NFL Nation: Howie Long
You know about him plowing through Brian Bosworth at the goal line in the same game.
You know about his star-crossed football career coming to an end in a playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 13, 1991, when he dislocated his right hip on a seemingly innocuous tackle by Kevin Walker.
And while Jackson never knew Oakland as his home, Bo will know something new before this weekend's game against the Tennessee Titans -- what it's like to light the Al Davis Flame before kickoff.
Jackson, who played for the Raiders in L.A. from 1987 through 1990 and entered this season with three of the four longest runs in franchise history, will be the latest to light the torch in memory of the late Raiders owner at the invitation of Davis' son Mark, joining the likes of Marcus Allen, Jon Gruden, Art Shell, Tom Flores, Jim Plunkett and John Madden.
"When I'm running, I can't hear a thing," Jackson said on last December's ESPN 30-for-30 documentary, "You Don't Know Bo."
"I can only hear wind going by the holes in my helmet. I can't hear the people cheering. It just goes silent."
He is sure, though, to hear much more Sunday at the O.co Coliseum.
Jackson, who was the No. 1 overall pick of the 1986 NFL draft as the Heisman Trophy winner out of Auburn, chose baseball and the Kansas City Royals over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A year later, the Raiders took a flier on him with a seventh-round pick, No. 183 overall.
In the documentary, Jackson said his agent at the time asked him if he was interested in playing football again. Jackson said it depended on the team. He was told it was the Raiders.
"Hell yeah," Jackson said.
"I know that Al Davis was always fascinated with great size and great speed, tangible numbers," said former teammate Howie Long, "and Bo had that in spades."
It made for a good problem to have for then-coach Flores in Jackson's rookie year, seeing as how the Raiders already had Allen in the backfield.
"Whatever comes after baseball season is a hobby for Bo Jackson," Jackson said at the time, "just like fishing and hunting."
Jackson remains the only player in history to be selected for both the Major League Baseball All-Star Game and the NFL's Pro Bowl.
In 38 career games with the Raiders, 23 starts, Jackson rushed for 2,782 yards and averaged 5.4 yards per carry while scoring 16 rushing touchdowns and two more through the air.
And until Terrelle Pryor broke off his 93-yard touchdown run against the Pittsburgh Steelers earlier this season, Jackson's 92-yarder against the Bengals on Nov. 5, 1989, was the franchise record for longest run.
It all ended, though, when he took the pitch from Jay Schroeder and burst up the right sideline for a 34-yard gain on the second play of the third quarter in that postseason game. After the tackle -- Jackson was so powerful he literally yanked his own leg out of its socket trying to break out of Walker's grasp -- Jackson stood up before collapsing on the grass. He said on a scale of 1 to 10, the pain was a 25.
"I could have easily stepped out of bounds, but I didn't," Jackson said in the documentary. "That's just the nature of the beast."
But when the Houston Texans defensive end looks at film of his performance through three games -- three games that include an AFC-best 5.5 sacks, seven tackles for a loss, five passes defensed and a fumble recovery -- he sees what hasn’t happened more than what has.
“I’m confident in my game and the best part about it. And the most exciting thing for me right now is watching the film, I still have so many things, so much more that I can do to get better,” he said. “I can’t wait to improve ...
“Obviously the sacks are nice, and the batted balls and the TFLs [tackles for loss], but I am still leaving a few plays on the field. That’s what excites me, and those are the plays that I focus on.”
Sunday, he’ll bounce from one side to the other against the Tennessee Titans at Reliant Stadium, typically going to the formation’s strong side and working with outside linebacker Brooks Reed behind him.
Tennessee has been poor in terms of run-blocking but has protected the passer well. However, the Titans have not faced anyone playing as well as Watt.
“He fits that system perfectly,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “I was upset when they got him, because I knew we were going to face him twice a year. The guy makes plays. He fits that scheme perfectly, probably better than most do
“We’re going to have our hands full with him this week, and when we play them in the future. He reminds me of [San Francisco’s Justin Smith]. He’s one of the guys that stands out as being a stud in that system, which is a very similar system.”
Such production from a 3-4 end is an attention-grabber, though Watt and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips say it shouldn’t be.
Perhaps it’s because we tend to think of a 3-4 end as a two-gapper, responsible primarily for taking up blockers and freeing linebackers to make plays.
Aaron Smith, the former Pittsburgh Steelers end, for example.
