Pro Football Hall of Fame
Pro Football Hall of Fame (photo via Pro Football Hall of Fame)

We tend to think of Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees in terms of their class. Which is to say: It’s interesting to look ahead and size up those eligible in any given year. If for no other reason than to guess who gets in and who is left out. With that in mind, as the 2017 class receives their gold jackets, let’s look ahead to the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame class.

The Headliners (aka, Locks for the Pro Football Hall of Fame)

Ray Lewis (Career Numbers: 1,562 tackles; 41.5 sacks; 31 interceptions)

The middle linebacker that could dominate any era. Lewis was the main reason the Baltimore Ravens fielded dominating defenses throughout his career. One of the best run-defenders ever, and enough athleticism to cover against the pass (at least until his latter years when he noticeably lost a step). Beyond his numbers, opposing offenses undoubtedly had to adjust their defense to try to avoid allowing Lewis to disrupt what they were doing. More times than not, that was a fool’s errand. The linebacker-turned-rapper is next’s year’s surest thing.

Randy Moss (Career Numbers: 982 receptions; 15,929 receiving yards; 156 touchdowns)

Since voters left Terrell Owens out last year, the “bad teammate” narrative could affect Moss. Except, Moss was better than Owens. There’s a decent argument to make that Moss is the greatest receiver ever (here’s where Jerry Rice fans’ heads spin). Moss was everything you could ever want in a wide receiver. He could outrun any corner and get to a ball sooner by utilizing his length and basketball background in jump-ball situations. Moss never won a Super Bowl, but was the primary target on two of the most dangerous offenses in NFL history (the 1998 Minnesota Vikings and 2008 New England Patriots).

Brian Urlacher (Career Numbers: 1,040 tackles; 41.5 sacks; 22 interceptions)

A lot of the descriptions of Ray Lewis could also apply to Urlacher. As stated, though, Lewis was much more of the traditional middle linebacker. In hindsight, Brian Urlacher was a bit ahead of his time. A lot of people forget that, while playing college ball at the University of New Mexico, Urlacher played a lot from the safety position. Or, more accurately, a hybrid safety/linebacker position. That crossover is very much en vogue in the NFL right now. (He still looks weird with hair.)

The Enigma (aka, Who Knows When He Gets In?)

Terrell Owens (Career Numbers: 1,078 catches; 15,934 receiving yards; 153 touchdowns)

Even in retirement, Owens continues his polarizing ways. On one side, people argue that Owens’ reputation as a bad teammate and diva should work against him in his case for the Hall of Fame. On the other, people argue that his numbers are simply elite – even in an era of inflated wide receiver numbers – and that should get him in, rather easily. It is an interesting test-case, as this is really the first time in recent memory that the NFL Hall of Fame committee has help off-field issues against someone. Nobody’s really arguing that Owens’ discretions are enough to keep him out forever, it’s just the matter of his so-called “penalty” matching his crimes. This could his year to get in. Otherwise, he’ll have to spend another year in Pro Football Hall of Fame purgatory.

(Side note: He should still get in, but Owens isn’t doing himself any favors by attacking the Pro Football Hall of Fame selections process via Twitter.)

Best of the Rest (aka, Probably Not This Year)

Ronde Barber/John Lynch//Brian Dawkins/Ty Law/Richard Seymour

Every Hall of Fame voting system has pros and cons. The drawbacks of Major League Baseball’s system are well-documented. However, the the big pro of that system is voters tend to isolate their vote from the rest. The NFL selections are made by a committee that meets in person. The (minor) drawback of that system is people might get lost in narratives and leave deserving players out. For instance, all of the defensive players listed in this group were dominant. Barber, Lynch, and Dawkins are the most likely inductees. It would not be shocking if they all did.

However, the committee could buy into the idea that the top of this class is so strong (with Lewis and Moss, specifically) that the attention should stay on them. Putting any of the players in this group might take away from the more famous players of the 2018 class. That’s not exactly an airtight argument, but it happens.

Alan Faneca/Tony Boselli/Steve Hutchinson/Joe Jacoby/Kevin Mawae/Jeff Saturday

It’s hard for offensive linemen to get the credit they deserve. That directly influences their chances for Hall of Fame enshrinement. Offensive line is the one place where you can’t point to numbers to back up whatever position one holds. There’s no good measurement/statistic that accurately portrays how good of a pass/run blocker a player was or is. At their peak, all of these linemen played at a Hall of Fame level. But they all have some forces working against them. Not the least of which is the position(s) they played.

Other Notables

Issac Bruce/Roger Craig

These two have appeared on the ballot for years now. It’s hard to argue against them as Hall of Fame talents. However, it would seem the selection committee only remembers them in context of the teams they played on. Thus, making them benefactors of their system. Bruce played on the “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams with Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt, etc. Craig played on the Joe Montana/Jerry Rice-led 49ers. Apparently, playing with other super-talented players hurts Bruce and Craig’s chances.

Ken Anderson/Jerry Kramer

Both of these guys would have to enter as senior candidates to get inducted. Both have waited, and waited, and waited. Anderson played quarterback in an era that, when compared to today, the numbers look somewhat laughable. But during his day, he was one of the best. Kramer is probably the highest-profile ex-NFL player that is not in the Hall of Fame. Of the two, Kramer would seemingly have a better chance to get in, but neither Anderson nor Kramer should hold their breath while waiting for the Pro Football Hall of Fame to call.

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