What a terrifically challenging question to answer. When it comes to who belongs in the museum in Canton -- an Ohio town of less than 100,000 people -- opinions vary, tempers flare and the answer can be difficult to arrive at.
This version of the "All-32" is ambitiously attempting to do just that. Every franchise can boast a player who is arguably worthy of induction right now. Well, everyone but the Texans, who are younger than Christina Aguilera's musical career. Doesn't matter. We cheated for them anyway.
I originally posted this file last summer, but with the Class of 2016 being taken out of circulation when it comes to talk of potential Hall candidates, I found new players to put in the pipeline. I also changed my football mind on more than one team's most deserving man. Of course, the same criteria applied as when I initially compiled this list:
a) It can be a player.
b) It can be a potential Seniors Committee candidate.
c) It can be a "contributor."
One other caveat: The person must be eligible for election in 2017. Which, of course, means guys like Randy Moss, Ed Reed, Peyton Manning and Calvin Johnson weren't considered.
Baltimore Ravens: Chris McAlister, cornerback
Not sure why, but like a hit song from the 1970s that never gets replayed on the classic rock stations (thinking early Van Halen here), McAlister's oft-brilliant career seems to have drifted from people's memories. A starter as a rookie, the big (6-foot-1, 206-pound) corner was a standout member of the NFL's shining example of a stout defensive team, the 2000 Ravens. McAlister also scored six touchdowns on defense in his decade with the Ravens.
Buffalo Bills: Kent Hull, center
Center remains a vital position in pro football, although it's getting increasingly difficult for centers to get into the Hall of Fame. Sure, Mick Tingelhoff made it last year -- after waiting three decades. Even former Steeler Dermontti Dawson, who was dominant while taking over Hull's role as the NFL's premier center in the 1990s, was a finalist multiple times before getting enshrined in 2012. Hull helped run Buffalo's high-flying "K-Gun" offense, making three Pro Bowls while being named first-team All-Pro twice. If Andre Reed deserves the honor ...
Cincinnati Bengals: Ken Riley, cornerback
If candor is the name of the game, then I have to say Riley deserves this honor as much as another Ken whom Bengals fans have been touting for years: quarterback Ken Anderson. Riley picked off an insane 65 passes in his glorious 15-year career, but he never made a Pro Bowl, which means no Hall of Fame voter is going to look at him. Ironically, Riley was named first-team All-Pro in his 15th and final season, when he shared the lead in interceptions in the AFC with eight. "You'll never find a bigger advocate of his making the Hall than me," former Bengals receiver Cris Collinsworth told The New York Times in 2013. "I probably learned more football from Kenny Riley than from anyone I played for or against. Everything I did that worked against everybody else never worked against him. But as soon as he would pick off a pass on my route or beat me to a spot, he'd tell me why, explain what I'd done wrong. He wanted me to be better because that made the team better."
Cleveland Browns: Mac Speedie, flanker
Call Speedie and Frank Minnifield "A" and "B." Speedie put up insane numbers in the late 1940s and early 1950s. He led the All-America Football Conference -- which was folded into the NFL ahead of the 1950 season -- in receptions three times (with 67 in 1947, 58 in '48 and 62 in '49) and in receiving yards twice (with 1,146 in '47 and 1,028 in '49), making the AAFC's All-League team three times. After the Browns joined the NFL, Speedie made two Pro Bowls and led the league in receptions once (with 62 in 1952). Three decades later, Minnifield was one of the premier corners in the NFL, making the 1980s All-Decade Team while starting in three AFC Championship Games. Give the nod to Speedie, though, who should've gotten the call 45 years ago.
Denver Broncos: Terrell Davis, running back
Davis should have made it years ago. That is to say, he was a Hall of Famer the day he chased down Jets safety Victor Green from behind on an interception and tore up his knee. Davis was the best in the late 1990s -- an era that also included Marshall Faulk, Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith. He posted 142.5 rushing yards per game in the postseason, was a Super Bowl MVP and an NFL MVP. Put him in.
Houston Texans: Andre Johnson, wide receiver
OK, so we have to cheat a bit with the Texans, who, in their 14 seasons thus far, haven't produced any Hall of Fame-caliber players who are eligible for Canton yet. But when all is said and done, it will be awfully tough to keep Johnson out. While he's past his prime now, he spent most of his career at the forefront of the top receiver debate. If he wasn't the best, it was only because of a Randy Moss or Terrell Owens, both of whom are bound for Canton. Johnson currently ranks eighth in career receptions (1,053) and ninth in receiving yards (14,100).
Indianapolis Colts: Edgerrin James, running back
Talk about forgotten players, man ... "Edge" was so damn good out of the gate, but today, it's like he never existed, because Marshall Faulk, then LaDainian Tomlinson, dominated the running back scene during James' day. Still, James became one of just four players since 1950 to lead the league in rushing in each of their first two seasons, joining Jim Brown, Earl Campbell and Eric Dickerson -- elite company, to say the least. In fact, James totaled an insane 881 touches through his first two seasons, due to his uncanny ability to catch the football out of the backfield. James ultimately deserves Canton consideration for his overall catalogue, which includes over 15,000 yards from scrimmage and seven trips to the playoffs.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Tony Boselli, left tackle
Of all the names listed here, Boselli's was, quite frankly, the easiest to type. He should already be enshrined, irrespective of his rather short (seven seasons) career. Boselli was a technician at his position, a skilled artisan who was tough as nine acres of Texas onions (phrase borrowed from Doug English) while being a gifted athlete. Hall of Fame tackle Walter Jones once told me, with no hesitation, "When I first got in the league, you had Tony Boselli. I think that was the guy that I said, 'Man, that's the way I want to play left tackle. ... When I was coming through the NFL], that was the guy." Jones, like so many other players and fans, marveled over how Boselli dominated [Bills defensive end Bruce Smith in the 1996 playoffs. I remember that game, too: Hall of Should Be In vs. Hall of Fame. Put him in.
