Who Should Be Inducted into the 2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class?
What separates the Hall of Fame from the "Hall of Very Good"?
This is the question that voters must answer every year as they decide which former players, coaches or people otherwise connected to the game get enshrined in Canton. Many voters are secretive about what actually goes on behind those closed doors, but we've reached the point where we can discern much of the criteria.
A player needs to not only be one of the best at his position of all time but should also have been considered one of the best at his position during his time in the league. This makes for an interesting discussion between career longevity (read: accumulation of stat totals) and things such as Pro Bowl and All-Pro votes.
There also seems to be some consideration made regarding the players' off-the-field exploits. Maybe it's not "right," but remember that the people voting are going to have both conscious and subconscious biases for and against some of these players. Players who generally walked the straight and narrow and played nicely with the media are likely going in a little sooner.
For non-players and players alike, the bottom line tends to be whether the person's time around the NFL significantly impacted the game in a way that may not have happened otherwise.
It's not a perfect qualification, but this year, it's brought us: Derrick Brooks (LB Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Ray Guy (P Oakland Raiders), Claude Humphrey (DE Atlanta Falcons), Walter Jones (OT Seattle Seahawks), Andre Reed (WR Buffalo Bills), Michael Strahan (DE New York Giants) and Aeneas Williams (S Arizona Cardinals).
As we look ahead to 2015, I reached out to some of the best national writers across the NFL landscape and asked them to weigh in. Fourteen writers contributed to this selection process, and every candidate who received at least half of the votes is headed into our hypothetical hall.
The Voting Panel
Maybe Next Year...
Charles Haley (DE San Francisco 49ers/Dallas Cowboys)—Seven Votes
While voting for Haley, Mike Freeman wrote: "Only player in league history on five Super Bowl-winning franchises. Not a coincidence. He was bipolar for much of his career, which would account for his putrid treatment of others, and how he treated people is being held against him to this day. It shouldn't be."
Haley is a great example of off-the-field attitude overwhelming on-the-field ability in voters' minds. Haley should be in the Hall already and is one of the best pass-rushers who isn't. However, just as in real life, he just barely missed the cut in our vote.
Terrell Davis (RB Denver Broncos)—Four Votes
Davis falls on the opposite side of most on the "best ever" vs. "best while he played" debate. Honestly, if Davis had managed adding a couple of more years onto the end of his seven-year career (or had been healthy for more than four of those years), this wouldn't even be a discussion.
Yet, in the short time, Davis was an NFL MVP, a two-time Offensive Player of the Year, a three-time first-team All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowler, a Super Bowl MVP and a two-time Super Bowl champion.
When Davis was at his best, he was one of the best—ever.
Don Coryell (HC San Diego Chargers)—Four Votes
Do you enjoy watching quarterbacks throw the ball for four or five thousand yards a season?
Thank Don Coryell.
From Matt Waldman: "Coaches are judged more on wins and championships than most players. Coryell is an example of a head coach who might not deserve a spot in the Hall of Fame based on his overall performance as a head coach, but his contributions to the offensive game are deserving of this recognition alone.
Elements of the "Air Coryell" offense have found their way into every single NFL playbook by now, and Coryell was a major contributor to the development of the vertical passing game as we know it over the past couple of decades.
Tim Brown (WR Oakland Raiders)—Four Votes
Aaron Schatz leant his vote to Brown, saying that "we need to deal with the WR glut," while Lance Zierlein called it a "crime" if he doesn't make it in this season.
Brown's biggest crime seems to be having his career overlap so much with Jerry Rice, as Brown could rarely lay claim to being the best receiver in the Bay Area let alone the NFL during his career. He was a nine-time Pro Bowler but struggled to reach the All-Pro upper echelon.
Chris Brown laid out his case in this way: "From the moment he joined the Raiders in 1988 on through his prime in the 1990s, Brown was one of the most electrifying players to ever set foot on an NFL field."
Receiving Three Votes or Fewer: Tony Dungy (HC indianapolis Colts/Tampa Bay Buccaneers); Eddie DeBartolo (Owner 49ers); Will Shields (OG Kansas City Chiefs); Jerome Bettis (RB Pittsburgh Steelers); Ken Anderson (QB Cincinnati Bengals); Morten Andersen (K Chiefs/Atlanta Falcons); Kevin Greene (LB Los Angeles Rams); Kevin Mawae (OC Tennessee Titans); Cliff Branch (WR Oakland Raiders)
Kurt Warner (QB St. Louis Rams/Arizona Cardinals)—7 Votes
- Undrafted in 1994 out of Northern Iowa
- Played for the St. Louis Rams, New York Giants and Arizona Cardinals
- NFL MVP in 1999 and 2001
- Four-time Pro Bowler
- Champion and MVP of Super Bowl XXXIV
Much like Terrell Davis on the "just missed" slide, Kurt Warner would probably have a much higher vote total—both here and in real life—if he had spent some more years in the NFL. Those three years in the Arena Football League and one year in NFL Europe would probably solidify his candidacy if he had spent them under the bright lights.
