Tonight, the newest members of the Class of 2014 will be announced. Here are the 15 finalists:
|14||Edward Debartolo, Jr.||Owner|
The Hall of Fame voters will select up to five of these candidates, although rest assured we won’t have a class with fewer than five selections anytime soon. In addition, the two Seniors Committee choices – Ray Guy and Claude Humphrey – will each receive an up or down vote. Today, I’m going to look at whom I would select (and *not* the players I think will be selected) for induction in 2014.
Derrick Brooks is a Hall of Fame lock. Brooks and Junior Seau were two of the best linebackers of the past 20 years, and by far the best non-pass rushing outside linebackers of their eras.1 Since the merger, the only outside linebackers with more first-team All-Pro selections than Brooks are Seau (with 6), Jack Ham (6), and Lawrence Taylor (8). Brooks should join Warren Sapp as first-ballot Hall of Famers from those great Tampa Bay defenses.
Marvin Harrison is another obvious pick, as I explained a couple of weeks ago. He is the second-most statistically dominant wide receiver since Don Hutson. The Hall of Fame threshold is much lower than “being as good as Jerry Rice” so Harrison should be a first-ballot choice.
Michael Strahan should have been selected last year; I would have chosen him over Sapp. After Bruce Smith and Reggie White, Strahan can hold up against any other post-merger defensive end. The former Giant was a strongside end who was outstanding against the run and a terror to opposing quarterbacks. He was a much more complete player than many sack specialists, yet still wound up as the all-time single-season record holder (however tainted that mark may be).
Walter Jones, Jonathan Ogden and Orlando Pace battled for about a decade for the title of best left tackle. Honestly, I’m not sure where I’d rank those three, but Jones is an obvious choice for first-ballot enshrinement.
Will Shields made twelve Pro Bowls. Incredibly, this is Shields’ third year as a finalist. He made twelve Pro Bowls. I didn’t understand it when he wasn’t selected in 2012 or 2013, but I have to assume that there are no more roadblocks to induction. He made twelve Pro Bowls, three more than any player eligible but not yet in Canton.
Those five would form my Class of 2014. Aeneas Williams is a Hall of Famer in my book, as his resume compares favorably to other cornerbacks. Unfortunately for him, there are too many worthy candidates this year, but I would have him in Canton eventually.
A few years ago, Tim Brown had my vote over both Cris Carter and Andre Reed. I’m glad Carter was selected, believe Brown to be very deserving, and think Reed has the least compelling case. Brown should get into Canton, but I would have him join Williams in the “wait until next year line.” I wouldn’t argue vehemently against Reed, but I think he’s a borderline candidate. Another factor working against Reed is that he caught 71% of his receiving yards from a Hall of Fame quarterback in Jim Kelly, a luxury not afforded to Brown (who caught 32% of his yards from Rich Gannon, 26% from Jeff Hostetler, and 12% from Jeff George).
Kevin Greene falls into the same category as Williams and Brown for me: a deserving choice, but not this year. He was a one-dimensional player (unlike Strahan), which should — and I believe has — hurt his case. But he’s also the third best pass rusher of the last 30 years, and that alone is enough to warrant induction down the road.
Like most of us, I struggle with how to view non-players. I am more impressed by Tony Dungy’s ability to continue to string together 12-win seasons than I am by anything else about his resume: because of that fact, he ranked 3rd among all coaches over the last 80 years in what’s known as the Dungy Index. He did have playoff struggles, as he ranked slightly below average in the Schottenheimer Index. To me, Dungy hasn’t separated himself enough from coaches like Cowher or Holmgren (or, down the line, Shanahan or Coughlin) to be a first-ballot choice.
It’s even harder to evaluate Eddie DeBartolo. You either say yes because of 16 playoff appearances in 23 years as an owner and an incredible five Super Bowl rings, or you say no because you don’t like owners or you don’t like DeBartolo. With him, I think the analysis is that simple.
