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Pro Football Hall of Fame 2010: Emmitt, Jerry and Who Else?

Posted on February 05, 2010 by Dean Hybl
Jerry Rice #80

Jerry Rice could be the greatest player of all-time and should get voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday.

On Saturday afternoon all-time rushing leader Emmitt Smith and all-time receiving leader Jerry Rice should officially be able to add the words “Hall of Famer” to their resume. The question is which of the other 15 finalists will be joining them on the platform in Canton.

In addition to Smith and Rice, the other player selected as a finalist in his first year of eligibility is wide receiver Tim Brown.

Last summer I ran an in-depth series looking at each position and breaking down the top 10 players at each position who are not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Below is a rundown of all finalists and my opinion of their worthiness and likeliness to be among the Class of 2010. At the end is my prediction for who I think should be selected in 2010 as well as who I expect the Hall of Fame voters to honor.

Breaking Down the 2010 Nominees (likelihood is gauged only for 2010):

Tim Brown – Wide Receiver/Kick Returner – 1988-2003 Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders, 2004 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Overall Worthiness: B+     Likelihood for 2010: 15%

Tim Brown was an exciting receiver for the Oakland Raiders and ranks fourth all-time in receptions (1,094) and receiving yards (14,934). My biggest struggle with Brown is that while he was always very good, he was never considered the best player in the league. His statistics are impressive, but I struggle with believing he was better than Cliff Branch, Drew Pearson and Harold Carmichael, all of whom were great receivers in an era before receiving stats became inflated. I have no doubt that Brown will eventually get into the Hall of Fame, but given that better receivers (Art Monk, James Lofton, Don Maynard, Charlie Joiner)  waited for years before getting the call, I find it difficult to believe Brown will be selected  in his first year of eligibility.

Cris Carter – Wide Receiver – 1987-89 Philadelphia Eagles, 1990-2001 Minnesota Vikings, 2002 Miami Dolphins

Overall Worthiness: A-      Likelihood: 70%

Cris Carter ranks third all-time in receptions (1,101), fourth in receiving touchdowns (130) and eighth in receiving yards (13,899). Much like Brown, his numbers are a bit inflated due to the period in which he played, but Carter was slightly more dominant as a receiver than Brown. In addition to the Hall of Fame committee’s reluctance to select receivers to the Hall of Fame until they have waited for a while, I also think Carter is being given some deserved penance for his behavior early in his career. He was a jerk with a drinking problem while with the Philadelphia Eagles and though all accounts say he turned around his life and attitude after getting released, I think the voters may be letting him stew for a few years to knock his ego down a notch. It wouldn’t be the first (or likely the last) HOF voters have held on a player to send a message

Don Coryell was an offensive innovator with the Air Coryell attack.

Don Coryell was an offensive innovator with the Air Coryell attack.

Don Coryell – Coach – 1973-77 St. Louis Cardinals, 1978-1986 San Diego Chargers

Overall Worthiness: A   Likelihood: 95%

Even though Don Coryell has never previously been a finalist for the Hall of Fame, I believe the fact that he has suddenly made it this far after more than 20 years of eligibility makes it likely he will get the nod. In my opinion, it is way too long in coming. Coryell was an innovative coach who created an offense that is still being used by multiple teams today. He turned Dan Fouts and the San Diego passing game into the most high-powered unit in the NFL. While he never won a championship with the Cardinals or Chargers, he won 57% of his games and took his squads to six playoffs.

Roger Craig – Running Back – 1983-1990 San Francisco 49ers, 1991 Los Angeles Raiders, 1992-93 Minnesota Vikings

Overall Worthiness: A     Likelihood: 55%

I have contended since day one that Roger Craig deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Last summer I ranked him as the most deserving running back and eighth most deserving overall among those not in the HOF. A true multiple threat, Craig was the first player to rush and catch passes for 1,000 yards in the same season. He was an important part of three Super Bowl champions and finished his career with more than 13,000 yards from scrimmage. What hurts Craig is that he gained only 8,189 yards rushing. However, in my opinion the fact that he also caught 566 passes for 4,911 yards makes up for that deficiency. I expect Craig will eventually get in this year, but don’t expect it to be this year.

Dermontti Dawson – Center – 1988-2000 Pittsburgh Steelers

Overall Worthiness: B      Likelihood: 60%

Since 1996, 17 offensive linemen have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. By comparison, in the same time period a total of only 22 offensive skill players (8-WR, 7-QB, 4-RB, 3-TE) have been selected. Overall in the modern era, more offensive linemen (34) have been enshrined in Canton than players from any other position. Standing second is the defensive line with 27.
Hall of Fame voters seem to be more comfortable selecting offensive linemen because there is less controversy about their statistics. Dawson was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection and six-time first team All-Pro during 13 years with the Pittsburgh Steelers. I have a hard time believing he is more worthy than Jerry Kramer, but other than that, his numbers are as good or better than any other offensive lineman not in the HOF. I expect he will eventually get selected and this could be the year.