“Houston is not the normal 3-4,” Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said. “They are an attacking defense, and they don’t ask their DEs to two-gap like, say, Aaron Smith in his prime. Really, Houston is an attacking 5-2 more than a traditional 3-4. But ends in just about any 3-4 should be able to bump inside on throwing downs and pressure the QB."
What Smith did for the Steelers is not Watt’s role, or the role of Antonio Smith, Houston’s weakside end, in its base package.
“I’m trying to break the mold,” Watt said. “A lot of people keep telling me that, that we’re not allowed to make plays or we’re not supposed to make plays. One of the things is that Coach Phillips puts me in great position to have success, he gives me great opportunities. And I think another thing is just having the belief, and not buying into this thing where you can’t make plays.
“I mean, I don’t know why people say that you can’t make plays. If you bust your tail and you’re rushing the passer, you’re going to get a sack. If you’re chasing down a runner from the back side and you beat your blocker, you’re going to get a TFL. I don’t see why you have to be a block-eater.”
Watt doesn’t like hearing that what Houston’s running isn’t really a 3-4. We sometimes paint it as a 5-2 or some wild twist on a conventional 3-4. But as the league evolves, maybe we are too quick to label something conventional. If defenses like Houston’s and San Francisco’s are so strong, maybe they redefine convention.
“I play the 5-technique [shaded outside the tackle] and the 3-technique [shaded outside a guard] just like all the other 3-4 ends,” Watt said. “We’re a 3-4, and I play the same position as those guys.”
Phillips jumped in when I started to ask about uncommon production from a 3-4 end.
What about Oilers Hall of Fame Elvin Bethea, who Bum Phillips deployed in a similar fashion? What about Bruce Smith, who Wade Phillips coached in Buffalo?
“That’s why we don’t play a conventional 3-4,” Phillips said. “In the Phillips’ 3-4, my dad’s 3-4, he said, ‘Elvin Bethea isn’t going to play two-gap, he can stunt, he can move, let’s get him on the move where he can make plays, because he’s a great player.’ You do what your players can do, you can utilize that kind of personnel in our defense.”
The Houston front is such a strong group that blocking schemes have difficult choices to make.
Inside linebacker Brian Cushing will rush a lot on third down. So offenses tend to move their center toward him. That helps Watt wind up with one-on-ones with a guard, since the tackle has to deal with another very good rusher in Reed.
“I don’t know what they are going to do,” Phillips said of the attention Watt can draw.
Watt gets moved around based on what Phillips calls and the matchups the Texans are looking to exploit. But the default is the strong side, which Watt estimates puts him against right tackles and guards 70 percent of the time.
In Watt, the Texans have a largely egoless guy. He’s easygoing when he chats with a reporter, relentless when he’s on the field. He’s not too far removed from working as a pizza delivery guy, so he cherishes the job he’s got and the chances that come with it.
“He’s a perfect guy,” Phillips said. “He’s a perfect player for you, he works hard, he studies hard, he plays hard, he’s first in everything he does, all the drills and all that stuff. He’s what you want. Plus, he’s a great athlete, too.”
Early in training camp, I asked Watt about how he could get better at after a great rookie season that included a point-blank interception of Andy Dalton and a 29-yard touchdown return in a playoff win against Cincinnati. After the great three games so far, I asked how he had improved.
He said it’s all been about calculated risks he’s now willing to take.
“It’s confidence, first of all,” he said. “I have more of an array of moves. But I have the confidence in maybe taking a risk in order to make a play. They are extremely calculated. I’m not going to put the team in harm’s way or give up a big play. I do them at just the right time where, hopefully, if everything goes according to plan, I have a very small chance of failure.
“Sometimes if I’m going to knife underneath a block or I am going to swim over a blocker, those are things where you can get caught with your arm over a blocker, he can hit you right in the chest and you’re in some deep trouble there. But if you play it right and you do it at the right time and you set him up long enough, you can make it where your chance of failure is pretty small.”
Watt is appreciative of the comparisons to Justin Smith, who he respects and regards as a great player.
“Watt is on a defensive MVP type of pace,” Williamson said. “To me, Justin Smith was the clear No. 1 3-4 defensive end heading into this season, but Watt was great as a rookie and is even better in Year 2. He is pushing for that crown. The ends in Arizona have been fantastic as well in their more traditional 3-4.”
