Friday, February 5, 2010
AFC West Hall of Fame primer
By Bill Williamson ESPN.com
Tim Brown, Floyd Little and Shannon Sharpe all have compelling cases to be Hall of Famers, but can they make the cut for this class?
There are four men who spent the majority of their careers in the AFC West who are among the 17 finalists being considered for induction in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The results of the voting will be announced at 5 p.m. ET Saturday.
We spent the week researching each finalist’s chances by talking to several members of the voting committee and several league observers.
Here is a look at each finalist’s case:
Tim Brown: Los Angeles and Oakland Raiders, wide receiver, 1988 to 2003
Known for: He was the face of the Raiders for years. He was a standout receiver and return man. The Heisman Trophy winner from Notre Dame was one of Oakland’s best draft picks ever. He was a reliable, smart player.
AFC West body of work: Of his 1,094 career catches, 1,070 came as a Raider. Brown, who played his final NFL season in Tampa Bay, caught at least 80 passes nine times and he had nine 1,000-plus yard receiving seasons.
Quote from a voter: “He posted great numbers but those have to be placed in context with the era in which he played. He'll get in but maybe not this year.”
Scouts Inc.’s take: “I think he’ll probably get in, but I rank Cris Carter slightly ahead of him. If Jerry Rice is a 10, Carter is an 8.5 and Brown is an 8. Brown was excellent but I don’t think you could ever say he was the best player at his position. I’m not sure if he was really special or if he had a defining moment, But he was remarkably consistent and he helped on special teams. He never had any glaring weaknesses and he moved the chains. He ran every route.” -- Matt Williamson
What I think will happen: A couple of years ago, I would have thought Brown was a slam-dunk choice in his first year of eligibility. But the voting committee has very high standards for receivers and there is a backlog of quality eligible receivers. With Rice (who played four seasons in Oakland and who announced his retirement at the Broncos’ facility after a fruitless preseason in Denver) a shoo-in and Carter, Andre Reed and tight end Shannon Sharpe making a push, Brown may not make it in his first year. If not this year, he’ll get in sometime because he was so consistent. Because his numbers were never truly jaw-dropping, he may have to wait in a long receiver line for a couple of years.
Don Coryell was 69-56 during his nine seasons coaching in San Diego.
Don Coryell: San Diego, coach, 1978 to 1986
Known for: Coryell is credited with being a major innovator in the passing game, earning him the nickname "Air Coryell." Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts credits his career to Coryell.
AFC West body of work: The Chargers were virtually unstoppable in the air under Coryell. San Diego changed the way the division played both offense and defense in an effort to keep up with the innovative Coryell.
Quote from a voter: “I'm a big Coryell fan. He won a lot of games … Sure, he didn't win a Super Bowl, but he changed the way the game was played.”
Scouts Inc.’s take: “He was ahead of his time in the down-field passing game. He was a terrific, student of the game. He understood matchups and defenses. Coryell was that first guy to say, “Let’s go vertical and make some big plays.” He still has an influence on the game.” -- Gary Horton
What I think will happen: Coryell is the only coach among the finalists. I think he will have a large group of voters behind him. I think many voters were impressed by the letter of support sent by Fouts in support of his former coach. Still, this is a very strong class and Coryell could be left on the outside. He is not a shoo-in.
Floyd Little: Denver, running back, 1967 to 1975
Known for: Little was one of Denver’s first true stars. He was the face of the franchise when he played.
AFC West body of work: He led the NFL in rushing from 1968 to 1973. When he retired, he was the seventh leading rusher in NFL history with 6,323 yards rushing and he had 54 touchdowns.
Quote from a voter: “One of the great running backs of his era. He played on some bad teams and never ran behind a Pro Bowl offensive lineman. He deserves to be in.”
Scouts Inc.’s take: “I’ve talked to Tom Jackson (former Denver star linebacker and current ESPN analyst) and he loves Floyd. Floyd was a tough, hard-nosed runner. He was the heart and soul of that team.” -- Gary Horton
What I think will happen: Little may have the best chance of the four AFC West finalists. He is a senior’s committee finalist, so his path Saturday may be easier than the 15 traditional finalists. If Little doesn’t make it Saturday, he likely never will. I expect him to get in.
Shannon Sharpe: Denver, tight end, 1990 to 1999 and 2002 to 2003
Known for: Sharpe was one of the most accomplished receiving tight ends in NFL history. The boisterous Sharpe was a self-made player from a small school who was a huge part of Denver’s two Super Bowl winning teams.
AFC West body of work: Sharpe had 671 of his 815 catches in the AFC West. He had three 1,000-yard receiving seasons and two seasons in which he had 10 touchdowns.
Quote from a voter: “Crazy numbers for a tight end, and I think he'll be on the edge of making it this year.”
Scouts Inc.’s take: “Sharpe should go in. He was a massive liability as a blocker but nobody cared. Tight ends don’t go to the Hall of Fame because they blocked well. In a way, he revolutionized the game because he was a wide receiver as much as he was a tight end. He was the Dallas Clark of his era. He was very tough and he was a very hard worker who overcame coming into the league as a small-school guy. I think that gets overlooked because he is so loud and brash. But he was a hard worker who was on a lot of great teams. He was a difference-maker.” -- Matt Williamson
What I think will happen: I was surprised that Sharpe didn’t make it last year in his first year of eligibility. He was one of the best tight ends ever to play in the NFL. I think he may get in this season. But if some voters look at him as a receiver, he could get lost in the shuffle again.