Richard Dent – Defensive End – 1983-1993, 1995 Chicago Bears, 1994 San Francisco 49ers, 1996 Indianapolis Colts, 1997 Philadelphia Eagles

Overall Worthiness: B+      Likelihood: 60%

In my opinion Richard Dent is one of those players that seems to have Hall of Fame credentials, but is tough to put in over a few other players from the same position. I rated him as the fourth best defensive lineman not in the Hall of Fame behind John Randle, Cortez Kennedy and L.C. Greenwood. With both Randle and Kennedy also on the ballot, I have a hard time seeing Dent getting in ahead of them. However, his Super Bowl performance (MVP of Super Bowl XX) and the dominant nature of the Bears’ defense for a portion of his career could sway some voters in his direction.

Russ Grimm – Guard – 1981-1991 Washington Redskins

Overall Worthiness: C+     Likelihood: 30%

From each generation the Hall of Fame committee seems to select one or two players and tease them with regular finalist appearances for a while before eventually forgetting about them and moving on to someone else. I believe Russ Grimm is one of those players. This is the sixth straight year that he has made it as a finalist. There may be a year when they just decide to put him in, but I question his worthiness over many others at his position. I rated Grimm as just the 15th best offensive lineman not in the Hall of Fame. He was part of the great “Hogs” lines of the 1980s, but Grimm only made four Pro Bowl appearances and was a three-time first team All-Pro. There are many offensive linemen not in the HOF that dwarf those levels of peer recognition.

Charles Haley earned five Super Bowl rings, but is he a Hall of Famer?

Charles Haley earned five Super Bowl rings, but is he a Hall of Famer?

Charles Haley – Defensive End/Linebacker – 1986-1991, 1999 San Francisco 49ers, 1992-96 Dallas Cowboys

Overall Worthiness: C+     Likelihood: 10%

I was pleasantly surprised when Haley made it onto the list of finalists for this year. Having played at a rival high school and them watched him collegiately when we were both at James Madison University, I would love to see Haley get into the Hall of Fame. However, aside from his distinction of being the only players with five Super Bowl rings, I struggle with his worthiness over others at his position. He was not the first primarily pass-rushing specialist and he wasn’t the best. Just comparing him to dent, he had two fewer double digit sack seasons and 37 less sacks during his career. There is no question that Haley was one of the final pieces that made the Cowboys great in the 1990s, but I don’t know if that will be enough to get him into the Hall of Fame.

Rickey Jackson – Linebacker – 1981-1993 New Orleans Saints, 1994-95 San Francisco 49ers

Overall Worthiness: B     Likelihood: 35%

I think you could make a case that there are more deserving linebackers not in the Hall of Fame than players at any other position. All-time greats like Randy Gradishar, Chuck Howley, Sam Mills, Robert Brazile, Chris Hanburger and many others. Rickey Jackson was a great player, but I struggle with putting him in that category. He was a six-time Pro Bowl selection, but was never a first team All-Pro. His 128 sacks are impressive for a linebacker, but was he better than his own teammates Mills and Pat Swilling? I think Jackson will get strong consideration, but will be surprised if he is among those selected.

Cortez Kennedy – Defensive Tackle – 1990-2000 Seattle Seahawks

Overall Worthiness: B+     Likelihood: 70%

As an interior defensive lineman, Kennedy doesn’t have the sexy sack numbers registered by some of the rush defensive ends, but for a decade he was considered the best, or one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. He was an eight time Pro Bowl selection and three-time first team All-Pro. I think Kennedy is probably right on the edge and I will not be surprised if he gets in, or if he has to wait for another year.

Dick LeBeau – Cornerback – 1959-1972 Detroit Lions

Overall Worthiness: Player Only: D- Player and Coach: B+    Likelihood: 90%

If Dick LeBeau gets into the Hall of fame this year he will be the most controversial of the selections. Because he was chosen as a finalist by the seniors committee, he is in theory being considered only for his play on the field, not for his work over the last four decades as an assistant coach. Given those parameters, I really struggle with considering LeBeau as a Hall of Fame defensive back. I know he had 62 interceptions during his 14 year career, but he played opposite a number of Hall of Fame defensive backs, which made it more likely that quarterbacks would throw the ball his way. He was selected to only three Pro Bowls and was never a first team All-Pro. Those are not Hall of Fame levels. In my opinion, the Hall of Fame voters need to maintain the integrity of the process and not select LeBeau this year as a seniors committee nominee. Once he retires from coaching I have no problem with them re-nominating him for his all-around contribution to the game. In that context his candidacy is much more legitimate.

Floyd Little is a Hall of Fame finalist for the first time 35 years after his retirement.

Floyd Little is a Hall of Fame finalist for the first time 35 years after his retirement.

Floyd Little – Running Back – 1967-1975 Denver Broncos

Overall Worthiness: B-   Likelihood: 65%

Playing on primarily losing teams with the Denver Broncos in the 1960s and 1970s, Floyd Little was one of the most explosive and best all-around backs of his era. He twice led the AFL in yards all-purpose yards and in 1971 led the NFL in yards from scrimmage. His 6,323 rushing yards were the seventh highest total in NFL history at the time of his retirement. His statistical numbers now seem pedestrian, but given the era in which he played, the five time Pro Bowl selection was without question one of the best running backs of his era. I am glad he is finally being recognized as a finalist, but am not sure he will make the final cut. Of the two senior nominees I think Little is the more worthy candidate, but given the tendencies over the voters, will be surprised if he gets in and LeBeau does not.

