NFL Network's "Pro Football Hall of Fame: The First Cut" revealed the 25 semifinalists for the Class of 2014 on Wednesday night. This leads to one obvious question: Who will end up actually wearing a gold jacket? Well, I'm glad you asked. Here are my thoughts on the semifinal field:
Certifiable Class of 2014 Hall of Famers
These three should headline the official announcement of the Class of 2014 on Feb. 1, the day before Super Bowl XLVIII. Many in the media were shocked when Strahan didn't make the Class of 2013 as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He holds the single-season sack record (22.5), an achievement that earned him the 2001 Defensive Player of the Year award. Brooks earned that hardware in 2002, and like Strahan has a Super Bowl ring.
Meanwhile, Jones is one of the top five left tackles in the history of the game. He essentially went out on top, making the Pro Bowl in each of the final eight seasons of his illustrious career.
Likely Class of 2014 Hall of Famers
Harrison: Next 50 Hall of Famers
What does the future hold for the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Elliot Harrison predicts the next 50 members. More ...
There are logjams at some positions (see: wide receiver), but that's just not the case when it comes to pass rushers, so Haley should -- finally -- get in. Given Strahan's popularity on and off the field, he is a bit of an anomaly -- therefore, I don't think he'll interfere with Haley and his 100.5 sacks getting the nod. Haley has been a finalist every year since 2010. And with Jimmy Johnson's name coming up this year, those early-'90s Cowboys championship teams will be thrown around quite a bit. Many feel Haley made all the difference in Dallas.
Harrison rounds out my list of five modern-era Hall of Famers for the Class of 2014. Remember, voters are not supposed to consider off-the-field stuff, so Harrison's mysterious and allegedly sordid actions shouldn't derail his candidacy. His 1,102 catches rank third all time and he won a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts. Most importantly, he might've been the best wideout in football in the early-to-mid-2000s.
Hall of Famers ... but they'll wait a year or three
Dungy could very well make it over Haley this year, but the question remains: How elite of a head coach was he? Yes, he was the first African-American coach to win it all, and yes, he's a great guy. However, one Lombardi Trophy -- and numerous early playoff exits -- does not automatically translate to first-ballot status.
Bettis and Shields both were well-versed in old-school football -- i.e., running the rock. I always say, if Curtis Martin is in, Bettis should be, too. Thinking 2015 is the year for "The Bus." It should be noted, however, that I know of a couple voters who are of the mindset that Bettis merely is a Hall of Very Gooder. Shields was a helluva blocker up front: Kansas City rushed for over 2,000 yards in each of his last three seasons, then dropped to 1,248 after he retired. Shields also made 12Pro Bowls.
Brown and Greene should get the nod by 2016. So much has been said and written about Brown and his 1,000-plus receptions. Like Haley, he's been a finalist four years in a row, and will make it eventually. Greene's sack total (160) is just too big to ignore. Also, he was a key cog for four different organizations, all of which made the conference championship game while he was on the roster.
Could go either way ... but either way, they'll have to wait
Like Art Monk before him, Reed has a mafia in his corner: The Bills Mafia. We're talking about an avalanche of public support, enough to push those on-the-fence voters over the top. Though it clearly bothers some voters that Reed would be the fifth '90s Bill to make it to Canton (after Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas and Marv Levy).
In the interest of full disclosure, I originally thought Johnson would not make it into the Hall by 2021 -- if ever. I've changed my mind, mostly due to how many head coaches -- including Bill Belichick -- consider him a guru. All of the other former head coaches who won back-to-back Super Bowls (Vince Lombardi, Don Shula and Chuck Noll) are enshrined. His Cowboy teams throttled Levy's Bills in those two Super Bowls. Levy was inducted in 2001 ...
Coryell -- in many ways, the father of the modern passing game -- is another coach who will eventually make it. "Air Coryell" featured route trees and a simplified, quarterback-friendly system that many teams still use at least portions of today. (Johnson's Cowboys ran the Coryell offense under Norv Turner ... who was a disciple of former Chargers offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese ... who was a disciple of Coryell.)
Rounding out this group of potential enshrinees: DeBartolo Jr. and two Broncos (well, sort of) in Lynch and Davis. There's no getting around DeBartolo's track record -- his five Super Bowl wins as the primary owner of a franchise is unmatched. (The Rooney family has won six.) Lynch has a ring with the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He also has the benefit of being known as one of the three building blocks of the famed "Tampa 2" defense, alongside Hall of Famer Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks. As for Davis, the man was simply dominant. Who cares if it was only for four seasons and some change? A 2,000-yard season, an MVP award, two Super Bowl rings (and one Super Bowl MVP) -- that's a Hall-worthy assortment of skins on the wall.
Not for the foreseeable future
OK, we're not saying these guys aren't deserving. They're just facing an uphill battle because they will be competing against a) the backlog of current semifinalists who don't make it this time and b) the guys coming down the pike, like Terrell Owens, Brett Favre and LaDainian Tomlinson.
That said, I once heard Troy Aikman say Williams was the best corner he ever played against. Considering Aikman also faced Darrell Green and Deion Sanders, that's enough for me. With the dearth of premier corners, 2017 or '18 sounds about right for Williams.
Harrison: The All-Hall Team
To celebrate the Pro Football Hall of Fame turning 50, Elliot Harrison picks a team made up of Canton's finest inductees. More ...
Andersen might be one of the greatest kickers ever, but he's a kicker. How many voters will take him over, say, Tim Brown? Tagliabue and Young face similar problems. Tagliabue served as commissioner in an era of incredible growth in the NFL (1989-2006) -- yet does a voter go with him or Kevin Greene and his 160 sacks? And Young, despite molding two Super Bowl teams in the 1986 and 1990 Giants, was a general manger. GMs are more known to the masses these days with the news cycle being what it is, but that wasn't the case in Young's day. Thus, it's difficult to see his name surging to HOF-lock status.
Jacoby was a two-time All-Pro on uber-successful Redskins team. He also has three Super Bowl rings. Thus, Jacoby has a better shot than Steve Wisniewski (see below), despite the latter being invited to more Pro Bowls and only missing two games his entire career. Mecklenburg could make it, but it will be very, very tough with linebackers like Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher on the horizon. To be perfectly frank, I just don't see it happening for one of the most versatile defenders of the '80s, but Mecklenburg has a better shot than his teammate, Steve Atwater ...
Hall of Very Good
We just mentioned Wisniewski above ... If Tim Brown is having trouble making the Hall, how does that Raiders team get in an offensive lineman? Ditto their former teammate, Roger Craig. OK, Craig was only a Raider for one season, and he surpassed 1,000 yards both rushing and receiving for the 49ers in 1985, but he likely will be on the outside looking in. Bettis has yet to make it. Ricky Watters and Tiki Barber can't get a whiff. All of their numbers surpass Craig's.
Lastly, and perhaps sadly, the odds just aren't in Atwater's favor. If you want your kid to be inducted into Hall of Fame, tell him to not play safety -- there are a grand total of eight true safeties enshrined in Canton. Personally, I loved Atwater's game. Yet the ferocious hitter out of Arkansas logged just 24 career picks. He's a classic Senior Committee candidate.