Kansas City Chiefs: Deron Cherry, safety
Cherry barely edges out another Chiefs great for this spot who, coincidentally, also played safety. Trying to pick between Cherry and '60s great Johnny Robinson is darn near impossible. Cherry was a member of the 1980s All-Decade Team, while Robinson made the Hall of Fame's All-Time AFL Team. The key for Cherry was that he was named first-team All-Pro three times while playing in a 28-team league, whereas Robinson spent most of his career in the much-smaller AFL, which only had eight teams in his first six seasons. Of course, while we're at it, you could say no to both these guys and put in cornerback Albert Lewis, a top-flight cover man who was also one of the best special teams players to ever line up.
Miami Dolphins: Jason Taylor, defensive end
Of all 32 predictions, I've flip-flopped on this selection more than any other. In last year's iteration of this post, Zach Thomas was the choice, due to his consistency. Yet, in doing research for a video ranking the top five Dolphins of all time, I realized that Taylor was as deserving as Thomas, if not more so. Obviously, being named Defensive Player of the Year (in 2006) is a big deal. Taylor forced teams to constantly account for him, particularly if a quarterback was thinking about throwing a screen pass in his area -- Taylor would often peel off his rush and attempt to high-point the ball. This guy put up 131 sacks in 13 years in a Miami uniform, and his 139.5 career sacks rank sixth all-time.
New England Patriots: Ty Law, cornerback
Law gets little respect. It's like the guy has been completely forgotten, even though he was a member of Super Bowl-winning teams in 2001, 2003 and 2004. In an era where the top corners don't pick off very many passes, Law suckered enough quarterbacks to steal 53 of them over his sterling career. He scored on seven of those returns, while leading the league in interceptions twice (with nine in 1998 and 10 in 2005). Only two players -- Everson Walls and Ed Reed -- have ever led the NFL in interceptions more than twice. Law's three picks of Peyton Manning in the 2003 AFC Championship Game revealed how brilliant he could be when it mattered.
New York Jets: Joe Klecko, defensive lineman
There are several outstanding Jets not in the Hall of Fame, from Mark Gastineau to another solid defensive end in Gerry Philbin, a star on the Super Bowl III team. The nod goes to Klecko, who could play 4-3 defensive end or 4-3 defensive tackle -- and was really tough as a 3-4 nose tackle. In fact, he was downright dominant at that last position in 1985, when he was named first-team All-Pro. Klecko's versatility was underlined by his being named first-team All-Pro in 1981 while playing on the edge in the Jets' "New York Sack Exchange" four-man front. Klecko unofficially recorded a league-high 20.5 sacks that year, the year before sacks became an official statistic.
Oakland Raiders: Cliff Branch, wide receiver
With quarterback Ken Stabler finally making it into Canton -- albeit a year after he passed away -- how about inducting his favorite deep target? Branch was one of the legit vertical targets of the 1970s, playing in an era that was undoubtedly the least friendly to big passing days -- well, at least since the 1940s. Branch twice went over 1,000 yards during the decade. Nobody did it three times. He also led the NFL in touchdown receptions twice. Most impressively, however, Branch was named first team All-Pro three straight years. Both Lynn Swann and John Stallworth are in the Hall of Fame, and neither can boast of having accomplished that feat. Nor can Branch's teammate Fred Biletnikoff. If Branch does ever hear his name called, he will join not only Biletnikoff and Stabler, but former Oakland TE Dave Casper as well. Only one team, the 1971 Dallas Cowboys, had Hall of Famers start at QB, WR1, WR2 and TE.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Alan Faneca, guard
I had former safety Donnie Shell in this spot in the previous version of this piece, with many commenters arguing for L.C. Greenwood. The issue regarding the candidacy of both Mr. Shell and Mr. Greenwood comes down to numbers. How many Steelers from the 1970s are we going to put into the Hall of Fame? The same dilemma exists for a now-worn-out name, Packers great -- and perpetual Hall hopeful -- Jerry Kramer. Tell you what: All three are probably deserving, based on former players who already have a likeness sitting in the bust room. That said, Faneca not only earned this nod, but I am willing to bet he will get in within three years. Like the other guys, Faneca's teams enjoyed a myriad of successes. But none of those guys can claim ninePro Bowl nods. Faneca was a stud at guard for over a decade.
San Diego Chargers: LaDainian Tomlinson, running back
Come on. This is as easy as it gets. LaDainian Tomlinson will walk into Canton in 2017, his first year of eligibility. The 2006 NFL MVP always will be remembered for setting the single-season touchdown record in San Diego, not to mention sharing it with all his teammates. But don't blank on his 100-catch season or his seven career touchdown passes on the halfback option. Tomlinson led the NFL in rushing twice, and in rushing touchdowns three times. Although Tomlinson's selection here is obvious, we should also mention John Hadl, Earl Faison, Ernie Ladd and a huge Hall omission, Don Coryell.
Tennessee Titans: Robert Brazile, linebacker
Sorry, Titans fans; while Steve McNair, Eddie George and Frank Wycheck all enjoyed stellar careers, this franchise's strongest Hall candidate never played in Tennessee. A teammate of Walter Payton's at Jackson State, Brazile became one of the top outside linebackers in the NFL with the Houston Oilers in the late 1970s. Even as Houston sank into oblivion in the early 1980s, Brazile competed at a high level, making the Pro Bowl for the awful 1-8 Oilers in the strike-shortened 1982 season, recording 6.5 sacks. He wasn't merely a pass rusher, either; No. 52 was a complete player. Brazile made All-Pro or the Pro Bowl every year from 1976 to 1982.