This might be the greatest article of all time.
The eccentric San Francisco 49ers wideout with 156 touchdowns to his name made a bit of news -- er, caused a minor stir -- this week when he made the following proclamation: "I really do think I'm the greatest receiver to ever play this game."
It wasn't a totally outrageous comment; Moss certainly belongs in a discussion of the top five. And -- unlike Jerry Rice -- it got me thinking about more than which receiver has the most street cred.
We know Moss is a Hall of Fame player; his fate in that area was decided long before Super Bowl Media Day. But what about the other participants in Super Bowl XLVII? With Saturday's Hall of Fame vote on the Class of 2013 looming, I thought I'd pick out the players in New Orleans who are Hall bound ... or at least have a shot to be.
Consider this a somewhat comprehensive list -- although I'm not going to speculate on whether Bernard Pierce someday rushes for 100,000 yards. You'll no doubt be surprised by how many players on both teams are compiling historic credentials, or at least have that brand of upside. Of course, you're welcome to share your own thoughts on the matter at the usual dropbox: @Harrison_NFL.
I've split the candidates up by team (and alphabetically), with the Baltimore Ravens first. We begin with a guy who came into the league with the 1998 Vikings, just like Moss...
Matt Birk, C: Yep, Birk has much in common with Moss. Except not at all. Still, it is possible that the long-time veteran is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday. He's likeable and has a great reputation (which plays a role with some voters), and he's played 14 seasons at center, for crying out loud. A two-time All-Pro and Walter Payton Man of the Year (2011), Birk has the résumé. But it's a tough road for a center, and he's never been considered dominant. Only one center has made the Hall in the past 15 years (Dermontti Dawson).
Anquan Boldin, WR: Never say never -- Boldin has been awfully productive. Yet, I think No. 81 will get caught in a numbers game. For all his catches (772), does anyone think he's better than Cris Carter, Tim Brown or Andre Reed, none of whom are in the Hall? What about Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne? Or Larry Fitzgerald?
Joe Flacco, QB: Even if the Ravens win Super Bowl XLVII, Flacco would need to have an awesome game to start getting any buzz as a potential all-time great. Honestly, does anyone put Flacco up there with Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees ... or even Aaron Rodgers? Yes, Flacco's team beat Brady's and Manning's in the playoffs this season, and yes, you have to tip your cap to his 54-26 career record as a starter, but color me ultra-conservative (or not) in saying the jury is waaaaay out on Flacco as a Hall of Fame-caliber player.
Ray Lewis, LB: Not to be anticlimactic, but I'm going to be anticlimactic. Lewis will be a first-ballot inductee come 2018. He's a two-time Defensive Player of the Year (2000, 2003) and a Super Bowl MVP (XXXV). Lewis was named to the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 2000s and has played 17 seasons.
Haloti Ngata, DT: Interesting case here. Considered the premier player at the defensive tackle position two years ago, Ngata has lost a bit of that cachet since. Nonetheless, he's been named first- or second-team All-Pro by The Associated Press for five straight years. He has thus far been overshadowed to some extent by Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs, but if Ngata keeps up his solid play for two or three more years, I think he gets in -- even if, as someone who's never been a "sack" guy in the Ravens' defense, he doesn't have gaudy numbers.
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Ed Reed, S: Is this a serious question? He's a Hall of Famer right now. Reed might be the best safety of all time, right up there with Ronnie Lott and, obviously, Randy Moss (kidding). He's an eight-time All-Pro, a Defensive Player of the Year winner (2004) and a member of the 2000s All-Decade Team. Oh, and he has 61 career interceptions. Next!
Ray Rice, RB: Through five seasons, Rice has gained more than 8,200 yards from scrimmage. If he doubles that total -- i.e., keeps it up for five more years -- there's no way he doesn't end up in the Hall of Fame. However, Rice has never been considered the best at his position, and he doesn't have a grab basket of spectacular Adrian Peterson/Barry Sanders-esque highlight runs to his name. Think of Rice as a Curtis Martin -- or, better yet, Thurman Thomas -- type of guy. Both Martin and Thomas are already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Terrell Suggs, LB: Not seeing it. Hall of Very Good, perhaps? Suggs has been a solid pass rusher and overall defensive player, collecting 84.5 sacks through 10 seasons. Even coupled with a Defensive Player of the Year Award (2011), the pecking order of great defenders on the Ravens goes like this: 1) Reed, 2) Lewis, 3) Ngata and 4) Suggs -- at least to these eyes.
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David Akers, K: Don't laugh. This guy has had a heckuva career. He's a six-time Pro Bowler who currently sits 14th on the league's all-time scoring list. But he's a kicker. And what's more, he doesn't have much in the way of signature kicks on his résumé, unlike, say, Adam Vinatieri.
NaVorro Bowman, LB: I thought about leaving the young linebacker off my list of prospective inductees, but here Bowman is. Why? Because in three short years, he's already been named a first-team All-Pro twice. He's a sure tackler, effective in coverage, and just doesn't get overmatched. His position is not currently stockpiled with tons of great players under 30. The Houston Texans' Brian Cushing, Dallas Cowboys' Sean Lee and Arizona Cardinals' Daryl Washington immediately spring to mind, but at this juncture, Bowman is an early front-runner for a spot.
Vernon Davis, TE: With the numbers he's put up thus far, the offense he plays in, and the rough start to his career ("Cannot win with him!"), Davis is a real long shot. An effective player for several years, Davis' pace (345 career receptions) through seven seasons is well behind contemporaries Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten. Davis caught just 41 balls this season, so obviously something would have to change -- either the scenery or the offensive scheme.
Frank Gore, RB: Gore is becoming quite the compiler. He's already the 49ers' all-time leading rusher with 8,839 yards. How long can he keep it up? If Gore puts together three more 1,200-yard years, all of a sudden he'll be at 12K. There are just three running backs who've eclipsed that barrier who aren't in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: LaDainian Tomlinson, Jerome Bettis and Edgerrin James. Right now, though, Gore would have to wait behind those guys on my ballot.
Randy Moss, WR: Next question.
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Aldon Smith, LB: Everyone is in love with this guy and the 33.5 sacks he's collected through two seasons. But a) he's been somewhat one-dimensional (especially in 2011), and b) we need to let his career breathe. Calm down.
Justin Smith, DT: Smith is one of those rare players who became far more effective in his 30s than he was before. In fact, all of his Pro Bowl appearances have come since he turned 30. Because of the slow start to his career, Smith would need two more absolutely dominant campaigns to be a candidate, I would think. Can he be an All-Pro at 34 and 35?
Joe Staley, OL: Staley's a solid player who has made the Pro Bowl the past two seasons, but at an ultra-competitive position like tackle, Joe Thomas and Jake Long are the names that most jump out as the down-the-road Hall of Famers.
Patrick Willis, LB: Of all the 49ers whose names don't rhyme with "Sandy Ross," this is the player who has the best shot at someday being in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In six seasons, he's been named to an All-Pro team five times. He was a first-teamer this year after what probably wasn't even his best campaign -- isn't that saying something in and of itself?