The Pro Football Hall of Fame based out of Canton, Ohio, recently released its list of modern-era nominees for the 2019 Hall of Fame class. The list included a whopping 91 former players along with 11 former coaches. That’s 102 total modern-era nominees. When the finalists are selected all the way off in January, that number will be whittled down to just 15.
From just looking at the initial list it’s easy to pick out some nominees that won’t be making it to January. It’s actually pretty easy to pick out a bunch of nominees who won’t make it, but it’s much harder to predict who will be left on the ballot in the winter. One thing’s for sure, there will be a lot of first ballot players still around.
The initial list features first time nominees such as Champ Bailey, London Fletcher, Tony Gonzalez, and Ed Reed. After the 2018 class featured three first-ballot Hall of Fame selections, people are obviously excited to see if this class will match that total.
Right away Gonzalez and Reed seem like easy first-ballot selections. Gonzalez is the greatest tight end of all-time and Reed is the best safety of the 2000s. Bailey is another player who I feel will be a first ballot Hall of Famer. He has the most Pro Bowl selections out of any cornerback all-time (12) and was just a consistent force in the league for so long.
Fletcher is definitely worthy of being in the Hall of Fame and I think he will eventually make it, just not this year. After all, he did start 256 consecutive games recorded over 2,000 combined tackles (not all officially), 39 sacks, and 23 interceptions. Those are numbers on par with many Hall of Famers.
Ronde Barber, Steve Hutchinson, and Richard Seymour are all returning for a second run at Canton after not getting voted in last year. Quite frankly, all three of them have interesting cases. Seymour has seven Pro Bowls, three First-Team All-Pro selections, and three Super Bowl victories under his belt. Hutchinson has seven Pro Bowls as well but five First-Team All-Pro selections. However, I believe Barber is the most deserving of being inducted.
Barber was a part of the legendary Tampa Bay defense that won the organization its last Super Bowl, he also has the record for the most consecutive starts by a cornerback all-time. His issue might be his lack of accolades, only five Pro Bowls and three First Team All-Pro selections. His candidacy relies heavily on the committee looking at what he meant to the game and how he played, not just his number (which are still pretty impressive). But compared to other defensive backs like Bailey and Reed, there’s no chance he gets in this year. I think he’ll get in real soon when the competition at his position isn’t so overwhelming.
As for Hutchinson and Seymour, both are worthy candidates. But Alan Faneca is the best guard on the ballot, not Hutchinson. And Seymour, despite his impressive resume, didn’t leave enough of an impact to be brought up along with the likes of Bailey, Gonzalez, and Reed.
Oh man, it’s a long list. I wish the Hall of Fame would allow for more players and coaches to be inducted each year or split up the two up into different categories so we can have more inductees. There are just so many all-time greats who are having to wait unnecessary periods of time to get chosen for induction.
Starting with the quarterbacks, I don’t see any of the current candidates getting into Canton. I’m a big fan of Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb, and especially Steve McNair, but I just don’t see it. Out of any of them, I’ll give the edge to McNair for his MVP season.
I’ve got more to say about the running backs. Let’s start with Shaun Alexander and Edgerrin James. Alexander had a short prime, just five seasons, but he won an MVP during that time and was LaDainian Tomlinson’s closest competition for being the best running back in the league. Terrell Davis’ induction sets the precedent that we shouldn’t hold short career against players. So let’s not. In 96 games as a starter (he played in a total of 123 games) Alexander recorded 9,453 rushing yards and 100 rushing touchdowns.
James is the best shot to make the Hall of Fame out of this group. A lot of that has to do with his playing style, not just his numbers. James was a complete player who ran so well that he led the league in rushing twice and recorded seven 1,000 yard rushing seasons. His four Pro Bowls and one First-Team All-Pro selection might hinder his case, but the man was still a monster. He finished his career in the top 20 for rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, rushing attempts, rushing yards per game, and yards from scrimmage.
Tiki Barber likely won’t make the Hall, but he’s the next best available option behind Alexander and James. One running back who is wrongly absent from the ballot is Priest Holmes who, going back to the Davis argument, should be in the Hall of Fame.
There are so many great wide receivers on the list of nominees that the Hall of Fame will need to work overtime to get them in before the arrival of Anquan Boldin, Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson, Steve Smith Sr., Reggie Wayne, etc. Things could get messy if those guys come up for nomination and there are still a lot of players from this year’s nomination list still not in Canton.
I’m giving the nod to Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Sterling Sharpe, and Hines Ward. Bruce and Holt are both members of The Greatest Show on Turf Rams that also included Marshall Faulk, Orlando Pace, and Kurt Warner. Both of the receivers are high on the all-time stat lists. Bruce is 13th in receptions, 5th in receiving yards, and 12th in receiving touchdowns. Holt is 21st in receptions, 16th in receiving yards, and 35th in receiving touchdowns, but made seven Pro Bowls, three more than Bruce. Holt also led the league in receiving yards twice, a feat Bruce accomplished once. Both finished their careers with eight 1,000 yard receiving seasons.
