AFC South Hall of Fame debate

July, 6, 2010
7/06/10
12:02
PM ET
A weeklong look at current or former players or coaches with Hall of Fame potential in the division.

Indianapolis Colts: Reggie Wayne, wide receiver

Claim to fame: A consistently reliable target for the Peyton Manning-era Colts, who have won 12 games or more in seven consecutive seasons.

Case for enshrinement: He’s been to four Pro Bowls, caught 100 passes or more twice and led the NFL in receiving yards in 2007. A precise route runner and crafty player, Wayne has been a solid influence on the rest of Manning’s targets.

He willingly accepted his role, first as a No. 2 behind Marvin Harrison, then as a co-No. 1, and finally as the team’s primary receiver. A strong leader, he’s set the tone for the team with seasonal themes, including arriving to training camp in a dump truck with a hard hat to emphasize the sort of tough, hard work the team would need in 2009.

He’s only the third receiver in league history to increase his reception total for the first seven seasons of his career and has the most receptions and yards in the NFL since 2004. Pro Football Reference says his career already ranks as similar to a crop that includes Hall of Famers Michael Irvin and Bob Hayes.

Case against enshrinement: He ranks only 11th among active players and 37th among all-time players with 9,393 receiving yards and 48th all-time in touchdown receptions with 63.

But the primary argument against Wayne’s candidacy right now probably would revolve around Harrison. For the first six seasons they played together, Wayne’s numbers were always second to Harrison except when he edged him in yards in 2004 and catches in 2005.

Certainly a passing team with a quarterback like Manning can have two Hall of Fame receivers. But in the remainder of his career, Wayne will have to show he can consistently make plays against the type of additional coverage Harrison often drew in his prime.

And so...: Much as we hate to wait, we've got to see the remainder of the résumé. If Wayne excels for another good stretch and the Colts win another Super Bowl, his case could be very strong.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Tony Boselli, left tackle

[+] EnlargeBoselli
US PresswireWill Tony Boselli's seven seasons be enough to get him into the Hall of Fame?
Claim to fame: A dominant left tackle whose career was cut short by a shoulder injury, keeping him from being mentioned with the best players at his position from his generation.

Case for enshrinement: In seven seasons he was a five-time Pro Bowler and a three-time All Pro, providing top-flight protection and blocking for marquee players such as Mark Brunell and Fred Taylor.

Pro Football Reference says through six seasons he was similar to Hall of Famers Lou Creekmur, Bob Brown, Jim Parker and Rosey Brown as well as contemporaries Jonathan Ogden, Willie Roaf and Larry Allen. Through seven seasons the comparison list includes other all-time great linemen such as Dan Dierdorf, John Hannah, Mike Webster, Jim Langer and Ron Yary.

Boselli was one of four tackles named to the NFL’s All-1990s team, along with Roaf, Gary Zimmerman and Richmond Webb.

Case against enshrinement: He hasn't mustered much support since becoming eligible. Longevity is the primary issue keeping Boselli out of the conversation.

Boselli’s level of play at his peak matched many of his contemporaries, but Zimmerman, Ogden and Walter Jones played 12 seasons and Orlando Pace and Roaf 13.

Zimmerman is already in the Hall. Jones, Ogden, Pace and even Roaf will all have strong candidacies. And there is no saying another tackle from the era will get in. Boselli will be left to wonder how a healthier career might have played out.

I think: Boselli might have been as good or better at his peak than Ogden, Jones or Pace. Sometimes we give longevity too much weight in Hall of Fame matters. But in this instance, lack of it seals Boselli's fate.

Houston Texans: Andre Johnson, wide receiver

Claim to fame: A fantastic combination of size, strength and speed who’s the NFL’s anti-diva wide receiver.

Case for enshrinement: In seven seasons, he’s a four-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro while consistently drawing extra attention in pass coverage. He has three seasons with more than 100 catches and four with more than 1,000 yards, with 3,144 receiving yards in the past two seasons.

A couple more years like that and he will shoot up the all-time leader boards for receptions, yards and touchdowns. He and quarterback Matt Schaub could become known as one of the preeminent connections of their era.

Pro Football Reference says through seven seasons Johnson compares to Hall of Famers Steve Largent, James Lofton and Art Monk.

Johnson ranks second all-time in receiving yards per game with 77.9. The rest of the top five are active players as well, so there could be a lot of jostling here considering the narrow margin separating talented players.

Case against enshrinement: It’s hard to punch any holes in Johnson’s résumé at this stage of his career when considering his individual accomplishments and pace. Could the failures of the Texans to win enough to make the playoffs, if they continue to fall short, sidetrack his candidacy?

Plenty of players who rank as all-time greats didn’t have great postseason careers, but how many didn’t have postseason careers at all?

His generation of receivers includes a star-filled list including Marvin Harrison, Randy Moss, Larry Fitzgerald, Reggie Wayne, Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinco, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Steve Smith, Rod Smith, Jimmy Smith, Wes Welker, Anquan Boldin and Brandon Marshall. Harrison and Moss should rate as Hall locks while many others can still do a lot to build a résumé just as Johnson can.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Poll all those receivers and the best cornerbacks who've covered most of them, and I suspect Johnson would finish very high. And he's got plenty of time to extend the strong feelings of his colleagues.

Tennessee Titans: Steve McNair, quarterback

[+] EnlargeSteve McNair
Charles Small/US PresswireTitans quarterback Steve McNair hurt defenses with his arm and his legs.
Claim to fame: Super-tough, highly respected leader who couldn’t be dragged down on a final, just-short drive of Super Bowl XXXIV.

Case for enshrinement: Perhaps the toughest player of his era, McNair regularly shrugged off injuries much like defenders, playing on Sundays after painful weeks of recovery. There were stretches where he was unable to practice at all but played at a high level.

Playing mostly in a run-based offense with Eddie George as the centerpiece, McNair still hurt defenses with his arm and his legs and made for a tough matchup.

In 13 seasons, he threw for 31,304 yards and 174 touchdowns while running for 3,590 yards and 37 additional scores.

In 2003, he shared the NFL’s MVP award with Peyton Manning. Pro Football Reference judges him to be similar to quarterbacks including four Hall of Famers: Terry Bradshaw, Troy Aikman, Jim Kelly and Joe Namath.

Case against enshrinement: While McNair was a clutch player who knew his role and carried his team at times, he was a good player who had great stretches, not necessarily a great quarterback. And while he compiled a 91-62 record in the regular season, he played in only one Super Bowl.

His career passer rating of 82.8 is 30th in league history and he never finished a season better than seventh in passing TDs, eighth in passing yards per game or 10th in passing yardage.

A three-time Pro Bowler, he was never a first team All-Pro quarterback and when compared to his contemporaries -- Aikman, Brett Favre, John Elway, Steve Young, Peyton Manning, Kurt Warner and Tom Brady -- he doesn’t look like he rates as elite.

Appropriate treatment: Before his murder on July 4, 2009, McNair was part of the first Nashville honorees in the franchise's ring of honor. It's the highest team tribute the Titans have, and one that fits his career well.

Paul Kuharsky | email

ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter

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