Predicting the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class

Predicting the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class
Predicting the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Scott Kacsmar

Congratulations to the 2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame class: Morten Andersen, Terrell Davis, Kenny Easley, Jerry Jones, Jason Taylor, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Kurt Warner.

I went to the same middle school as Taylor, but that was a few years after he was there. During that time in the late '90s, I wore numerous NFL jerseys of players from different teams to school, including an Erik Kramer Bears jersey that my friends and I believed could have stood for Cosmo Kramer. Seinfeld was much bigger than the Bears' passing game, and that's probably still true today. But one of my favorite jerseys was Terrell Davis with the new-look style Denver used in 1997. It just so happens that the first article I wrote for Football Outsiders, nearly four years ago, was about Davis' Hall of Fame case. I also had a Kurt Warner jersey when the Rams had their new design for the Greatest Show on Turf era. I wrote about his Hall of Fame case three years ago and am glad to see him going in this weekend.

My jersey days were over by the time Tomlinson broke out. I can say that he is the first Hall of Famer to begin his career (2001) at a time when I was watching the NFL on a weekly basis instead of just catching Steelers games, random Monday night and playoff games, and the Super Bowl. In fact, Tomlinson is the first member of Canton who was drafted in the 21st century, so he'll always have that distinction.

We'll enjoy the ceremony this weekend, but we're already trying to figure out who will follow this class next year.

The First-Ballot Nominees

No class since 1970 has had more than three first-ballot selections, and that streak is all but guaranteed to continue next year. First-time eligible players are those who last played in the 2012 NFL season. The following list includes the most notable names, many of which you will see on the preliminary list of 100-plus names that comes out soon. The players in bold are deemed most likely to be a semifinalist in the future, if not make it all the way to Canton.

  • Ronde Barber (CB)
  • Matt Birk (C)
  • Keith Brooking (LB)
  • Plaxico Burress (WR)
  • Nate Clements (CB)
  • Leonard Davis (OL)
  • Donald Driver (WR)
  • Casey Hampton (NT)
  • Jason Hanson (K)
  • Steve Hutchinson (G)
  • Ray Lewis (LB)
  • Randy Moss (WR)
  • Jeff Saturday (C)
  • Richard Seymour (DE)
  • Takeo Spikes (LB)
  • Brian Urlacher (LB)
  • Kyle Vanden Bosch (DE)
  • Adrian Wilson (S)
  • Antoine Winfield (CB)

This is a strong group this year. There are definitely several "Hall of Very Good" players here, including Donald Driver, Casey Hampton, Matt Birk, Jeff Saturday, and Adrian Wilson. Someone like Saturday could be a senior nominee one day or a semifinalist even sooner if the voters want to honor a center from this era. For reference, Kevin Mawae and Olin Kreutz were the two centers on the 2000s All-Decade Team.

I believe this group will produce six Hall of Famers, but it could be a good number of years before all six are inducted. We'll look at each of them from lowest to highest priority.

Richard Seymour: Have You Forgotten?

When the Patriots won three Super Bowls in 2001-2004, there were several standout defensive performers, and they turned in a lot of memorable plays in big moments that helped New England achieve so much success. Richard Seymour never really had a signature play in the way that Ty Law, Rodney Harrison, Willie McGinest, and Mike Vrabel did. However, he was arguably the most valuable New England defender for Bill Belichick in that time, and his versatility along the defensive line was the reason for that.

Seymour had a modest 57.5 sacks in his career, but he could play inside or on the edge while remaining strong against the run. He made three straight All-Pro teams from 2003 to 2005 and had seven career Pro Bowl nods. After he was traded to Oakland in 2009, Seymour continued to be a Pro Bowl performer for a team with little to rave about, and thus fell abruptly out of the national spotlight. Whether that trade prevented New England from more playoff success from 2009 to 2012 is debatable, but Seymour was named to the 2000s All-Decade Team at defensive tackle along with Warren Sapp.

If there is a feeling that the Hall of Fame is going to be too light on Patriots from that era, then Seymour is definitely the best player to put in who isn't named Tom Brady, Law, or Adam Vinatieri.

Ronde Barber: There's Room for One Barber Twin

After playing in one game as a rookie in 1997, Barber made 240 consecutive appearances from 1998 to 2012. He was a starting cornerback on one of the era's best defenses in Tampa Bay. Barber was an All-Pro in 2001 when he intercepted an NFL-high 10 passes. In 2002, he was part of one of the best single-season defenses on record. In the NFC Championship Game in Philadelphia, Barber provided the signature play with a 92-yard pick-six late in the fourth quarter. He returned eight interceptions for touchdowns in the regular season in his career, and joins Charles Woodson as the only members of the 40-interception/20-sack club.

In the once famed "Tampa 2" defense, Barber wasn't going to shadow a team's No. 1 receiver all over the field in man coverage, but he played his role well and was a willing tackler. For a while it looked like twin brother Tiki, a running back for the Giants, was more likely to make the Hall of Fame one day, but Tiki retired after the 2006 season. Ronde kept going and only made the move to safety in his final season at age 37.

Barber's prime came in an era that was after Deion Sanders/Rod Woodson and before Darrelle Revis/Richard Sherman, and he'll likely never get that level of respect as a cover corner. But he is a safe bet for Canton even if it's going to take some time as a few more respected defensive backs become eligible in the next couple of years.

