NFC West: Richard Dent
ESPN.com Seattle Seahawks reporter Terry Blount makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.
Week 1: Green Bay Packers
All the pregame hype will center around the so-called Inaccurate Reception, the controversial Hail Mary catch by Golden Tate two years ago that won the game over the Packers at Seattle on a Monday night. Tate has moved on to Detroit, but the Seahawks now have too many weapons for the Packers to stop, no Hail Mary required. Prediction: Win
Week 2: at San Diego Chargers
The Chargers better hope they play a lot better than they did in the preseason game at Seattle, a 41-14 victory for the Seahawks on Aug. 15. San Diego will play better, but not good enough to beat a much better team. Prediction: Win
Week 3: Denver Broncos
The Broncos and their fans got a tiny bit of meaningless Super Bowl revenge in the preseason opener with a 21-16 victory over the Seahawks in Denver. Enjoy it while it lasts, boys. Repeating that outcome in Seattle is not an option. Prediction: Win
Week 5: at Washington Redskins
Traveling coast to coast to play on the road for a Monday night game is a tough task against any NFL opponent, and even tougher against quarterback Robert Griffin III. But the Seahawks catch a break in this one by coming off a bye week with plenty of time to prepare and be fresh for the journey. Prediction: Win
Week 6: Dallas Cowboys
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones gave Seattle a little bulletin-board material last month when he said the Seahawks were to blame for the increase in penalty flags during the preseason. There won't be near enough flags against Seattle for the Cowboys to win this one. Prediction: Win
Week 7: at St. Louis Rams
Any division game in the NFC West is a rugged battle. The Rams have a defensive line that gave the Seahawks problems a year ago. But they aren't strong enough overall to beat Seattle, even at home in their out-of-date dome. Prediction: Win
Week 8: at Carolina Panthers
The Seahawks were fortunate to win the season opener at Charlotte a year ago. That Panthers team was better than this one, but back-to-back road games against very physical defensive teams will end the Seattle winning streak. Prediction: Loss
Week 9: Oakland Raiders
Coming off their first loss of the season and returning home against an outmanned opponent, is there any doubt? Prediction: Win
Week 10: New York Giants
The Seahawks easily defeated the Giants 23-0 last year in New Jersey, a dress rehearsal for their Super Bowl victory at the same location -- MetLife Stadium. The Seahawks won't need a rehearsal to roll past the Giants in this one. Prediction: Win
Week 11: at Kansas City Chiefs
This likely will be a low-scoring game between two strong defensive teams. Odds are against any team that has to try to win by matching its defense against the Seahawks' D. Prediction: Win
Week 12: Arizona Cardinals
The last time the Cardinals played at CenturyLink Field was last December when they handed the Seahawks a 17-10 loss. That won't happen again unless the Seahawks get caught looking ahead to the 49ers game. The Seahawks don't look ahead. Prediction: Win
Week 13: at San Francisco 49ers
It's a Thanksgiving night, national TV game in the 49ers' shiny new stadium against the hated Seahawks. If San Francisco can't win this one, its time as a championship contender is over. Prediction: Loss
Week 14: at Philadelphia Eagles
This is the toughest part of the season for the Seahawks with back-to-back road games against likely playoff contenders. But the 10 days between games will help and be enough of a cushion to keep Seattle from losing two in a row. Prediction: Win
Week 15: San Francisco 49ers
This is a game that could decide which team wins the NFC West. No way the Seahawks lose to the 49ers twice in three weeks, especially not in front of a rabid full house of 12s. Prediction: Win
Week 16: at Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals probably will be fighting for a playoff spot, and the Seahawks already will be in at 12-2. That difference will be just enough for Arizona to win at home in the same stadium where the Seahawks will win the Super Bowl a few weeks later. Prediction: Loss
Week 17: St. Louis Rams
For the second consecutive year, the Rams close the regular season in Seattle. And for the second consecutive year, the Seahawks will beat them without much trouble. Prediction: Win
Predicted Record: 13-3
Skip Bayless and Dan Graziano took up the case for Charles Haley as a Pro Football Hall of Famer on ESPN's First Take.
Bayless thought Haley should have qualified on the first ballot as a key championship variable for the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys. Bayless and Graziano also touched upon to what degree Haley's sometimes disagreeable and disruptive behavior affected his candidacy. Those are relevant factors, but this discussion is incomplete without acknowledging what role the process plays in enshrinement.
To say that Haley or another player should have earned enshrinement in a given year usually suggests another player wasn't as deserving. The Hall accepts no more than seven candidates per year, including a maximum of two seniors candidates, meaning even deserving candidates must be more deserving than those actually enshrined to raise a serious beef.
Haley was first eligible in 2005. Steve Young and Dan Marino were the only modern-era candidates elected that year. Michael Irvin and Harry Carson were also finalists that year, but neither received the 80 percent approval rating required for enshrinement. Both became Hall of Famers later. Was Haley obviously more deserving than those four?
Troy Aikman, Warren Moon, Reggie White and Carson comprised the 2006 modern-era class. Irvin, Bruce Matthews, Thurman Thomas and Roger Wehrli comprised the 2007 modern-era class. Fred Dean, Darrell Green, Art Monk and Gary Zimmerman made it in 2008. Randall McDaniel, Bruce Smith, Derrick Thomas, Rod Woodson and Ralph Wilson made it in 2009. The 2010 class featured Rickey Jackson, John Randle, Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith.
The current class includes Richard Dent, Marshall Faulk, Deion Sanders, Shannon Sharpe and Ed Sabol.
