Missing the cut:
All of the above players enjoyed stellar careers, but I'm not sure any will make the Pro Football Hall of Fame during their 20 years of eligibility (before becoming potential seniors nominees).
The longest shot is Mecklenburg, who could play inside or outside at linebacker, as well as defensive end. Jacoby and Kenn were fantastic left tackles but not transcendent enough to leapfrog the other names on this list. Kenn lined up a staggering 17 seasons. Mawae also played forever (until he was 38), making eight Pro Bowls along the way. But how many in the voters' room are familiar with his career? Mills and Craig were extremely popular, the former for his leadership, while the latter was the kind of all-purpose running back who would succeed today. Craig was the first player to surpass 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in a season. Unfortunate that James, who carried the load on those early Peyton Manning teams, has been largely forgotten. The man had an absurd 881 touches his first two NFL seasons while leading the league in rushing both years.
The most relevant aspect of Holt's candidacy -- besides the fact it might be cannibalized by the presence of Isaac Bruce, who was also on those Rams teams -- is the dwindling respect for the bloated numbers of wideouts post-Y2K. Atwater is an intriguing player here, but to discuss the lack of safeties would be to go down a rabbit hole of a debate that is too complicated for this space. That Bruce posted 1,781 receiving yards (third-best single-season mark of all time) on 119 receptions in 1995 is mind-boggling, given that he had well-past-it quarterbacks Chris Miller and Mark Rypien throwing him the football.
Finalists, but years away from a bronze bust:
Two guys who were in the NFL a much shorter duration than Bruce (16 seasons) are Boselli (seven) and Johnson (nine), and that fact could hurt their candidacies. That both influenced the people coming behind them -- guys like Walter Jones and Bill Belichick -- makes them deserving, in my estimation, but I'm not seeing it this year.
Andersen certainly is no shoo-in either, considering he's a kicker. If he doesn't make it in the next five years, Adam Vinatieri might leapfrog him -- but my guess is that Andersen, who made a ton of big kicks in his career, will beat that deadline. Law needs to start getting some love. He has 53 career interceptions, plus six in the postseason. Three Super Bowl rings don't hurt, either. And finally, there is something to be said for longevity and winning, which is why Lynch is higher than some other players. He played 15 seasons, helping a defensively oriented Bucs team win Super Bowl XXXVII and contend for the playoffs every season. Still, safety is a tough road.
The 10 best candidates:
Talk about a guy who deserves more recognition. Faneca was a six-time first-team All-Pro who won one Super Bowl ring in Pittsburgh and made it to four conference championship games (three with the Steelers and one with the Jets). Will Shields, a guard who was enshrined this year, was named All-Pro just twice. He's the one player in my top 10 who might be on the outside looking in for years to come.
While Don Coryell didn't win any Super Bowls as head coach of the Cardinals and Chargers, he greatly altered the way the modern passing game operates. Building on the fundamentals of the legendary Sid Gillman (who is in the Hall of Fame), Coryell's easy-to-use numbering system and route trees -- and, more importantly, methods of implementation -- are still in use today. Going a step further, we can say the 1990s Cowboys won three Super Bowls with what was essentially Coryell's offense.
Terrell Davis is a Hall of Fame player. I don't care what any voter, fan or cynic says. If you average over 140 rushing yards per game in the playoffs versus top-flight competition, win a Super Bowl MVP award and a league MVP award, and were the best running back in the game when Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders and Marshall Faulk were still playing, then you reek of bronze. So Davis only played seven seasons, with four full healthy years. The Patriots have only won the Super Bowl four times. Does that mean they don't deserve props? Hate the longevity argument when it comes to Davis.
As with Davis, many league observers and fans have a gripe about Warner's consistency, specifically with regard to his mid-career lull from 2002 through 2006. But for starters, Warner wasn't healthy for a few of those years. Right in the heart of that slump, Warner had the starting job taken from him so the New York Giants could evaluate Eli Manning. Warner is one of only two quarterbacks to win a Super Bowl with one franchise before leading another to the Super Bowl. He was also voted NFL MVP twice. If you're the best player in the league twice over, aren't you Hall of Fame-caliber?
Greene has been a hard luck case for the Hall of Fame for several years running now, consistently getting left at the altar come the January induction announcement. The perception seems to be that despite his 160 career sacks, the former was more of a hired gun than an impact player who could contribute to a franchise's winning nucleus. Sure, old No. 91 played for four teams, including two tours with the Panthers, but he won everywhere he went. Besides, his time in pro football was heavily influenced by the Salary Cap era, so we had better get used to the idea of transient players as still great players.
You could make the claim that Pace was the best player at doing his job on that super Rams team in 1999. "The Greatest Show on Turf" doesn't take off without someone to protect Warner's blind side, especially considering the tough quarterback was known for standing in the pocket until the last second. If contemporaries Jonathan Ogden and Walter Jones were on par with Pace, and the other two are enshrined in Canton, then this argument is simple.
Tough to differentiate between Harrison and Terrell Owens. The case for Harrison revolves around consistent greatness. For eight straight seasons, he posted at least 1,100 receiving yards and 10 touchdown catches. Only Jerry Rice has managed that kind of sustained pace. Harrison also has a Super Bowl ring, something Owens can't claim.
Owens might not own a Lombardi Trophy like Harrison, but he could dominate a game. The fact is, these players are not far apart. T.O. ranks second all time in receiving yards with 15,934; Harrison is seventh with 14,580. T.O. ranks third in receiving touchdowns with 153; Harrison is fifth with 128. T.O. ranks sixth in receptions with 1,078; Harrison is third with 1,102. Owens accomplished all this with flair, while Harrison was quiet and steady. Both belong in Canton, regardless of the rising stats of today's WRs.
The man who turned around an entire franchise in Tampa Bay and won it all in Indianapolis will probably hear his name called this year. And if he doesn't, the silence does not speak to the quality of his career. In 13 seasons as a head coach, Dungy went to the playoffs 11 times, capturing the Lombardi Trophy in the 2006 season. That Super Bowl win is often attributed to Peyton Manning -- but exactly how many Super Bowls has Manning won sans Dungy? An overlooked achievement: Dungy's long tenure as an outstanding defensive assistant. If we're weighing the scope of a career, this is a no-brainer.
Without question, the top candidate for Hall induction has to be Brett Favre. Forget the records, or the fact that Peyton Manning only recently broke one of Favre's biggest ... Favre played all-out for 20 years, not missing a start until that 20th season, while reaching the pinnacle of his profession. Everyone knows about the consecutive-games streak, of course, but just think about how many backup quarterbacks have been forced into action in 2015 alone -- that should provide some laser perspective. Speaking of, Favre, the ultimate rubber arm this side of Nolan Ryan, could still hurl lasers at 40. In fact, he darn near won the NFL MVP award at 40. In his prime, he took home three straight MVP trophies while winning Super Bowl XXXI. His résumé is enough for two gold jackets -- and one fat celebration come August.