NFC West: Shannon Sharpe

Tony Gonzalez and what might have been

January, 22, 2013
1/22/13
9:15
AM ET
With Tony Gonzalez leaning toward retirement after 16 NFL seasons and 1,242 receptions, I turned back the clock in my mind to 1997, the year San Francisco tried to draft the tight end from California.

The 49ers were in a wheeling and dealing mode in that 1997 draft. They came away with three players -- Jim Druckenmiller, Marc Edwards and Greg Clark -- after trading away all picks in the fourth through seventh rounds.

"While they rated [Jim] Druckenmiller as the best player available at the 26th pick, the 49ers tried to trade up for Miami's No. 15 in order to take Cal tight end Tony Gonzalez," John Crumpacker wrote at the time in the San Francisco Chronicle. "Alas, Kansas City moved up to 13 in a trade with Houston and tabbed the Golden Bear."

Alas, indeed.

Druckenmiller would play in six NFL games, starting one. Edwards, a fullback the team envisioned in the Tom Rathman mold, started 82 of the 134 regular-season games he played. Clark, a tight end, started 39 of the 55 games he played.

As for Gonzalez? He has 237 starts in 254 games and ranks second to Jerry Rice on the NFL's list for all-time receptions. His total for receptions is 50 percent greater than the career total for any tight end. Shannon Sharpe is second with 815 receptions.

The chart ranks 1997 draft choices by most Pro Bowl appearances. Two NFC West players, Walter Jones and Orlando Pace, made the list. Also in 1997, the Arizona Cardinals drafted cornerback Tommy Knight with the ninth overall choice.

INDIANAPOLIS -- For retired defensive tackle Warren Sapp, the pounding Eli Manning withstood at San Francisco in the NFC title game proved the New York Giants' quarterback had fully arrived.

But the six sacks and 12 quarterback hits Manning took did not register atop Sapp's list of all-time QB beatdowns.

"Nah, I saw Andrew Walter take nine sacks in the first half up in Seattle one night," Sapp said Monday at Super Bowl media day, recalling the Seahawks' 16-0 victory over his Walter-led Oakland Raiders in 2006.

Walter actually absorbed seven first-half sacks and nine overall in that game. Sapp had five tackles, one sack and two quarterback hits of his own in that game, but when he called his mother to discuss his performance, she wasn't able to offer much.

"She said, 'If I wanted to watch somebody get killed, I'd turn on Law & Order," Sapp said. "I knew I had to retire right there. They made my mother turn off the TV? Turn off 'Monday Night Football'? I'm getting out of here."

Sapp played one more season before retiring.

I'll pass along an additional thought from Sapp regarding Manning's performance against the 49ers. He was referring to Eli Manning in the context of being the oft-overshadowed younger brother to Peyton Manning:
"I'm the baby boy, too. When you are the baby, you always take a back seat to your brother. Sterling and Shannon [Sharpe] as an example. I was third in my house. I might be the third-best football player in my house when you get my brothers all together. When you look at that little brother, when you come out of that shell, you watch him just operate. You talk about calm.

"I was watching him in San Francisco and they were pounding him. I mean, lighting him up. Some of them flips to Ahmad Bradshaw, to be able to know he's there and to get it to him and to get out of the stuff he was in, I was like, 'Whoa.' I mean, there was no running game for him to bail out on and turn around and hand it off. There was none of that. It's on you, Eli. It's on you and Victor Cruz. And then they took Victor away from him."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee offers thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' rookies. On first-round choice Aldon Smith: "Most young pass rushers try to out-quick their offensive tackle opponent by going to the outside, and in doing so they are easily pushed wide of the play. Smith, however, has a wicked inside move in which he uses his long powerful arms like battle axes to club away the offensive tackle's hands. Smith is far more powerful than most rookies, much less those enter the NFL as underclassmen. He's working on his flexibility and on playing in space, which he must do as an outside linebacker."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com looks at potential quarterback options for the 49ers. Maiocco: "I'm told if there's a quarterback who shakes free or becomes available that Jim Harbaugh likes, the club will make an effort to get him. The No. 1 name on everybody's list is Tampa Bay backup quarterback Josh Johnson, who played for Harbaugh at the University of San Diego and greatly desires a chance to play for him again. Johnson enters the final year of his contract, and there are no long-term hopes of being a starter with Josh Freeman firmly entrenched as the Buccaneers' starter. There would be hope for Johnson if he came to the 49ers, as Alex Smith is signed to just a one-year deal and Colin Kaepernick is promising but very raw."

Cam Inman of the Contra Costa Times checks in with new 49ers center Jonathan Goodwin.

Also from Inman: a Harbaugh interview transcript.

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider sizes up Goodwin and Braylon Edwards.

Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers' changes on defense should help their pass defense. Cohn: "It’s fair to say the 49ers have the most talent in the NFC West. If the coaching staff lives up to expectations, the 49ers should win the division. So, all credit to Jed York, who let Trent Baalke do his job unhindered. Baalke said he had a plan, he said he wanted to be patient, and he was true to his word." The quarterback position will come into play as well. Can Alex Smith make it through a season? How ready will Kaepernick be as a rookie if called upon?

