AFC West: Cris Carter

Von MillerAP Photo/Jack DempseyVon Miller is at a crossroads in his career after serving a six-game suspension for substance abuse.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Three months ago, Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller was poised to launch into superstar status as the best defensive player on what is potentially a Super Bowl team.

He had an 18.5-sack season on his resume, two Pro Bowl appearances in two years and the beginnings of what he hoped would be a growing list of endorsements. Then came his suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, a still-infamous “I know I did nothing wrong,’’ missive on Twitter in July and an arrest for a missed court appearance to go with a traffic stop just days after that arrest, when he was cited for multiple traffic violations.

All of that was followed by the revelation in a report from ESPN NFL Insiders Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen that Miller tried to influence a drug test collector, who was subsequently fired. Now six games later and with plenty of words written or spoken about his road back, Miller will return to the Broncos' lineup Sunday in Indianapolis. He is just one step from one of the league's most severe punishments -- a suspension for at least a year -- for whatever becomes of the rest of his career.

“I think he understands that, you know, he made some errors and there are a lot of people here to help him, his teammates, coaching staff, people in the organization, we’ll see where it goes,’’ Broncos coach John Fox said earlier this week. “People in life make mistakes; we’ll see where that goes.’’

[+] EnlargeCris Carter
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsHall of Fame receiver Cris Carter struggled with drugs and alcohol before turning his career around.
“I definitely made mistakes in the past, but like I said before it wouldn’t do anybody any good, wouldn’t do me any good to go back and defend stuff in the past,’’ Miller said this week. “All I can ask is judge me on my actions going forward. If we can do that, I’m positive I can gain everybody’s trust back.’’

And by everybody, Miller says he means those in his football life, his personal life and his business life. However, one player who made it all the way back from life-altering struggles with drugs and alcohol to earn induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame says Miller’s starting point, the key to it all, must be the face Miller sees in the mirror.

"He has a chance to be a Hall of Famer, but if you were asking me what I would ask him right now, I would ask, 'Are you willing to substitute this lifestyle you have chosen for a Hall of Fame jacket?'" said Cris Carter, a member of the Hall’s Class of 2013 and an ESPN NFL analyst. “That’s the kind of ability he has.

“But the key with any type of treatment or any type of recovery, is really being honest with yourself,’’ Carter added “ … Have a heart-to-heart with yourself, change your surroundings. It’s a long process, it’s a long, long process. If he does have a great support system there in Denver, if he has support people like me [have] had, who care for him, that matters. But it’s really up to him, and it’s going to take time. You can’t expect a miracle after six weeks; it takes time to change, to change a lifestyle. But even with that he has to understand he's one step from losing everything.’’

Miller has declined to offer many specifics this week about how he got to Stage 3 of the league’s substance-abuse program or why he tried to influence a specimen collector if he had “done nothing wrong.’’ But when asked if he now considered himself to be a recovering addict, Miller stumbled a bit before saying he didn’t believe he was.

“I have, uh, I will say that with struggles, with immaturity and stuff, but no, not that,’’ Miller said.

Carter said it’s a significant issue for anyone who has found trouble with drug use. Several team sources say while Miller has received day-to-day help during his suspension, he is not believed to have attended any formal drug and alcohol counseling. Miller has declined to say if he has attended, or plans to attend, such counseling in the future.

Carter said he has routinely pointed to a Sept. 19, 1990 session in rehab as a pivotal point in his life and that he’s been clean ever since.

“If he wants this to be bottom, if he wants this to be the dark chapter of his life and for the rest of the chapters to be about how he got it turned around, it’s up to him,’’ Carter said. “If he can make this his rock bottom … but if you ain’t got the discipline in that, then everybody is just wasting their time. It has to come from him or it’s just a matter of time before he blows up again, just matter of time.’’

[+] EnlargeVon Miller
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesVon Miller had already accumulated 30 sacks after just two seasons in the NFL.
Almost from the day his pending suspension was revealed just before the start of training camp, Miller has acknowledged “mistakes.’’ On a few occasions he has acknowledged immaturity, but he has been hesitant thus far to discuss any drug use other than to say he doesn’t believe he has a substance-abuse problem.

