(Photos by Green Bay Packers/Jim Biever and Carolina Panthers)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
Now that we're set with the Class of 2015 for Pro Football's Hall of Fame, let's start looking ahead -- and I'm not talking about the inductions. Nope, I mean let's look a year ahead to handicap the Class of 2016. And let's start at the top.
There was one slam-dunk this year, and linebacker Junior Seau was chosen after little debate. Little should change there in 2016 when another candidate is a dead-bolt cinch, and no discussion will be required.
Brett Favre, come on down.
Favre will be the first quarterback elected as a first-ballot choice since Dan Marino and Steve Young went in together in 2005 ... and that's not exactly an educated guess. It's a guarantee. You don't have to be an Einstein to figure Favre gains the approval of most ... if not all ... of the 46 selectors.
He won big games. He threw a zillion touchdown passes. He won a Super Bowl. He was a league MVP. Three times, no less. And when he retired, he held a passel of records that either were or are now under siege by Peyton Manning.
So make Favre one of your five modern-era choices.
But then what? Well, then you have to recognize what the Hall's board has done the past few years ... namely, respect the queue. It's been receptive to Hall-of-Fame worthy candidates stuck at the doors of Canton but who were eclipsed by others who jumped the line with better numbers ... or qualifications ... or both.
That's why linebacker Kevin Greene is an early favorite. Greene has been waiting 11 years and is a four-time finalist. He had a shot to cross the finish line last weekend but lost out when six-time finalist Charles Haley -- also eligible 11 years -- got the call. Haley was one of four candidates with anywhere from four to six years as a finalist, and their inductions cleared the paths for others waiting behind.
Of that group, Kevin Greene is the most eligible. He has 160 sacks, third most of all time. Only Bruce Smith and Reggie White have more. They're in the Hall. Greene is not. He has 60 more sacks than Haley, too. But Haley's in the Hall, and Kevin Greene is not.
That should change within a year.
Wide receiver Marvin Harrison moves to the front of the class, too. He thought he should've been chosen as a first-time finalist a year ago. He wasn't. Andre Reed was, with selectors choosing an eight-time finalist. He thought he would be called last weekend, too, but he wasn't. Tim Brown was, and for all the right reasons. He not only had numbers either equal or comparable to Harrison's; he was an all-conference punt returner and kick returner.
Harrison was not. But, patience, Marvin. You're in perfect position to move forward.
Then there's tackle Orlando Pace, and you have to like his chances, too. This was his first year on the ballot, and some thought he was a lock. One problem: He wasn't the most qualified offensive lineman in this year's class. Guard Will Shields was. And so he made it ... in his fourth year as a finalist.
Had Pace been chosen, he would've become the fourth left tackle to reach Canton in four years -- with Willie Roaf, Jonathan Ogden and Walter Jones preceding him. But he didn't. He should make it on his second.
That's four of the five places reserved for modern-era candidates, with the fifth wide open. I'd start by eliminating quarterback Kurt Warner, and not because he's not qualified. He is. But with Favre going in, Warner probably waits another year.
That might leave an opening for former coach Tony Dungy, who could be the front runner for this spot. He didn't make the cut to 10 in his first try a year ago, but he did last weekend. That tells you something, and what it tells you is that support for Dungy is growing within the room. That's not only significant. It's encouraging for Dungy.
Yeah, I know, wide receiver Terrell Owens and guard Alan Faneca are first-time candidates in 2016, but let's be honest: I don't know that Faneca makes the cut to 15, and Owens' candidacy is punctuated by as much controversy as big numbers. Owens will be a hot topic for discussion, but, in the end, he probably doesn't make the final five in 2016.
A surprise candidate, however, might.