(Kurt Warner photo courtesy of the Arizona Cardinals)
(Terrell Owens photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
The Pro Football Hall of Fame will announce its finalists for the Class of 2016 on Jan. 7, with voters charged to make decisions on the 15 candidates by mid-December. That doesn’t leave us much time, so let's start handicapping the field:
(Brett Favre photo courtesy of the Green Bay Packers)
It doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out that quarterback Brett Favre is a cinch. He set a zillion records, was a three-time MVP, appeared in five conference championship games and two Super Bowls, won a Lombardi Trophy and, oh, yeah, started a staggering 321 consecutive games, including the playoffs. Next.
VIRTUAL SLAM DUNKS
(Kevin Greene photo courtesy of the Carolina Panthers)
Former linebacker Kevin Greene tops this list. He was this close to making it to Canton a year ago but lost out when Jerome Bettis beat him to the finish line. The Hall’s voters last year demonstrated they're intent on clearing the queue of deserving candidates, and Greene is at the head of that line. A four-time finalist, he has more sacks (160) than all but Bruce Smith and Reggie White. Moving him to the Final 15 is a no-brainer.
Wide receiver Marvin Harrison didn’t understand how he missed getting elected last year, but I could tell him in two words: Tim Brown. You don’t jump the queue when Brown was a six-time finalist. Harrison made the final 10, and so did offensive tackle Orlando Pace. But their candidacies stopped there. Like Greene, they're sure money to make it to 15.
The same goes for last year’s finalists – coaches Tony Dungy and Jimmy Johnson, safety John Lynch, running back Terrell Davis, kicker Morten Andersen and quarterback Kurt Warner. All should be easy choices as finalists. You’ve got to figure first-year candidates Terrell Owens and Alan Faneca are shoo-ins, too. Both were all-decade choices, with Faneca an eight-time All-Pro and Owens a six-timer. Reaching the final 15 should be the easy part. After that ... maybe not so much.
ON THE BUBBLE
(Don Coryell photo courtesy of the San Diego Chargers)
The one finalist from 2015 I'm unsure about is Don Coryell. Look, I’d put him in Canton in a heartbeat, but I admit it: I’m biased. I witnessed first-hand what he did while covering the Chargers, and it wasn’t just about changing offenses; it was about changing the defenses that had to stop those offenses, too.
But let’s be honest: Coryell almost surely isn’t going to make it to Canton, mostly because of a 3-6 playoff record and no Super Bowl appearances. He's an eight-time semifinalist and two-time finalist, but sooner or later, voters are going to give up on him. I mean, the poor guy can't break through to the Top 10, so voters may figure he's not destined to go farther and move on.
Running back Edgerrin James is an intriguing candidate and someone who should make it to the next round. Reason: Because he belongs. He not only was a complete back -- someone who ran, caught and blocked effectively -- but is the 11th-leading rusher of all time ... and that was on a team (the Colts) with Peyton Manning.
With five offensive linemen up, you figure that someone other than Pace might sneak in, and I’d say you’re right. The question is: Who's that someone? Former Redskin Joe Jacoby is a possibility, though he hasn’t made it to 15 before. Nevertheless, the Hall’s voters love offensive players, and Jacoby was an all-decade choice. That's the good. The bad: This is his sixth year as a semifinalist, so voters cool on him as the field narrows.
Then there's Steve Atwater, and I’d hope the selectors study his candidacy carefully. The guy was an eight-time Pro Bowler, a three-time All-Pro, a two-time Super Bowl champ and an all-decade choice. But he was also a safety, and voters have been blind to pure safeties – with only seven inducted.
The last to be elected was Paul Krause, the NFL’s career interception leader, and he made it to Canton in 1998 … or after a 14-year wait. And the last to play? Try Kenny Houston. He retired after the 1980 season.
Tackles Tony Boselli and Mike Kenn are possibilities, too, but I don’t see either getting this far. Cornerback Ty Law, however, could. He made the cut to 25 in 2015, his first year of eligibility, and maybe voters warm to an all-decade cornerback who was a three-time Super Bowl winner and tied Hall-of-Famer Deion Sanders for career interceptions.
(Isaac Bruce photo courtesy of the St. Louis Rams)
Under normal circumstances, wide receiver Isaac Bruce might be a real possibility to move to the next level. But having Owens and Harrison on the same ballot compromises his chances. That’s not to say he doesn’t make it. I just think it might be tough this year. Same with Torry Holt. Of the four receivers on the ballot, he has the steepest climb.
Boselli probably belongs here, too, because this is his first year as a semifinalist. Ever. I know, I don’t get it, either, because he's been eligible eight years ... and only now did voters wake up to him. Not a good sign. Same with Kenn, who broke through as a semifinalist in 2015, or 21 years after he retired. Former offensive lineman Kevin Mawae looks like another on the outside looking in, too, mostly because we have Faneca and Pace making the next cut.
Linebackers Karl Mecklenburg and Sam Mills probably stop here, too, though I’d love to see either discussed. But it’s Mills’ first move into the top 25 after six years of eligibility, and Mecklenburg -- one of the most versatile defensive players ever -- has been here before. Plus, he’s been out of the game 21 years, and the Hall has a blind spot with Denver Broncos -- with only four who played the bulk of their careers with the Broncos inducted.
Former running back Roger Craig probably lands here, too, and he's another who deserves better. He was a Pro Bowl choice as a fullback AND running back and the first player in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards and catch 1,000 yards in passes in the same season. Since then, only one other has been there – running back Marshall Faulk – and he’s in the Hall of Fame.
Craig is an eight-time semifinalist who once made it to the Final 10. But that was 2010, and he hasn’t been back. That doesn’t bode well for his candidacy as a modern-era nominee.