John Randle – Defensive Tackle – 1990-2000 Minnesota Vikings, 2001-03 Seattle Seahawks

Overall Worthiness: A     Likelihood: 90%

Last summer I rated John Randle as the third most deserving player not in the HOF behind Shannon Sharpe and Jerry Kramer. While Kramer is not a finalist this year, I fully expect that both Randle and Sharpe will make the cut this time around. Randle reached double digits in sacks nine times during his career and finished with 137.5. He was a seven time Pro Bowler and six time first team All-Pro. He was a finalist last year in his initial year of eligibility and I believe will get in this year.

Andre Reed – Wide Receiver – 1985-1999 Buffalo Bills, 2000 Washington Redskins

Overall Worthiness: B-     Likelihood: 35%

With Rice, Carter and Brown also on the ballot, I have a hard time believing that Andre Reed will be able to break through and make it into the Hall of Fame this year. His statistics are impressive (951 catches, 13,198 yards, 87 touchdowns), but fall a little short of the others. I just don’t quite see him being even of the same caliber as Branch and Pearson and expect Reed will probably eventually stop making the list of finalists and have a long wait for a spot in Canton.

Jerry Rice – Wide Receiver – 1985-2000 San Francisco 49ers, 2001-04 Oakland Raiders, 2004 Seattle Seahawks

Overall Worthiness: A+     Likelihood: 99.999995%

Given that the Hall of Fame selection committee is known for making more than their share of bad decisions, there is a smidgen of possibility that they could someone fail to select the best skill position player of the last 35 years for the Hall of Fame, but it would definitely be a shock. I don’t think there has been a more worthy first time nominee since Joe Montana or Lawrence Taylor. Jerry Rice was quite simply the best wide receiver ever to play the game and some will argue the best player of any position. He and Emmitt Smith should both be locks for induction and make this one of the most impressive Hall of Fame classes of all-time regardless which other players are chosen.

Shannon Sharpe should get into the Hall of Fame in his second year of eligibility.

Shannon Sharpe should get into the Hall of Fame in his second year of eligibility.

Shannon Sharpe – Tight End – 1990-99, 2002-03 Denver Broncos, 2000-01 Baltimore Ravens

Overall Worthiness: A      Likelihood: 92%

After being given what seems to be the obligatory one-year extra waiting period by the Hall of Fame voters, Shannon Sharpe should get into the Hall of Fame this year. At the time of his retirement, he was the most prolific pass-catching tight end of all-time. Sharpe was a member of three Super Bowl Champions, an eight time Pro Bowl selection and four time first-team All-Pro. He will one day be inducted and I hope Hall of Fame voters don’t mess around and wait another year to put him into the HOF.

Emmitt Smith – Running Back – 1990-2002 Dallas Cowboys, 2003-04 Arizona Cardinals

Overall Worthiness: A+    Likelihood: 99.999995%

Emmitt Smith may not have been the best running back ever to play in the NFL, but he is definitely on the short list. The NFL’s all-time leading rusher, he was a key member of three Super Bowl Champion teams for the Dallas Cowboys. He obliterated Walter Payton’s all-time rushing record and trails only Jerry Rice in career touchdowns. Like Rice, Smith should be an automatic selection for the Hall of Fame committee.

Who Should Get In?
The Hall of Fame committee can select up to five modern-era players and the total number of players selected cannot exceed seven.  I believe the HOF voters should select six finalists for the Hall of Fame: Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, John Randle, Shannon Sharpe, Don Coryell and Floyd Little.

In my opinion, the first four are “no brainers.” Rice and Smith should be automatic choices and Sharpe and Randle should join them now that they have been vetted by the committee for the second time. I believe Coryell deserves to get in for the innovations he brought to the game. I also think Little was deserving of selection 25 years ago and should finally get his recognition.

Who Will Get In?
After following the tendencies of the Hall of Fame voters for the last couple decades, I have come to recognize that there are too much politics involved to ever expect them to simply choose the best eligible players. Whether it is egos, turf protection or whatever else, voters often make choices that make you scratch your head.

As I’ve said, I believe there are four “no brainers” this year, but I will not be surprised if either Sharpe or Randle do not get in this year. If Sharpe is by-passed, look for Cris Carter or one of the offensive linemen to fill that slot. If somehow Randle doesn’t get in, you will probably see either Richard Dent or Cortez Kennedy make the cut. I’m not sure what they will do with Coryell. As I mentioned previously, given his advance age (85), the committee may decide that he should be selected while still alive. I fully expect them to disregard their charge and select Dick LeBeau based on both his playing and coaching career. They could add Floyd Little as their seventh pick, but they have not chosen to reach the maximum number of seven inductees since 2001, so I will be very surprised if they reach that total this year.

Likely Selections by the HOF Committee: Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, Shannon Sharpe, Richard Dent, Don Coryell, Dick LeBeau.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2010 will be announced at 5 p.m. on Saturday.

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