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Hall of Fame: Each AFC team's most deserving candidate

Why isn't Zach Thomas in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? John Lynch? Joe Klecko?

Well, because they all played on defense. Is that some $&%&? Oh. Wait. That's an article for another day. I will voice that grievance on Monday, when the Class of 2019 will be predicted in this space.

All those guys will be mentioned, in one way or another, as we plow through every franchise's most deserving candidate for Canton. This beast of a piece, all 5,000 words of it (when you combine the NFC and the AFC), gets to a lotttt more names, too, beyond each team's player. Then again, if you have the patience to read that many words, perhaps you should jump headfirst into "The Iliad."

However, if you are a history junky, or if you were pissed Terrell Owens didn't get inducted into the Hall the minute he walked off the field with the Bengals (his fifth team), then you will really geek out over this. Because all of the players listed own a legitimate gripe as to why they haven't been discussed seriously by the voters, much less inducted.

Here is the AFC. You can find the list for the NFC here. So take a gander and let me know your take on these Hall of Fame matters ... @HarrisonNFL is the place.

BALTIMORE RAVENS: Ed Reed, S, 2002-2012. Reed becomes eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2019. He should moonwalk right through the front door. No waiting period. "Do not pass go, do not collect $200." Reed belongs among the very best to ever play the position. In my mind, the former Ravens safety is among the top 10 greatest defensive players ever, irrespective of position. He is the only safety to ever lead the NFL in interceptions three times. Everson Walls, who also deserves Hall of Fame mention, is the only other player to pull off that feat. Defensive Player of the Year ... Super Bowl champ ... what else do you want?

BUFFALO BILLS: Steve Tasker, WR/KR, 1986-1997. Mike Stratton, the great linebacker from the Bills championship teams of the mid-'60s, deserves to have his name here. Kent Hull is another deserving candidate. Tasker, the elite special teams player in NFL history, needs no other sentences written or typed about him to merit his inclusion in Canton. If there are three phases of the game, then Tasker was THE third phase in the late 1980s and '90s. Tasker started his career as a WR/KR for the Oilers, yet it was in Buffalo where his career took off, be it covering kicks or blocking them. While Tasker never became a top receiver in Buffalo, plenty of his teammates have said he could've been, and that, at times, he was uncoverable in practice. The main point with Tasker is that nobody ever debates who the top special teams player was ... if you were the best, you belong in Canton, yes? Unless we've all been sold a bill of goods on the importance of special teams all these years.

CINCINNATI BENGALS: Ken Anderson, QB, 1971-1986. Believe it or not, the Bengals have a whole host of deserving players for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Cincinnati is one of the more underrepresented teams in the Hall. Maybe it's due to the success of the Reds in the '70s, even though the Bengals were a solid team in the early- to mid-'70s. The football team went downhill right around the time music of that era did, but not before Anderson was drafted and led the NFL in passing. Anderson would go on to pace the league in passer rating four times, win league MVP in 1981, take the Bengals to the Super Bowl, and then set a completion percentage record in 1982 (now held by Drew Brees). Anderson was always a sneaky scrambler, as well. If he's not your dish, then how about Lemar Parrish, Ken Riley or the best tight end in the AFL, Bob Trumpy?

CLEVELAND BROWNS: Mac Speedie, WR, 1946-1952. Unless you are a voracious reader of NFL history, you probably haven't heard of Speedie. The former split end was a key piece on those elite Paul Brown teams in the 1940s and '50s. You want to talk about a gold-star resume? Try this on for size ... in seven short years, Speedie played in seven championship games, winning four of them. He led the league in receptions four times. He was the receiving yards leader twice. He was one of the first players to record a 1,000-yard season, and he pulled it off twice. He was named All-Pro three of the AAFC's four seasons (the NFL assimilated three AAFC teams, including Cleveland), then made the Pro Bowl two of his three years in the new-look NFL.

DENVER BRONCOS: Pat Bowlen, owner, 1984-present. The Broncos have as much right to complain about the Hall of Fame process as any other organization. Any number of former players should/could hear their names called ... Randy Gradishar, Steve Atwater, Louis Wright, Rich "Tombstone" Jackson, Karl Mecklenberg and Lionel Taylor were all premier players, and any one of them is as quality as some of the guys who have busts in Canton right now. The vote for Bowlen is a nod to the role ownership has played in the growth of the game, and in Bowlen's case, the television component of the NFL's popularity. Central to the success of a franchise is the ability to put the right people in the right positions to build a football team from the ground up. Bowlen's team made it to seven Super Bowls, winning three of them. With his health issues well-documented, many folks around the organization, including CEO Joe Ellis and GM John Elway, have clamored for Bowlen's candidacy now. Guessing it will happen next year.

