The Pro Football Hall of fame recently announced that it could induct up to 20 new members in 2020 as part of the celebration of the NFL’s 100th anniversary. The class may include up to five modern era players, ten senior nominees, three contributors, and two coaches. The decision finally makes the Hall of Fame obtainable for many senior candidates who have been waiting decades to hear their names called for enshrinement.
To qualify for a Senior Committee nomination, a player must have been retired for at least 25 years. For the 2020 class, any coach or player whose final season was in 1994 is eligible. That means dozens of qualified or semi-qualified candidates will vie for the ten finalist spots. All ten spots should be filled, and the voters should not waste this opportunity to recognize greatness from many different eras of football.
This article focuses heavily on players who could receive a lot of attention from the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but two coaches are also mentioned. Because of the difference between eras, it’s hard to determine what players from say the 40s are deserving of gold jackets. For that reason, I’m not going to predict who will be enshrined and who won’t. I’m simply laying out the best options and you can decide who is worthy of football immortality.
Below are the coaches and players who have the best chance to benefit from the extended size of the Hall of Fame class. They appear in alphabetical order by last name.
Ken Anderson QB 1971-1986
Anderson spent his entire 16-year career with the Cincinnati Bengals. The third round pick had a mixed career. He led the league in passing yards in 1974 and 1975. He also led the NFL in completions twice, completion percentage three times, and quarterback rating four times. In 1975, Anderson was the Walter Payton Man of the Year. He had his best season in 1981, winning the league MVP and Offensive Player of the Year award as well as earning his only First Team All-Pro selection. Anderson finished his career with four Pro Bowls, 32,838 passing yards, 197 passing touchdowns, 2,220 rushing yards, and 20 rushing touchdowns.
Maxie Baughan LB 1960-1970, 1974
Baughan was a second round pick by the Eagles back in 1960. He played in the league for 11 years, spending time with three different teams. Baughan went to nine Pro Bowls during his career including seven consecutively from 1963 through 1969. He was a First Team All-Pro twice and was a Second Team All-Pro four times.
Bobby Boyd CB 1960-1968
Boyd played for the Baltimore Colts during his entire career. The defensive back hauled in 57 passes during his nine-year career. He only had two seasons where he intercepted fewer than six passes. He picked off six balls twice, seven twice, eight once, and nine twice. For his efforts, Boyd made two Pro Bowls and was a First Team All-Pro three times. He was a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All-1960s Team. He also won an NFL Championship. When Boyd retired, he had the third-most interceptions in history.
Cliff Branch WR 1972-1985
Branch passed away on August 3, 2019. With his passing, like with Ken Stabler’s, Branch’s Hall of Fame case will be revisited. From 1974 through 1977, Branch went to four consecutive Pro Bowls and was a First Team All-Pro three times. He also led the league in receiving yards once, receiving touchdowns twice, and receiving yards per game twice. Branch is a Raiders legend. He spent his entire career with the team and won three Super Bowls. He retired with 501 receptions, 8,685 receiving yards, and 67 receiving touchdowns.
Ed Budde G 1963-1976
Budde was drafted fourth overall in the 1963 NFL Draft and eighth overall that same year in the AFL Draft. He ended up playing in the AFL for the Kanas City Chiefs until the leagues merged. Budde won two AFL Championships and one Super Bowl. His career was frontloaded with all seven of his Pro Bowls and both of his First Team All-Pro selections coming in the first nine years of his career. Budde was also a two-time Second Team All-Pro in the AFL.
Deron Cherry S 1981-1991
Chery went undrafted in the 1981 NFL Draft. The Kansas City Chiefs signed him, and the move paid off. By Cherry’s third season he was a full-time starter. He made six consecutive Pro Bowls and was selected as a First Team All-Pro three times during the best stretch of his career. He was also a Second Team All-Pro twice during those six years. Cherry recorded seven interceptions in four different seasons and was at his best in 1986 when he picked off nine passes. He finished his career with 50 interceptions and was named as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Second Team All-1980s decade team.