Sharpe benefits from the Terrell Davis case that we mentioned earlier. Sharpe only played for seven years but made five Pro Bowls and was a First Team All-Pro three times. He led the league in receptions three times, receiving yards once, and receiving touchdowns twice. Those kind of numbers in a seven-year span are special and deserve the top-level recognition of the Hall of Fame.
Ward is an interesting case. He only made the Pro Bowl four times. He was never a First Team All-Pro, but he was a Second Team All-Pro three consecutive times. Ward was also a Super Bowl MVP and won the Lombardi Trophy twice with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was never a flashy, high volume receiver. His game was more old-fashioned and physical, just like how his team played. Ward’s career numbers have him at 14th in receptions, 25th in receiving yards, and 15th in receiving touchdowns. He was also one of the best blocking wide receivers ever. I think he belongs in the Hall of Fame but he’ll have to wait a long time.
Out of the remaining receivers, I think Chad Johnson is wildly underappreciated and gets knocked too much for his personality. He had a great career, but I don’t think he’ll get voted into Canton.
The only tight end getting in this year is Gonzalez. The offensive line has several nominees worthy of Canton, including Tony Boselli, Alan Faneca, Hutchinson, and Kevin Mawae. There’s been a big push to get Boselli in recently and it’s been fueled by the Davis decision which seems to be impacting a lot of these potential Hall of Famers. Boselli played for seven years just like Sharpe, and just like Sharpe he made five Pro Bowls and was a First Team All-Pro three times. The left tackle certainly deserves to be in the Hall, but there’s someone else who I think deserves it more.
Faneca played in the NFL for 13 seasons, made nine Pro Bowls, was selected as a First Team All-Pro six times, and won a Super Bowl. He also has two Second Team All-Pro selections. He made all of his Pro Bowl appearances consecutively from 2001 to 2009, making him the greatest guard of his era.
I’ve already mentioned Hutchinson. Mawae played center for the majority of his career and earned 8 Pro Bowl bids and three First Team All-Pro selections. That kind of consistency at center is rare. Historically, only a few centers have been that good for that long. His biggest issue might be his lack of All-Pro selections. He had four Second Team All-Pro selections, but that might not be enough for the voters.
It’s worth noting that the Hall of Fame is brutal on offensive linemen. Faneca has been waiting for far longer than he should’ve had to. So while I listed four names here, that might be me being generous. The Hall might shrink that number down to just two.
The defensive line has a ton of good candidates but only a few great ones. On paper, La’Roi Glover has the best shot, but I’d give a greater edge to Leslie O’Neal and especially Simeon Rice.
Glover, a six-time Pro Bowler, and one-time First-Team All-Pro played defensive tackle and nose tackle for 13 seasons. He led the league in sacks in 2000, with 17, which is just crazy for an interior pass rusher. He finished his career with 83.5 sacks, making him one of the best interior pass rushers to grace the football field. However, he fails to compare to other all-time great interior presences from recent eras like Warren Sapp and Cortez Kennedy. For that reason, he won’t be making the Hall of Fame.
Rice does not have the personal accolades of a Hall of Famer. He does have 122 sacks, over 400 combined tackles (unofficially), and a ridiculous number of forced fumbles recorded at 35 (ESPN) or 28 (Pro-Football-Reference). Rice was also a member of the Super Bowl winning Tampa Bay defense that featured Ronde Barber, John Lynch, Derrick Brooks, and Sapp. He recorded ten or more sacks in eight out of his 12 NFL seasons and I’d put him in the Hall of Fame, but it’s unlikely the committee will agree with me.
O’Neal was never a First Team All-Pro, but he did make six Pro Bowls and was the 1986 Defensive Rookie of the Year. It’s easy to see why, he recorded 132.5 sacks in 13 seasons, averaging over ten sacks per season, just like Rice. And, also like Rice, he recorded ten or more sacks in eight of his seasons. Unofficially, he recorded 701 tackles, putting him well above Rice in the category. He is 13th all-time in sacks, tied with the legendary Lawrence Taylor and ahead of Hall of Famers Rickey Jackson and Derrick Thomas. Again, this is a guy who is worthy of the Hall of Fame but will likely be denied the honor by the committee of voters.
After Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher were enshrined in the class of 2018, few linebackers stand out for nominations. I’ve already spoken my mind on Fletcher, and the best remaining nomination after him is Zach Thomas. Karl Mecklenburg also deserves recognition, but I just don’t see the former Bronco getting in despite his 79 sacks and over 1,000 unofficial tackles.
Thomas officially has just over 1,000 combined career tackles, but unofficially he has more in the area of 1,700. He spent 12 of his 13 NFL seasons in Miami with the Dolphins where he made all seven of his Pro Bowls and where he got all five of his First Team All-Pro selections. Thomas did it all at middle linebacker for the Dolphins. On top of his tackling totals, he recorded 20.5 sacks, 17 interceptions, 16 forced fumbles, 30 passes defensed, and four defensive touchdowns. Thomas has a very good argument for being in the Hall of Fame, but he lacks the punch that Lewis and Urlacher carried. If he does make the Hall it won’t be anytime soon.
