The 15 modern-era finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2016 are as follows (presented in alphabetical order): Morten Andersen, Steve Atwater, Don Coryell, Terrell Davis, Tony Dungy, Alan Faneca, Brett Favre, Kevin Greene, Marvin Harrison, Joe Jacoby, Edgerrin James, John Lynch, Terrell Owens, Orlando Pace and Kurt Warner. NFL Media historian Elliot Harrison breaks down the hopefuls below. For more on Seniors Committee finalist Ken Stabler, click here; for more on fellow Seniors Committee finalist Dick Stanfel, click here; for more on contributor finalist Eddie DeBartolo Jr., click here.
Brett Favre: If there's one guy who is assured a spot in Canton this year, it's Favre. Peyton Manning has begun the Imperial assault on Favre's records, but for the former Packer great, legacy is not about empty numbers. In voters' minds, all that matters are the three straight league MVP awards, 297 straight regular-season starts at quarterback and, of course, one Lombardi Trophy. That his regular-season record as a starting quarterback was 186-112 doesn't hurt, either.
The other top candidates
Note: Here are the six candidates I feel have the best chance of joining Favre in the group of modern-era finalists (there can be a maximum of five inducted), presented in alphabetical order:
Tony Dungy: People seem to be split on Dungy's candidacy. Some feel that the former Buccaneers and Colts coach's influence on society as a winning African-American head coach, author, leader of men and character guy makes him a shoo-in. I've heard my colleagues say they would take former Cowboys and Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson over Dungy any day. To me, Dungy's candidacy is about the entire scope of his career. He was an outstanding assistant for years, the man who turned the Tampa Bay franchise around, and the head coach who won a Lombardi Trophy while in Indianapolis (and he never missed the postseason while he was there, either).
Kevin Greene: Last year's group represented accounting work on the part of the voters -- that is to say, cleaning up old debts. Charles Haley, Tim Brown and Will Shields certainly deserved to be enshrined, and they waited a long time to get that phone call, as did Jerome Bettis. The one leftover from that group is Kevin Greene. With Junior Seau making it in on the first ballot, no room was left for his contemporary at linebacker. All good. Greene's 160 career sacks are going to be almost impossible to ignore again.
Marvin Harrison: When you post numbers like Marvin Harrison's, the "wide receiver logjam" argument becomes a tired one. Frankly, Harrison's résumé speaks for itself, regardless of position. His record for receptions in a single season (143, set in 2002) has survived the passing onslaught we've seen since. He has a Super Bowl ring. And he's the only man in NFL history to compile eight straight seasons of 1,000-plus receiving yards and 10-plus receiving touchdowns -- even the #GOAT never did that.
Terrell Owens: Like Harrison, T.O. is near the top of the charts in all the major career receiving categories: catches (sixth), receiving yards (second) and touchdown receptions (third). Only Jerry Rice is ahead of him in yards. Yet, unlike Harrison, he never played on a Super Bowl winner. There might be questions regarding Owens' being a distraction in the locker room, and for valid reason. It's hard to argue that he made the teams he played on during his prime a lot better.
Orlando Pace: Outside of Favre, Pace is as strong a candidate as every player on the finalist list. The former Ram was another of the mammoth left tackles of the 1990s, a player who dominated the best pass rushers of the era. Jonathan Ogden and Walter Jones are already in, so it shouldn't be long for the "Greatest Show on Turf's" greatest pass protector.
Kurt Warner: So much has been said about Warner's mid-career lull that I think people forget what a fantastic quarterback Warner was. He was voted the NFL's MVP twice (in 1999 and 2001) and was the MVP of Super Bowl XXXIV, in which the Rams beat the Titans. Those facts alone make him a worthy candidate, never mind his taking the Arizona Cardinals to the NFL's Sadie Hawkins following the 2008 campaign.
Don Coryell: A few years ago, it felt like Coryell couldn't get a whiff of Canton. Now he's a finalist two years running. Coryell was a dynamic innovator in the passing game, as important as Bill Walsh ... sans the Super Bowl wins.
Terrell Davis: Heard through the grapevine, in Canton last summer and since, that Davis has a legit shot at making the final cut this year, or, at least, in the next couple of years. This is Davis' second straight year as a finalist, and when a player like Davis makes it to the finalist group in consecutive years, it becomes a matter of "when," not "if." Yes, Davis' career arc was short. We get it. But those who question his legitimacy as an inductee should spin this around: Marshawn Lynch, who everyone considers a clutch playoff performer, averages 91.7 rushing yards per game in the postseason. Terrell Davis' career postseason average? 142.5 yards per game.
Will be there soon
Morten Andersen: This is the kicker's third time as a finalist, and given punter Ray Guy's inclusion in 2014, it's safe to say kickers and punters are getting respect and consideration. (Especially appropriate for Andersen, the game's all-time leading scorer.)
On the outside looking in
I have a hard time seeing Steve Atwater, Edgerrin James or Joe Jacoby making it this year. They are certainly the longest shots. James is the most convenient candidate to consider, as the elements of his résumé (he has more than 15,000 scrimmage yards, was a two-time rushing champ and won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award in 1999) jump off the page. Atwater will always be remembered for the way he played, knocking the snot out of opponents. Just ask Christian Okoye. Or Robert Brooks. And Joe Jacoby, the mammoth left tackle on the infamous "Hogs" that paved the way to three Lombardi Trophies for the Redskins, held his own against top pass rushers. The competition is simply too stiff this year for any of these three great -- not good; great -- players.
A note on the Seniors Committee nominees
Ken Stabler and Dick Stanfel are the candidates chosen by the Seniors Committee, and will not count against the maximum of five modern-era nominees allowed per class. I've heard Stabler has as strong a shot as anyone. I would be shocked if the 1974 NFL MVP and the man who produced 1976's best passer rating failed to make it. Stanfel was a member of the 1950s All-Decade team and a starter on the dominant Lions teams of 1952 and 1953. ("Dominant" and "Lions" in the same sentence? No sarcasm. ...) You can read more about Stabler here and Stanfel here.