Todd Christensen TE 1978-1988
Christensen was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second round of the 1978 NFL Draft. However, he didn’t see the field until 1979 and he was with the New York Giants by that time. After just one appearance, Christensen switched teams again, this time joining the Oakland Raiders. He spent the rest of his career with the Raiders, even though he didn’t register a catch until 1981.
Christensen became a starter in 1982, and, beginning in 1983, he made five consecutive Pro Bowl appearances. During that time, he led the league in receptions twice, has more than 1,000 receiving yards three times, and got close in 1985 with 987 yards. The end for Christensen came quickly. His final Pro Bowl was in 1987 and he retired after 1988. He was a First Team All-Pro and Second Team All-Pro twice and won two Super Bowls with the Raiders.
Roger Craig RB 1983-1993
Two running backs in NFL history have recorded 1,000 rushing and receiving yards in a single-season. Marshall Faulk did it in 1999, but Craig was the first to accomplish the feat. In 1985 he ran for 1,050 yards and caught an NFL-leading 92 receptions for 1,016 yards. 1985 was the first of three 1,000-yard rushing seasons for Craig. In 1988, he led the league in yards from scrimmage, earned his only First Team All-Pro selection, and was named the Offensive Player of the Year. In total, Craig went to four Pro Bowls, won three Super Bowls during the Joe Montana era in San Francisco, and recorded 13,100 yards from scrimmage. He was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Second Team All-1980s decade team.
Ox Emerson G 1931-1938
A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All-1930s decade team, Emerson was one of the premier offensive linemen of his era. During his short eight-year career, Emerson was a First Team All-Pro five consecutive times. He also won an NFL Championship in 1935 with the Detroit Lions. Emerson has as many First Team All-Pro selections as fellow All-1930s offensive lineman, Hall of Fame center Mel Hein.
Roman Gabriel QB 1962-1977
Gabriel was drafted first overall by the Oakland Raiders in the 1962 AFL Draft and second overall by the Los Angeles Rams in the 1962 NFL Draft. He decided to play for the Rams. His decision launched a 16-year career. Gabriel led the league in passing touchdowns twice, including 1969 when he won the league MVP and 1973 when he was the Comeback Player of the Year. He also led the league in passing yards during the 1973 season. Gabriel retired with four Pro Bowls, a First Team All-Pro selection, 29,444 passing yards, and 201 passing touchdowns. He also ran for 1,304 yards and 30 more touchdowns.
Randy Gradishar LB 1974-1983
Gradishar played on a legendary defense, the Denver Broncos “Orange Crush” defense. He was a tough, well-rounded linebacker who recorded twenty interceptions in his career and was a tackling machine. Unofficially, he has over 2,000 career tackles, just like Ray Lewis. Gradishar only played in the NFL for ten seasons, but he made seven Pro Bowls and was a First Team All-Pro twice. He was also a three-time Second Team All-Pro. In 1978, Gradishar was the Defensive Player of the Year.
L.C. Greenwood DE 1969-1981
He was a member of the infamous 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers, that won four Super Bowls, and played on the ‘Steel Curtain’ that dominated the NFL for the better part of a decade. His fellow defensive lineman, ‘Mean’ Joe Greene, is more famous but it was Greenwood who led the Steelers in sacks when he retired. Unofficially he had 82. Greenwood went to six Pro Bowls and was a First Team All-Pro twice during his career.
Lester Hayes CB 1977-1986
Do you remember Hayes and his Hall of Fame partner, Mike Haynes? They are one of the best cornerback combos in NFL history. Hayes himself won a Defensive Player of the Year award for his 13 interceptions in the 1980 season. He retired after ten seasons, all of which he spent with the Raiders. During that decade, the Raiders won two Super Bowls and Hayes made five Pro Bowls. The Pro Football Hall of Fame selected him to their Second Team All-1980s decade team.