Growing up in Pewaukee, Wis., Watt admired Howie Long and Reggie White. But the young Texan isn’t real big on comparisons.
Please don’t call him the next anybody.
“I think the mark of a truly great player is the guy who wants to have the most success, a guy who wants to do things that have never been done before,” he said. “So that’s my goal. I want to come out here and hopefully work my tail of for my career and do things that have never been done before.”
So Jackson turned on the film. And he pressed the way-back machine.
Jackson had a film produced that featured interviews with several of the team’s all-time great players like Ken Stabler, Jim Plunkett and Jim Otto. Several other former Raider greats were featured including current coaches Steve Wisniewski, Rod Woodson and Greg Biekert.
Players spoke of what it meant to them to be a Raider. There were also plenty of highlights. To provide extra motivation, Jackson showed the team some highlights from the current players which he deemed were up to the standard of the Raiders of the 1970s and early 1980s.
“We’re chasing greatness,” Jackson said. “Not everyone is a Raider. I wanted them to see what it is and what it means to be a Raider. This is a special organization. There is history here and I want these guys to live up to being a Raider.”
Defensive lineman Richard Seymour said the message came through loud-and-clear.
“You could feel it,” Seymour said. “Just watching the film, showed the guys all the tradition of the this team. For me to see guys like Howe Long and Lyle Alzado, it was really inspiring.”
Jackson said it was especially powerful when film of Woodson, Wisniewski and Biekert were shown.
“Guys could look around and see those people in the room,” Jackson said. “Being a Raider is an opportunity. It’s a family.”
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.
Following up on Saturday's request, a number of you provided well-considered, thoughtful arguments for Richard Dent to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
|Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images|
|The debate continues over Richard Dent's Hall of Fame credentials.|
A number of you compared Dent's career sack totals (137.5) to Hall of Famer Howie Long (84). One thing to keep in mind: Long unofficially had 7.5 sacks in his rookie year of 1981, when sacks weren't an official statistic. But I can add. It's still better to have 137.5 sacks than it is to have 91.5.
One argument I don't think is relevant: that Dent was an eighth-round draft pick from Tennessee State. It's certainly an accomplishment to ascend from a small school where you got little attention, but I don't think it should be a criteria for HOF enshrinement. If so, does that mean we should give less credit to a former first-round draft pick? Doesn't make sense. Maybe Dent had to work harder to get noticed, but the only thing a player should be judged on is his performance, not the obstacles he overcame getting there.
With all that said, I'd like to share thoughts from two of your fellow readers. Kevmob77 makes a good summation of Dent's accomplishments and his importance to Chicago's record-setting championship defense in the mid 1980s:
Any player who averages over 10 sacks per year for their career with 130+ should be in the Hall of Fame. When a person thinks of the '85 Bears defense, 4 names immediately pop up: [Mike] Singletary, [Dan] Hampton, [Steve] McMichael, and Dent. Dent was not only a great pass rusher, but probably one of the best DE's ever who could stop the run. This is not even taking into account all of the turnovers he forced or fumbles he recovered. Dent almost by himself won Super Bowl XX with his defensive play. You could just see the fear in the Patriots QB's eyes, especially [Tony] Eason. My question is, if you take Dent away from that '85 Bears team, would they still be known as one of the best (if not the best) defense of all time. I personally don't think so. My feeling on why he hasn't been elected into the HOF is that there were just so many great players on that '85 Bears team it was easy to forget who made what play because everybody was making plays every week. From [Jim] McMahon, Singletary, [Walter] Payton, the Fridge, [Gary] Fencik, and Hampton... Dent got a little bit lost in the mix as far as notoriety with a team full of personality. He deserves induction as much as any player I can think of.
To clarify, Dent averaged just over 10 sacks a game during his 12 years with the Bears. He had 13 sacks over three seasons with San Francisco, Indianapolis and Philadelphia.
Continuing on the theme of relative recognition, Shaun7575 wrote:
Richard Dent might suffer from Bert Blyleven syndrome. It's been so long since he's been around, that people [HOF Voters] have forgotten how good he was. This is where the voters need to look at more than statistics. Interview some of the quarterbacks, offensive lineman, and coaches that he played against during his time. That's when you'll get a accurate account of how great he really was.
Dent will have another chance this winter. We'll see if the voters take your advice.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
Saturday, Kansas City outside linebacker Derrick Thomas became the ninth person who spent the majority of his career in the AFC West to be elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this decade.