He did offer this week: “It all starts with me, no matter how much help you have around you, if you can’t do it, you just can’t do it, and I feel like I’ve taken steps in that direction -- it’s a constant struggle every single day,’’ Miller said. “But I’m positive I’ll be all right.’’

But when asked if he would use drugs again, Miller said: “I’ve definitely made mistakes, but I’m working hard to fix those mistakes now. I can’t [dwell] on the past or anything, but I can sit here and say that I’m working hard to be a better person, be a better football player, be a better teammate.’’

History, however, says there are obstacles for Miller. As a Stage 3 participant in the league’s substance abuse program, Miller is subject to unannounced testing up to 10 times a month for the remainder of his NFL career.

And since Roger Goodell became the league’s commissioner in 2006, 132 players suspended for at least one game under either the substance-abuse policy or the policy on performance-enhancing drugs started just one-quarter of their career games after serving the suspensions, according to ESPN Stats and Analysis. Essentially, the players never seemed to regain the career momentum following the suspensions.

The players, as a group, started 74.4 percent of their career games before their suspensions and just 25.6 percent of their career games following. The totals include former Broncos D.J. Williams, Todd Sauerbrun, Kenny Peterson and Ryan McBean. The totals don’t include 27 players who have already served suspensions this season, including Miller.

But in the end, Carter said, it will be about how Miller handles the time he does not spend in the Broncos’ Dove Valley complex that will determine the outcome.

“Just depends on what you want, when you have relationships and ties when you’re in the NFL, like we do, you have to set your priorities,’’ Carter said. “You have to ask yourself what are your priorities? For me, the thing that helped me was a family, having a wife, having a wife that was pregnant with my son Deron, that gave me the impetus. I knew if I messed up one more time, like [Miller], I would be banned for at least a year and potentially lifetime. So you have to put something out there that’s bigger than you, that can get you up every morning, gets you to go. Because you’re going to have the urge to use,’’ Carter said. “And you have to put other things in your life to fill that void.’’
Curley Culp knows he’s an NFL name of the past.

He knows there are a couple of generations of NFL fans who might not know who he is. But it doesn’t matter, because on Saturday Culp will officially become an NFL immortal when he is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Culp was a Senior Committee nominee.

Culp played for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1968-74. He went on to play seven seasons in Houston and two more in Detroit, but he became known as a dominant interior defensive lineman while with the Chiefs.

Culp, who won the NCAA heavyweight wrestling title while at Arizona State, was a unique player. In the Chiefs’ Super Bowl IV win against Minnesota, Hall of Fame coach Hank Stram put Culp over the center, which opened up plays for future Hall of Famers Buck Buchanan and Willie Lanier. Many people credit it for the beginning of the 3-4 defense.

At 67, Culp is a member of the Chiefs’ Hall of Fame, and he has close ties with the organization.

While the spotlight Saturday will be on NFL household names such as Warren Sapp, Cris Carter and Bill Parcells, Culp, who runs a car service in Austin, Texas, knows he will be a blast from the past when his son Chad presents him into the Canton, Ohio, museum.

“To me, it seems just yesterday,” Culp said in a July phone interview. “But it’s been four decades. That’s a long time. I’m just very grateful to get this honor. It crosses my mind at least once or twice a day. I realize what an honor it is, and it’s very exciting to know that it is finally coming.”

No AFC West Hall of Fame shockers

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There weren’t any AFC West surprises Saturday when the 2013 Pro Football Hall of Fame class was announced.

Curley Culp and Warren Sapp were the favorites of the four finalists with AFC West ties, and they ended up in the Hall of Fame class. Former Oakland receiver Tim Brown and former Kansas City guard Will Shields did not get into the final 10. They were both considered long shots.

Culp, a senior committee nominee, played his first seven of a 16-year career in Kansas City. Sapp played his final four seasons in Oakland. Sapp did little with the Raiders and will always be remembered as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer.

Culp does have legitimate AFC West ties. He was a key part of the Chiefs’ Super Bowl IV-winning team. He was considered the first real 3-4 nose tackle. Culp is in the Chiefs Hall of Fame, and he participates in alumni programs. His election Saturday will be embraced and celebrated in Kansas City.

