Former Tampa Bay stars Warren Sapp and John Lynch and former Atlanta and New Orleans kicker Morten Andersen have taken the first step toward the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
They still have a long way to go, but Sapp, Lynch and Andersen are among the 13 first-year-eligible candidates from the modern era for the Class of 2013, the Hall of Fame announced Thursday afternoon.
Those 13 join a list that totals 127 nominees. Hall of Fame voters will narrow that list to 25 in late November. The list will be further reduced to 15 modern-era finalists in early January and the final voting will take place the day before the Super Bowl.
I think all three will eventually get into the Hall of Fame, but Sapp may have the best chance of getting there on the first ballot.
Part of it is because he had an outstanding career and part of it was because he played defensive tackle. When it comes to the Hall of Fame, there's more of a premium place on defensive tackles than there is for safeties (Lynch’s position) and kickers like Andersen.
Defensive end Michael Strahan figures to go in on the first ballot. But, outside of him, I’d put Sapp up against any of the other defensive linemen that are in their first year of eligibility -- Sam Adams, Ted Washington and Bryant Young.
The other defensive lineman among the 127 nominees are Carl Hairston, Charles Haley, Ed “Too Tall’’ Jones, Joe Klecko, Dexter Manley, Charles Mann and Fred Smerlas.
Lynch is the only defensive back in his first year of eligibility. But Steve Atwater, Joey Browner, LeRoy Butler, Nolan Cromwell, Dennis Smith and Darren Woodson are the other true safeties among the nominees. Aeneas Williams is listed as a cornerback/safety and he was a semifinalist last year. Cornerbacks usually have an easier route to the Hall of Fame. Besides Williams, Eric Allen, Albert Lewis, Troy Vincent and Everson Walls are the cornerbacks listed among the nominees and they could delay Lynch’s selection for a bit.
Although Andersen left the game as the NFL’s all-time leading scorer and was the on the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1980s and ‘90s, there’s no guarantee he’ll go in on the first ballot.
The only other punters and kickers among this year’s nominees are Gary Anderson, Sean Landeta and Nick Lowery. Andersen has better numbers than them, but it’s a challenge for a kicker to get into the Hall of Fame.
The only kickers in the Hall of Fame are George Blanda, Lou Groza and Jan Stenerud. Blanda also played quarterback and Groza also was an offensive tackle.
Wide receiver Keenan McCardell, who spent part of his career with the Bucs, also is among the first-year-eligible nominees. But I think McCardell is a long shot to make the cut to the next round.