The defensive back scene has gotten pretty crowded and will only get worse as players like Troy Polamalu, Asante Samuel, Charles Woodson, and Darrell Revis come down the pipeline. Steve Atwater, Bailey, Barber, Ty Law, John Lynch, Reed, and Darren Woodson should all make the Hall of Fame sooner or later. I could make cases for some of the other defensive backs who got nominated, but I think they would be a bit of a stretch.
Atwater and Lynch are both former members of all-time great teams. Atwater played on the Denver Broncos team with John Elway and Lynch was a member of the previously mentioned great Tampa Bay defense along with Barber. During his career, Atwater made eight Pro Bowls and was a two-time First Team All-Pro. He didn’t record many interceptions, only 24, but was a terrific tackler. He had over 1,000 career combined tackles (unofficially) and was one of the hardest hitters in the game.
Lynch made nine Pro Bowls and was also a two-time First Team All-Pro. He also didn’t record many interceptions, he finished his career with 26, but was also a feared tackler. He and Atwater actually have a lot in common, which could hurt both of them when votes are cast. Neither was a ball hawk like Reed, but they were feared, master tacklers who found other ways to make big plays.
Law is a different case then Atwater or Lynch. He wasn’t a feared tackler, he was more of a finesse player. Law was a shutdown corner. The three-time Super Bowl champion played in the league for 15 seasons and led the league in interceptions twice. He finished his career with 53 picks, seven of which he returned for touchdowns. Law’s biggest hurdle might be his five Pro Bowls and two First Team All-Pro selections. That’s fewer individual accolades than Barber has, and I already mentioned how that might be a problem. And compared to players like Bailey and Woodson, his accolades won’t stand up. Still, because of his play as a shutdown corner, I believe he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
Woodson follows a similar track to Atwater and Lynch, but he has the same accolades as Barber with the exception of three Super Bowl wins instead of one. Because of this he’s stuck in a middle ground and will be swept under his fellow star defensive backs. I’ll be honest, I said he would eventually make the Hall of Fame, and I still think he should, but it’s unlikely he’ll do it as a modern-era candidate. He might have to wait to become eligible for the Senior Committee. That’s not a knock on his, he’s an all-time great. But the Hall of Fame has allowed a lot of defensive backs to stack up on top of each other and that hurts everyone’s chances.
It’s time to put a special teams player in the Hall of Fame. Steve Tasker is by far the greatest special teams tackler in NFL history. How do you think he made seven Pro Bowls? He was sparingly used as a return man and receiver, but his contributions came from chasing down return men, not being one. Personally, I love his style and I feel he should be in the Hall of Fame, but because he’s a special teams specialist I think it’ll be hard for him to get in. There’s just so many other players ahead of him because they played highlighted positions.
Every great team needs a great coach. I’ll be honest, I struggled to evaluate the coaches because there were a lot of well known, accomplished names and I wasn’t quite sure where the line was that a coach has to cross to be considered a Hall of Famer. Don Coryell, Bill Cowher, Tom Flores, Mike Holmgren, Jimmy Johnson, Dan Reeves, and Marty Schottenheimer are all recognizable names (there are other coaching nominations as well). But who really deserves to be in Canton?
Schottenheimer is one of only seven coaches with 200 or more career wins, but he was 5-13 in the playoffs and never made it to a Super Bowl. He does have an impressive .613 win-loss percentage though. Reeves finished his career with 190 wins, 9th most all time, and he won four Conference Championships. But he somehow never managed to win a Super Bowl.
The trend changes with Holmgren, who does have a Super Bowl victory. He won one with Brett Favre during the 1996 season. Holmgren also went to the Super Bowl two other times but lost on both occasions. Cowher coaches the Steelers for 15 seasons and took the team to two Super Bowls, winning one. He has a .623 regular season win-loss percentage and a .571 playoff win-loss percentage.
Coryell coached for just 14 seasons, but he invented the “Air Coryell” offense, one of the most historic and impactful offenses ever. So Coryell’s influence on the game goes beyond his 111-83-1 regular season record. It’s hard to imagine a coach who never won the Super Bowl getting into the Hall of Fame, but Coryell is certainly an interesting case. Last of all comes Johnson, who coached just nine seasons in the NFL. Johnson took over for the legendary Tom Landry in Dallas and transformed the Cowboys into a dynasty. The team won two Super Bowls with Johnson at the helm and then continued winning even after he left. His .692 win-loss percentage in the playoffs is the second for any coach that was nominated.
The coach with the best playoff win-loss percentage is Flores (.727), who led the Raiders to two Super Bowl victories in the 1980s. Unfortunately, he couldn’t consistently replicate that success in the regular season, going 97-87 in 12 seasons.
No coach stands out from the rest enough to get into the Hall of Fame this year. There’s a plethora of extremely talented players who need to be inducted and inducted now to make room for the next group of greats coming up for nomination in the next few years. Considering this, no coach will get into Canton this year. However, should the Hall of Fame separate coaches and players on the ballot, I believe that Cowher and potentially Coryell and Schottenheimer will get in eventually.
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