Here is a look at those who preceded him this decade:
Howie Long, defensive line, Oakland Raiders (2000)
Comment: Many people around the league thought he was overrated but Long played an important role in the Raiders' history.
Dave Casper, tight end, Oakland Raiders (2002)
Comment: "The Ghost" was one of the great tight ends of his era and one of the Raiders' legends of the 1970s.
Marcus Allen, running back, Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs (2003)
Comment: A falling out with owner Al Davis ended Allen's time as a Raider. He finished his career with the hated Chiefs, which still angers many Raiders' fans.
Hank Stram, coach, Kansas City Chiefs (2003)
Comment: He'll always be remembered for roaming the sidelines in Kansas City.
John Elway, quarterback, Denver Broncos (2004)
Comment: The Broncos' first taste of the Hall of Fame came with much style.
John Madden, coach, Oakland Raiders (2006)
Comment: Many thought that Madden's election was long overdue.
Fred Dean, defensive lineman, San Diego Chargers (2008)
Comment: He won a Super Bowl with San Francisco, but Dean was a star with the Chargers early in his career.
Gary Zimmerman, tackle, Denver Broncos (2008)
Comment: Zimmerman spent the first half of his career with the Vikings but he considers himself only as a Bronco. Denver owner Pat Bowlen was his presenter at the induction ceremony.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com provides evidence that Anquan Boldin will return from injury in Week 8. Boldin told teammate Bert Berry on the radio that there's no way he'll miss the game at Carolina.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says running back Edgerrin James isn't happy about criticism directed his way. James wants the ball more and he doesn't sound thrilled about the offensive system, which differs from the one he expected to run upon signing with Arizona.
Also from Somers: The Panthers are convinced Boldin will play Sunday.
Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune looks at Sean Morey's preparation on special teams, calling it "no fluke" when the receiver blocked a punt against Dallas.
Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider says he's a bit surprised by the level of anger shown by 49ers fans.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says new 49ers coach Mike Singletary told players they should strive to be good enough for friends and family to demand tickets from them.
Also from Crumpacker: Mike Holmgren declines comment on whether he would coach the 49ers next season.
The 49ers' Web site carries a transcript of Singletary's comments at his midweek news conference.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat runs a transcript of Holmgren's interview with 49ers beat reporters.
Also from Maiocco: Singletary runs the 49ers through a practice for the first time as head coach. Says linebacker Jeff Ulbrich: "He could tell you how to tie shoes, and you'd get excited about it."
More from Maiocco: a story with Holmgren's thoughts on 49ers-related rumors. Holmgren shares a story about what Bill Walsh told him about life outside coaching, capped by a funny quote about the late coach's beverage of choice.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee could hear Singletary's post-practice speech from 100 yards away.
Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer writes about Holmgren's job status and Julius Jones' sideline outburst, issues that reflect the team's poor record.
Also from Farnsworth: D.D. Lewis has another good day at Seahawks practice.
More from Farnsworth: He takes one last look at Jones' sideline frustrations.
Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune looks at the Holmgren-49ers rumors before getting into Holmgren's thoughts on cornerback Kelly Jennings. The coach defends the cornerback's play against the Bucs.
Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune explains the specific reasons for Jones' anger during the Tampa Bay game. The running back wanted to stay on the field for second down.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Holmgren probably won't take Jones out of the game when a similar situation arises.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' recent success has spurred a run on ticket sales.
Also from Thomas: Steven Jackson doesn't guarantee he'll play against the Patriots.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Orlando Pace will return to the lineup at left tackle for the Rams.
More from Coats: Rookie defensive end Chris Long speaks to his famous father, Howie, every day. Coats also points out that the Rams are plus-six in turnovers since Jim Haslett became head coach.
1:00 PM ET Miami Buffalo 1:00 PM ET Minnesota Cincinnati 1:00 PM ET Indianapolis Kansas City 1:00 PM ET Tampa Bay St. Louis 1:00 PM ET Cleveland New York 1:00 PM ET Dallas Washington 1:00 PM ET New Orleans Carolina 1:00 PM ET Tennessee Jacksonville 1:00 PM ET Denver Houston 4:05 PM ET New York Detroit 4:05 PM ET Arizona Seattle 4:25 PM ET Pittsburgh Green Bay 4:25 PM ET Oakland San Diego 4:25 PM ET New England Baltimore 8:30 PM ET Chicago Philadelphia