Loved watching this guy play. Yes, Polamalu was a Pro Bowler, All-Pro and even Defensive Player of the Year (in 2010). But that's not why his career was so rad. Polamalu was a bona fide risk-taker on the football field, unlike any player before or after him. He could drive coaches and teammates alike completely nuts, until they saw him dashing around with the football in his hand, having jumped a route, jumped a running play, or jumped over the line to disrupt the offensive sequence before it ever had a chance to well, sequence. Kind of like the time the Titansdidn't know what hit them. Polamalu was an intuitive football player, with other interests that belied the deep football knowledge he possessed. He was a team player who often went off the team script to follow his instincts. My script for 2020 sends the former safety into the Hall of Fame as a first-ballot enshrinee.
The premier guard in this era of pro football, along with Alan Faneca (who I have on my 2018 ballot). Hutchinson racked up seven Pro Bowl nods with the Seahawks and Vikings, paving the way for Shaun Alexander in Seattle and then Adrian Peterson in Minnesota to put up huge numbers. Notably, Alexander's production went way down once Hutchinson left him. He was a steady performer for both teams, with peer respect around the league bringing Hutchinson's name to the forefront. So did winning, which the Seahawks did plenty of from 2003-05. Sure, Seattle has won more under the current Pete Carroll-John Schneider regime, but I can guarantee you those 'Hawks would have one more ring if they had a guard like Hutchinson to run behind. (Imagine going first-and-goal with Beast Mode behind this hoss in the middle.)
Nope, those folks pushing for Coryell to be in the Hall of Fame are not doing it because they're old softies. They're smart football people who know the pro game would not be the same sans Coryell nervously pacing the sidelines in his heyday. His innovation on the chalkboard, and on the projector, changed the NFL on the field, making for an easy-peasy aerial attack that saw the Chargers finish No. 1 in passing six straight years. No team has come close to doing that since. The offense Coryell developed (with a big assist from Hall of Fame coach Sid Gillman) was later used by the 1990s Cowboys to win three Super Bowls. Also worth noting: Coryell led the Cardinals to the postseason twice after the franchise missed the playoffs for 25 straight seasons.
This vote is long overdue for one of the top corners of the 1990s and 2000s. Law was one of those rare defensive backs who was just as good in Year 10 as he was in Year 1. Law reached the Super Bowl as an ascending player on Bill Parcells' Patriots in 1996, then starred for the Bill Belichick teams that won three Lombardi Trophies in four years. Law could go man-to-man or make plays in a zone concept with aplomb. His presence was sorely missed on those mid-2000s Patriots teams that weren't quite stout enough on defense to go all the way (SEE: The 2006 AFC Championship Game). Lastly, with all the dinks and dunks and none-yard outs in today's game, we'll see fewer corners retiring with more than 50 career picks like Law. Fantastic player.
As is the case with Coryell and Law, this Hall of Fame nod should have come years ago for Jimmy Johnson. His place on my ballot comes via contributions both on the field and in NFL offices everywhere. Johnson, of course, was the head coach of the Cowboys teams that went back-to-back in 1992 and '93 -- and he was the architect of the Barry Switzer-led group that would win it all again in 1995. And that's not to mention the fact that the Cowboys made the playoffs every year but one from 1991 to 1999. Johnson also drafted cornerstone players in Miami, like Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas. His approach to the draft made this happen; he was a master at turning one pick into two or three, so that he could acquire as many players on his big board as possible. While he will forever be known for orchestrating the Herschel Walker trade, that deal wouldn't even have a Wikipedia page if Johnson didn't turn the picks he received into guys who could play.
You might not have heard of Todd Christensen. His run as a top-flight tight end was relatively short, lasting from 1982 through '87. He was also overshadowed by contemporaries -- and Hall of Famers -- Kellen Winslow and Ozzie Newsome. Yet, when Winslow was hurt in 1984 and Newsome's numbers declined for Marty Schottenheimer's Browns, Christensen shined. Twice he led the NFL in catches. He posted three 1,000-yard seasons (rare for a tight end), as well as a 987-yard campaign, and he had two other productive seasons shortened by players' strikes. Christensen was the best tight end in football during his prime, with the peak being 1983, when he caught 92 passes for 1,247 yards and 12 touchdowns to earn first-team All-Pro honors with the L.A. Raiders squad that won Super Bowl XVIII.
It's been nearly 50 years since Jerry Kramer delivered the most famous block in NFL history, springing Bart Starr for the game-winning touchdown in the Ice Bowl. Kramer's book, "Instant Replay," detailed that '67 season for the Packers, which was also the last campaign that Vince Lombardi coached the team. Kramer was the quintessential Lombardi Packer, an overachiever who got the most out of his ability, enough to be considered arguably the top guard of his era. Cheese Nation has complained bitterly that he is not already in Canton. The issue? Too many Lombardi Packers already enshrined, apparently. Well, not if this comes to pass.
Gil Brandt.The personnel guru of the Cowboys, and the man who shopped for the groceries Tom Landry used to lead Dallas to five Super Bowls in the 1970s, finally gets his day in the sun. While Brandt has long been known as the scouting mastermind of Landry's Cowboys, his part in setting up the league's first computer-assisted scouting program puts him over the top in Hall credentials. The entire league might not have bought in, but the use of information technology blossomed in the late '70s and '80s. Brandt's ability to uncover small-school talents was also particularly notable. While the football "elite" focused on the draft, Brandt was crushing it with undrafted free agents: Drew Pearson and Cliff Harris, for example, blossomed into first-team All-Decade players. I am proud of my colleague at NFL.com, who so deserves this honor.