Cliff Harris S 1970-1979
Harris didn’t post big career interception numbers. He retired with 29 and only recorded five interceptions in a single season once. Nevertheless, Harris was a key piece of the Dallas Cowboys defense. He made the Pro Bowl in each of his final six years in the league. He was also a First Team All-Pro three times during that span. Harris also recorded six postseason interceptions, including two in 1971. That year, Harris won the first of two Super Bowls he’d share with the Cowboys. He was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s First Team All-1970s decade team.
Chuck Howley LB 1958-1973
Howley was the original great cowboy. The organization was founded in 1960 and Howley arrived one year later, in 1961. He played for the team until 1973. During that time, he made six Pro Bowls and was a First Team All-Pro five times.
Howley went to two Super Bowls with the Cowboys and earned the game’s MVP honors in Super Bowl V despite being on the losing team. Dallas avenged the loss with a Super Bowl victory in 1971.
Harold Jackson WR 1968-1983
When Jackson retired, he was among an elite group of receivers. Very few players had topped the 10,000 receiving yards mark at that point, and Jackson had amassed 10,372 during his long career. For a moment in history, his name stood alongside Lance Alworth and Don Maynard in an elite club. Jackson led the league in receiving yards twice, receptions one, and receiving touchdowns once. He made five Pro Bowls and was a First Team All-Pro in 1973.
Joe Jacoby OT 1981-1993
Jacoby was a crucial member of the Hogs, an overpowering offensive line that helped the Washington Redskins win three Super Bowls. Jacoby went to four Pro Bowls and was a two-time First Team All-Pro. His fellow Hog, Russ Grimm is already in the Hall of Fame. Jacoby was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Second Team All-1980s decade team.
Ed “Too Tall” Jones DE 1974-1989
Too Tall stood at 6-9 and weighed 271 lbs. The first overall selection in the 1974 NFL Draft was an intimidating and dominating force along the defensive line for the Dallas Cowboys. He is officially credited with 57.5 sacks since the stat was first kept in 1982. If you factor in the first half of his career, Jones is unofficially credited with 106 sacks. The career Cowboy went to three consecutive Pro Bowls and was a First Team All-Pro in 1982. He was also a Second Team All-Pro twice and won a Super Bowl with the Cowboys in 1977.
Alex Karras DT 1958-1970
Karras is an interesting character. He was suspended during his prime for the 1963 season because of gambling. Unofficially he has 97.5 career sacks, which all came with the Detroit Lions, who he spent his entire career with. Karras made four Pro Bowls and was a First Team All-Pro three times. He was also a Second Team All-Pro four times. Karras was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All-1960s decade team.
Joe Klecko DL 1977-1988
Klecko is a forgotten gem in the rich history of the NFL. From the defensive tackle, nose tackle, and defensive end positions he was a force of nature. He remains one of the best defenders in Jets history and spent 11 of his 12 NFL seasons with the team. Klecko went to four Pro Bowls and was a First Team All-Pro twice.
George Kunz OT 1969-1978, 1980
If you’ve never heard of Kunz then you’re in the majority. However, he put together a solid career with the Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Colts. During his 11-year career, Kunz went to eight Pro Bowls and was a First Team All-Pro once. He also made three Second All-Pro Teams.
Jim Marshall DE 1960-1979
Few players have dedicated more of their lives to playing football than Marshall. He played for 20 years, appearing in 282 games. The last 19 of those seasons were with the Minnesota Vikings. During his time with the Vikings, Marshall did not miss a game or a start, setting a then-record with 270 consecutive starts. The record wasn’t passed until Brett Favre came along. While his sack totals aren’t official, Marshall is unofficially credited with 127 sacks. If that number is accurate, Marshall would have the 17th most sacks of all-time.