“On behalf of the entire Chiefs family, we’d like to congratulate Curley Culp on his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” Chiefs owner Clark Hunt said in a statement. “Curley was a dominating force on the defensive line for the Super Bowl IV championship team and one of many great players that helped build the tradition and foundation of the Kansas City Chiefs. … We look forward to seeing him take his rightful place in Canton.”

Saturday’s developments are disappointing for Brown and Shields, but there are silver linings for both. Cris Carter finally gained election, so the receiver logjam lessened. I still think Andre Reed might get in before Brown.

There has been some chatter that Brown’s recent comments that former Oakland coach Bill Callahan “sabotaged” the team’s Super Bowl loss to the Buccaneers 10 years ago might have hurt his chances. Brown was considered a long shot prior to causing that firestorm.

Shields was likely blocked by first-year nominee Larry Allen, who gained election. With Allen in, I can see Shields getting elected in the next couple of years.

Is Rod Smith HOF worthy?

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When he watched his quarterback go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004, Rod Smith wondered if his bust would be bronzed next to John Elway’s some day.

Now that he's entered the Denver Broncos’ ring of fame, the rag-to-riches receiver still wonders if he will end up in the Canton, Ohio museum.

[+] EnlargeRod Smith
AP Photo/Ed AndrieskiWill former Broncos star Rod Smith ever hear his name called for the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
It’s an interesting question. Will Rod Smith be a Pro Football Hall of Famer?

There’s no doubt the undrafted free agent turned star receiver has a strong resume, however, he played a position which has not been overly valued by hall of fame voters in the recent past. Tim Brown, Cris Carter and Andre Reed are part of a receiver logjam waiting to be elected to the hall.

Smith may have a long wait, if he makes it at all, even though he has won two Super Bowl rings. He is 11th in NFL history in career receptions (849), 17th in career receiving yards (11,389) and tied for 30th in career receiving touchdowns (68). He caught 70 or more catches for nine straight seasons, which is tied for the second-longest streak in NFL history. His career reception and receiving yardage totals is the best in league history for undrafted players.

Known as one of the hardest workers in the league while he played, Smith himself thinks he deserves to be inducted, although he knows it won’t be easy.

“Well what are they basing the Hall of Fame on?” Smith asked reporters Thursday in an interview to discuss his induction into the Broncos’ ring of fame. “What do you base it on? Do you base it on wins? I have some of those. Do you base it on catches? I have a lot of those. Touchdowns … and the unsung stuff to me is the blocking that Eddie [McCaffrey] and myself and the other guys I played with. You look at the running backs in my era and how many yards they rushed for. I take that personally because it was about the team to me. Honestly, there are a ton of guys that my numbers are way better than theirs, so why not be considered for it? When I went into the business I wasn’t looking at that, but once I got in the business and I saw that those things were possible. I went to John Elway’s induction into the hall of fame and I said it’s possible. It’s hard to see it until you see somebody else kind of go through it. When I saw John get inducted, I was very emotional that day, because I knew a piece of me went. But, I said, 'Why not be right beside him? Why not have a bust right beside him?' One thing I can say is this: I don’t get to vote, and if I did, I would vote for me because I gave them everything I had. That’s all I can do. I tried to be the best teammate I could. I tried to represent the game, the NFL shield as best as I could. Those who vote will hopefully see it the same way. That’s all I can do.”

Smith certainly has a case for Canton. The trouble is he plays a position where many players have a case, so his wait for enshrinement may be a long one.
Willie Roaf is going to Canton, Ohio.

However, two other players with AFC West ties will have to continue waiting to be enshrined. Tim Brown and Will Shields did not make the cut from the initial list of 17 finalists to the final 10.

Unlike Roaf, who played the final four seasons of his career in Kansas City, both Brown and Shields are most known for their work in the AFC West.

I expected Shields to get in, but he may have been blocked by Roaf. Shields may take the same route that Roaf did. He was a finalist in his first year of eligibility, but didn’t make it. He made it in his second year of eligibility.