HOUSTON TEXANS: Andre Johnson, WR, 2003-2014. Well, Johnson is not eligible for the Hall of Fame yet. We have to cheat on this selection, though, as no other former Texan is close to Canton material (no, Ed Reed's cup of coffee in Houston doesn't count). Johnson won't be on the ballot until 2022. He should have a solid chance, with over 1,000 career catches and over 14,000 career receiving yards. There was a time in the late 2000s when Johnson was the best player at his position in the NFL -- shouldn't that be the criteria for receiving a gold jacket? Johnson never played with a top-shelf quarterback, either. Yet he still posted three seasons over 1,500 yards, and another over 1,400.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: Edgerrin James, RB, 1999-2005. James will not be in this article next time around. I've spoken to a couple of voters who say he's getting closer. With so few Hall-worthy running backs coming down the pike (Adrian Peterson, Frank Gore?), those who cover the league are starting to appreciate Edge more. Of all the numbers the former Colts tailback racked up, perhaps none are more impressive than the 881 total touches collected in his first two seasons. Think about that workload, especially with all the running back-committee crap we suffer through now. James led the NFL in rushing each of his first two seasons. Only Jim Brown, Earl Campbell and Eric Dickerson can make that claim. Four times, he rushed for at least 1,500 yards. No player has done it since ... not Peterson, LaDainian Tomlinson, nobody.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: Tony Boselli, OT, 1995-2001. The Jaguars surprisingly can boast several former players who are Hall-worthy. Fred Taylor rushed for over 11,000 yards. Jimmy Smith was a top route runner who put up gaudy numbers, despite dealing with mediocre quarterback play the back half of his career. The choice for this franchise, though, must be Boselli, who was considered the top player at his position for several seasons. Boselli didn't enjoy the lengthy career that Taylor and Smith did, yet he was a standout performer almost immediately who was only stopped by injuries -- not declining skills. In only seven years, Boselli made five Pro Bowls and was named first-team All-Pro three times. Dominating the great Bruce Smith in his first playoff game doesn't hurt, either.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Tony Gonzalez, TE, 1997-2008. The most deserving Chief for the Hall of Fame will be the next Chief in the Hall of Fame, and announced, oh, about six months from now. Gonzalez was widely considered to be the premier tight end in pro football, based on his unparalleled productivity at the position for the better part of two decades. He is to tight end what Jerry Rice is to wide receiver and Bruce Smith is to defensive end. Putting his candidacy aside, Deron Cherry is another Kansas City great who has been unfortunately forgotten among the elite safeties in league history. Albert Lewis, Cherry's teammate and the finest punt-blocker the game has ever known, was as well. Minority opinion: Priest Holmes deserves serious consideration, even if his career crescendo only lasted three years. Brian Waters, he of University of North Texas "Mean Green" fame, is another (OK, maybe not fame, but it is my alma mater).

Legitimate senior candidate: Johnny Robinson, S, 1963-1971. Robinson was a ballhawk in centerfield for the Hank Stram Chiefs, and so respected that he was named first-team All-AFL each of his last five seasons in that league, then first-team All-Pro after the first year of the merged NFL. Robinson is also the only player to lead both leagues in interceptions, picking off 10 balls both seasons. Perhaps most impressive, Robinson played on offense his first two years. He was a pretty darn good flanker, too, finishing seventh in the AFL in scrimmage yards in 1960.

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS: Walt Sweeney, OG, 1963-1973: Another standout AFL player, like Robinson above, was Sweeney. The former Chargers guard made a combined nine AFL All-Star games and AFC-NFC Pro Bowls. Sweeney never missed a game for San Diego, and in his 13-year career, he missed one ... his final season in Washington. Sweeney was a key member of the Chargers squads that went to the AFL title game in 1963, 1964 and 1965, starting in the last two (he was a rookie in '63). After the AFL and NFL merged, Sweeney's peers thought enough of him to vote him into the next three Pro Bowls from 1970 to '72. Some other highly eligible names for this franchise: running back Paul Lowe, tackle Russ Washington, defensive end Earl Faison, defensive tackle Ernie Ladd, and safety Rodney Harrison.

