned in the first sentence of this blurb.
Strong candidates for this year
Champ Bailey, cornerback: Not sure if Bailey will make it this year -- my final Class of 2019 prediction will come in a few weeks -- but outside of Gonzalez and Reed, his chances are as strong (or stronger) than anyone. Tell you what: There aren't many players, much less corners, coming down the pike with 12 Pro Bowls and 52 interceptions on the resume. In the 2005 and '06 seasons alone, the guy snagged 18 picks, with a bunch of them coming when opponents were in the red zone.
Isaac Bruce, wide receiver: Bruce has come awfully close to enshrinement the past couple of years. What's keeping this Rams great out of the Hall of Fame? Some speculate that the logjam at wide receiver over the years is a product of overinflated passing numbers from the NFL's last few decades. Perhaps. Yet, you'd think Bruce -- who boasts more than 1,000 career catches and sits pretty at fifth all-time in receiving yards (15,208) -- could transcend that argument. Not to mention that he grabbed a Kurt Warner moonball to win Super Bowl XXXIV. I still contend that Bruce's 1995 season -- when he caught 119 balls for 1,781 yards and 13 touchdowns, with mediocre (at best!) quarterback play -- is the greatest single-season effort by any wideout in NFL history.
Edgerrin James, running back: Edge's candidacy has come leaps and bounds from where it was when he first became eligible. Voters and other league observers are realizing that with the further emphasis on airing it out every Sunday, the elite running backs with resumes to match are becoming shorter in supply. Outside of Adrian Peterson and Frank Gore, there aren't any guaranteed Hall of Fame running backs on the football horizon. James was unique in that he was phenomenal right out of the gate, leading the league in rushing during each of his first two years. Edge boasts 15,610 scrimmage yards, and is one of only four players to eclipse 1,500 yards rushing in a season four times. Walter Payton, Eric Dickerson and Barry Sanders are the other three. Uh, that's darn-good company.
Tom Flores, coach: Flores is widely known as a trailblazer, and what he did for Hispanic athletes and coaches remains unquestionably momentous, but he's so much more than that. Flores was a quarterback for the Raiders in the early days of the AFL. In fact, he led the American Football League in both completion percentage and passer rating in 1960. But the reason his name is here is because he coached the Silver and Black to a pair of Super Bowl wins in 1980 and '83, the last two Lombardi Trophies won by this proud franchise. Considering he took over for John Madden in 1979, Flores achieved the pinnacle of the sport quickly. Loved by his players, Flores has always been known for having tremendous class, which won't hurt his chances of becoming a member of the Class of 2019.
Richard Seymour, defensive lineman: Seymour belongs in this section because he came out of nowhere. Any time a guy unexpectedly pops up on the list of finalists -- especially a guy like Seymour, who was a large part (literally) of three Super Bowl-winning teams -- he becomes a hot item in the Hall of Fame process. For all the adulation of Tom Brady, those Patriots teams that won it all in 2001, '03 and '04 were actually more defense-oriented. Seymour doesn't own huge sack numbers, but he earned the respect of teammates and opponents alike for being able to play DE, DT or even on the nose, if need be. Like Edge, Seymour was solid right away, earning a Pro Bowl berth in his sophomore campaign, before receiving three straight first-team All-Pro nods.
Is this the year?
Steve Atwater, safety: If you have the answer to the question above, as it pertains to Steve Atwater, send me a tweet. The problem for Atwater is an annoying one: He was a devastating hitter in a sport that no longer rewards that style of play from the safety position. Does being an all-around fantastic player and starting in three Super Bowls (winning two) make up for that? It should.
Tony Boselli, offensive tackle: Like Atwater, Boselli has been waiting for the loud rap on his door from Hall prez David Baker for a while. Boselli's candidacy -- rather, the argument against him -- is silly. Everyone knows that the former Jags left tackle was dominant, but the gripe is that he didn't play a decade or whatever. Who gives a crap? If you were the premier player at your position for five years, that should be enough.
Don Coryell, coach: Coryell changed the game of pro football as we know it. The numbering system he used in the passing game -- greasing the skids for chalking up 30 points in a player-friendly structure -- is his legacy. Why should that be looked upon as any less important than the contributions of coaches who won a couple of Super Bowls? Coryell's offense was essentially the same "scheme" the Cowboys used to win three Super Bowls in the '90s. Dan Fouts and John Madden, both Hall of Famers, think Coryell should have been inducted a long time ago.