I can see Shields making it next year. He went to 12 Pro Bowls and he made 223 straight starts, which was the second-longest active streak in the NFL at the time of his retirement.

I was not shocked Brown didn’t make it for the third straight year. He certainly deserves to be in the Hall of Fame and he will have a bronze bust someday. But it may take a while.

The voters didn't do him any favors Saturday. None of the six men elected were receivers. Cris Carter and Andre Reed will need to get in some day as well and Brown may have to wait for them to get in first.

As for Roaf, he is a strong representative for the AFC West.

Roaf, who started his career with New Orleans, made the Pro Bowl 11 teams and he made the All-Pro team seven times. He made it three times with the Chiefs. Roaf and Shields were the anchors of one of the most dominated offensive line in the NFL early last decade.

Perhaps next year Shields will join Roaf, his former teammate, in Canton.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced its 17 finalists for enshrinement in 2012. The vote will be held February 4.

Three of the finalists have AFC West ties. Five others were part of the nine semifinalists to get knocked out of contention Saturday: Denver’s Steve Atwater, Terrell Davis and Karl Mecklenburg, former San Diego coach Don Coryell and former Oakland executive Ron Wolf.

Let’s take a look at the three finalists among the 17 who spent significant portions of their careers in the AFC West. Here they are:

Tim Brown, WR -- 1988-2003 Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders

Will he get in? Brown will get in, but it may take some more time because of the logjam at receiver, whether it’s right or not. Cris Carter could block him this year.

Willie Roaf, T -- 2002-05 Kansas City Chiefs

Will he get in? I would not be shocked if Roaf gets in within the next couple of years.

Will Shields, G -- 1993-2006 Kansas City Chiefs

Will he get in? I think Shields goes to Canton in his first time on the ballot.

Brown and Roaf must wait for HOF

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The AFC West was represented in the Pro Football Hall of Fame election Saturday when former Denver tight end Shannon Sharpe was elected in his third year of eligibility.

Let’s look at the two other AFC West finalists, who did not get elected:

[+] EnlargeTim Brown
Steve Grayson/Getty ImagesTim Brown had 1094 catches and 14,934 receiving yards during a 17-year career.
Oakland receiver Tim Brown

What happened: He didn’t make it to the final 10.

Why: There is a glut of receivers waiting to be inducted. Cris Carter and Andre Reed have both waited for a while and they will likely get in before Brown.

Will he get in? I’m sure he will, but it may take a while. Brown -- who hoped to be elected in his hometown of Dallas Saturday -- is stuck in a receiver log jam. He surely deserves to be elected, but it’s a process and he is going to have to wait. Brown was a finalist last year in his first year of eligibility, but he didn’t make the final 10 then either.

Kansas City left tackle Willie Roaf

What happened: He made it to the final 10.

Why: This was a pretty stacked class. Roaf was considered a long shot to make in his first year of eligibility.

Will get in? Yes, perhaps as soon as next year. The fact that Roaf -- who played his final four seasons with the Chiefs after playing for the Saints -- made the final 10 in his first year of eligibility is a good sign that he will soon be enshrined.

Gates and Schilens are active

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SAN DIEGO -- San Diego star tight end Antonio Gates is active. He has been dealing with a foot ailment for the past month. He played last week at Indianapolis after missing two games. He was very limited in practice this week.

Receiver Malcom Floyd is expected to play after dealing with a hamstring injury. As expected, receiver Vincent Jackson is out with a calf injury he suffered on the second play at Indianapolis.

Mike Tolbert, who was questionable with a hand injury, is active and he will start. Rookie tailback Ryan Mathews will play after dealing with an ankle injury the past two games. He’ll backup Tolbert.

Guard Tyrone Green will play start his second straight game for Louis Vasquez, who is out with a neck injury. Stephen Cooper (knee) is active, but Brandon Siler will start in his place at inside linebacker.

Oakland receiver Chaz Schilens is a surprise active player. He’s been out all year with foot and knee issues. He has only practiced sparingly this season. The Raiders have given no indications how much he will play Sunday.

Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (ankle) and tight end Zach Miller (foot and leg contusion) are active and are expected to start.