Harvey Martin DE 1973-1983
Martin’s greatest individual accomplishment came in 1977 when he was the Defensive Player of the Year. The third round selection spent his entire career with the Dallas Cowboys and won a Super Bowl with the team in 1977. He went to four straight Pro Bowls and was a First Team All-Pro in 1977. He was also a Second Team All-Pro three times. He only has ten official sacks since the stat was only kept in an official capacity for his final two seasons. However, he is unofficially credited with 114 sacks. He was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Second Team All-1970s decade team.
Karl Mecklenburg LB 1983-1994
The twelfth round selection outplayed his draft value during his 12-year career, which was spent entirely with the Denver Broncos. Six Pro Bowls dotted Mecklenburg’s career along with three First Team All-Pro honors. He was also a Second Team All-Pro in 1987. He is officially credited with 79 sacks. While his tackle totals are all unofficial, there is significant evidence to show that he topped the 1,000 mark, giving him a rare combination of sack and tackle numbers.
Tommy Nobis MLB 1966-1976
The middle linebacker position isn’t as emphasized as it used to be. There was a time where every team had a middle linebacker that fans would brag about. Nobis was to the Atlanta Falcons what Dick Butkus was to the Chicago Bears. Nobis played with the Falcons for his entire 11-year career. He went to five Pro Bowls and was a First Team All-Pro once.
Lemar Parrish DB 1970-1982
Parrish played in the league for 13 years. He was initially drafted by the Bengals in the seventh round of the 1970 NFL Draft. During his career, Parrish amassed 47 interceptions in 151 starts. He had five seasons with at least five interceptions, including seven-interceptions seasons in 1971 and 1980. His only First Team All-Pro selection came in 1979 when he intercepted nine passes. Parrish was a Second Team All-Pro in 1980, but the Associated Press overlooked him for most of his career. Parrish went to eight Pro Bowls.
Drew Pearson WR 1973-1983
Pearson was Roger Staubach’s weapon of choice. Together, they perfected the Hail Mary and won the Super Bowl in 1977. Pearson’s career outlasted that of his beloved quarterback’s, but he was never quite as dominant once Captain Comeback hung up his cleats after the 1979 season. Pearson went to the Pro Bowl and was a First Team All-Pro in 1974, 1976, and 1977. He finished his career with 489 receptions, 7,822 receiving yards, and 48 receiving touchdowns.
Ken Riley CB 1969-1983
Riley was a sixth round pick in the 1969 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. He spent his entire 15-year career with the organization. Riley intercepted 65 passes during his career, which is tied with Charles Woodson for the fifth-most all-time. The four players with more interceptions than Riley are all in the Hall of Fame. Despite intercepting five or more passes in seven different seasons, Riley never made a Pro Bowl. He was a First Team All-Pro in 1983 and made two Second All-Pro Teams throughout his career.
Lee Roy Jordan LB 1963-1976
Jordan was a key contributor on the Cowboys team that won the franchise’s first Super Bowl. Dallas took Jordan with the sixth overall pick in the 1963 NFL Draft. He turned into a star with the team, spending his entire career in Dallas. Jordan retired with 32 interceptions. He went to five Pro Bowls and was a First Team All-Pro in 1969.
Andy Russell LB 1963-1976
Russell was one of the few holdovers from the pre-1970s Steelers who stayed on once Chuck Noll became the team’s head coach. He was with the team for their first back-to-back title run before retiring after the 1976 season. Russell made seven Pro Bowls, including six straight from 1970 through 1975. He’s often a forgotten man on that legendary defense, but Russell was a key building block who has his own legacy.
Sterling Sharpe WR 1988-1994
Injuries limited Sharpe’s NFL career to seven seasons, but he left his mark on the league. During his career, Sharpe led the league in receptions three times, receiving yards once, and receiving yards twice. He retired with 595 receptions, 8,134 receiving yards, and 65 receiving touchdowns in 112 games played. He went to five Pro Bowls and was selected as a First Team All-Pro three times.