We could argue that he was more deserving than a candidate here or there, but only a very few elite candidates -- Rice, White, Emmitt Smith, Bruce Smith, etc. -- have credentials strong enough to transcend any Hall class.
Tim Brown, Roger Craig, Dermontti Dawson, Andre Reed, Cris Carter, Cortez Kennedy, Bob Kuechenberg, Randy Gradishar, L.C. Greenwood and several of the above-mentioned Hall of Famers have also been finalists since Haley became eligible.
Was Haley obvious more deserving than each of them? It's a debate worth having, but also one that goes beyond whether Haley should get in at all.
The Rams' website says the team plans to send a large contingent to Joplin, Mo., for continuing relief efforts following the tornadoes there. Among the details: "The Rams' staff will assist with projects including removing debris, unloading trucks, organizing donations and staffing the call center and data entry center. Upon arrival in Joplin, the Rams will report to the volunteer check-in area at Missouri State Southern University where they will be deployed to the various project locations. A group of cheerleaders, alumni and the team’s mascot, Rampage, will also be on hand to help lift the spirits of the community."
Tony Softli of 101ESPN St. Louis is part of the group heading to Joplin. Softli: "Seventy-five Rams employees and selected media members will depart the Russell Training Center on two buses at 5 a.m. with an anticipated arrival into Joplin around 10 a.m. The Rams have worked with the United Way and AmeriCorps of St. Louis to identify a variety of volunteer options. ... Upon arrival in Joplin, we will report to the volunteer check-in area at Missouri State Southern University to be dispatched to the various project locations and work until approximately 1:30 p.m."
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com checks in with 49ers safety Chris Maragos as part of a piece examining how college free agents will work from a disadvantage this offseason. Maragos: "This year is quite a bit different. It's a huge transition from college to the NFL. I played in Big 10, so I was already acclimated to a high level of physicality. But the NFL is definitely a big jump in the level of competition. I needed the time (in the offseason) to learn the playbook, get up to speed and develop an understanding of what it takes at this level."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee expects Aubrayo Franklin and Manny Lawson to leave the 49ers in free agency this offseason. Barrows: "Last year the 49ers were able to hold onto Franklin with the franchise tag. This year his tag number is expected to jump to more than $12 million, and the 49ers opted not to retain him in that fashion. It looks like Franklin, who has wanted to reach the open market for two years, finally will get his wish barring some sort of right-of-first-refusal language in the new collective bargaining agreement. Furthermore, there promises to be a strong market for him. Reports out of Washington this offseason have said that the nose tackle-desperate Redskins (See: Haynesworth, Albert; the saga of) have triple underlined Franklin's name on their list of free-agent targets." I can see why the 49ers wouldn't want to pay a premium for either player, but the team will be worse off without Franklin and Lawson.
Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says defensive lineman Ray McDonald hopes to re-sign with the 49ers. McDonald: "Before we left, there was a good vibe amongst me and the coaching staff and the GM. They said they liked the way I played and want me back, so I'm just going off that. I want to be back here. I'm comfortable out here."
Also from Branch: The 49ers' players have much to learn offensively despite maximizing their offseason under difficult circumstances.
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com offers details on Ralph Goldston's tenure with the team. Goldston, who passed away recently at age 82, spent 14 years with Seattle. Farnsworth: "While the Associated Press story mentioned Goldston being one of the first African Americans to play for the Philadelphia Eagles, there are no details about his post-playing career. He was a scout for the Seahawks for 14 years, arriving in 1975 -- the year before the team played its first game. Goldston came to the Seahawks after serving as offensive backfield coach for the Chicago Bears and remained with the Seahawks through the 1988 season."
Also from Farnsworth: a look back at the 1987 Seahawks. Farnsworth: "Steve Largent was voted the team MVP after a 58-catch, 912-yard, eight-TD season, as well as to his seventh -- and final -- Pro Bowl. The ’87 season also was the 12th -- and final time -- Largent would lead the Seahawks in receptions."
Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle says Kevin Kolb isn't worth the risk for the Seahawks.
Khaled Elsayed of Pro Football Focus gives Larry Fitzgerald a slight edge over Andre Johnson as the NFL's best receiver over the past three seasons, counting playoffs, as Darren Urban of azcardinals.com notes. Elsayed: "When the Cardinals made it to the Super Bowl, Fitzgerald was our top ranked receiver after a monstrous year and tremendous post season. He still found himself near the top (seventh) when the Kurt Warner-led Cardinals went to the playoffs, and improved on that with a sixth place finish last year despite some horrible quarterback play. Essentially, whether you’re feeding him caviar or out of the garbage, Fitz is a receiver hungry to make the most of any opportunity. The best hands of any of the top receivers." Fitzgerald's performance through the playoffs does set him apart. I've rated Johnson slightly higher more recently based on his superior speed. Pick your favorite between the two and I'll take the other one without complaint.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says it's way too early to say the Cardinals are likely to select a quarterback with the fifth overall choice in the 2011 draft. Urban: "Not with so much uncertainty around the QBs that will be available. Could they wow scouts by the time the draft rolls around? Sure. Maybe there will be a guy who is worth it. There’s no way you draft a QB just to draft a QB unless you feel good about him, however; as the Cards are finding out after the Matt Leinart pick in 2006, taking a QB high means you are committing to that guy as your future -- and if you miss, it puts you in a bad position."
Also from Urban: a look at how the Cardinals put together an offensive game plan, and how they call plays, with special attention to passing-game coordinator Mike Miller. Urban: "Miller was worked into the play calling during games early this season. But his role in developing the call sheet -- part of the process building up to game day -- was long established."