Reed is joined by Jerome Bettis in my “on the fence” tier. There was a good discussion of Bettis’ candidacy in the comments to this post. Five years ago, I ranked Bettis 29th on my list of the most dominant running backs ever. Dominance isn’t everything, of course, and Bettis has a better case than some of the running backs ahead of him on that list. But I’d still prefer seeing Terrell Davis ahead of him, and I think players like Priest Holmes, Tiki Barber, Shaun Alexander, and Brian Westbrook (among others) were arguably better in their primes and will be unlikely to ever sniff the Hall.
Bettis wasn’t much of a receiver, he wasn’t explosive, and he didn’t even score as often as you’d think. Bettis is viewed in the best light — by far — by looking only at rushng yards. But even then, he ranked in the top 8 in rushing yards in just three different seasons. And for new readers, when I ranked Bettis 29th, my method excluded yards per carry from the conversation, which is the most common anti-Bettis argument.
I also see a bottom three among this year’s candidates, players who I simply don’t think have done enough to warrant induction into the Hall. Whereas I could see myself saying yes to the other 12 under the right circumstances, I’m against the candidacies of John Lynch, Charles Haley, and Morten Andersen. I’ll be posting a revised list of the greatest kickers ever this offseason, but Andersen was simply not as good as Nick Lowery. Until Lowery is in, Andersen should be off the ballot.
Haley and Lynch have only slightly more compelling cases. Lynch was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection, but four of those came in Denver, and at least the last two were complete reputation picks. He was a first-team All-Pro choice in only two years, and will not be remembered as a historically great safety. You don’t need to be Troy Polamalu or Ed Reed to make it to Canton, but I’d put Lynch in a big tier with players like Brian Dawkins, Carnell Lake, Steve Atwater, LeRoy Butler, Rodney Harrison, and Darren Sharper. Lynch was a great player — not being Hall of Fame-worthy is hardly a knock — but in my view, his play wasn’t historically great for a long-enough period of time.
As for Haley, the #RINGZ argument doesn’t move the needle for me. Haley was not as good of a pass-rusher as Greene — in fact, he ranked only 31st on my list of the best pass rushers since 1982. Unless you want to make the argument that Haley was also dominant in run defense and in coverage, you wind up falling back on the championships. The perfect response to that is Fuzzy Thurston, who has six #RINGZ and is not in the Hall.
To recap, I would select Brooks, Harrison, Strahan, Jones, and Shields. The three most-deserving after them would be Brown, Williams, and Greene. I’m punting on what to do with Dungy and DeBartolo, at least for 2014. Bettis and Reed are borderline cases, and I’d affirmatively say no to Haley, Lynch, and Andersen.
As for the two Seniors selections? I agree with Jason Lisk that Guy would be a fine choice, and I’d select him just so we can stop hearing about his case. Humphrey is trying to pull a Bob Hayes, who was a Seniors choice in 2004 and not selected, but then chosen his second time around in 2009. The other Seniors candidate that year was Humphrey; since then, Dick Stanfel is the only Seniors choice not to be inducted. I don’t have much of an opinion on Humphrey. He was a first-team All-NFL selection by at least one major organization from ’71 to ’74 (and also in ’77) but played most of his career in overlooked Atlanta. He’s already in the Hall of Very Good — and I haven’t a clue as to whether that will be as far as his case goes.
Humphrey was one of just two Pro Bowlers on the Gritz Blitz 1977 Falcons, one of the greatest defenses in NFL history. Unofficially, he recorded 97 sacks with Atlanta (including 15 in 1976) and 27.5 more with the Eagles (with 14.5 in 1980). Those are pretty excellent numbers, but he also played in an era overflowing with great defensive linemen. I named Humphrey a second-team defensive end on my All-Decade team of the ’70s: the first-teamers (Jack Youngblood, Carl Eller) are already in, while my other second-team choice (L.C. Greenwood) remains outside of Canton. On the actual All-Decade team, Youngblood and Eller were the first-team choices, and Harvey Martin joined Greenwood as a second-team selection. There must have been a significant push by several voters to re-reselect Humphrey just five years after he was turned away, so my guess is that he’s going to be elected.