Meanwhile, Kansas City standout cornerback Brandon Flowers is playing Sunday after missing last week’s game with a hamstring that limited him in practice much of the week.

The Kansas City Star has an interesting look at what makes these upstart Chiefs unique amongst NFL teams.

Denver Post Broncos’ beat writer Mike Klis thinks Denver head coach Josh McDaniels could be in trouble.

McDaniels was a subject on ESPN’s NFL Sunday Countdown. He wasn’t getting rave reviews. Here’s a taste:

Mike Ditka: “I think coaching is about a lot of things, X’s and O’s we know that’s important. I think people are more important. How you handle your people, how you relate to your people and how you make your personnel decisions and that’s where he’s had a problem.”

Tom Jackson: “The defensive coordinator really responsible for that 6-0 start is now in Miami….now you have Brady Quinn, I don’t know if he can play pro football. You’ve got the greatest collegiate player in history in Tim Tebow, I don’t know if he can play pro football. And you got caught cheating in the last two weeks.”

Cris Carter: “As a young coach, you have to be careful how you wield your power…If you mismanage that power and you try to wield your power too strong, then guys, you won’t get the best out of them and that’s what’s happening in Denver.”

Bold predictions for San Diego

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The San Diego Chargers were a topic on ESPN’s "Sunday NFL Countdown" once again Sunday.

Two weeks ago, the crew ripped apart the Chargers, who entered that day 2-5. Keyshawn Johnson went as far to question the Chargers’ talent level.

Now, the Chargers, who are 4-5 at the bye, have captured the imagination of Johnson. Asked to make a bold midseason prediction, Johnson said this Sunday: “San Diego will be in the AFC Championship game.”

Well, that is a major change of heart. But the truth is, San Diego is a hot second-half team, so it might not be a terrible call.

Cris Carter also chimed in with a blog prediction of his own: “Phillip Rivers, MVP of the league, San Diego does not make the playoffs.”

There’s no doubt Rivers belongs in the MVP conversation. He is on pace to set an NFL record for passing yards. He has thrown for 2,944 yards. Rivers has excelled this season despite a depleted receiving crew.

Time will tell if these bold predictions will become reality.
ESPN's "Sunday NFL Countdown" crew is high on the Kansas City Chiefs, who started the season 3-0 heading into today’s game at Indianapolis.

The following is a taste of the mostly positive comments the analysts had to say about the upstart Chiefs:

Keyshawn Johnson: “They’re as real as a slice of bread. When you look at this football team, they’re out there having fun. They’re young and playing the way they should. And they’re being coached by a guys with a lot of experience. The guys that Herm Edwards drafted are playing better for this staff.”

Cris Carter: “They got it right because of the head coach. When they hired a young, offensive-minded coach in Kansas City in Todd Haley, they got it right.”

Tom Jackson: “How did they win? Special teams, smoke and mirrors and defense, and I believe at some point that harms them. You have to have a quarterback that plays well in this league to get to the playoffs and go deep into the playoffs. At some point the QB has to play better.”

Mike Ditka: “Kansas City, they didn’t make the schedule. They’re not a mirage. They haven’t used mirrors. They’re 3-0. If they lose today, they’re still up by one in their division. You better take them serious.”
Former NFL star receiver and current ESPN analyst Cris Carter told reporters in Minnesota that the Kansas City Chiefs’ brass was aware he’d be attending the same camp as Dwayne Bowe. He indicated that he would try to help Bowe, who struggled last year.

The camp was run by Arizona star receiver Larry Fitzgerald in his native Minneapolis and attended by several NFL receivers. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that Bowe received tough love from both Carter and fellow former star receiver Michael Irvin.

“Some people in Kansas City as far as their administration kind of knew I was going to be here. We kind of let them know that I would be here for Bowe,” Carter said.

The paper said Bowe made his debut at the camp Thursday and he was admittedly out of shape after taking some time off.

"Can you imagine your first day coming back to 14 [100-yard sprints]?" Bowe said. "Man, it was like college again. I’ve never done this intensive competing, conditioning and technique in one day."

Bowe said he was attending the camp because he saw the noticeable improvement Minnesota’s Sidney Rice made last year after attending.