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says ex-Seahawk Howard Green's unlikely play helped turn the Super Bowl in Green Bay's favor. Green was once out of football for three seasons.
Also from Farnsworth: Cortez Kennedy says he's honored to make the final 10 in Hall of Fame voting over the past two seasons. Kennedy: "It’s such an elite group. Dermontti Dawson, he’s a Hall of Fame player. Andre Reed, Tim Brown and all those guys, they are too. You just have to wait your turn. So I’m not upset at all."
Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily News says Seahawks assistant Rocky Seto lost a job he accepted at UCLA after posting news about his hiring on his Facebook page. Wolf: "Seto was offered and accepted the job last week. But before it became official, Seto allegedly posted a comment on Facebook that he accepted the job. Sources said that infuriated UCLA and also ignited a fan backlash." Strange happenings. UCLA's reaction seems a little petty if that's all that was involved.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks would not be wise to trade the 25th overall choice in the draft for Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb. Williams: "No, I wouldn't. You already made a trade for Charlie Whitehurst. I think you try and get a guy through the draft. This team is not one player away. They need talent across the board. If they were San Francisco of Minnesota maybe you make that deal, but this team still needs an infusion of talent."
John McGrath of the Tacoma News Tribune says there was no Hall of Fame snub for Kennedy. McGrath: "The reason Kennedy isn’t scheduled for induction into the Hall of Fame this summer is because there was room for only five new bronze statues, and another two designed from the veterans group. Running back Marshall Faulk and cornerback/return man Deion Sanders were obvious choices as first-time candidates, and can anybody make a case against tight end Shannon Sharpe and defensive end Richard Dent? The other selection from the mainstream pool -- Ed Sabol, the mastermind behind NFL Films -- was logical to the point that it posed a question: How was it possible Sabol had not gained a Hall pass years ago?"
Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com passes along this thought from Rams owner Stan Kroenke regarding Marshall Faulk's recent enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: "I cannot think of a more deserving person for this honor. Marshall Faulk epitomizes what all football players should aspire to in sport and in life. He was a champion on the field and a leader in the community. He represented the St. Louis Rams and our fans in a first-class manner from Day 1. He accomplished things on the field that no one before or since has achieved in the storied history of the National Football League. It was a privilege to watch him play and an even greater honor to know him."
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com checks in with Jim Harbaugh one month into Harbaugh's tenure as the 49ers' head coach. Harbaugh made an observation after breaking down NFL video. Harbaugh: "There was a pass play that was making its way around the league from Week 4 through 8. Several teams hit it for a big play. It was a bootleg throwback. It was interesting to see. I saw six or seven teams that used it. They saw it from another team and then used it. ... After about Week 10, it made its way through and people were defensing it."
Taylor Price of 49ers.com says Patrick Willis was named top linebacker by the NFL Alumni Association.
Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat checks in with draft analyst Rob Rang regarding the 49ers' needs. Rang: "In terms of the depth at the positions, quarterback and cornerback are both better than pass-rushing linebackers."
Les Richter and Chris Hanburger earned enshrinement as seniors candidates.
I was one of the voters. We spent more than seven hours discussing the 15 modern-era candidates and two seniors committee candidates.
Some candidates with very strong credentials missed the cut. That is not a travesty. It's the process. There were only five spots for 15 players, forcing 10 strong candidates to wait another year.
I presented the case for Cortez Kennedy. He made the final 10 for a second year in a row, keeping him firmly in the mix for the future.
With that, let's take a closer look at the candidates with ties to teams currently aligned in the NFC West:
NFC West team: St. Louis Rams
The verdict: Yes
Quick take: Voters spent considerable time laying out the case for Faulk even though there seemed to be little doubt about his status as a likely first-ballot Hall of Famer. Faulk had no significant weaknesses. He could run for speed or power. He could catch the ball. He was a tenacious blocker. He could line up as a true wide receiver (former teammate D'Marco Farr told me he once saw Faulk beat a cornerback on a post route. What would a cornerback be doing covering a running back? That's the point. Faulk could do it all, and he did it all for historically great offenses that competed for championships and won one. Case closed.
NFC West team: San Francisco 49ers
The verdict: Yes
Quick take: Dent had been a finalist seven times and among the final 10 five times. This was his time, although it's always tough to know when that time will come. Dent was a dominant pass-rusher and very strong against the run. He put up the necessary sack numbers to get voters' attention, but his status as an elite all-around end offset criticisms that he earned Pro Bowl honors only four times. Dent had 137.5 career sacks, including 34.5 sacks over a two-year period early in his career.
NFC West team: 49ers
The verdict: Yes
Quick take: The most dominant cover cornerback of his generation, and perhaps all time, offered more than just stellar play in the secondary. Sanders averaged more than 15 yards every time he got his hands on the football. He scored five different ways during the regular season. Sanders made his only season with the 49ers a memorable one, helping San Francisco win the Super Bowl after the 1994 season.
NFC West team: Los Angeles Rams
The verdict: Yes, as seniors candidate
Quick take: Richter went to eight consecutive Pro Bowls as a hard-hitting, allegedly dirty enforcer type beginning in 1952. He also played center and kicker. Richter passed away last summer.
NFC West team: Seattle Seahawks
The verdict: Made the final 10, but not the final five
Quick take: Kennedy has made the final 10 two years in a row. That means he commands respect in the room. Kennedy was among the players potentially losing out when selectors voted in a non-player in NFL Films founder Ed Sabol. The fact that this was Dent's year also might have had an impact on Kennedy. They played different positions on the line, but both were defensive linemen. Voters went with only one this time.