Steve Hutchinson: The Poison Pill

Hutchinson was drafted 17th overall by Seattle in 2001. He played left guard and made his first of five All-Pro teams in 2003, the same year Seattle started a string of playoff appearances. That was a really good offense with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, running back Shaun Alexander, and Hutchinson paired next to Hall of Fame left tackle Walter Jones. The Seahawks reached Super Bowl XL in 2005, but we know how that one played out.

In the 2006 offseason, NFL fans were introduced to the "poison pill" tactic in contract negotiations. The Seahawks made Hutchinson their transition player, but not their franchise player. He signed an offer sheet worth $49 million from the Vikings. Seattle had the right to match, but the poison pill was a clause that required Hutchinson to be the highest-paid lineman on the team. If he wasn't, then Seattle would have needed to guarantee his entire salary, which was not feasible under the salary cap. Since Jones was the highest-paid lineman in Seattle, the Seahawks failed to match and the Vikings had a new left guard. Seattle pulled a similar trick years later for payback in getting wide receiver Nate Burleson from the Vikings, but that just forced the NFL to ban such hijinks.

So Hutchinson was in Minnesota for the rise of Adrian Peterson and the last stand by Brett Favre in 2009, when he almost played in another Super Bowl. But he ended his next two seasons on injured reserve and had a forgetful year in 2012 with the Titans before retiring. Hutchinson and Alan Faneca were the guards on the 2000s All-Decade Team. Both will get into Canton, though neither is going to make voters rush to make it happen. They may even steal votes from each other, unless voters stick to their "seniority" method and try to push Faneca through first.

Brian Urlacher: The Other Middle Linebacker

By all accounts, Brian Urlacher is a slam dunk for Canton. Timing and circumstance are likely to make him wait at least a year, which may be fitting for his career. Discussion of the caliber of player Urlacher was often evolves into comparisons to the players he wasn't. It's not like Urlacher chose to be drafted by the Bears, but they made the right choice, picking Urlacher ninth overall in a first round that also featured Julian Peterson and Keith Bulluck.

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However, anyone playing middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears is going to be held to the standards of Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary, and maybe even Bill George for astute students of the game. Urlacher, who played safety in college, actually made far more splash plays than Singletary did in his career, and was probably the better athlete in his ability to drop back into coverage and defend the pass. But Singletary was like another coach on the field and was known for his intensity. He was an integral part of the famed 1985 Super Bowl team's 46 defense. Singletary was also far more decorated in his career with seven first-team All-Pros compared to four for Urlacher, and two Defensive Player of the Year awards compared to one for Urlacher. That award for Urlacher came in a 2005 season where he was great at leading his defense, but also infamously "posterized" on a crushing run by Jerome Bettis. You might not think one play like that matters for a linebacker, but the time Bo Jackson ran over Brian Bosworth is still a part of those players' career stories.

Perhaps Urlacher would have had more individual honors if he didn't play in the same era as Baltimore's Ray Lewis, the player he now has to compete with for a first-ballot selection. It's not like Urlacher planned his retirement to coincide with Lewis', but again, these are just the cards he has been dealt. From 2001 to 2006, Lewis, Urlacher, and Miami's Zach Thomas often competed for the two spots on the first-team All-Pro honors. One could point out that when Urlacher was first-team All-Pro in 2002 and 2005, Lewis only played in 11 of 32 possible games due to injuries.

Urlacher did help lead the Bears to a Super Bowl in 2006, but didn't have the ending he desired. Other promising seasons for Chicago were often short-circuited by quarterback play, but the defense was the main reason those teams were even competitive. Urlacher was the prototypical Tampa 2 linebacker in his era, and Lovie Smith's defenses were often among the best at forcing takeaways. Urlacher finished with 22 interceptions and 41.5 sacks in 182 games. He is with Lewis on the first team for the 2000s All-Decade Team, but will voters put him on the same stage as Lewis next year?

Urlacher may always pale in comparison to Lewis, Butkus, and Singletary, but that doesn't mean he still won't be joining them eternally in the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day.

Randy Moss: The Freak

I wrote a special article on the case for Randy Moss yesterday, so please read that if you haven't. Moss is an obvious first-ballot Hall of Famer at a position where players have been forced to wait for induction unless they are named Jerry Rice. When I polled fans on Twitter the other night about the best wide receiver not named Rice, Moss shockingly pulled in almost three-quarters of the vote.

Moss would be my answer as well, but I expected more fanfare for other players, including Terrell Owens. There is no denying that the two are going to be discussed heavily this year and could take votes away from each other. Owens may even have an edge if only because this is going to be his third ballot and he was a finalist the last two years. The voters tend to lean on seniority here, or a "first in, first out" queuing system.

Marvin Harrison went in last year on his third ballot. Harrison, Moss, and Owens were the dominant trio of wide receivers in their era. I gathered our advanced metrics on each of them to see what impact they had on their team's passing efficiency.

