Looking Ahead: Previewing the 2011 NFL Hall of Fame Class

Kyle McMorrow@@Kyle_McMorrowCorrespondent IFebruary 6, 2010

PITTSBURGH - OCTOBER 31: Jerome Bettis #36 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs against the Baltimore Ravens on October 31, 2005 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

The votes are in, and just like every year, someone is left standing on the outside looking in—such as wide receiver Tim Brown, who will now have to vie for a spot in next year's selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

However, this may be no easy task.

While some may say this was the toughest year to decide who is enshrined into football immortality, others may agree that next year's class is filled with more talent—and even more questions.


Jerome Bettis, Running Back

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis closed the chapter on his career in 2006 after winning the Super Bowl in his hometown of Detroit. But his success story started way back in 1993, when he won Rookie of the Year honors with the Los Angles Rams.

After being traded to the Steelers, Bettis ran for more than 1,000 yards in his first six seasons in Pittsburgh—including his best year statistically in 1997, when he rushed for more than 1,600 yards and seven touchdowns. 

Despite only playing 11 games in 2001, Bettis amassed more than 1,000 yards on the ground before missing the remainder of the season because of injury.

The "Bus" currently ranks fifth on the NFL's all-time leading rushers list with 13,662 yards and is tied for 10th in touchdowns with 91.


Curtis Martin, Running Back

In 1995, the New England Patriots drafted future Rookie of the Year Curtis Martin in the third round.

In his first year with the Patriots, Martin ran for nearly 1,500 yards during the season and diced the Steelers defense in his first career playoff game with 166 yards and three touchdowns.

After joining the New York Jets in 1998, Martin continued to light up the stats sheet every season, accumulating more than 10,000 yards as a New York Jet—a franchise record.

In 2005, Martin's streak of 10 consecutive seasons of more than 1,000 yards was snapped, ending his pursuit to become the first player to ever accomplish 11 straight.

His 14,101 rushing yards rank him fourth on the all-time leader board, and in 2004, Martin became the oldest player to ever win the rushing title at 31 years old.


Marshall Faulk, Running Back 

An original member of the "Greatest Show on Turf," Marshall Faulk began his career with  the Indianapolis Colts in 1994.

In his first year with the Colts, Faulk ran for 1,282 yards and 11 touchdowns. Faulk would go on that year to become the first player to win Rookie of the Year, as well as the Pro Bowl's MVP honor.

While Faulk experienced a lot of ups and downs in Indianapolis, his trade to the St. Louis Rams in 1999 opened up his career and made him one of the most versatile backs the NFL has ever seen. 

In 1999, Faulk would set an NFL record at the time, racking up 2,429 yards from scrimmage with 1,381 yards rushing and 1,048 yards receiving. The Rams would go on to win the Super Bowl later that year, thanks in large part to Faulk's 90 yards receiving, the second-highest by a back in Super Bowl History.

Faulk went on to win multiple Offensive Player of the Year awards and an NFL MVP. He is only one of three players who has reached at least 10,000 yards rushing and 5,000 yards receiving. Faulk is also the only player to ever score more than 70 rushing and 30 receiving touchdowns, and he is seventh on the all-time touchdown list.


Deion Sanders, C ornerback

Perhaps one of the most diverse and versatile players to ever play in the NFL, Deion Sanders burst onto the scene in 1989 with the Atlanta Falcons.

In his five seasons with the Falcons, Sanders intercepted 24 passes and returned three for scores. Sanders also doubled as a return specialist and saw some time as a wide receiver.

In 1994, Sanders went to the San Francisco 49ers, where he caught six interceptions, scored three touchdowns, and deflected 14 passes en route to an NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, as well as a Super Bowl championship.

After his brief stint in San Francisco, Deion took his show to Dallas, where he won back-to-back Super Bowls. 

Sanders is one of only two players who has scored a touchdown six different ways, and he is a member of the NFL's 1990s All-Decade team.


Willie Roaf, Offensive Tackle

Already a member of the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame, Willie Roaf began his career back in 1993, when the Saints drafted him in the first round.

Since being drafted, Roaf has made 11 Pro Bowls and earned first team All-Pro honors three times. He is a member of the NFL's 1990s and 2000s All-Decade teams.


Neil Smith, Defensive End

A two-time Super Bowl champion with the Denver Broncos, Neil Smith began his career with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1988.

In 1993, Smith enjoyed one of his best seasons, recording five forced fumbles and 46 total tackles, while leading the league in sacks with 15.

In 1997, Smith went to the Broncos, where he helped Denver win back-to-back Super Bowl championships in 1998 and 1999.

Smith was elected to six Pro-Bowls and is tied for 19th on the all-time sacks list with 104.