NFC West team: 49ers
The verdict: Did not make the final 10
Quick take: Dent was the preferred pass-rusher this year. Haley played a pivotal role in helping the 49ers and Dallas Cowboys win championships. He affected the rivalry between the teams. Haley won five Super Bowl titles while with the 49ers and Cowboys.
NFC West team: Rams
The verdict: Did not make the final 10
Quick take: "The Bus" departed St. Louis following three productive seasons when the Rams traded him to Pittsburgh after using a first-round draft choice for Lawrence Phillips. Consider it one of the more ill-fated moves in Rams history. This was Bettis' first year of eligibility. His size-speed-moves ratio sets him apart from just about every back in NFL history. Faulk's enshrinement might have made it tougher to accommodate another running back, particularly with Curtis Martin also on the ballot.
NFC West team: 49ers
The verdict: Did not make the final 10
Quick take: Doleman enjoyed most of his success with the Minnesota Vikings, but he had 38 sacks in three seasons with the 49ers from 1996-98. Doleman had 150.5 career sacks and he had a knack for forcing fumbles. Dent was the defensive end to break through this year. Doleman was a finalist for the first time. He has a shot in the future.
Up next: formal announcement during an NFL Network broadcast beginning at 7 p.m. ET.
Officials from the Pro Football Hall of Fame swore selectors to secrecy after we learned which candidates emerged from two rounds of reductions.
We all know which candidates survived the cut, but we do not know which ones will receive the necessary 80 percent approval on a yes-no vote (often a formality).
Marshall Faulk, Cortez Kennedy, Charles Haley, Richard Dent, Deion Sanders, Jerome Bettis, Chris Doleman and seniors candidate Les Richter were candidates with ties to teams currently aligned in the NFC West. No more than five modern candidates and two seniors candidates can qualify for enshrinement in any one year.
- Marshall Faulk, running back. Faulk began his career with Indianapolis before becoming the NFL's offensive player of the year three times in a row for the St. Louis Rams beginning in 1999.
- Cortez Kennedy, defensive tackle. Kennedy played each of his 11 seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, earning eight Pro Bowl appearances and defensive player of the year honors.
- Charles Haley, outside linebacker. Won five Super Bowl titles for San Francisco and Dallas, leading the 49ers in sacks for each of his first six seasons.
- Deion Sanders, cornerback. Won a championship with the 49ers following the 1994 season and was one of the best cover corners in NFL history. Also an outstanding returner.
- Jerome Bettis, running back. Bettis began his career with the Los Angeles Rams before earning most of his Hall credentials with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was the Rams' leading rusher from 1993-95. Ranks fifth in all-time rushing yards with 13,662.
- Richard Dent, defensive end. Won a championship with the 49ers following the 1994 season. Had 34.5 sacks over a two-year period with Chicago in the mid-1980s.
- Chris Doleman, defensive end. Doleman led the NFL with 21 sacks in 1989 and was the NFC's defensive player of the year in 1992. He spent the 1996 through 1998 seasons with the 49ers.
- Les Richter, linebacker. Richter played for the Rams from 1954-62 and went to eight consecutive Pro Bowls. Never missed a game.
I'm looking forward to participating in the discussion, presenting Kennedy's case to the other selectors and voting on the candidates that seem most deserving. Should be a fun day. Results will be announced during an NFL Network show beginning at 7 p.m. ET.
It's a great privilege to attend a usually eventful week.
NFC West teams appeared in two of the past five Super Bowls.
This could be a significant year for NFC West teams and the Hall of Fame.
St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk appears likely to earn enshrinement in his first year of eligibility. The same could be true for cornerback Deion Sanders, who helped the San Francisco 49ers win a Super Bowl in his only season with the team.
Kennedy, Faulk and Sanders are among seven Hall of Fame finalists with ties to teams currently residing in the NFC West. The others: running back Jerome Bettis, who played with the Los Angeles and St. Louis Rams from 1993-95; defensive end Richard Dent, who spent the 1996 season with the 49ers; defensive end Chris Doleman, who was with the 49ers from 1996-98; and outside linebacker Charles Haley, who was with the 49ers from 1986-91 and again in 1999.
Identifying players worthy of the Hall of Fame is the easy part. The hard part: settling on no more than five modern candidates in a given year. Worthy candidates routinely miss the cut, something we can discuss as selection day approaches (voting takes place Saturday, with winners announced that evening).
Enjoy your Sunday. I'll check in upon landing in Dallas.
It also highlighted the significant contributions St. Louis is getting from two defensive linemen thought to be past their primes.
Defensive end James Hall, 33, collected 1.5 sacks Sunday, giving him 10.0 for the season.
Hall joins a short list of players to reach double-digit sacks at that age since sacks became an official stat for the 1982 season. The others: Trace Armstrong, Rob Burnett, Richard Dent, Chris Doleman, William Fuller, Kevin Greene, Rickey Jackson, Leslie O'Neal, John Randle, Warren Sapp, Bruce Smith, Michael Strahan, Jason Taylor and Reggie White.
Robbins, signed in free agency from the New York Giants, joins Keith Traylor, Jeff Zgonina and former Ram Ray Agnew among defensive tackles to set career highs for sacks at age 32 or older in the free-agency era (since 1993). The Rams are not particularly deep at defensive tackle. Their defense would have a hard time holding up without Robbins, in my view.
The team needs to draft fresh talent at the position. In the meantime, Robbins is providing the steady play Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo sought when he reconnected with Robbins, a player he coached with the Giants.