Then again, the rags-to-riches story certainly won't hurt Warner when he comes up for a vote next season. He's always been a bit of a media darling, and his current gig at NFL Network will only help his chances.
About Warner, Sam Monson wrote:
"Warner was an All-Pro-caliber player in two different cities and was one of the greatest Super Bowl plays of all time away from winning a ring in both destinations as well. Lost the beginning of his career to iffy talent evaluating and the middle of it to the Giants screwing him over to get Eli Manning into the lineup."
Honestly, I was surprised Warner garnered first-ballot consideration from our group because of those career hiccups, but it's refreshing to see that enough people were willing to let his play speak for itself and chalk up the rest to circumstance.
When he was allowed to shine, Warner shined about as brightly as anyone.
Marvin Harrison (WR Indianapolis Colts)—8 Votes
- 19th overall pick out of Syracuse in 1996 by the Indianapolis Colts
- Played his entire career in Indianapolis
- Eight Pro Bowls and three first-team All-Pros
- Over 10,000 career receiving yards
- Super Bowl XLI champion
Marvin Harrison would've been a Hall of Famer last season if not for this silly "WR glut" that keeps more than a receiver or two from entering the hall every year because of some contrived, unwritten rule by the voters.
Ty Schalter agreed (while casting his vote for Harrison) that he absolutely should have been a "first-ballot guy," and I would go further and say that it's a shame this supposed waiting list kept Harrison out, while Andre Reed went in ahead of him.
In my initial email to the assembled writers, a copy/paste error on my part led to Harrison being left off of the ballot, and most voters barely missed a beat voting for him as a write-in candidate.
The best possible argument against Harrison—if there is one—is that he played for so long with Peyton Manning. Yet, that sort of thing goes both ways, and Matt Waldman called Harrison's half of that pairing "a preternatural rapport that was better than any of the options Manning has targeted in the NFL."
Only one wide receiver has caught more passes than Harrison did—ever. When the only player better at the position is the greatest of all time, that's rarified air. He belongs in the Hall.
Orlando Pace (OT St. Louis Rams)—8 Votes
- First overall pick in 1997 by the St. Louis Rams out of Ohio State
- Spent 12 years with the Rams and one with the Chicago Bears
- Seven-time Pro Bowl player and three-time first-team All-Pro
- Champion of Super Bowl XXXIV
After Walter Jones, who went into the Hall last year, Orlando Pace was the most dominant blocker I have ever seen in person. I have one grading sheet from 2005 where I didn't have a single negative play against Pace and repeatedly used the word "manhandled" against both interior and exterior rushers.
Schalter called Pace the "cornerstone of the 'Greatest Show on Turf,'" and that might be an understatement. We've already put Warner in the Hall in this slideshow, and Warner would likely admit that Pace was a big reason why. Marshall Faulk, too, owes much to the fantastic play of Pace.
Lance Zierlein is one of the smartest line-play evaluators in the media, and he voted for Pace, saying: "Despite playing in a pass-heavy, Mike Martz offense that utilized its fair share of seven-step drops (very difficult to protect for), Pace was always up for the challenge."
Think about that: Martz' offense ruined linemen—repeatedly, all around the league. Meanwhile, Pace thrived in it.
Pace had the incredible size (6'7", 325 lbs), athleticism (4.85 in the 40-yard dash), pedigree and technique to dominate every single time he took the field, regardless of who lined up across from him.
Junior Seau (LB San Diego Chargers)—15 Votes
- Fifth overall pick in 1990 by the San Diego Chargers out of USC
- Played 12 years for the Chargers and spent time in Miami and New England
- Twelve-time Pro Bowler and eight-time first-team All-Pro
- AFC Player of the Year in 1994
- Committed suicide in 2012 at the age of 43
Don't call this a sentimental selection. Each and every voter on our panel selected Junior Seau based on his outstanding NFL career.
As Chris Burke wrote: "His tragic death should have no impact on his case one way or the other. Seau did plenty on the football field, as a once-in-a-generation talent at his position, to warrant a first-ballot victory."
Seau was the Chargers, but that may cut against him in the national media just as much as it helps. We don't think about Seau as the player he was because many of us spent a lot of his career accosted by the East Coast bias that spent more time covering guys such as Brian Urlacher and Ray Lewis.
Lewis' name came up—a lot—as our voters favorably compared Seau to the future first-ballot Hall of Famer. In one of those comparisons, Mike Freeman said: "At his peak, he played the position as well as Ray Lewis."
Aaron Schatz broke down the lack of hype and reality a little further:
"A few years ago, NFL Network did a 'best 100 players of all-time' program. I was one of the voters for that. I was blown away when I got the ballot and Junior Seau wasn't on it. The ballot contained Hall of Famers, active players, and a few recently retired possible HOFers. At the time he fit into the latter category and I guess he fell through the cracks.
"But we're talking here about one of the 10 best linebackers to ever play. He's third all time in P-F-R's approximate value among linebackers. Dude played 20 years and made the Pro Bowl in 12 of them."
Michael Schottey is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff on his archive page and follow him on Twitter. Unless otherwise cited, all quotes were obtained firsthand by the author.