Also from Cohn: The 49ers' quarterbacks like operating from the shotgun.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Marshall Faulk shared his Hall of Fame experience with former teammates. Miklasz: "Faulk was more interested in giving credit than taking a bow.Of all the inductees that spoke on Saturday night, Faulk singled out more teammates than anyone at the podium. What does that say about the camaraderie and closeness of the 'Greatest Show' Rams?"

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Hall of Fame experience was a dream come true for Faulk. Thomas: "Faulk was emotional, yet composed; sincere and at times humorous. His eyes moistened and voice quavered at times; he wiped sweat from his brow with towel on a couple of occasions. But just like he did on the football field, Faulk never broke stride. His speech went 33 minutes, 50 seconds, outlasting his talkative predecessor on the stage, tight end Shannon Sharpe, who went 26 minutes. Faulk even outdid the last enshrinee to speak Saturday, the always-gabby cornerback, Deion Sanders, who went 24."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Sam Bradford tossed four touchdown passes during the Rams' scrimmage Sunday. Coats: "The defense controlled things early, as the offense struggled with new coordinator Josh McDaniels' system. When the offense went back to more familiar calls, it perked up. It was especially impressive in a red-zone session, scoring touchdowns on four of five opportunities."

Also from Coats: Mike Sims-Walker stood out at times for the Rams during their scrimmage.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says third-year running back Beanie Wells is looking to tighten his grip on the job as the Cardinals' starting running back. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "What Beanie's had to learn is you have to adapt to whatever you're faced with. It seems like Beanie's always been a very good football player, and it seems like dealing with adversity is not something he probably had done a lot of. It's not easy, and when you have to do it for the first time as a young back in a town that's unfamiliar to you, it's tough. Especially with as important as family is to him and they are not all out here (in Arizona)."

Also from Somers: losing Adrian Wilson to injury would be significant for the Cardinals. Somers: "The loss of Wilson for any amount of time is a huge blow, even though Wilson is coming off a down season. He is expected to thrive in the new scheme installed by coordinator Ray Horton. Even with Wilson, the Cardinals had little depth at safety. Rashad Johnson replaced Wilson after the injury on Saturday. The team also has Hamza Abdullah and now Matt Ware."

Diana C. Nearhos of the Arizona Republic says rookies face difficulties at Cardinals camp.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says rookie Duke Lemmens is making a name for himself at Cardinals camp. That name is "Kenny G" to this point.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times offers notes regarding the Seahawks' evolving roster. O'Neil: "The Seahawks took a two-handed approach to recruiting. A scout and a coach were assigned each targeted free agent."

Also from O'Neil: a look inside the free-agency frenzy. O'Neil: "It was after 1 a.m. on July 28, which meant Thursday night had officially given way to Friday morning, and John Idzik was on the phone with Brandon Mebane's agent. Idzik is Seattle's vice president of football operations and its salary-cap expert. John Schneider and Pete Carroll were in the room, hearing half the conversation and becoming increasingly entertained by Idzik's hair. It was kind of sticking out, fittingly frazzled given the circumstances. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation or perhaps the knowledge Seattle was nearing an agreement to re-sign its starting defensive tackle, but all of a sudden there was a junior-high giddiness hovering around a deal worth millions. Schneider went behind Idzik, further mussing his hair as the coach laughed."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks appear to be making strides with their running game under assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable. Williams: "Cable’s trying to change the culture of the Seahawks’ running game, which finished in the bottom third of the league the past four seasons – including second-worst last season, averaging 89 yards a contest. Cable received help from general manager John Schneider in the talent acquisition department. Three of Seattle’s five line starters are first round picks in Gallery (second overall in 2004), left tackle Russell Okung (sixth overall in 2010) and right tackle James Carpenter (25th overall this year)."

Also from Williams: fullback Michael Robinson showcases his multimedia skills.

More from Williams: Red Bryant is looking to pick up where he left off before suffering a knee injury last season.


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.

Quick take: Hall of Fame class of 2011

February, 5, 2011
2/05/11
7:35
PM ET
Stephen Perry Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireHall of Fame president Stephen Perry announces this year's 10 finalists for the class of 2011.
DALLAS -- Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors elected Marshall Faulk, Deion Sanders, Richard Dent, Shannon Sharpe and NFL Films founder Ed Sabol to the class of 2011.

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:

Marshall Faulk

Position: RB

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.


Richard Dent

Position: DE

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.


Deion Sanders

Position: CB

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.


Les Richter

Position: LB

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.


Cortez Kennedy

Position: DT

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.


Charles Haley

Position: OLB

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.


Jerome Bettis

Position: RB

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.


Chris Doleman

Position: DE

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.

Kennedy HOF finalist; Craig left off

January, 9, 2011
1/09/11
11:54
AM ET
Five first-time finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame pushed San Francisco 49ers great Roger Craig off the list this year.