Robbins has also set a career high with seven passes defensed.
It was that good.
"I think if you asked each guy to a man, in particular the Hall of Fame guys, there has always been a pride about our class," said cornerback Darrell Green, the 28th overall choice in 1983 and a Hall of Famer. "Without ever discussing it, we knew we were a pretty special class of athletes."
The class produced six Hall of Famers –- Elway, Kelly, Marino, Green, Eric Dickerson and Bruce Matthews -– in addition to recent Hall finalists Richard Dent and Roger Craig. Of the 335 players drafted, 41 combined for 142 Pro Bowl appearances.
No other draft class has produced more than 34 Pro Bowl players since the NFL and AFL combined for a common draft in 1967, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That year served as the starting point for this project ranking the five best draft classes. The 1996, 1981, 1969 and 1985 drafts also made the cut.
Not that making the cut was good enough for some.
"If you took the defensive players in our draft and put them on the field against any class, we would shut them out," said Ronnie Lott, one of the more decorated members of a 1981 class featuring Lawrence Taylor, Mike Singletary, Rickey Jackson, Howie Long and Kenny Easley.
The project was biased against recent classes because their players haven’t had time to achieve in ways that set apart the older classes. The 2001 class has already produced 33 Pro Bowlers, same as the 1996 class and more than every other class but 1983, 1987 and 1988. But the best players from that class aren't finished achieving.
The biggest challenge, at least to me, was settling on the right criteria. ESPN Stats & Information provided an updated version of the spreadsheet used to identify elite draft classes for a previous project . The spreadsheet awarded points to players based on:
- Hall of Fame enshrinement (15 points)
- MVP awards (8)
- Player of the year awards (6)
- All-Pro first-team awards (4)
- All-Pro second-team awards (3)
- Super Bowl victories (3)
- Pro Bowls (2)
- Rookie of the year awards (2)
- Super Bowl defeats (1)
I used the spreadsheet as a starting point.
From there, I assigned 15 points to current or recently retired players likely destined for Canton. The players I singled out were: Troy Polamalu, Dwight Freeney, Ed Reed, LaDainian Tomlinson, Steve Hutchinson, Brian Urlacher, Tom Brady, Champ Bailey, Peyton Manning, Randy Moss, Alan Faneca, Orlando Pace, Walter Jones, Tony Gonzalez, Jason Taylor, Jonathan Ogden, Marvin Harrison, Ray Lewis, Brian Dawkins, Terrell Owens, Derrick Brooks, Marshall Faulk, Larry Allen, Michael Strahan, Brett Favre, Junior Seau and Deion Sanders.
I added five points for Hall of Fame finalists not yet enshrined -- Cortez Kennedy, Shannon Sharpe, etc. These changes allowed the rich to get richer, of course, because all those players already had lots of Pro Bowls on their resumés. But if it was important to recognize current Hall of Famers -- and it was, I thought -- then it was important to acknowledge the strongest candidates not yet enshrined.
Another thing I noticed: These changes didn't significantly alter results, which were predicated mostly on Pro Bowl appearances, a statistical correlation revealed.
The next challenge was making sure the formula didn't acknowledge great players at the expense of good ones. ESPN's John Clayton and Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. felt the formula should take special care in this area. I wasn't as adamant.
"You love the Hall of Famers," Horton said, "but I like the class where the guy plays at a high level for a long time. I love those third-round picks that just play and play. We shouldn’t make a mistake at the first pick. That guy should be a great player."
Clayton used approximate-value ratings from Pro Football Reference to produce averages for each draft class. The 1993 class produced the highest average, followed by the 1996, 1983, 1975 and 1971 classes. Clayton also plugged in total games played. The 1983 class edged the 1993 class for the most, followed by the 1990, 1976 and 1988 classes.
A few key variables changed along the way.
Teams drafted at least 442 players annually from 1967 to 1976. They drafted more than 330 players each year from 1977 through 1992. The 1993 class featured only 224 players, fewer than any class under consideration. The first 224 players drafted in 1969 had much higher average approximate-value ratings than the 1993 class, for example. More recent draft classes also benefited from league expansion, which opened roster spots and opportunities for additional players.
NFL regular seasons also grew in length from 14 to 16 games beginning in 1978.
My focus was more on what the draft classes produced and less on extenuating circumstances.
The 1993 class is among those deserving honorable mention. Do the most decorated members of that class -- Strahan, Willie Roaf, Will Shields, John Lynch, Jerome Bettis and Drew Bledsoe among them -- hold up to the best from other years?
Take a look at my top five classes and decide for yourself.
Why it's the best: No other class came close using the point system from ESPN Stats & Information. The 1983 class finished in a virtual tie with the 1996 and 1981 classes even when I removed from consideration the three Hall of Fame quarterbacks -- Elway, Marino and Jim Kelly. No class had more combined Pro Bowls from its top-10 picks (42) or more combined Pro Bowls from players drafted later than the 200th overall choice (26). Five of the six Hall of Famers played their entire NFL careers with one team for 83 combined seasons, or 16.6 on average.
Hall of Famers: Elway (Broncos), Kelly (Bills), Marino (Dolphins), Green (Redskins), Dickerson (Rams), Matthews (Oilers)
Hall of Fame finalists: Richard Dent (Bears), Roger Craig (49ers)
Other big names: Karl Mecklenburg (Broncos), Joey Browner (Vikings), Chris Hinton (Broncos), Charles Mann (Redskins), Dave Duerson (Bears), Leonard Marshall (Giants), Albert Lewis (Chiefs), Curt Warner (Seahawks), Jimbo Covert (Bears), Henry Ellard (Rams), Mark Clayton (Dolphins), Tim Krumrie (Bengals), Greg Townsend (Raiders), Gill Byrd (Chargers), Don Mosebar (Raiders), Darryl Talley (Bills).
