Who will join the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2018? Twenty-seven modern-era semifinalists (from an initial pool of 108) have moved on to the next round of the selection process, with a cut-down to 15 finalists coming in January, followed by the selection of the gold-jacket recipients. Below, Gil Brandt ranks all 27 modern-era semifinalists, further breaking down who he thinks should make it as a finalist and, finally, who, in his opinion, should be included in the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2018.
21) Hines Ward, wide receiver (Pittsburgh Steelers, 1998-2011): The converted college quarterback became the all-time franchise leader in receiving yards (12,083) in Pittsburgh.
19) Ronde Barber, cornerback/safety (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1997-2012): The five-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro was a very good Tampa corner -- he was excellent in that system. He stood out as a blitzer off the corner who forced a ton of fumbles (13).
18) Isaac Bruce, wide receiver (Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams, 1994-2007; San Francisco 49ers, 2008-09): The former second-round pick remains the leading receiver in Rams franchise history with 14,109 yards. He also caught the winning touchdown pass in Super Bowl XXXIV, a 73-yard deep strike from Kurt Warner.
17) Torry Holt, wide receiver (St. Louis Rams, 1999-2008; Jacksonville Jaguars, 2009): A lot of people would argue Bruce belongs ahead of Holt, and that's not an unreasonable argument -- I just like Holt better. Both should get into the Hall eventually, though I think they'll cancel each other out to some degree.
16) Richard Seymour, defensive end/tackle (New England Patriots, 2001-08; Oakland Raiders, 2009-2012): The sixth overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft was a dominant player at both tackle and end. The seven-time Pro Bowler, three-time first-team All-Pro and three-time Super Bowl winner is a quality individual, the kind of guy who is good to have on your team. Though I have him missing the cut to be one of the finalists, he and the two players ranked higher than him could easily be swapped out for one another -- they're all finalist material.
14) Everson Walls, cornerback (Dallas Cowboys, 1981-89; New York Giants, 1990-92; Cleveland Browns, 1992-93): Walls was not a burner, but he had outstanding ball skills and a great feel for the play that was being run. He was also very smart. He made a critical play in Super Bowl XXV, tackling Thurman Thomas with less than two minutes to go to keep Thomas from reaching the end zone in the Giants' 20-19 win over the Bills.
13) Brian Urlacher, linebacker (Chicago Bears, 2000-2012): Urlacher played with more heart than anybody I know of. The 2005 Defensive Player of the Year was the ultimate defensive catalyst. Not only was he one of the better linebackers in the game at his peak, but I'd place him among the top linebackers of all time.
12) Edgerrin James, running back (Indianapolis Colts, 1999-2005; Arizona Cardinals, 2006-08; Seattle Seahawks, 2009): The fourth overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft ran for an astonishing 3,262 yards in his first two seasons, leading the NFL in rushing in both years. He was the puzzle piece that allowed Peyton Manning's Colts to become a dominant team.
11) Joe Jacoby, offensive tackle (Washington Redskins, 1981-1993): Hall of Famer Randy White, who faced Jacoby and the Redskins twice a year, told me Jacoby was the best of all the tackles he played against. He was a huge man who made the Pro Bowl four times and was first-team All-Pro twice, was named to the All-Decade Team of the 1980s and started for three Super Bowl-winning teams.
7) Alan Faneca, guard (Pittsburgh Steelers, 1998-2007; New York Jets, 2008-09; Arizona Cardinals, 2010): The nine-time Pro Bowler and member of the All-Decade Team of the 2000s was a great character person. Faneca was also a very, very good run and pass-blocker, very strong -- his man seldom made a tackle. He's among the top players at his position all-time.
6) Ray Lewis, linebacker (Baltimore Ravens, 1996-2012): The 26th overall pick in the 1996 NFL Draft made the Pro Bowl 13 times and earned seven first-team All-Pro nods. The two-time Super Bowl winner and MVP of Super Bowl XXXV was a leader on the Ravens, both as a vocal presence and with his performance. He just made so many big plays. Knowing that a maximum of five modern-era names can make it, I'd take the five listed above him for the Class of 2018, but when you're talking about talent at this level, the margin of separation is very, very thin.
MY PICKS FOR THE CLASS OF 2018
4) John Lynch, safety (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1993-2003; Denver Broncos, 2004-07): The former third-round pick played safety in the Tampa-2 defense like he invented it. The nine-time Pro Bowler didn't have great speed or strength, but he was so smart. Lynch knew exactly where to be before the play was even executed.
3) Terrell Owens, wide receiver (San Francisco 49ers, 1996-2003; Philadelphia Eagles, 2004-05; Dallas Cowboys, 2006-08; Buffalo Bills, 2009; Cincinnati Bengals, 2010): Owens might not always have been the best team player or locker-room presence, but he was a superior athlete with size and speed that made him very hard to stop. He had everything going for him on the field -- Owens did not lack for want-to. I didn't consider off-field concerns when weighing Owens or fellow receiver Randy Moss. Skill-wise, Owens is one of the best to ever play his position, ranking second all-time in receiving yards (15,934), eighth in catches (1,078) and third in receiving touchdowns (153). It's hard to see how one could justify keeping him out.
2) Steve Hutchinson, guard (Seattle Seahawks, 2001-05; Minnesota Vikings, 2006-2011; Tennessee Titans, 2012): Hutchinson arrived at Michigan as a defensive tackle, and though he played on the other side of the line in the pros, he carried himself like a defensive tackle, with the toughness and strength that implies. Hutchinson started every game he played and reached the Pro Bowl seven times, with five first-team All-Pro nods.
1) Randy Moss, wide receiver (Minnesota Vikings, 1998-2004, 2010; Oakland Raiders, 2005-06; New England Patriots, 2007-2010; Tennessee Titans, 2010; San Francisco 49ers, 2012): They used to say Sugar Ray Robinson was the best boxer ever, pound for pound, and I think you could make a case for Moss being one of the best athletes in NFL history. He could do everything. Moss might have been lacking in football character, but on the field, he's among the best receivers of all time. He owns the single-season touchdown-reception record (23 in 2007) and is ranked 15th all-time in catches (982), third in receiving yards (15,292) and second in touchdown catches (156).