To help understand the tables, which are a tad different than what was shown in the Moss article, here is an explanation of each column. "Team Pass DYAR" is the sum of each receiver's quarterbacks' DYAR with sacks and aborted snaps excluded. "Moss DYAR" is the passing DYAR earned only on targets to Moss. The "Randy Ratio" is the percentage of the team's passing DYAR that Moss accounted for that season. "Passes" is how many targets Moss had, which includes defensive pass interference penalties. "Moss DVOA" is the passing DVOA of quarterbacks on throws to Moss. "Team Pass DVOA+" is the offense's passing DVOA with sacks and aborted snaps excluded. "Team Pass DVOA-" is the offense's passing DVOA on throws to all other players, with sacks and aborted snaps excluded. "DIFF" is the difference between those two DVOA columns, or how much the receiver raised or decreased his team's passing DVOA for the season. This way volume and efficiency are being accounted for. That "DIFF" column is then summed for the player's career. For the 2010 data, we only used the weeks in which Moss was a member of his three teams.

Randy Moss: Team Passing DYAR and DVOA Breakdown
Year Team Team
Moss DYAR Randy Ratio Passes Moss DVOA Team
Pass DVOA+
Pass DVOA-
1998 MIN 2,211 806 36.5% 128 85.6% 53.0% 42.6% 10.4%
1999 MIN 2,020 689 34.1% 142 71.0% 49.8% 42.1% 7.7%
2000 MIN 1,895 904 47.7% 128 96.2% 48.6% 31.4% 17.2%
2001 MIN 1,199 498 41.6% 159 38.2% 22.6% 16.4% 6.2%
2002 MIN 1,395 354 25.4% 187 17.4% 27.3% 32.4% -5.1%
2003 MIN 1,886 981 52.0% 174 73.9% 44.9% 29.8% 15.1%
2004 MIN 2,597 613 23.6% 91 83.8% 58.4% 53.1% 5.3%
2005 OAK 1,275 386 30.3% 126 38.1% 23.1% 19.1% 4.0%
2006 OAK 148 -42 -28.4% 97 -18.2% -6.1% -3.0% -3.1%
2007 NE 3,037 978 32.2% 166 73.5% 64.4% 60.7% 3.7%
2008 NE 1,214 409 33.7% 127 35.6% 23.2% 19.1% 4.1%
2009 NE 2,346 675 28.8% 139 58.2% 47.8% 44.4% 3.4%
2010 NE 474 24 5.1% 22 11.0% 50.8% 60.1% -9.3%
2010 MIN 210 90 42.8% 26 49.0% 16.7% 8.7% 8.0%
2010 TEN 182 15 8.2% 17 3.3% -0.3% -0.6% 0.2%
2012 SF 1,591 93 5.8% 51 16.6% 44.4% 48.1% -3.7%
TOT - 23,680 7,473 31.6% 1780 52.5% 35.5% 31.5% 64.0%

All three of these receivers can say that they played multiple years with another great wideout and a great quarterback. Moss had Cris Carter early in his career in Minnesota, and then played with Wes Welker and Tom Brady in New England. There were four seasons (2002, 2006, 2010, and 2012) where Moss' targets dragged his team's passing DVOA down, but I think we explained those well yesterday between the doomed Randy Ratio, the awfulness of the 2006 Raiders, and his oddly swift decline at the end.

Marvin Harrison: Team Passing DYAR and DVOA Breakdown
Year Team Team
Marvin Ratio Passes Harrison DVOA Team
Pass DVOA+
Pass DVOA-
1996 IND 1,430 487 34.1% 121 56.7% 30.7% 23.8% 6.9%
1997 IND 1,376 477 34.6% 122 50.6% 32.5% 26.6% 5.9%
1998 IND 993 -25 -2.5% 125 -14.4% 16.4% 24.7% -8.3%
1999 IND 1,776 906 51.0% 197 60.2% 39.8% 28.2% 11.7%
2000 IND 2,277 895 39.3% 174 68.2% 50.7% 43.0% 7.7%
2001 IND 1,574 773 49.1% 164 58.5% 32.7% 21.2% 11.5%
2002 IND 1,490 789 53.0% 206 47.0% 27.7% 17.1% 10.6%
2003 IND 2,255 711 31.5% 143 61.5% 47.9% 43.3% 4.7%
2004 IND 2,832 703 24.8% 140 62.4% 67.8% 69.8% -2.0%
2005 IND 2,133 544 25.5% 133 49.6% 51.7% 52.4% -0.8%
2006 IND 2,565 866 33.8% 150 75.5% 59.7% 53.7% 6.0%
2007 IND 2,162 136 6.3% 32 49.7% 48.0% 47.9% 0.1%
2008 IND 1,843 135 7.3% 109 6.6% 36.0% 43.1% -7.1%
TOT - 24,704 7,397 29.9% 1816 50.7% 41.7% 38.1% 47.0%

Harrison of course had the luxury of catching most of his passes from Peyton Manning in his prime. The two didn't start out on fire in 1998, but that was more about Manning's rookie mistakes. Harrison's targets also brought the Colts' passing DVOA down in 2008, his final season when he was not much of a threat anymore. Manning's seasons were so strong in 2004 and 2005 when Reggie Wayne really emerged that Harrison's targets still actually brought the overall season numbers down a hair.