Late-round steals: Mecklenburg was the 310th overall choice. Dent went 203rd overall. Clayton went 223rd. They combined for 15 Pro Bowls.
Ah, the memories: Green grew up in Houston rooting for the Oilers, but his hometown team wasn't very accommodating on draft day. His family didn't have cable TV, so they couldn't watch the draft on ESPN. They had heard the Oilers would be showing it at their facility, or at least providing real-time updates, but Green was turned away.
"They sent my little behind on out of there," Green said. "That is the way that went. What is funny, I’m a Houstonian, I played 20 years in the NFL, started 18 years and I never played in Houston but one time, so I couldn’t stick it to them. ... But you always love your hometown. I was a Luv Ya Blue, Bum Phillips, Kenny Burrough, Earl Campbell, Dan Pastorini fan."
Green was used to the cold shoulder. Tim Lewis, drafted 11th overall by Green Bay, was supposed to be the superstar cornerback that year. Looking back, Green liked going one spot after Marino. Green also values being a bookend to a first round featuring Elway on the other side.
"[Redskins general manager] Bobby Beathard told me if I was there, he would take me," Green said. "I'd always been told by pro players, 'Hey, don’t believe anything they say.' As an adult, I know why. Things change. But the man told me. We got down to Dan Marino at 27 and I knew I wouldn't be 27. Then when we got to 28, the last pick of the first round, now I’ve got nothing else to do but believe it. I was extremely excited he maintained his word."
Why it's No. 2: Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis arguably rank among the three best players at their positions in NFL history. Marvin Harrison and Terrell Owens arguably rank among the 10 greatest receivers. Between four and seven members from this class have strong credentials for Canton. Only the 1983 class produced more total Pro Bowl appearances. Unlike some other classes -- 1988 comes to mind -- this one provided star power deep into the draft.
Hall of Famers: none yet.
Hall of Fame finalists: none yet.
Strongest Hall credentials: Jonathan Ogden (Ravens), Marvin Harrison (Colts), Ray Lewis (Ravens), Brian Dawkins (Eagles), Terrell Owens (49ers), Zach Thomas (Dolphins), La'Roi Glover (Raiders).
Other big names: Mike Alstott (Bucs), Willie Anderson (Bengals), Simeon Rice (Bucs), Lawyer Milloy (Patriots), Tedy Bruschi (Patriots), Eddie George (Titans), Jeff Hartings (Lions), Keyshawn Johnson (Jets), Donnie Edwards (Chiefs), Jon Runyan (Oilers), Amani Toomer (Giants), Muhsin Muhammad (Panthers), Stephen Davis (Redskins), Joe Horn (Chiefs), Marco Rivera (Packers).
Late-round steals: Fifth-rounders Thomas, Glover and Horn combined for 17 Pro Bowls. Another fifth-rounder, Jermaine Lewis, added two more. No other fifth round produced more total Pro Bowls during the period in question. Although expansion added additional picks to more recent fifth rounds, those picks were also later in the draft. Thomas and Glover should get strong Hall of Fame consideration.
Ah, the memories: Glover was the 16th defensive tackle drafted in 1996. He wasn't even invited to the combine initially, and when he did get the call, there wasn't enough time to prepare for the specialized events. Glover, who weighed about 265 pounds at San Diego State, was in trouble and he knew it.
"It's funny to me now, but it wasn't funny then," Glover said. "I got a call maybe a week before the combine, so I wasn’t prepared. I was out there doing my long-distance conditioning training and I wasn’t doing speed-type training. I may have ran like a 5.1 or 5.2, a very bad time."
Glover performed much better at his personal workout, dropping those times into the low 4.9s. Oakland made him the 166th player chosen that year.
"I just remember feeling goosebumps and I started sweating -- the dream is coming true," Glover said. "And then I was put on the phone with Mr. Al Davis. He asked me a very specific question: 'How would you like to be an Oakland Raider?' And I damn near lost it. I didn’t cry or anything. I kept my composure over the phone. As soon as I hung up and saw my name come on the ticker -- I lived in a tiny 2-3 bedroom home -- the place just erupted. All the women were crying and all the men were asking for tickets."
Why it's No. 3: This was arguably the greatest defensive draft under consideration, particularly near the top. The NFL's best athletes typically played offense, but 1981 draftees Taylor, Lott and Easley helped change the dynamics. This draft wasn't as strong as some throughout, but its star power on defense set it apart. Key players from this draft helped the 49ers, Redskins, Giants, Bears and Raiders dominate at times during the decade. Only the 1986 draft produced more Super Bowl winners.
Hall of Famers: Taylor (Giants), Lott (49ers), Mike Singletary (Bears), Howie Long (Raiders), Rickey Jackson (Saints), Russ Grimm (Redskins).
Hall of Fame finalists: none.
Other big names: Easley, Eric Wright (49ers), Dennis Smith (Broncos), Cris Collinsworth (Bengals), Hanford Dixon (Browns), Freeman McNeil (Jets), James Brooks (Chargers), Brian Holloway (Patriots), Hugh Green (Bucs), Carlton Williamson (49ers), Neil Lomax (Cardinals), Dexter Manley (Redskins), Mark May (Redskins), E.J. Junior (Cardinals).
