Our position-by-position look at the best eligible players not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame continues with a spotlight on the position where HOF voters have arguably displayed the most inconsistency in their choices: wide receiver.
Perhaps more than any other position, the role and statistics associated with wide receiver has changed dramatically over the last fifty years as the NFL record books have gone from no players with 500 career receptions in 1960 and only four in 1970 to 106 today, including 85 who have joined the club since 1990.
For that reason, the Hall of Fame selectors seem to be in a constant struggle with history to try and deduce which former pass catchers belong in Canton.
Of the 20 modern era wide receivers in the Hall of Fame, only seven were selected in their first four years of eligibility. In fact, the last wide receiver to be selected to the Hall of Fame in his first season of eligibility was Steve Largent in 1995.
Since Largent’s induction, eight wide receivers have been selected to the Hall of Fame with only Michael Irvin (third year) being chosen in his first five years on the ballot.
While Hall of Fame voters have generally withstood the temptation to select receivers to the Hall of Fame based solely on career statistics, what the explosion of receiving totals has done is overshadow the legitimate candidacy of players who played the position in the era before receivers started averaging 70 or more catches per season.
The selection of Bob Hayes to the Hall of Fame this year is a good step toward recognizing players who excelled at the position before statistics became so bloated.
However, there are still many more worthy Hall of Fame receivers instrumental to their teams and who possessed career resumes equal or better than those of players who are already inducted.
This list includes some recently retired players who will certainly receive the call from the Hall of Fame in the next few years, but it also looks at some all-time greats who were considered legitimate Hall of Fame candidates at the time of their retirements, but have since been lost in the sea of statistics.
In developing this list, each player was evaluated in the context of the time in which he played and for many of the older players, I highlight where they ranked all-time at the time of their retirement.
I also looked at how each compared against other players (Hall of Famers and non-Hall of Famers) from that era and whether, at the time of his retirement, the player was considered a legitimate candidate for the Hall of Fame.
I look forward to comments, discussion and disagreements.