Terrell Owens: Team Passing DYAR and DVOA Breakdown
Year Team Team
Owens DYAR Terrell Ratio Passes Owens DVOA Team
Pass DVOA+
Pass DVOA-
1996 SF 1,456 276 18.9% 57 69.4% 29.2% 25.0% 4.2%
1997 SF 1,475 534 36.2% 104 68.7% 43.8% 35.5% 8.3%
1998 SF 2,269 736 32.4% 104 100.9% 52.0% 41.1% 10.9%
1999 SF 617 330 53.5% 99 41.0% 5.9% -1.5% 7.4%
2000 SF 2,119 943 44.5% 147 87.1% 44.4% 30.1% 14.3%
2001 SF 1,534 630 41.1% 157 46.6% 32.8% 26.5% 6.3%
2002 SF 1,305 774 59.3% 159 64.7% 24.3% 8.8% 15.5%
2003 SF 1,256 374 29.8% 146 27.6% 27.3% 27.1% 0.1%
2004 PHI 1,631 704 43.2% 128 71.4% 33.9% 22.3% 11.6%
2005 PHI 887 266 30.0% 93 34.2% 11.2% 7.3% 4.0%
2006 DAL 1,415 568 40.2% 155 46.4% 32.7% 26.6% 6.1%
2007 DAL 1,761 559 31.7% 141 51.5% 39.9% 35.8% 4.0%
2008 DAL 1,123 145 12.9% 141 6.2% 22.0% 27.5% -5.5%
2009 BUF 196 29 15.0% 109 -6.9% -3.9% -2.9% -1.0%
2010 CIN 1,220 -22 -1.8% 142 -12.4% 20.4% 30.9% -10.6%
TOT - 20,265 6,846 33.8% 1882 45.3% 27.7% 22.7% 75.7%

Owens came into the league spoiled by getting to play with Steve Young and Jerry Rice, but by the time he emerged as his own dominant threat, he was playing with Jeff Garcia, J.J. Stokes, and Tai Streets. He also had Todd Pinkston as his best wideout teammate with the Eagles in that great 2004 debut. Dallas offered a better supporting cast in Tony Romo, Terry Glenn, and Jason Witten, but Owens never had a negative impact season until his final three in the league when age caught up to him.

None of this was meant to start an argument over which of these Hall of Fame receivers was better, but the results do provide some interesting context about their careers. For starters, they all accounted for 30 to 33 percent of their quarterback's passing DYAR over their careers. Moss helped produce the most DYAR (7,473) and he had the highest weighted passing DVOA on his targets at 52.5%. Owens was the lowest at 45.3%, though he had the least efficient quarterback play of the three, as his passers only had 22.7% DVOA when not targeting him. Harrison, as you would expect with Manning, had the best quarterback play at 38.1% DVOA without him.

Over the course of his career, Owens added 75.7 percentage points to his team's passing DVOA, higher than Moss (64.0 percent) and Harrison (47.0 percent). Throw in the highest DYAR share (33.8 percent) for Owens and he has a solid case for being the most value-added receiver of the three. That is a bit funny given that he probably has the worst reputation as a teammate among the trio.

They were all great in their own ways.

Ray Lewis: The Lock

This group is guaranteed to get at least one first-ballot player, and if you are a betting person, then Ray Lewis is the safest bet. His first-ballot induction has felt inevitable for years after he served as the leader of Baltimore's defense for the team's first 17 years of existence. Lewis was a 13-time Pro Bowler, seven-time first-team All-Pro, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, two-time Super Bowl winner, and a Super Bowl MVP.

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In short, Lewis is the most decorated defensive player to enter the NFL in the DVOA era (since 1986). That alone should tell you he's a first-ballot lock.

Lewis helped several defensive coordinators move on to head coaching jobs, as the Baltimore defense remained unusually consistent during his tenure. From 1999 through 2011, the Ravens ranked in the top six in defensive DVOA each year, a mind-blowing feat. The next closest things we have seen to that are the 1987-1996 Eagles, who ranked in the top eight for 10 years, and the 1997-2005 Buccaneers, who ranked in the top eight for eight years. Lewis played with some great defenders, of course, but he was the constant during that run of success.

Some fans will be anxious to see what impassioned speech Lewis gives next year in his gold jacket. Others, including myself, expect to see a grandstander at work while we ponder which color Lewis would be wearing had a certain white suit ever been found. While people will continue to point to character concerns for Owens and Moss, just remember that neither of those players was ever charged with double murder like Lewis was in 2000. Those charges were eventually dropped, but Lewis settled with the families of the two men who were stabbed to death in a case that still has no justice and a thick layer of shadiness to it. Lewis should feel fortunate that Hall of Fame bylaws prohibit voters from considering off-field actions. I do not have a vote, but I will respect the same rules and not hold Atlanta against Lewis' candidacy. As a human being, I'm not going to deny that it is always going to be a part of his legacy.

Even as a fan of Lewis' chief rival in Pittsburgh, I can appreciate his consistency and excellence on the field. As a historian of the game, I don't understate his importance in NFL history. I just know I'll never view Lewis to be as important as he views himself.

Senior Nominees and Contributors

The 2018 class will feature two senior nominees and one contributor. Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue was a contributor candidate last year, but did not get enough support in the end for induction. He is a possibility again, but I like the idea of giving Broncos owner Pat Bowlen the nod while he can still enjoy it as he battles Alzheimer's, a cruel disease. Many fans seem to groan at the thought of an owner going in (see Jerry Jones this year), but it's not like we are suggesting inducting a guy who moved a team out of a city. It is also true that Denver has the NFL's highest winning percentage (.612) since Bowlen took over the team in 1984. The Broncos have been to seven Super Bowls in that time, winning three of them.