Donnie Shell DB 1974-1987
The 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers teams were great for several reasons, one of them being the sheer numbers of stars that were on the roster. Shell, while often overlooked by history, made five consecutive Pro Bowls with the black and gold during his 14-year career with the team. He was present for all four Super Bowl victories and was selected as a First Team All-Pro three times. Shell recorded at least five interceptions in six different seasons. He intercepted 51 passes during his career.
Duke Slater OL 1922-1931
Before the Associated Press even started naming All-Pros, there was Slater. He played in a fledgling football league on teams like the Milwaukee Badgers, Rock Island Independents, and Chicago Cardinals. What a strange time.
Walt Sweeney G 1963-1975
Another largely forgotten offensive lineman, Sweeney played for the San Diego Chargers and Washington Redskins during his career. He went to nine Pro Bowls, was a First Team All-Pro twice, and won an AFL Championship. He made multiple other AFL All-Pro teams.
Everson Walls CB 1981-1993
Walls signed with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent. The Cowboys hit the jackpot with Walls. He led the league in interceptions three times, including his first two seasons. In his first five years, Walls made all four of his Pro Bowl appearances and his only First Team All-Pro selection. He was also selected as a Second Team All-Pro twice during this time. Although he’s remembered as a Cowboy, Walls won a Super Bowl with the New York Giants late in his career. He retired with 57 interceptions, 11 of which came in his rookie season.
Al Wistert OL 1943-1951
We’re talking about prehistoric football here. It’s surprising Wistert isn’t in the Hall of Fame considering many great players from this era were voted in when the Pro Football Hall of Fame was founded. Wistert, who played for the Philadelphia Eagles his entire career, only made one Pro Bowl. However, he was a four-time First Team All-Pro and won two NFL Championships. He was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All-1940s team which also featured Hall of Famers like Sammy Baugh, Bill Dudley, Sid Luckman, Marion Motley, and Pete Pihos.
Don Coryell HC 1973-1986
He never won the Super Bowl. Coryell’s Cardinals and Charger teams only won three playoff games during his 14-year coaching career. So why does he even belong in the canton conversation? Well, have you ever heard of the Air Coryell offense? It was a revolutionary system predicated on dominating through the air.
Coryell’s offense flourished when he and Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts united on the Chargers. Air Coryell completely changed the trajectory of Fouts’ career. Air Coryell led the NFL in passing yards for seven seasons, including six straight from 1978 through 1983. The offense also gave rise to Hall of Fame pass catchers like Charlie Joiner and Kellen Winslow Sr. It also produced All-Pros and league-leading receivers in Wes Chandler and John Jefferson.
Before 1979, only Joe Namath had thrown for 4,000 yards in a season. Under Coryell, Fouts accomplished the feat three times. He peaked at 4,802 yards in 1981. He also led the league in passing yards per game six times and total passing yards four times.
Coryell and his offensive innovation were the precursors to what we see in the NFL today.
Tom Flores QB 1960-1969 HC 1979-1987, 1992-1994 Executive 1989-1994
Flores is one of the few coaches in NFL history to win multiple Super Bowls. His Raiders teams won it all in 1980 and 1983. However, Flores’ career record as a head coach isn’t very impressive. His teams won 97 games and lost 87, giving Flores a 52.7 winning percentage.
He also played in the NFL for nine seasons as a quarterback. His career was decent. He finished with 11,959 passing yards, 93 touchdowns, 92 interceptions, and a Pro Bowl appearance. Flores also took on an executive role with the Seattle Seahawks for a short time, but the team went 37-59 while he was in that role.
Overall, Flores’ Super Bowl victories carry his resume. Compared to other Hall of Fame coaches, his winning percentage is weak.
Jimbo Covert OT 1983-1990
Chuck Foreman RB 1973-1980
Marshall Goldberg FB/RB 1939-1948
Richard “Tombstone” Jackson DE 1966-1972
Mike Kenn T 1978-1994
Louis Wright CB 1976-1986