Late-round steals: Charlie Brown, chosen 201st overall by the Redskins, caught 16 touchdown passes in his first two seasons, earning Pro Bowl honors both years. Wade Wilson, chosen 210th, played 19 seasons and earned one Pro Bowl berth, in 1988.
Ah, the memories: Once the 49ers drafted Lott eighth overall, the USC safety headed to the airport to use a ticket the team had held for him. Easley, chosen sixth by the Seahawks, was the other great safety in that draft class and the two were so closely linked that the person behind the airline counter mixed up Lott's destination.
"You are going to Seattle?"
"No, San Francisco," Lott replied.
Lott often looks back on how things might have been different if the Saints had drafted Taylor instead of George Rogers first overall. That wasn't going to happen because the Saints wanted a running back to help them control the clock, and they were especially particular about character in that draft -- their first with Bum Phillips as head coach.
"Lawrence Taylor, I didn't realize he was going to be that type of player, but Rickey Jackson did turn out to be the player we needed [in the second round]," Phillips said. "We needed a great player and a great individual. We needed some leadership and we needed the right kind of character to be leaders."
The 49ers needed a new secondary. They used that 1981 draft to select Lott, Wright and Williamson.
"I talked to Bill Walsh and his statement was, 'If I see it on film once, then my coaches should be able to get it out of a guy,'" said Horton, the Scouts Inc. founder and veteran NFL talent evaluator. "That always stuck with me. He was amazing at seeing things on tape. That '81 draft was a smart draft. You could look at that draft and you could see what teams were thinking."
Why it's No. 4: Roger Wehrli's 2007 Hall of Fame enshrinement gave this class five inductees. Only three other classes managed more combined Pro Bowl appearances. Some of the names in this class won't resonate with recent generations, and that is understandable. But this was still a strong class and one worthy of our consideration.
Hall of Famers: Joe Greene (Steelers), Ted Hendricks (Raiders), O.J. Simpson (Bills), Wehrli (Cardinals), Charlie Joiner (Oilers).
Hall of Fame finalists: L.C. Greenwood (Steelers), Bob Kuechenberg (Eagles).
Other big names: George Kunz (Falcons), Bill Bergey (Bengals), Bill Stanfill (Dolphins), Calvin Hill (Cowboys), Ed White (Vikings), Gene Washington (49ers), Jack Rudnay (Chiefs), Bill Bradley (Eagles), Ted Kwalick (49ers), Jim Marsalis (Chiefs), Ron Johnson (Browns), Fred Dryer (Giants).
Late-round steals: Greenwood was a six-time Pro Bowl choice and was the 238th overall pick. The Falcons found five-time Pro Bowler Jeff Van Note with the 262nd choice. Larry Brown, chosen 191st overall, was a four-time Pro Bowl selection.
Ah, the memories: There was no scouting combine back then. Wehrli couldn't remember seeing a pro scout, even at Missouri practices. He had never even run a 40-yard dash until a Cardinals scout asked him to run one at the Hula Bowl all-star game in Hawaii.
Wehrli agreed to run on the spot even though he was wearing pads, the playing surface was natural grass and the stakes were higher than he realized.
"At the time, I didn’t know it was a Cardinals scout," Wehrli said. "I ran the 40, came back and he said, 'Man, we didn’t realize you were that fast.' Later, he told me that timing moved me up to a first-round draft choice [from the third round]."
Wehrli had clocked in the 4.5-second range. He would run 4.4s on Astroturf later in the pros.
"You never really trained for it back then," he said.
Why it's No. 5: Just as the 1983 class featured more than quarterbacks, the 1985 version offered much more than the most prolific receiver in NFL history. Yes, Jerry Rice was the 16th overall choice, helping set apart this class from some others. But the supporting cast featured elite talent, from Bruce Smith to Chris Doleman and beyond.
Hall of Famers: Rice (49ers), Smith (Bills).
Hall of Fame finalists: Andre Reed (Bills).
Other big names: Lomas Brown (Lions), Steve Tasker (Oilers), Ray Childress (Oilers), Kevin Greene (Rams), Jay Novacek (Cardinals), Bill Fralic (Falcons), Jerry Gray (Rams), Randall Cunningham (Eagles), Ron Wolfley (Cardinals), Al Toon (Jets), Jim Lachey (Chargers), Kevin Glover (Lions), Mark Bavaro (Giants), Herschel Walker (Cowboys), Duane Bickett (Colts), Doug Flutie (Rams), Jack Del Rio (Saints).
Late-round steals: Tasker became a seven-time Pro Bowl choice on special teams as the 226th overall choice (albeit with Buffalo, after the Oilers waived him). Greene was a fifth-rounder, Novacek was a sixth-rounder and Bavaro, one of the toughest tight ends, provided excellent value in the fourth round.
Ah, the memories: Bill Polian was a little-known pro personnel director with USFL roots when Bills general manager Terry Bledsoe suffered a heart attack two months before the draft. The Bills had already landed their franchise quarterback in Kelly two years earlier, but his two-year detour through the USFL had set back the organization. Buffalo held the No. 1 overall pick, and the stakes were high.
Polian took over GM duties. Norm Pollom, a holdover from the Chuck Knox years, headed up the college scouting side.
The Bills were in great hands. Although some fans hoped the team would draft Flutie, Polian and Pollom found building blocks.
Aggressive wheeling and dealing allowed Buffalo to land cornerback Derrick Burroughs with the 14th choice, acquired from Green Bay, even after drafting Smith first overall. Reed was a steal in the fourth round. The decision to draft Smith over Ray Childress was the right one even though Childress became a five-time Pro Bowl choice for the Oilers.