As one of my annual requests, I want to see the contributor category include coaches so that someone like Don Coryell can get a fairer shake at getting inducted. If the well is already so dry with candidates like Tagliabue and Bowlen, then something needs to change here. A category that separates non-players from players sounds very logical to me.

For the two senior nominees, Jerry Kramer and Ken Anderson have been my go-to responses in past years. Dallas linebacker Chuck Howley is also a good choice at 81 years old. Let these guys enjoy the honor they are deserving of while they are still with us. Howley was a five-time first-team All-Pro and has the interesting distinction of being the only player to win a Super Bowl MVP in a losing effort.

Tracking the Recent Nominees

A reminder of how the selection process works. A player becomes eligible five years after his last playing season. Nominees are first listed on a preliminary list that usually has at least 100 names. Since 2004, that list has been whittled down to 25 modern-era semifinalists, or sometimes 26 or 27 given ties. Since 2007, 15 finalists are chosen to go along with the senior/contributor nominees. This is the group that gets voted on just before the Super Bowl in February. Voting results are available for the reduction vote that gets down to 10 nominees, then finally the last cut down to the five candidates who will ultimately be voted on for induction.

Studying the process for recent semifinalist players should help with predicting this year's class. Here are the paths of the 23 players who have been semifinalists since 2004 and are still eligible. "N/A" is for years we lack data, and "UNL" means the player was not on the preliminary list that year.

Isaac Bruce got the nod over teammate Torry Holt as a first-time finalist last year, though both have been eligible since 2015. This could just be a matter of seniority by era, as Bruce entered the league in 1994 compared to 1999 for Holt. Bruce had more longevity and a memorable game-winning touchdown in a Super Bowl, but Holt certainly had a stronger, more sustained peak. Neither should really be in the same tier as Moss or Owens, but I think they will all get in eventually.

Chris Hinton was a semifinalist for the first time last year, but expect to see him get pushed out for the six first-ballot candidates discussed earlier. Hinton was the offensive lineman who went to play for the Colts after being part of a trade from Denver for John Elway in the 1983 draft.

Since Terrell Davis is finally in, my next "awesome peak" target might be Green Bay wide receiver Sterling Sharpe. When you look at the table above, isn't it a bit odd that he has never been a semifinalist? Sharpe has been eligible since 2000, meaning he'll be on his 19th year of eligibility. About the last thing we need is another wideout to enter the fray, but Sharpe was a special talent who led the league in receptions three times, in touchdown catches twice, and in receiving yards once. He was doing that in an era that featured Jerry Rice, Michael Irvin, Cris Carter, and Tim Brown, to name a few standouts. He was on their level, but his neck unfortunately wasn't. A neck injury ended Sharpe's career after 1994.

2018 Hall of Fame Predictions

In my fifth year of making Hall of Fame predictions, I hit my usual mark of 80.0 percent on the 15 finalists, but only got Tomlinson and Warner correct out of the five modern-era inductees. It seemed like a good year to get Joe Jacoby and Don Coryell in, but they were among the first five finalists eliminated, along with Owens, Faneca, and Isaac Bruce. The push for Andersen, a kicker, surprised me, because he had been among the first cuts from 2014 to 2016. If Adam Vinatieri, who turns 45 in December, can hang on for two more seasons, he'll likely break Andersen's all-time scoring record of 2,544 points.

Here are my projections for the 15 modern-era finalists in 2018.

Seymour was the only first-ballot player I left out here. He might be a little too bland for voters right away, and we do have a strong group of five others to make room for. It was surprising to see Tony Boselli make it to the top 10 last year since he was a semifinalist for just the second time.

Without further ado, my predictions for the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame class:

Yes, I am reaching with Moss and Owens together, but the thought of them sharing the stage with Lewis is a personality overload that is too tempting to pass up. Kevin Mawae is a good calming force here, and John Lynch has been really close in recent years. I think the visibility gained from Lynch taking the general manager job with the 49ers might be the last boost he needs. The problem is he is competing directly with Brian Dawkins, who was also a final cut last year. Ed Reed will be eligible for 2019, and Troy Polamalu comes in 2020, so it is important to get a safety in now before that logjam starts.

If any position is as messed up as wide receiver when it comes to the Hall of Fame, it is safety.


54 comments, Last at 10 Aug 2017, 3:20pm

3 Re: Predicting the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class

"When I polled fans on Twitter the other night about the best wide receiver not named Rice, Moss shockingly pulled in almost three-quarters of the vote."

Not a surprise to me, when you have two iconic individual seasons that also blend in to team success like Moss did in '98 and 2007 (34-3 in the regular season/playoffs, 43 TD's in 37 games for Moss plus both teams broke the record for points in a season), that tends to get people's attention and rightfully so.

Looking at my ballot - I've got Moss, Ray Lewis, Owens, Brian Dawkins and surprise, surprise......Tony Boselli. However, when the HOF does the wrong thing and leaves Moss off the ballot, then this could be a spot for Mawae.