MIAMI DOLPHINS: Zach Thomas, LB, 1996-2007. Most players who were first-team All-Pros five times in recent decades are considered shoo-ins for the Hall of Fame. Yet, there are many players who currently reside in Canton and can't even claim three or four, much less the five Thomas earned during a stellar 13-year career. For example: Michael Strahan, Warren Sapp and Aeneas Williams don't own that many first-team All-Pro accolades. Jason Taylor, who made it in last year, was named All-Pro three times. Ah, but he has sack numbers. Unfortunately, that's what voters -- and, to a larger extent, the youth movement in the voters' room -- look for. Sacks jump off the page; steady middle linebackers win games. The three best pure Mike backers of the last 20 years were Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher and Thomas. You know what the first two have in common.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Ty Law, CB, 1995-2004. Big ol' David Baker is going to rap on Law's door, and my guess is that it happens next year. Law has gotten close in the voting process. After being named a semifinalist three years in a row, Law inched a step closer to being inducted last year. Law picked off 53 passes during his brilliant career, while leading the NFL in that category twice. Throw in six more in the postseason and three Super Bowl rings, and you have a Hall of Fame resume. Not to mention, very few corners in this age of dink-and-dunk-until-you-drop will be retiring with anywhere near 53 picks.

NEW YORK JETS: Joe Klecko, DL, 1977-1987. Klecko is the most deserving of the Jets not in the Hall of Fame. That's quite a compliment, considering defensive end Gerry Philbin and tackle Winston Hill, two top players from the Super Bowl III team, are waiting for their turn with the Seniors Committee. Mark Gastineau, Klecko's partner on the defensive line and the real holder of the sack record, is also waiting. We can argue about the Favre phantom sack. What bears no argument is Klecko's place among the finest defensive linemen of his era. Like Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, another elite player from the 1980s, Klecko could play any position along the line ... at a high level, too. Klecko not only started at DE, DT and on the nose, he made the Pro Bowl at each position. In 1981, he helped New York get back to the postseason for the first time in 12 years when he collected 20 sacks and a first-team All-Pro nod from his defensive end spot. His second All-Pro honor came as the top NT in football, when his versatility was key in the Jets making the playoffs in 1985. A truly underrated player he was. -- Yoda

OAKLAND RAIDERS: Todd Christensen, TE, 1979-88. After much deliberation, I decided the Raider who should be discussed most fervently for the Hall of Fame is Christensen. Fans of the Silver and Black undoubtedly mouthed "Cliff Branch" in the last sentence. He was indeed special and one of the top eight or nine wide receivers in the 1970s. What sets Christensen apart is that, from 1983 to '86, he was numero uno at his position. While his career catalogue isn't as lengthy or blingy as that of his former teammate, who played 14 years and won three Super Bowl rings, Christensen was a part of two Super Bowl winners and enjoyed a prime that was as prolific as that of any tight end in history. From 1982 to 1987, Christensen averaged 5.2 catches for 65.5 yards and .46 touchdowns per game. Put another way: Over 16 games, that's 83 catches, 1,048 yards and seven touchdowns per year. Those are huge numbers now. And this was in the '80s, when Jimmy Graham would have gotten crushed on those high balls over the middle.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Donnie Shell, S, 1974-1987. So many Steelers from the 1970s reside in the Hall of Fame that adding another one seems anticlimactic at best, low hanging fruit at worst. Shell's prime came after Pittsburgh got old, making the playoffs here and there in the '80s but never approaching the dynasty status the Steelers achieved a decade prior. From 1979 through 1984, Shell intercepted an impressive 34 passes, even with the players' strike in '82 that cost every player seven games. Shell was named All-Pro three times during that period, joining Ronnie Lott, Kenny Easley and Deron Cherry as the most well-known safeties of the era. Tony Dungy has been outspoken in his support for Shell's candidacy. The voters' room?

TENNESSEE TITANS: Charley Hennigan, WR, 1960-66. Charley who? I first remember reading about Hennigan when I was a kid, right around the time Art Monk broke the NFL record for receptions in a single season (106) back in 1984. When the former Redskins wideout -- a Hall of Fame wideout -- caught his 102nd pass that season, it beat a mark that had stood for 20 years -- Hennigan's record, to be precise. So many of the great pass catchers of the AFL have been left out in the cold when it comes to post-career honors. This includes Raiders legend Art Powell, Broncos end Lionel Taylor and former Jets flanker (and author) George Sauer Jr. But none of them ever had a year like Hennigan's 1964 campaign for the Houston Oilers, forerunners of the Titans. All he did was catch 101 passes for 1,546 yards, the third-highest total of any receiver pre-1980. Lance Alworth, who is in the Hall of Fame, owns the second-highest figure at 1,602 yards in 1965. No. 1? That man Hennigan again, with a whopping 1,746 yards in 1961. And he did it in only 14 contests, with his yards-per-game total -- 124.7 -- topping Calvin Johnson's average from his record-breaking 2012 campaign.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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