The committee has limits. Each year, the 46-person group that votes new members into the Pro Football Hall of Fame can choose up to eight former players, coaches and contributors, including nominations from a separate seniors committee.
Projecting future Hall of Famers for all 32 NFL teams
Eli Manning and Cam Newton are great players, but are they Hall of Famers? Bill Barnwell goes team-by-team to try to estimate which active players will one day be enshrined in Canton.
As a result, worthy candidates often must wait years for their turn. Sometimes they are forgotten.
So as the class of 2016 — which includes Brett Favre, Tony Dungy and Orlando Pace among others — prepares for enshrinement on Saturday, let’s rank 10 eligible aspirants who deserve a spot in the Canton, Ohio, shrine.
1. Terrell Owens, wide receiver
Owens was one of the most productive and feared receivers of his generation, finishing his career in 2010 with the second-most yards (15,934), second-most touchdowns (153) and fifth-most receptions (1,078) among receivers in NFL history. (Randy Moss surpassed Owens’ touchdown total before retiring in 2012.) It’s true that receiving statistics have ballooned in this generation as the NFL has leaned toward passing offenses. But Owens — who spent most of his career with the San Francisco 49ers and later played for the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys — stood above almost all of his contemporaries. Despite an outsize personality that offended some, it is simply a matter of time before Owens is elected.
2. Kurt Warner, quarterback
Warner was his team’s primary starter (as defined by starting more than half of its games) in only eight seasons, so his cumulative statistics fall short of most modern-day Hall of Fame quarterbacks. (He ranks No. 35 in league history in touchdown passes and No. 36 in yards.) But Warner made those seasons count. Most notably, he is one of only three quarterbacks to take two teams to the Super Bowl. That those franchises — the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals — were previously, and at times subsequently, moribund should not be forgotten. Finally, he was arguably the most accurate quarterback of his generation, and one of the best in league history. Warner has the NFL’s second-best career completion percentage (65.5) among quarterbacks with at least 100 starts.
3. John Lynch, safety
Only seven enshrined players spent their entire careers at safety, and all of them began their careers before the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. (Ronnie Lott, for instance, played four seasons at cornerback from 1981-84.) And it has been 18 years since any of them were elected. Paul Krause was the last, in 1998. That’s the history Lynch faces despite a strong candidacy. It’s true that his 26 career interceptions don’t compare to Krause’s 81. And some would argue that Steve Atwater, a Denver Broncos safety from 1989-98, should be ahead of Lynch in line. But more than anyone else, Lynch’s blend of coverage, hard hits and run-stopping excellence defined what a modern safety could be. A decade after his retirement, the rest of the league is finally realizing the value of a multi-tool safety. Lynch made such an impact that he is a member of both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Ring of Honor and the Broncos’ Ring of Fame.
4. Terrell Davis, running back
Injuries shortened what would have been a slam-dunk case for the Hall. As it is, Davis still has a strong argument. He rushed for 6,413 yards and 56 touchdowns in his first four seasons with the Denver Broncos, including 2,008 yards in 1998 — still the fifth-highest single-season total in NFL history. But he managed just 1,194 over three seasons thereafter, slowed by knee problems that began when he tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee in 1998. He finished his career with 7,607 yards — for context, Emmitt Smith ran for an NFL-record 18,355 yards — but Davis’ Hall candidacy is hardly unprecedented. Voters elected running back Gale Sayers in 1977 despite a short career; Sayers rushed for 4,956 yards and 39 touchdowns during seven seasons in which he also was an elite kick returner. It has happened before.
5. Jerry Kramer, offensive guard
Kramer is responsible for the most famous block in NFL history. He paved the way for Packers QB Bart Starr’s touchdown dive to win the 1967 NFL Championship Game, fondly remembered as the Ice Bowl. Kramer was one of the top linemen in his era, and in 1969, Hall of Fame voters named him the best guard in the first 50 years of the NFL. He has been a Hall finalist 10 times but missed the cut each time; he failed to garner enough votes as a seniors finalist in 1997. One popular theory as to why Kramer has been passed over: There are 11 enshrined members of Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers teams, with a few other likely worthy candidates also on the periphery. Kramer has been caught in a logjam, but he should not be forgotten.