"You can tell [the potential impact] by the production that Sidney Rice had last year," Bowe said. "I know he had Brett Favre but still. I talked to him a week ago and he told me they competed and it made him [better] and he went to the Pro Bowl. Now I think it’s my turn to take over."

The Chiefs have to feel the same way. Perhaps that’s why they talked to Carter about Bowe. He is a talented player who took strides backwards last season. Bowe, a No. 1 pick in 2007, had a total of 156 catches in his first two NFL seasons. However, he had just 47 catches and was suspended for four games for using a banned substance in 2009.

While he has been in and out of coach Todd Haley’s doghouse, the Chiefs are giving Bowe a clean slate. They have not given up on him, but they know this is a vital season for him. Perhaps his time with Carter, Irvin and Fitzgerald will help.
The AFC West had four chances to be represented in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Only Floyd Little made it.

Let’s look at the other three people who didn’t get voted in:

Oakland receiver Tim Brown

What happened: He didn’t make it to the final 10.

Why: There is a glut of receivers. With Jerry Rice (who spent four years in Oakland and who retired while with Denver) a shoo-in, Brown, Cris Carter and Andre Reed suffered.

Will he get in? Sure, but it may take some time. Carter has been waiting three years and he and Reed will likely get in before Brown.


San Diego coach Don Coryell

What happened: He didn’t make it to the final 10.

Why: This was a very stacked class. Ultimately, getting a coach in who never went to the Super Bowl was too difficult of a task.

Will he get in? Maybe someday, but it may be difficult.


Denver tight end Shannon Sharpe

What happened: He made it to the list of 10, but didn’t make the final cut.

Why: Like Brown, Sharpe suffered because of the logjam of receivers. Many voters considered him a receiver even though he was a tight end.

Will he get in? He has to, doesn’t he? I’ve been surprised that Sharpe didn’t make it in both years of his eligibility.

AFC West Hall of Fame primer

February, 5, 2010
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Tim Brown, Floyd Little, Shanon SharpeGetty Images/US PresswireTim 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.

[+] EnlargeDon Coryell
Al Messerschmidt/NFL/Getty ImagesDon 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.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

  Heyward-Bey

The Darrius Heyward-Bey discussion continues in a strong piece on ESPN.com by Seth Wickersham.

I know Oakland fans are tiring of reminders that Heyward-Bey is under the microscope as a rookie. But the truth is, he will be one of the most closely watched rookies in the NFL this year after he was a surprise selection at No. 7.

The Raiders and Heyward-Bey knew this the moment he was selected. The Raiders clearly think the speedy receiver can handle it or he wouldn't have been the choice.

I was struck by Heyward-Bey's maturity when I heard him speak at the Raiders' mandatory minicamp in May. He is a bright kid and this whole deal doesn't seem to be too big for him.

He maintained that stance in Wickersham's column. Yes, Heyward-Bey critic Cris Carter also maintained his stance on the rookie in the column as well.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

DANA POINT, Calif. -- Al Davis was at it again Wednesday.

Who said this guy is difficult to deal with?

Shortly before he caught a flight to the Bay Area on Wednesday afternoon, the Oakland Raiders owner stopped and chatted freely with a group of reporters at the NFL owners' meeting. Davis doesn't talk to the media much, but this was his second impromptu interview in three days.

Davis was relaxed and friendly as he pursued a familiar topic: Getting former Raiders players into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. For starters, Davis openly questioned why receiver Cliff Branch has not been enshrined.

Branch played 14 seasons for the Raiders and was part of their three Super Bowl championship teams. The knock on Branch is his relatively low total of 501 career catches, about half what another shunned candidate -- Cris Carter - had in his career.

Davis, however, said he believes Branch was a catalyst to the Raiders' greatest teams and that he changed opposing coverage schemes. Still, the numbers suggest it will be difficult for Branch to get enshrined.

Davis also stumped again for quarterback Jim Plunkett, who led the Raiders to a pair of Super Bowl championships.

"He was greatness his whole life," Davis said. "I don't know how many Super Bowls we would have won if we had Plunkett his whole career."

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