Alan Faneca, offensive guard: Faneca made only nine Pro Bowls. That's why his bronze likeness is not sitting in the bust room. Just kidding. Faneca was a devastating road grader, but the fact that he played guard -- as opposed to the more glamorous tackle position -- might be the thing keeping him on the outside looking in. Doesn't make sense to me, but that's just the truth.
Steve Hutchinson, offensive guard: Hutchinson's chances of having his number come up this February should not be underestimated. The former Seahawks and Vikings guard (we're not counting the Titans stint) was well known during his heyday as one of the league's top overall players, interior linemen or not. He and Walter Jones combined to provide Shaun Alexander holes that Antonio Brown's ego could fit through.
Ty Law, cornerback: Law has come quite close to making it past this final hurdle to induction, with a few voters telling me that his spot was taken by Jason Taylor a couple of years ago. If you believe a player had to be in the top three at his position group for several years in order to be a Hall of Famer, then Law should already be donning one of those custard jackets. (Sorry, they don't look gold.) Law's three picks vs. Peyton Manning in the 2003 AFC Championship Game were money. So were his 53 regular-season picks.
John Lynch, safety: Lynch has been through this process so many times that he probably finds being a general manager to be much less stressful. The current 49ers boss carries the same burden Atwater does: He was the kind of physical player -- sans the gaudy interception numbers -- that today's NFL no longer glorifies. While pro football has changed, mentally sharp safeties who could tackle were integral to winning in the '90s and early 2000s.
Kevin Mawae, center: Center is not the most popular position in football, and that sexy museum in Canton didn't get that way by enshrining a gaggle of pivots. Yet, there are enough voters in the room to vault the consistent Mawae to the finalists list multiple times. With two spots surely taken by Gonzalez and Reed, Mawae will have to squeeze in against some stiff competition.
Where are they?
Apologize for the brief rant, but the fact that Darren Woodson and Jimmy Johnson didn't make it this far sucks.
Woodson is the Cowboys' all-time leading tackler and was a huge part of three Super Bowl-winning teams. A first-team All-Pro in three straight seasons, Woodson was an incredible leader of men. Brian Urlacher -- the former, you know, BEARS linebacker -- says Woodson should undoubtedly be in the Hall of Fame. That's different than former teammates pining for each other. Woody, as he was known, routinely covered the slot as a safety. You think a few coaches today might enjoy that luxury? Well ...
... Johnson sure would. Actually, he was the guy who drafted Woodson from a pick he received in the Herschel Walker trade -- back when he was making every GM in the league rethink their draft strategy. Who cares if Johnson only won 80 regular-season games? He did so in nine years, while winning two Super Bowls, and was a better coach than anyone else in Miami since Don Shula. Yes, the '60s Packers, '70s Steelers and '80s 49ers were the teams of their respective decades. But why do they all get more folks in Canton than the team of the '90s? America's Team fatigue is real, people -- and really unfair.
Quick notes on the Seniors Committee/Contributor nominees
There is no way that Pat Bowlen or Gil Brandt get voted down in the Contributor category. Bowlen's name has come up for years, and given his deteriorating health, it will be shocking if the voters don't lend their support to his Hall candidacy. Bowlen bought the Broncos in 1984, and since that time, the organization has competed in seven Super Bowls, winning three. His work on the television committee -- and overall contributions to the league -- won't be ignored.
Brandt not only added value to the NFL, but he influenced the manner in which organizations across the league scouted and found talent. This included pioneering the use of IT in the world of player evaluation, while also going off the beaten path to acquire future Pro Bowlers -- like, for example, former basketball player Cornell Green, who became an All-Pro at corner for the Cowboys. Antonio Gates should send you a thank-you note, Gil. As should all those fans in Dallas with Drew Pearson football cards and shirtless Charlie Waters posters -- the Cowboys would have never made it to five Super Bowls without Brandt's penchant for uncovering talented prospects who became prime-time players. (I had all the Pearson football cards. Not the Waters poster.)
Lastly, Johnny Robinson is as deserving of being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as anyone listed in this entire article, perhaps more so. Robinson was a dynamic player. A productive receiver early in his career, Robinson switched to safety and became the greatest defensive back in the history of the AFL. (Only Willie Brown could challenge that claim.) Robinson led that league in interceptions in 1966. And when the AFL and NFL merged in 1970, he paced his new league in picks. The perennial All-Pro was a key cog in Hank Stram's team that crushed the Vikings in Super Bowl IV. Awesome selection from the Seniors Committee, with a special nod to Rick Gosselin, who has pushed Robinson's candidacy for years.