6. L.C. Greenwood, defensive end
Greenwood is so far past the modern NFL landscape that you would have to be pretty old just to remember his awesome beer commercials in the mid-1980s. A big part of the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ Steel Curtain of the 1970s, Greenwood has been a Hall finalist six times, most recently in 2006. He died in 2013. Although he played before the sack became an official statistic, the Steelers credited him with 73.5 sacks in 13 seasons. He had four in Super Bowl X, one of four championships he won with the team, and was among the nastiest players on a brutal defense that has already sent four players to the Hall.
7. Don Coryell, coach
Coryell is a fascinating case because his record alone doesn’t form a classic Hall résumé. In 14 seasons as coach of the St. Louis Cardinals and San Diego Chargers, he never reached the Super Bowl, and his teams missed the playoffs (eight times) more than they made got in (six). When his career ended in 1986, his 111 career victories ranked No. 14 in NFL history. But make no mistake: Coryell changed the game with his “three-digit” downfield passing offense — “Air Coryell” — and had more influence on the style of today’s offenses than any single coach in history. Splitting out tight end Kellen Winslow as a receiver, for instance, forced defenses to create the nickel and dime schemes we see today. The “contributors” category might give Coryell a path to the Hall that he has otherwise missed.
8. Alan Faneca, offensive guard
Definitions vary on what makes a genuine Hall candidate, but a popular one is that the player was one of the best at his position for an extended period of time. Can anyone argue against that for Faneca? He was named to nine consecutive Pro Bowls and six All-Pro teams in his 13 seasons (the first 10 were spent with the Steelers). He was also named to the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 2000s. Faneca, who was one of the most athletic guards of his time, able to drive-block and lock up defenders in space with equal skill. As a tangible testament to his athleticism, consider that Faneca lost 100 pounds after retiring in 2010 and now runs marathons. Guards aren’t of much interest to the public, but Faneca was one of the best of his time.
9. Paul Tagliabue, NFL commissioner
The former commissioner has missed the cut three times as a finalist, most recently in 2009. It’s true that a long tenure atop the league — Tagliabue served nearly 17 years — should not in itself qualify him for the Hall. And to be sure, there were some discrediting moments in his career, none worse than the league’s subversive reaction to the growing concussion crisis. Frankly, though, his legacy merits a new light relative to his successor’s current run. Tagliabue’s partnership with the NFL Players Association minimized rancor, leaving time, energy and equity for growth. (The NFL expanded from 28 to 32 teams under his watch.) His humane and dignified treatment of aggrieved communities, from Cleveland to New Orleans, engendered good will. Tagliabue also recognized the NFL’s growing place in American society, leveraging the Super Bowl to shame Arizona’s rejection of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in 1990 and canceling games after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Food for thought.
10. George Young, general manager
Like L.C. Greenwood, George Young is a name that even middle-aged NFL fans might not recognize. They might not even realize, in fact, that the New York Giants — winners of four Super Bowls in the past 30 years — were a joke in the 1970s before Young was hired as general manager in 1979. Young professionalized the Giants’ operation, built a roster that included first-round draft choices Phil Simms and Lawrence Taylor, and promoted Bill Parcells to coach in 1983. Young remained on the job until 1997, when longtime assistant Ernie Accorsi took over and continued Young’s legacy. (He also hired current general manager Jerry Reese as a scout.) We don’t always know what happens behind the scenes of football teams, nor where true credit should go. But if fellow general managers Ron Wolf and Bill Polian deserve their enshrinements for building franchises — and they most certainly do — then it’s difficult to argue against Young.