AFC East: John Stallworth
The game has changed, and all you need for proof is a glance at Paul Warfield's career stats. He caught more than 50 passes once. He gained more than 1,000 yards once. In some of his Pro Bowl seasons, his numbers wouldn't have justified a roster spot in your 10-team fantasy league.
Yet Warfield is considered one the most dangerous receivers NFL history, a first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer.
"Our game is beginning to resemble baseball in which everyone is looking at numbers," Warfield said this week from his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. "Numbers tell the story to a degree, but I like to look at one's full body of work.
"I'm from the old-school generation. You might be termed a wide receiver, but you should be a football player first."
Steve Largent is another example of how stats don't quantify a receiver's worth like they used to. Largent retired after the 1989 season as the NFL's all-time leading receiver with 819 catches. He, too, was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Twenty-one years later, Largent ranks 20th in receptions behind such names as Derrick Mason, Torry Holt, Keenan McCardell, Muhsin Muhammad and fullback Larry Centers.
In 1985, only four players had caught 600 passes. The list is 55 players long now.
"It doesn't necessarily undermine a player's ability to get into the Hall of Fame because he had great stats or doesn't have great stats," Largent said Monday from his office in Washington D.C. "You're looking for a guy who was the total package."
With that in mind, you might consider Andre Reed's stats if you choose when deciding if he belongs in the Hall of Fame. They're sterling -- if a little outdated and discounted by time.
To both Largent and Warfield and other legendary receivers, Reed qualifies for Canton without even looking at the numbers.
"I saw the value Reed had to that team not only as a receiver, but also as a leader," Largent said. "There are some attributes you don't keep statistics of, but you become aware of as one player watching another play the game."
Reed is Largent's "total package" and Warfield's unequivocal embodiment of "football player."
"It's long overdue for Andre," Warfield said.
Reed is among the 15 Pro Football Hall of Fame finalists who will learn Saturday whether they will be included in this year's induction class.
The star Buffalo Bills receiver has been a finalist five times. There's a belief this year offers his best chance yet. In previous years, he has shared the ballot with at least one receiver who took precedence because they were icons (Jerry Rice, Michael Irvin) or had been waiting longer (Art Monk).
Reed could become the sixth Hall of Famer from a team that went to four straight Super Bowls but failed to win one.
Already enshrined are Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas, defensive end Bruce Smith and head coach Marv Levy. Wide receiver James Lofton also is in Canton, but he didn't play on all four Super Bowl teams, and is more closely associated with the Green Bay Packers.
"I was a part of something special, and I'll take that to my grave," said Reed, 47. "We were a family. But the Hall of Fame, I don't know how I would react. It would be a validation of your work and what you did.
"Hopefully on Saturday I can be in that fraternity with them, but every year it's a tough ballot."
The other finalists include running backs Marshall Faulk, Curtis Martin and Jerome Bettis, receivers Tim Brown and Cris Carter, tight end Shannon Sharpe, center Dermontti Dawson, tackle Willie Roaf, defensive ends Richard Dent, Charles Haley and Chris Doleman, defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy, cornerback Deion Sanders and NFL Films patriarch Ed Sabol.
The Hall of Fame's 44-member selection committee will decide Saturday. The group includes NFL writers, one representative per franchise, 11 at-large voters and one from the Pro Football Writers Association. The committee will pare the group of 15 finalists down to 10 and then to five. At that point, a vote will be held, with 80 percent agreement needed for induction.
Up to five modern-era candidates may be elected each year. First-time nominees Faulk and Sanders are virtual locks to get inducted. That leaves three spots available for Reed and the other finalists to get in.
Buffalo News reporter Mark Gaughan will make the case for Reed's induction. It's a compelling one.
"He certainly had a great career, one of the great clutch receivers," Warfield said. "He was consistent, one Jim Kelly could always go to and always find open in a situation where they're trying to make a big play. He's an all-encompassing receiver."
Reed was third on the NFL's all-time receptions list when he retired after the 2000 season with 951 catches, behind only Rice and Carter. Reed was a seven-time Pro Bowler and a superstar on a team that won four conference championships in a row.