That's a bad sign for his long-term Hall hopes because there's already a backlog of Hall-worthy players. Former St. Louis Cardinals coach Don Coryell also did not make the list of finalists this year after appearing previously.

Jerome Bettis, Marshall Faulk, Curtis Martin, Willie Roaf and Deion Sanders made the list of 17 finalists for the first time. I thought former Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams defensive back Aeneas Williams would make the list. The fact that he did not shows how high the bar for enshrinement has risen.

Seattle Seahawks great Cortez Kennedy is back on the list of 17 this year after making the final 10 last season. I hold the Hall of Fame vote for the Seattle market and will again present Kennedy's case to voters this year. I consider Kennedy to have been the most dominant all-around tackle of the 1990s. No interior defensive lineman dominated against run and pass the way Kennedy did while earning eight Pro Bowl berths from 199o to 2000 (two more than any other defensive tackle earned during that time).

Faulk's inclusion on the list of 17 hardly qualifies as news, and I mean that as a compliment. Very few players in NFL history possessed his specific combination of talents as a runner and receiver.

Bettis also played for the Rams, but he earned his Hall credentials with Pittsburgh. Chris Doleman (49ers) and Richard Dent (49ers) made the list of 17 finalists after playing most of their careers elsewhere.

Former 49ers and Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Charles Haley is back on the list of 17 and will again get strong consideration.

Also on the list of 17: Tim Brown, Cris Carter, Dermontti Dawson, Chris Hanburger, Andre Reed, Ed Sabol and Shannon Sharpe.

Settling on just five enshrinees, plus two seniors candidates, is a tough task.
John Elway, Jim Kelly, Dan MarinoUS PresswireJohn Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino are a part of a draft class that may be the best in NFL history.
The 1983 NFL draft might have been the best of the modern era even without Hall of Fame quarterbacks John Elway, Jim Kelly or Dan Marino.

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 Insider. 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.


[+] EnlargeDarrell Green
US PresswireDarrell Green was the last pick of the first round in the 1983 draft.
1983

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."


Ray Lewis
Frank Victores/US PresswireRay Lewis could be one of the best linebackers to ever play in the NFL.
1996

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."


[+] EnlargeLT
US PresswireLawrence Taylor helped the New York Giants win two Super Bowls.
1981

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."


Joe Greene
Malcolm Emmons/US PresswireJoe Greene is one of five Hall of Fame inductees from the 1969 draft class.
1969

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.


[+] EnlargeJerry Rice
US PresswireJerry Rice, the best receiver in NFL history, helped San Francisco win three Super Bowls.
1985

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.
Tags:

San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Orlando Pace, O.J. SImpson, Tom Brady, Cris Collinsworth, Brian Urlacher, Rickey Jackson, Roger Wehrli, Frank Reich, Michael Strahan, Cortez Kennedy, Randy Moss, Ray Lewis, Junior Seau, Brian Dawkins, Deion Sanders, Mike Singletary, Dwight Freeney, LaDainian Tomlinson, Russ Grimm, Brett Favre, Charlie Joiner, Jonathan Ogden, Kenny Easley, Ronnie Lott, Kevin Greene, Lomas Brown, Roger Craig, Doug Flutie, Steve Tasker, Neil Lomax, Bill Polian, Peyton Manning, Terrell Owens, Bobby Beathard, Marshall Faulk, Jason Taylor, Randall Cunningham, Carlton Williamson, Lawrence Taylor, Jerome Bettis, Howie Long, Larry Allen, Will Shields, Alan Faneca, Champ Bailey, Joe Greene, Marvin Harrison, Bruce Smith, Drew Bledsoe, Richard Dent, John Lynch, NFL Draft 2010, Jerry Rice, Ed Reed, Eric Wright, Walter Jones, Derrick Brooks, Steve Hutchinson, Tony Gonzalez, Troy Polamalu, Chris Doleman, Ted Kwalick, Gene Washington, Jerry Gray, Andre Reed, Shannon Sharpe, Willie Roaf, Ray Childress, Jay Novacek, Bill Fralic, Ron Wolfley, Al Toon, Jim Lachey, Kevin Glover, Mark Bavaro, Hershel Walker, Duane Bickett, Terry Bledsoe, George Kunz, Bill Bergey, Bill Stafill, Calvin Hill, Ed White, Jack Rudnay, Bill Bradley, Jim Marsalis, Ron Johnson, Fred Dryer, L.C. Greenwood, Bob Kuechenberg, Ted Hendricks, Dennis Smith, Hanford Dixon, Freeman McNeil, James Brooks, Brian Holloway, Hugh Green, Dexter Manley, Mark May. E.J. Junior, Bum Phillips, Kenny Burrough, Earl Campbell, Dan Pastorini, Norm Pollom

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Jerry Rice, Russ Grimm, John Randle, Emmitt Smith and Rickey Jackson made the list of five final candidates for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider

NFC WEST SCOREBOARD