This class has a little bit of everything. Warner and Davis were Super Bowl heroes that had to wait through years of near-misses when the Hall of Fame class was announced. Andersen is only the second player to only play kicker to make it to Canton, joining Jan Stenerud. Jones was a nominee of the Contributor Committee, while Easley was nominated by the Senior Committee. The inclusion of Easley, Warner and Davis are triumphs for those of us who believe players with shorter, brilliant careers deserve merit over "compilers" that rack up numbers over time.
Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Terrell Owens were two notable names that did not make the cut. Nominated as a Contributor Committee candidate, it's fair to wonder when and if Tagliabue will make it this close again. Owens has been denied two straight years and could keep waiting, with Randy Moss on the ballot next season.
Tomlinson and Taylor were the only players in this class who are first-ballot selections. During Tomlinson's incredible prime with the Chargers, he was the best running back in football. Ranked second all-time in rushing touchdowns and fifth all-time in rushing yards, Tomlinson is remembered for his smooth running style and complete game.
Tomlinson set the template for running backs in this pass-happy era, equally adept at short-yardage runs and catching the ball out of the backfield. The NFL MVP in 2006 when he scored 31 touchdowns and gained 2,323 yards from scrimmage, Tomlinson was previously selected by the Hall of Fame as a starter on its All-Decade team of the 2000s. The yards from scrimmage statistic is instructive because of his receiving ability. Tomlinson recorded two of the top seven yardage seasons of all time, and finished in the top five in yards from scrimmage for an incredible seven straight NFL seasons. With the team having announced its move to Los Angeles in January, Tomlinson's induction could be the last great moment for the San Diego Chargers.
Kurt Warner's journey to the Hall of Fame rivals any in history for sheer improbability. After bouncing around the Arena League and NFL Europe, Warner didn't become a full-time starting quarterback until he was 28 years old with the 1999 St. Louis Rams. He wound up winning the MVP and Super Bowl that season, the last player to pull off that double. Warner would win another league MVP and reach two more Super Bowls in a career that continued defying expectations.
After his time in St. Louis, he outplayed Eli Manning during one season in New York. Warner once backed up Josh McCown and Matt Leinart in Arizona before eventually taking over and lighting up the scoreboard on the way to the Cardinals' first Super Bowl appearance. If not for wild endings authored by two other all-time great quarterbacks (Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger), Warner could very well be a three-time Super Bowl champion.
Davis' career with the Broncos was brief, yet brilliant. A sixth-round pick in the 1995 NFL Draft, Davis played his best in the biggest games. He recorded seven straight 100-yard performances spanning the 1997 and 1998 postseason, with the Broncos winning back-to-back Super Bowl titles. (He averaged 142 yards in his playoff career.) Davis was Super Bowl MVP in Super Bowl XXXII after rushing for 157 yards and three TDs against the Packers. If not for Davis, John Elway might never have won a title, much less ridden off into the sunset with two straight trophies.
Davis' career was cut short by a knee injury suffered in his fifth season that all but eliminated his NFL production. Before that, Davis led the league in rushing touchdowns twice and rushed for 2,008 yards in 1998, his last healthy season. He won the MVP that year and was a two-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year.
Jason Taylor's career is almost underrated, so hopefully his inclusion on the first ballot will remind people what a unique player he was. Taylor's size, movement ability and strength against the run and the pass made him ahead of his time. Primarily a defensive end, he could move around the formation and impact plays beyond the box score.
Taylor finished his career with 139.5 sacks, good for sixth at the time of his retirement. He has the most career touchdowns by a front seven player (9) and the most career fumble recoveries with 29. Taylor was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in 2006 and was a first-team All-Pro selection two other times. During an often frustrating period for the Miami Dolphins, Taylor was its flag bearer.
The inclusion of Andersen is the biggest surprise in this class. The kicker finished his career as the all-time leading scorer of the New Orleans Saintsand the Atlanta Falcons, an almost impossible accomplishment. He also was named to the NFL All-Decade Teams in both the 1980s and 1990s. He finished his career as the NFL all-time leader in points, field goals, games played and field goals over 50 yards.
Easley packed an incredible amount of production into a seven-year career. Known as The Enforcer, Easley was the 1981 AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year, the 1984 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and was recognized as a member of the NFL's 1980s All-Decade team because of four first-team All-Pro nods. Easley is the fourth player elected to the Hall of Fame to play his entire career with the Seahawks, joining Steve Largent, Cortez Kennedy and Walter Jones. Easley's career ended suddenly when irreversible kidney damage was revealed during a physical.
Jerry Jones took over as owner (and personnel chief) of the Cowboys in 1989 and found quick success after firing Tom Landry and hiring Jimmy Johnson. Jones won his third Super Bowl after the 1995 season and has been chasing that level of success since. This induction isn't just about wins and losses. Jones helped "grow the pie" in the NFL by opening up new revenue streams, a tactic that initially ruffled some feathers among NFL ownership. He's known for his forward-thinking financial acumen and deal-making ability, including a big role in negotiations as disparate as television deals to the NFL lockout and the Rams' move to Los Angeles.