15 Re: Predicting the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class

Peak Randy Moss was to WRs what peak Deion was to pass coverage, a guy who just so completely outclassed everybody else it's like they were playing with grade schoolers. I don't care if he was a jerk on occasion or took plays off; Randy Moss is the singly-most dominant receiver I've ever seen (though Jerry Rice was overall way better).

6 Re: Predicting the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class

Joe Klecko. Give Jets fans something to cheer about this year by putting in the long over-due leader of the New York Sack Exchange.

"You can’t think of his ten year period without him. I had to block Joe Greene and Merlin Olsen when I was playing and, believe me, Joe Klecko was equal to those two guys. If Joe Klecko had played one position for ten years, he’d have been considered one of the top two or three players at that position, whichever one it was. There’s not another player who went to the Pro Bowl at three different positions. You take a defensive end and put him at nose tackle and he’s just as good there, that’s a great player. We need to get Joe Klecko in the Hall of Fame."
-Hall of Fame guard Joe DeLamielleure

14 Re: Predicting the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class

I'm a massive Bucs fan, and I'd put Dawkins over Lynch. John Lynch's job was to hit people really hard, and I don't think there was any doubt that he was at-best the fourth-best player on the field after Brooks, Sapp, and Barber, and often lower than that. Not to hop on a usual high horse, but I'd bet there's a certain Bettis Effect where the fact people just really like the guy impact his candidacy in a very positive manner.

16 Re: Predicting the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class

Would put Simeon Rice over Lynch as well.

In terms of how crucial they were to the defense, maybe even Booger McFarland as being more impactful. He didn't play nearly long enough to get HOF consideration, but he was a huge part of those Tampa defenses. Underrated element to the Tampa-2 Bucs dominance was how good they were on the run given how the defense is structured to focus on the pass. So much of that was Sapp and Booger (and of course Barber and Brian Kelly being good tackling corners).

22 Re: Predicting the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class

Run defense really depended on the offensive scheme; a team focusing on outside runs or speed would have huge troubles against those great Tampa defenses, because the corners were so solid at tackling, and Derrick Brooks was so ridiculously fast and smart he'd be able to recognize plays quickly and fly to the ball. I loved it when Vick was the Falcons' QB, because the freak athleticism that allowed him to run around other defenses just didn't work against Tampa, because Brooks would just catch him and throw him down. Power running attacks were a genuine problem, and the Bucs often had problems with guys like Stephen Davis charging up the gut, because Sapp was so focused on exploding up the middle that they'd often run right past him, and Davis had the inherent power to shrug off arm tackles.

As for Booger . . . yeah, not going that far. Simeon Rice, you can argue him over Lynch, and they're both guys who flourished when surrounded by a couple all-time greats, but Booger McFarland was pretty much just a big guy who stood in front of two blockers most of the time.

11 Re: Predicting the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class

You know Scott, I'm glad you didn't mince words about Lewis.

I've always found Raven fans' sanctimony about Ben Roethlisberger tiring (not defending Roethlisberger either) when they themselves treat Ray Lewis as some kind of saint. I don't like hypocrisy; Raven fans possess it in spades, and no one ever calls them out on it.

If you defend Ray Lewis, who was charged with double-murder and eventually convicted of Obstruction of Justice regarding the double-murder investigation, if you defend him one iota, your opinion is basically meaningless in my mind.

It doesn't mean he's not a Hall of Famer, you can't tell the NFL's story without him. But don't be a hypocrite.

Thanks again, Scott, I rarely see anyone call out Lewis, it's a damn shame that someone apparently has to be a Steeler fan to do so (any normal human being should think Ray Lewis is... if not a "garbage" human being, then close enough).

13 Re: Predicting the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class

I think Ray Lewis learned a lot from that incident and has done a lot of community work since then. I mean on the ground work, not just donating money.

That said, he is an example of how being famous can save you from due Justice. Can you imagine a poor black man in a similar situation getting off like that?

32 Re: Predicting the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class

"If you defend Ray Lewis, who was charged with double-murder and eventually convicted of Obstruction of Justice regarding the double-murder investigation, if you defend him one iota, your opinion is basically meaningless in my mind."

I guess my opinion is meaningless to you, but if you could please tell me what specifically Ray Lewis did that was so horrible that he cannot be defended at all?

18 Re: Predicting the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class

How is Seymour more deserving than Shaun Ellis? Ellis has more sacks than Seymour and was also a force against the run. Yes, Seymour did make the Pro Bowl 7 times, but he never had double digit sacks in a season. And putting people in the Hall because they played for a dynasty, isn't that why Lynn Swann and John Stallworth are in there? I don't think Seymour or Ellis deserve the Hall.

21 Re: Predicting the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class

And what am I going to do with this perfectly good soapbox I've been planning on standing on to proclaim the greatness of Ronde Barber?

Barber was never exceptional at the "sexy" part of CB play; man coverage. He was never going to lock down a side of the field like Deion, but there are a lot of different parts to CB play, and Barber was very good to utterly great in all of them.

-14 non-offense TDs including playoffs (4th all-time).

-The most sacks in NFL history for a CB with 28; the only DB with more was Rodney Harrison.

-Ridiculous tackle totals; yes, it's an inherently unreliable stat and inflated by how CBs are used in the Tampa-2, a CB making 70+ tackles per year (more than 80 three consecutive years) is impressive. Additionally, he was a phenomenally good tackler; fanboyism may be clouding my memories, but I don't remember him missing many tackles.

