The Pro Football Hall of Fame will welcome five modern-era enshrinees as part of the Class of 2020 during NFL Honors on Saturday, Feb. 1. Be sure to tune into FOX at 8 p.m. ET/PT to see the announcement, and to learn the winners of The Associated Press awards. Before we discover which of the 15 modern-era finalists will be joining the already revealed Centennial Class, I've provided a predicted five-member group below.
I've already explained who who I think should get in, though I'm now doubtful (but still hopeful!) about Steve Atwater's lock status -- and Patrick Willis, one of my favorites from the list of semifinalists, wasn't even named a finalist, which is baffling. Like, is being a seven-time Pro Bowler and six-time All-Pro in eight seasons not enough for you guys?
At any rate, now it's time to take a closer look at who I believe will receive "the knock" from Pro Football Hall of Fame president David Baker.
Alan Faneca, offensive guard (Pittsburgh Steelers, 1998-2007; New York Jets, 2008-09; Arizona Cardinals, 2010): Faneca is in his fifth year of eligibility, and he's been a finalist each year. 2020 is when he finally breaks through. There are few linemen who were as dominant as he was during his 13-year NFL career. He was an All-Pro selection six times. Went to nine Pro Bowls. And he also was a member of the Hall of Fame's All-Decade Team of the 2000s. Finally, Faneca won Super Bowl XL with Pittsburgh, as did Troy Polamalu, about whom we will talk more in a minute. No spoilers, but if both Faneca and a certain long-haired ex-teammate of his both make it, go ahead and pencil in the Steelers for the Hall of Fame game.
Steve Hutchinson, offensive guard (Seattle Seahawks, 2001-05; Minnesota Vikings, 2006-2011; Tennessee Titans 2012): I have two linemen getting into the Hall this season, with Hutchinson being the second. He's in his third year of eligibility and has been a finalist each season. He played 12 seasons and started all 169 games in which he played. He was a five-time All-Pro selection and seven-time Pro Bowler. He, like Faneca, is a member of the All-Decade Team of the 2000s. Hutchinson also blocked for a 1,000-yard rusher in 11 of his 12 seasons (the leading rushers in each of his 12 seasons averaged 1,393 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns combined). Included in that group is Shaun Alexander, who scored 27 rushing touchdowns in 2005 and was selected as MVP. Hutchinson also played in Super Bowl XL as a member of the Seahawks.
Having two guards make the list means Tony Boselli waits another season. Boselli is a four-time finalist but played in just seven seasons with the Jaguars before a shoulder injury cut his career short. While he was a three-time All-Pro and a dominant player, I just feel like he takes a backseat to Faneca and Hutchinson. Boselli might eventually make it, but years of service seems to be a big thing with voters.
Edgerrin James, running back (Indianapolis Colts, 1999-2005; Arizona Cardinals, 2006-08; Seattle Seahawks, 2009): I know it's almost too convenient to pick James, who played football at Miami and went to Immokalee High School in Florida, to be announced at this particular edition of NFL Honors. But he has a strong case. He's a member of the NFL All-Decade Team of the 2000s. He had more than 1,000 scrimmage yards in eight of his first nine seasons. He is one of just two players (along with Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson) to have gained more than 2,000 scrimmage yards in each of his first two seasons in the league. And he was looking pretty good in his third before an ACL injury cut that season short. This is his fourth-time as a finalist and his sixth year of eligibility, and really, he should have been a first-ballot guy -- but the voters will get it right this year. I just hope they can resist the urge to wait for the Class of 2021, when he could go in with Peyton Manning. James deserves his own platform.
Another skill player who could have a chance is Torry Holt. There are two other receivers among the finalists (Isaac Bruce and Reggie Wayne) but I believe Holt has the best chance. That said, this is his first time as a finalist, so he could end up waiting. Wayne, meanwhile, might be the one who waits next year for Manning.
John Lynch, safety (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1993-2003; Denver Broncos, 2004-07): Lynch was a great player. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. But there are some outside factors that are going to help his case this week. For starters, he's one of the architects of the 49ers team that will be playing in Super Bowl LIV on Sunday. He's going to be meeting-and-greeting with writers all week leading up to the game. And you know some of these guys are going to get swept up in the moment. Don't let that take away from the fact that Lynch was a two-time All-Pro and a member of the Buccaneers' Super Bowl XXXVII championship team. He's also a bit of an elder statesman here, too. Lynch is in his eighth year of eligibility and has been a finalist seven times. He will get in.
The only thing that might hurt him is that the Super Bowl is in Tampa next year, meaning 2021 might be the perfect year for Lynch to go in. In that case, Steve Atwater could go in this year. And, really, I want Atwater in the Hall of Fame, so I'm not going to be mad if that happens. But as of now, my gut says Lynch goes in this year and Atwater waits one more year.
Troy Polamalu, safety (Pittsburgh Steelers 2003-2014): To me, this is the biggest lock of the weekend. Polamalu was one of the most exciting players in the NFL. He was a member of the NFL All-Decade Team of the 2000s. He was a four-time All-Pro and an eight-time Pro Bowler. He was selected as the 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and was a two-time Super Bowl winner with the Steelers. Polamalu was also one of the faces of the NFL during his playing career and earned the distinction of being on the cover of Madden NFL. Hell, the guy is still doing commercials to this day. There is no doubt in my mind that he's going to get into the Hall of Fame.