Class of 2017
This selection is clearly a no-brainer. Tomlinson is the definition of a first-ballot Hall of Famer. From 2001 to '07, he was either the best running back in the entire league or at least in the discussion. He set records (31 total touchdowns in '06), was versatile (100 receptions in '03) and had ample longevity (11 years) -- all of which are key to being a first-year enshrinee.
Williams finally gets the phone call. The other dominant cornerback of the '90s is often overlooked. Unfortunately, playing in the same era as Rod Woodson and Deion Sanders (two of the best CBs ever) will do that to a guy. Thing is, Williams was as good as almost every other cornerback in the Hall -- thus, he belongs. Troy Aikman called Williams the toughest corner he ever played against. That's sayin' something.
Lynch might not be a shoo-in, but he will make it sooner rather than later. Traditionally, playing safety has been a difficult way to make it into the Hall -- there are only eight pure safeties enshrined in Canton, with some truly great players, like Johnny Robinson and Cliff Harris, sitting outside. Lynch's popularity -- combined with his Super Bowl XXXVII win in Tampa Bay and prominent mention from 2013 enshrinee Warren Sapp -- should push him over the edge at some point. We're thinking 2017 for the hard-hitting safety.
Reed's candidacy is a topic of great debate, with the most prominent argument centering on his career stats, which fall short of those put up by many contemporaries. His detractors point to the fact that he never posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, while his supporters shoot back that adverse weather conditions in Buffalo curtailed his numbers. There is no question that Reed was a clutch player for most of his career, but will that be enough for voters to overlook that he was arguably the fourth-best player on a team that lost four consecutive Super Bowls? The thinking here is yes, though it's going to take awhile -- especially with Marvin Harrison (2014), Tim Brown (2016) and Terrell Owens (2016) getting in first.
The former owner of the San Francisco 49ers takes his place among the greats of the game, despite the feeling from some media and fans that there should be a special wing at the Hall for these guys. Owners are as big a part of the game as the players -- maybe even bigger -- and this particular owner inherited an organization that had never participated in an NFL Championship Game/Super Bowl. In 23-plus seasons, DeBartolo's clubs played in (and won) five Super Bowls.
If we take in yet another year of 5,000-yard passers or see another team blow through the playoffs on the strength of its aerial attack (à la the Baltimore Ravens last season), don't be surprised to hear Coryell's name bubble up on the Seniors Committee vote. Along with Bill Walsh, Coryell's stamp is all over the modern passing game, particularly with regard to the route-tree numbering system still used today by many notable coaches, including Norv Turner and Jason Garrett. In fact, the Cowboys won three Super Bowls in the 1990s with Coryell's schemes on offense.
Class of 2018
Come on. Like him or not, Lewis does his weird, squatty explosion dance thingy on the stage in Canton in 2018 -- just like he did coming out of the tunnel for so many years. The off-the-field distractions and trial of 2000 will have no effect here.
Please see Ray Lewis' section. Irrespective of your thoughts on Moss, he's getting into the Hall of Fame right out of the gate. He ranks third all time in receiving yards (15,292) and second in touchdown grabs (156). And the fact that he was pro football's most exciting receiver -- or player? -- for several years factors in. Moss destroyed NFL defenses from the very first day he stepped on the field, catching two touchdown passes on a vaunted Bucs defense (that featured Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and John Lynch) in his first NFL game.
Another first-ballot guy, Hutchinson adds to a pretty darn impressive Class of 2018. From the early 2000s through his first season in Minnesota in 2006, Hutchinson might have been the best offensive lineman in pro football. Shaun Alexander rushed for 3,576 yards and 43 touchdowns in Hutchinson's last two seasons with the Seahawks. In Alexander's next two seasons in Seattle -- sans Hutch -- the running back's combined numbers dropped precipitously to 1,612 yards and 11 scores -- that's a drop-off of nearly 2,000 yards and 32 TDs. Please don't cite injuries as the culprit here. Hutchinson and offensive tackle Walter Jones were the most formidable left side in pro football -- period.
The hits just keep on coming in the Class of 2018. If Lewis, Moss, Hutchinson and Urlacher all earn first-ballot nods, this Hall group could be one of the best ever -- right up there with the Class of 1993 (Chuck Noll, Walter Payton, Bill Walsh, Dan Fouts and Larry Little). Urlacher manned the middle in Chicago for 13 seasons, headlining a team that was always stronger on the defensive side of the ball. He was the second-best middle linebacker of his era. (Bearing in mind that Lewis was No. 1, ranking second ain't so bad.)