-Tied to the above, his durability was patently ridiculous. Ronde has the longest consecutive games streak for a DB with 224; second place is Willie Wood, with 163. That's almost four full seasons behind. This, while playing in a defensive scheme that required a CB to be far more physical than just playing deep or sideline coverage, getting involved heavily in run support and blitzing the QB.

-One of the smartest players I've ever seen on the field, always managing to get in the right spot.

-He has "the moment" players often need to get into Canton; the pick of McNabb in the championship game, which was yet another example of Barber knowing his scheme, being smart, and making the right play.

Ronde Barber being an all-time great is absolutely and utterly the Sports Fan Hill I plan on dying on.

42 Re: Predicting the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class

Cover 2 corners feels fine. Richard Sherman is cover 3 - does that somehow de-legitimize his candidacy. One thing I learned from reading scouting articles and then watching - zone coverage is complex and still requires man to man skills when someone enters your zone. Its worse in some ways - you have to know when two players enter your zone, which one to cover and which one to pass off for help.

Effective coverage can come from zone or man, but you need good secondary players to make it happen regardless.

43 Re: Predicting the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class

Cover 2 corners feels fine. Richard Sherman is cover 3 - does that somehow de-legitimize his candidacy. One thing I learned from reading scouting articles and then watching - zone coverage is complex and still requires man to man skills when someone enters your zone. Its worse in some ways - you have to know when two players enter your zone, which one to cover and which one to pass off for help.

Effective coverage can come from zone or man, but you need good secondary players to make it happen regardless.

46 Re: Predicting the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class

Yeah, I just don't get that. It's like basing HOF credentials on the prestige level of the position, making it more like the Pro Bowl in being a popularity contest. Do 4-3 OLBs not get in, because MLB is the "sexy" position, or 3-4 MLBs not get in because the OLBs in that scheme are getting the sacks? Is RT somehow less important than RG/LG? Do Strahan and Miller get knocked because they're lined up against the RT instead of the LT?

I also find it weird that a few weeks after FO publishes an article about how 11 personnel is the most prevalent grouping, that slot receivers aren't worthy? Slot receivers are starters these days.

I guess RTs can't get in because protecting a right-handed QBs blind side is the only thing that matters, slot receivers can't get in because standing outside the hashmarks is the only thing that matters, and zone corners can't get in because man coverage of a WR is the only thing that matters, as opposed to all those other things like tackling, blitzing, forcing turnovers, and all the other things that go into playing CB?

48 Re: Predicting the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class

Quick - who's the best center in the league now? How do you know that?

For positions like offensive line, there are no stats to point to, so a Hall of Fame case is built by reputation and consensus. On the defensive front, it's mostly about sacks, which always struck me as much too narrow.

Eventually, offensive linemen who seem to be deserving get in. Shutdown corners and dominant middle linebackers find their way in, even if the stats aren't necessarily there. But it's much easier to look at a quarterback's stats and make a determination.

49 Re: Predicting the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class

For non-skill position players, I primarily use honors (1st team all pro selections/pro bowls/all decade team memberships), plus good quality film study with specifics if available (usually it's not, though).

Best center right now? My guess is Travis Frederick. His career is four years long, and he has been named 1st team all pro by any organization the last three years and gone to the pro bowl the last three years. Plus in 2016 he was unanimously named 1st team all pro (four organizations). No idea how he looks on film.

50 Re: Predicting the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class

If I want to claim that, I dunno, Jeremy Zuttah is the best center in the NFL, it won't be a very good discussion, absent serious film study. To be clear, I'm NOT looking to argue about this (Frederick is an entirely reasonable choice), but just pointing out how hard it is to make distinctions.

I give (most) Hall voters credit for doing their homework and talking to guys who played against the candidates, or coaches who watched film, but it's still a much fuzzier picture. That's probably why it takes someone like Alan Faneca, who everyone seems to think will eventually be a Hall of Famer, so long to get in.

51 Re: Predicting the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class

Yeah, but I'm responding to the idea that only certain positions/schemes are HOF-worthy to begin with, and somehow the best RT, slot WR, or zone corner is inherently ineligible just because they play a position without maximum hype, which seems . . . aggressively short-sighted. Certain positions have "splash" value in that you're going to get noticed; skill positions, LT, DE, MLB, man corner. Those are the players whose contributions are immediately easy to recognize, and it's tied into the nature of broadcasting; morons like Dan Dierdorf can talk all day about how "OH THAT LT IS THE BEST AVER SEE HIM STOANWAHL TEH RUSSHER", but the intricacies of internal line play aren't the kind of thing most viewers care about, so the broadcasters typically ignore it. Same with the DT who consistently eats up two blockers and makes life easier for everybody else or the safety who manages to correctly roll into coverage all the time and keep the pass from being thrown in the first place.

I do think the rise of the NFL as a year-round obsession and the rise of sites like FO with advanced metrics is helping with the recognition of the non-star positions. 15 years ago Dr. Z used to bang the drum for offensive linemen all the time, and now those positions are getting more recognition.