"He was as dangerous a receiver as there is," former Bills quarterback Frank Reich said. "Versus press coverage, he was almost impossible to stop, coming off the ball. We always felt if they tried to play tight man on Andre it didn't matter who was guarding him. Any shutdown corner in the league in press coverage, Andre was going to beat him."
Reed was a force on the big stage. In 19 postseason games he had 85 receptions for 1,229 yards and nine touchdowns. He didn't score any Super Bowl touchdowns, but he did have 27 receptions for 323 yards.
In the Bills' epic comeback against the Houston Oilers in the 1992 postseason, he made eight catches for 136 yards and three touchdowns.
Reed is known as tremendously durable. He played 253 games, counting playoffs. He often darted into traffic to make plays in a crowd of defenders.
"No fear," Reich said.
Reed was one the greatest ever when it came to yards after the catch, second perhaps only to Rice.
What put Reed's production in even greater context is a closer look at Buffalo's offense in the 1990s.
Many fans, even those who closely followed the Bills then, recall a prolific aerial attack. They remember Kelly running the no-huddle, K-Gun offense and slinging the ball all over the field to Reed and Lofton.
As Gaughan will point out again Saturday, the Bills ranked 17th in passing offense throughout Reed's career. In Reed's six prime seasons from 1988 through 1993, the Bills passed 51 percent of the time. By comparison, the Washington Redskins' famed "Hogs" offense passed 50 percent of the time when Monk was there.
Reed didn't have much receiving help either. He played with Lofton for four seasons, but Lofton was 33 years old when he joined Buffalo. In 1988, for instance, Reed's second and third receivers were Trumaine Johnson and Chris Burkett.
So far, the chief impediment for Reed's induction hasn't been his resume, but the other names on the ballot.
A wide receiver has been inducted each of the past four years, and in seven classes out of the past decade.
Gaughan noted there is room in Canton for at least two more receivers from the 1990s. A breakdown of membership shows seven receivers who predominantly played in the 1960s, four from 1970s, four from the 1980s and two from the 1990s.
Reed, Carter and Brown are the worthiest receiver candidates to join Rice and Irvin from that decade.
There's a velvet rope. This is Reed's fifth year as a finalist. Carter has been a finalist four times, Brown twice.
Reed apparently jockeyed to the head of the receiver line last year. In the selection process, Carter and Brown didn't make the top-10 stage, but Reed did.
That development has raised Reed's hopes for 2011.
"I'll be more nervous because of the way the voting went last year," Reed said. "I feel I'm more deserving of it. It was pretty close. The anticipation is enhanced this year."
But there are no guarantees. Several legendary receivers have waited longer than five years to get the Canton call. Don Maynard, John Stallworth and Monk got in on their eighth time as finalists. Lynn Swann was a finalist 14 times. The Seniors Committee was necessary to induct Bob Hayes 34 years after his last NFL game.
Reed admitted he has fantasized about the phone call too many times to count. He's even tried to research the moment.
"I've talked to a bunch of Hall of Famers who say when they get the call they're at a loss for words," said Reed, who plays a lot of golf and sells his own line of barbeque sauce in the San Diego area. "They don't know how to react.
"I'll just have to wait and see."
And hopefully not have to wait some more.
Two AFC East clubs remain alive in SportsNation's NFL draft class tournament.
The third-seeded 1985 Buffalo Bills and the eighth-seeded 1983 Miami Dolphins advanced to the quarterfinals. They'r coming out of different brackets and can face each other in the final to determine the best draft class of all-time.
But an all-AFC East championship doesn't appear likely. The Dolphins are up against the top-seeded 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers, a class that produced four Pro Football Hall of Famers: receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, center Mike Webster and linebacker Jack Lambert.
The Bills have defensive end Bruce Smith, receiver Andre Reed and quarterback Frank Reich. But the '83 Broncos featured one of the greatest draft picks ever. Linebacker Karl Mecklenburg was selected in the 12th round. John Elway doesn't factor because he was drafted by the Baltimore Colts.
ESPN Stats & Information ranked the top draft class from each of the 32 clubs and seeded them into a five-round bracket to determine the best of all-time. SportsNation visitors are voting for the winners of each matchup.