Of the five, only those receiving 80 percent approval from the committee will qualify for enshrinement. Those results are scheduled to be announced on NFL Network about 25 minutes into a program that begins at 5 p.m. ET.
Cortez Kennedy, Richard Dent, Dermontti Dawson, Andre Reed and Shannon Sharpe survived the cut from 15 to 10 finalists. Charles Haley, Roger Craig, Cris Carter, Don Coryell and Tim Brown were eliminated in the cut from 15 to 10 finalists.
The status of the two seniors-committee candidates, Dick LeBeau and Floyd Little, will be announced with the other enshrinees.
This was my first year as a voter. Rules prevent me from revealing which candidates received my votes. Rules also prevent me from disclosing specifics of conversations.
Kennedy, arguably the best defensive player in Seahawks history, took a step forward in the process by making the cut to 10. And if Randle is enshrined, Kennedy could emerge next year as the top defensive tackle eligible for consideration.
Rice's selection was a formality. Grimm's inclusion among the final five candidates marks a big step forward for him. Harry Carson once made the cut to five, but failed to receive the necessary 80 percent support, so nothing is final until the announcement is made. But it is looking pretty good for Grimm.
Carter took a step back by missing the cut to 10. Look for Kennedy, Dent, Dawson, Reed and Sharpe to receive strong consideration in 2011.
I'll be presenting the case for Cortez Kennedy during the proceedings Saturday as the geographic representative for the Seattle market.
Two things about Kennedy have jumped out during my research:
- Kennedy was a great every-down player. Kennedy played at least 90 percent of the defensive snaps from 1991 to 1996, including 97.22 percent in 1994. He was a force against run and pass alike, not just a situational player or one-dimensional player.
- Kennedy and Hall of Famer Randy White are the only defensive tackles in NFL history with at least 150 starts, 50 sacks and eight Pro Bowls.
I'd like to use this forum to solicit your thoughts on Kennedy and the eight other finalists with ties to current NFC West teams. I'll single out a note or two on each player here to help get the conversation going (while fully recognizing that some of these players enjoyed most of their success for teams outside the division):
- Jerry Rice, 49ers WR. Arguably the greatest player in NFL history.
- Roger Craig, 49ers RB. One of three players in NFL history with 8,000 yards rushing, 4,900 yards receiving, 70 total touchdowns and four Pro Bowls. Marcus Allen and Marshall Faulk are the others.
- Richard Dent, 49ers DL. One of three players in NFL history with at least 135 sacks and 35 forced fumbles. Bruce Smith and Chris Doleman are the others.
- Charles Haley, 49ers OLB/DE. One of 10 players in NFL history with 100 sacks, 25 forced fumbles and five Pro Bowls.
- Rickey Jackson, 49ers linebacker. One of five players in NFL history with at least 125 sacks and 40 forced fumbles. Bruce Smith, Derrick Thomas, Doleman and Jason Taylor are the others.
- John Randle, Seahawks DT. One of five players in NFL history with185 starts, 135 sacks and seven Pro Bowls.
- Don Coryell, Cardinals coach. Helped change the way teams played offense in the passing game, which helped revolutionize how defenses responded.
- Emmitt Smith, Cardinals RB. All-time NFL rushing leader.
- Russ Grimm, Redskins guard (and current Cardinals assistant coach). Arguably the best player on the most famous offensive line in NFL history.
The Pro Bowl is first on the agenda, followed by a week of Super Bowl buildup, followed by Hall of Fame voting Saturday, followed by the Super Bowl itself.
Jerry Rice, Cortez Kennedy, Roger Craig, Richard Dent, Charles Haley, John Randle and Rickey Jackson are among the Hall of Fame finalists with ties to current NFC West franchises.
A few Super Bowl participants also have ties to the division, including Colts safety Aaron Francisco (Arizona) and Saints general manager Mickey Loomis (Seattle), among others.
The focus here will remain mostly on the NFC West, with some South Florida flavor.
And if you've got ideas or suggestions, please fire away. It's appreciated.
Jerry Rice, Roger Craig, Richard Dent, Charles Haley and Rickey Jackson played for the 49ers.
Don Coryell coached the Cardinals. Emmitt Smith played for them. Russ Grimm is currently a Cardinals assistant.
Cortez Kennedy and John Randle played for the Seahawks.
The Hall of Fame selection committee, of which I am a new member, meets Feb. 6 in Miami to name enshrinees. Candidates at the finalist level come with strong credentials. Deciding which ones to leave off the list becomes harder than determining which ones might be worthy.
From the Hall of Fame: "Although there is no set number for any class of enshrinees, the Pro Football Hall of Fame's current ground rules stipulate that between four and seven new members will be selected each year. No more than five modern-era nominees can be elected in a given year and a class of six or seven can only be achieved if one or both senior nominees are elected. Representatives of the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche will tabulate all votes during the meeting."
Floyd Little and Dick LeBeau are the senior nominees this year.
All played primarily or significantly for current NFC West teams.
Chris Doleman, John Randle, Richard Dent, Kevin Greene, Ricky Jackson and Don Coryell are also among the finalists. Each spent smaller portions of their careers with current NFC West franchises.
Cardinals offensive line coach and running game coordinator Russ Grimm, former guard for the Redskins, is also among the finalists.
I'll be following the process more closely from this point forward, and for good reason: I recently joined the Board of Selectors. It's an honor and something I'll take seriously.
So many people have given so much to the game. Narrowing down the finalists will require excluding some excellent candidates.