The 2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame class features some truly dominant players. This group has a heavy focus on the trenches, with four of the six inductees coming from either the offensive or defensive line. Only Jackie Butler and Curtis Martin played what are considered the "skill" positions.
It's great to see guys such as Willie Roaf, Cortez Kennedy, Dermontti Dawson and Chris Doleman get recognized for their tremendous careers. As fans, we sometimes get too focused on the stat book. However, some of the game's most dominant players can't be identified by the stats they compiled.
With that said, let's rank the Class of 2012.
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
In the 1950s the NFL wasn't exactly known for its high-flying passing attacks. The game focused mainly on the ground game and used the forward pass as a complement.
This fact makes Jackie Butler's career achievements even more impressive.
During the course of his nine-year career, Butler recorded a total of 54 interceptions. This shows his knack for locating the football and his incredible ball skills. It wouldn't be a stretch to say if Butler played in today's pass-heavy era that he'd hold the record for most career interceptions.
Butler has had to wait 52 years to be elected to the Hall of Fame. He doesn't appear to be upset about the wait, though:
"I never, ever, ever thought I would be here. I just didn't think that would be the reality," Butler said. "When I was a kid, I dreamed about being a big, strong, good football player. I dreamed of about going to Canton, Ohio, and being in the Hall of Fame. But I never, ever down deep believed what I was dreaming."
Teams: Minnesota Vikings, Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers
Chris Doleman was a ferocious pass-rusher who currently sits at No. 4 on the all-time sack leader list. Only Bruce Smith, Reggie White and Kevin Greene registered a higher career sack total.
Talent and durability played a major role in Doleman's ability to reach this total; he only missed two games throughout the course of his 15 years in the league.
Doleman's former coach with the Atlanta Falcons, June Jones, wrote the following in an email to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
"He fought through some injuries and Chris gave us leadership in the locker room, 16 sacks over two years, and played his way to the Pro Bowl," Jones wrote. "He played the game at the highest level. He taught our young guys what it took to be the best by showing us his work ethic."
During the 1989 season with the Minnesota Vikings, Doleman nearly set the single-season sack record. He compiled 21 sacks that season, only 1.5 behind the current record held by Michael Strahan.
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
Dermontti Dawson held down the middle of the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line for 13 seasons. His presence helped the Steelers establish a consistent rushing attack, and that running game was a main reason they were able to play in 13 playoff games during Dawson's career.
Former coach Bill Cowher said of Dawson to NBC Sports:
"He was such a competitive guy, but another thing is always he was so positive," said former Steelers coach Bill Cowher, now an NFL analyst for CBS. "He had this really upbeat attitude, you enjoyed talking to him, there was a sense of joy to him. He enjoyed the games, the big games, the pressure. He never really changed.
"Dermontti is a special guy, very unique talent."
Dawson is arguably one of the best centers to ever play the game. His consistency and durability made him a long-standing force in the NFL.
Team: Seattle Seahawks
Cortez Kennedy was a great all-around defensive player. His ability to dominate the line of scrimmage helped keep some poor Seattle Seahawks teams from complete embarrassment.
Kennedy was so successful because of his natural abilities. Associated press sports writer Tim Booth had the following to say about Kennedy's ability:
What made Kennedy so difficult to stop was his low center of gravity, unexpected quickness and remarkable strength packaged in a 6-foot-1, 300-pound frame. If he was asked to hold the line on a running play, he would regularly eat up two or three potential blockers. But he could also rush the passer up the middle, a rarity for an interior defensive lineman. While 1992 was his best individual season, Kennedy recorded at least six sacks in six of his 11 seasons.
Playing on some terrible teams in Seattle didn't give Kennedy a ton of national exposure. However, he was held in high regard by his opponents. His election into the Hall of Fame shows that he earned it on the field and has nothing to do with media hype.
Teams: New Orleans Saints, Kansas City Chiefs
Willie Roaf used excellent size and rare athleticism to protect the quarterback for 13 seasons. Roaf's dominance started early in his career, as he earned the first of his 11 Pro Bowl appearances in his second season. During that season, he also played well enough to work his way onto the All-Pro team.
Dick Vermeil felt that Roaf was one of the best football players to every play in the NFL, stating the following to CantonRep.com (h/t SB Nation Kansas City):
"I've never been around a lineman that could physically dominate another good NFL defensive lineman or linebacker in the league," Vermeil said. "He could dominate an All-Pro, reducing him to the level of an average player. His explosive moves out of his stance have never been equaled by anyone. His ability to get out into the perimeter with speed and grace and then block a moving target in space was spectacular."
It's players such as Roaf who have paved the way for the massive contracts today's offensive tackles receive. His ability to both protect the passer and open running lanes helped his offense find consistency.
Teams: New York Jets, New England Patriots
Curtis Martin was both productive and durable throughout his 11-year NFL career. He tallied a total of 14,101 rushing yards in his career, good enough to rank him No. 4 on the all-time list.
Martin maintained his high-level production into the latter stages of his career; he only failed to top the 1,000-yard mark his final season in the league. However, this was mainly due to a knee injury he suffered late in the season.
In an interview with The New York Times, Martin talked about his impact on the New York Jets franchise. Martin brought a lot more than just on-field success—he also was a tremendous leader.
It's obvious from the quote below that he was held in high regard by Bill Parcells:
"I think my impact was more on the locker room. You know, something that Bill told me — they had a good running back here in Adrian Murrell, and in my opinion he was just as good as I was, but Bill Parcells told me, he said: 'Listen, the reason why I'm bringing you here is because you're going to make everybody else on the team better. I've seen you do it in New England as a rookie and as a second-year guy. People follow you, and that's why I'm bringing you here. Beyond your talents, it's because of the person you are and the way it'll affect your entire team."