25 Re: Predicting the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class

Ah, c'mon, they were thinking of honoring Jim Irsay next with the ugly yellow blazer, before getting around to those trivial guys who played the game. Word is that Jimmyboy already has the speech written, in which he thanks his dealer for being such a professional when Jimmyboy would call at 3 AM, and, especially, his dad, for being so bold as to steal the money used to buy the Colts!

Won't be a dry eye in the house!

29 Re: Predicting the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class

Not in any hurry to induct more owners, but the ones with reasonable arguments for me would be Ralph Hay and Robert Kraft. Am more on the fence with Art Modell, Pat Bowlen, and Bud Adams.

But let's get Steve Sabol, Art McNally, Bobby Beathard, George Young, and Gil Brandt in first. And a whole lot more Seniors.

28 Re: Predicting the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class

This will be one of the toughest regular classes to predict in some while because of all the logjams from last time. My guess as of now is:


but the only one I feel certain of is Lewis. Almost any of the finalists could conceivably sneak through.

Agree with Scott about the likely final 15, and that Lewis, Moss, Barber, Urlacher, Seymour, and Hutchinson get in eventually from the first timers.

33 Re: Predicting the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class

Once again:

Bryant Young.

He was just as good as Sapp, maybe better as their sacks per game numbers are very similar and BY was by far the superior run defender.

I don't think it helps his cause that niner fans seem to be more interested in getting Roger Craig in having boosted DeBartolo first.

But it should be BY.

36 Re: Predicting the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class

Honestly, I don't think there will be many modern era Patriots that make the Hall other than Brady and Belichick. Probably partly because the Patriots long time success, spanning across the careers of everyone other than Brady and Belichick, works against them.

For that reason, I'm not bullish on Seymour's entry. Plus the fact that powerful, versatile D-lineman that play a 2-gap scheme and are critical to their team's success but don't rack up many sacks just don't get in.

The only Patriots other than B and B that I think have a shot are (in order):
Gronk (only if he can put together a few more awesome seasons not marred by injury)
Revis (if you count him, he was only a Patriot for one year)

And I think anyone below Vinateri on that list is a long shot.

37 Re: Predicting the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class

Revis is a long shot? I think he's a lock to get in.

Harrison and Law are hall of fame caliber players. Maybe McCourty has a chance(though I don't think he's a hall of fame level player).

Gronk to me is a lock already even if he never plays a down again. If TD can get in with three seasons, Gronk has already pushed passed that

Btw - the lack of hall of famers shows just how amazing BB and Brady have been. Outside of 2007, I have never felt the Patriots had overwhelming talent. The o lines, when not ravaged by injuries, are unheralded but consistently good. It feels like Belichick has never had an ace edge rusher or even a dominant pass rushing d tackle.

BB's coaching up of the dline, oline, and secondary are truly amazing.

39 Re: Predicting the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class

Did BB coach up the DB's? I always thought of that being a weakness of his - he needed guys like Talib and Revis because he couldn't develop them internally the way he did with LBs and DL. I think Belichick was noticeably better with the 'big' guys, because I see the same pattern on offense - he has a better record off coaching up offensive linemen compared to WRs.

44 Re: Predicting the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class

Speaking half-sarcastically ... BB got rid of his 3 starting CBs from the 2014 SB-winning secondary and all they did the next two years was make Conf Championship and win the SB against the best offense. So he's brought in Stephen Gilmore to take them further this year ... ;-)

Seriously BB is focused at slowing opponents down. He doesn't have pass rushers go after the QB, he doesn't have DBs who might give up big plays. It's all about teamwork to make the opponent play the long field and work for every yard in doing so. Usually opponents trip themselves up and perhaps only 2-3 teams in the league that have enough offensive weapons and efficiency to score on them.

47 Re: Predicting the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class

Mostly disagree. I think the following get in sooner or later:

Robert Kraft
Bill Belichick
Tom Brady
Ty Law
Richard Seymour
Adam Vinatieri

as well as the following rent-a-player types:

Darrelle Revis
Randy Moss
Junior Seau (already in)

Rob Gronkowski is pretty close, perhaps already there. Logan Mankins has a decent shot as well. Vince Wilfork probably won't have quite enough to get in. Doubt that Rodney Harrison gets in, nor do I think he should. No way for Tedi Bruschi, Wes Welker, or Mike Vrabel.

I don't think Vinatieri belongs in the HoF, but he's probably getting in anyway.

52 Re: Predicting the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class

Kraft is pretty much a lock at this point based on how owners are getting voted in consistently these days. Took a terrible franchise and turned it into an all-time dynasty, major player in resolving big labor issues, guy people seem to genuinely like.

Not sure about Ty Law; he had a couple really good years, but they're pretty scattered. I just looked up his stats on PFR and I'm surprised he only had 53 picks in 15 years, and only had more than three picks five years total. I always thought of him as a guy who had all these INTs, and I figured he'd have 15-20 more than that based on his career length.

Maybe he gets extra consideration for essentially causing the illegal contact rule to start being enforced and the resultant explosion of passing numbers after mauling Colts' receivers in the playoffs for a few years?

54 Re: Predicting the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class

law had 10 oen season with crappy Jets tema. less interceptions with pates and cvheufs. whole thing kidn of weird. one would guess more inteceptions with better teams and not a lot with crap team as opponents don't have to make as many risjky opasses. but wird things happen with football. but 53 nice total of intrwceptions anyway. nothing to sneeze at