Sensitivity is an ancillary topic of discussion this week, as fans and Pro Football Hall of Fame voters often have deep feelings about who should (or will) be getting inducted in Canton. If you aren't aware, or literally haven't read one thing not XLVIII- or Justin Bieber-related, the Class of 2014 will be announced Saturday night before the "3rd Annual NFL Honors."
As a reminder, there are 15 modern-day finalists: Morten Andersen, Jerome Bettis, Derrick Brooks, Tim Brown, Eddie DeBartolo Jr., Tony Dungy, Kevin Greene, Charles Haley, Marvin Harrison, Walter Jones, John Lynch, Andre Reed, Will Shields, Michael Strahan and Aeneas Williams. Of those 15, a maximum of five can be selected.
Last year at this time, I put out two faux ballots (as an NFL Media employee I am not eligible to be a voter). The first was who I thought would get in, and the second was who I thought should get in. Two issues emerged. First of all, it turns out I'm not exactly Hall Nostradamus, as I left Cris Carter off both lists. (After six years as a finalist, his name finally got called.) Secondly, I had Michael Strahan on the "would" list and Warren Sapp on the "should" list. Turns out it was the other way around. Strahan missed the cut, while Sapp joined Carter, Larry Allen, Jonathan Ogden and Bill Parcells in Canton -- with senior candidates Curley Culp and Dave Robinson rounding out the Class of 2013.
At the end of the day, the voters got it right. Sapp played a much more difficult position for amassing numbers -- on the interior of the defensive line -- than Strahan. And Sapp was the centerpiece of a top-flight defense: the "Tampa 2" Bucs. It was certainly a close call, though. So close, that Strahan is easily on my "ballot" for this year.
On that note, I'm only supplying one list this year. The five guys who deserve to be in the Hall are the five guys I'm predicting to make it:
Brooks, an 11-time Pro Bowl selection, is a slam dunk. Ditto for Jones, whom I ranked as the top candidate back in the semifinalist phase. He's a can't-miss and one of the best to ever play his position. Harrison has some sordid off-the-field allegations swirling, but if we're talking about what he did on the field, there is no way his numbers aren't Hall-worthy. His 143-catch campaign in 2002 still stands as single-season record. So does Strahan's 22.5-sack effort in 2001. He logged 141.5 total (fifth all time) and also owns a Super Bowl ring. Many people were surprised he didn't make the grade last year.
Meanwhile, others continue to be shocked that Haley is on the outside looking in. As if being a defensive force for two championship franchises wasn't enough, Haley also has 100.5 sacks. He also has this one little stat no other player can claim: *five *Super Bowl rings. (Side note: How cool must that feel to be the only player who can say that ... in the world ... in the universe ... in the marble game the aliens play in "Men in Black"?)
Give it another year
Tony Dungy and Jerome Bettis are two guys who I could see getting in very soon -- like, next year. Dungy was an exceptional coach who I believe should make it based on his whole catalogue: winning a Super Bowl, winning 148 games in the NFL and being an innovator with the "Tampa 2" defensive scheme. His social impact as the first African-American head coach to win a Super Bowl is wonderful, but it's also a footnote that is not imperative to his candidacy, at least in my estimation.
As for Bettis, start rattling off the names of running backs coming down the pike who will have more than 13,000 yards rushing: LaDainian Tomlinson, maybe Adrian Peterson, and ... uhh ... nobody. At some point, and I believe that point to be 2015, his statistics as the NFL's sixth leading rusher of all time (13,662 yards) will be hard to ignore.
Class of 2016
In an odd quirk of Hall of Fame accounting, some big names on the ledger now will be better than the first year-eligibles in two years. Essentially, 2016 might be the year that Tim Brown, Kevin Greene and Will Shields get the call. Brown has the fifth-most catches of all time (1,094), Greene has the third-most sacks (160), and Shields is tied for the third-most Pro Bowl appearances (12). #justsayin'
Down the line
John Lynch, Eddie DeBartolo Jr. and Andre Reed will all probably get in within the next three or four years, but I feel their cases are a little weaker. Lynch has the potential to have the best shot, with Brooks presumably being inducted Saturday and Sapp already being enshrined. You just know Brooks will talk about how important the safety was on those Bucs teams to the overall success of the Tampa 2 scheme. Dungy potentially getting in next year would only help Lynch's cause.
Reed has been discussed ad nauseum. At this point, the wide receivers stack up this way: 1) Harrison; 2a) Brown; 2b) Reed. Voters seem to be split on the latter two, and let's not forget that Terrell Owens will be eligible come 2016.
Aeneas Williams was one heckuva a player. Perhaps he's inducted in a weaker 2017 class (Tomlinson will be the only first-year lock). One of the best cover corners of his era, Williams -- who played the majority of his career with the Cardinals -- never won a Super Bowl, which affects his candidacy. Ditto for Andersen, who played the majority of his career with the Saints. He scored a ton of points and made a big kick in the 1998 NFC Championship Game, but he doesn't have the accuracy numbers or a Super Bowl ring -- unlike Adam Vinatieri, who made clutch kicks in multiple Super Bowls.
Quick thoughts on the two senior candidates
Long-time Raiders punter Ray Guy is up this year, and after hearing conversation about him on our Hall of Fame specials on NFL Network, I think a punter is finally making it -- just reading the tea leaves. I don't feel as strongly about Claude Humphrey, who is a finalist for the sixth time. Despite being a five-time First-Team All-Pro, buzz is not typically associated with a Falcons defensive end from the 1970s, unfortunately. That said, I think he deserves the honor, and admittedly, the Seniors candidates are always tougher to forecast.