On Saturday, the Pro Football Hall of Fame will announce its selections for the class of 2008. I’m not on the 44-man committee that gets to vote, but I’ve spent most of the past two years rating and ranking the best players in pro football history for my new book. Based on my research, here’s a look at who I think the most deserving candidates are.
Randall McDaniel – He had that funky stance, with his left leg bent awkwardly to his side. If you didn’t know any better, you’d take one look and think the guy didn’t know how to play the position. He couldn’t even get into a proper three point stance, but he was a dominating blocker. With McDaniel anchoring the line, the Vikings became an offensive juggernaut in the nineties. During his thirteen year career, McDaniel blocked for five different 1000-yard rushers and four 3,000-yard passers.
Darrell Green – One of the great cornerbacks of the nineties, Green seems like an obvious choice in his first year of eligibility. With Rod Woodson and Deion Sanders coming onto the ballot in the next few years, the field will get crowded with great cornerbacks. Green was one of the fastest players of his generation, and as the trend shifted towards taller more physical receivers, he continued to hold his own.
Emmitt Thomas – Nominated by the seniors’ committee since he retired before 1982. Thomas led the league in interceptions twice and still ranks in the top-ten for career interceptions. Seniors committee candidates have already been through one selection process, and by making it this far they’re almost assured of being selected.
Richard Dent – His individual performance is often overlooked because he was part of that dominating Bears defense. Dent’s ability to rush the quarterback from the outside was one of the keys to making that 46 defense work. He ranked third all-time in sacks when he retired.
Art Monk – There have been more arguments over Monk’s candidacy than any other player since the Hall of Fame opened. I think there’s a strong case for his inclusion, which I documented at length in my forthcoming book, the Pro Football Historical Abstract. For most guys, it’s a question of whether they were good enough. In Monk’s case, I think it’s more about understanding the context of what he did and why, in the case of the current board of selectors, his contributions have been dramatically undervalued.
Derrick Thomas – Frankly, I’m surprised he’s not in already. At his peak, Thomas ranked with Lawrence Taylor as the best pass rushing outside linebacker of all-time. His tragic death in an automobile accident cut his career short, and kept him from pushing his sack totals to the top of the record book. He finished with 126.5, fourth highest ever for a linebacker, and probably a season and a half short of Taylor’s high mark.
Ray Guy – I don’t think he was the best punter of all time, but 99% of the public does. After 45 years, there’s still only one special teams player in Canton. I don;t think Guy’s an unworthy choice, and I think inducting him would open the door for other greatly deserving candidates who have been ignored because they were kickers, punters, or return men.
That leaves ten candidates who wouldn’t get my vote, at least not this time around. They are:
- Cris Carter – Wide Receiver (1987-2002)
- Fred Dean – Defensive End (1975-1985)
- Marshall Goldberg – Back (1939-1948)
- Randy Gradishar – Linebacker (1974-1983)
- Russ Grimm – Guard (1981-1991)
- Bob Kuechenberg – Guard (1970-1984)
- Andre Reed – Wide Receiver (1985-2000)
- Paul Tagliabue – Commissioner (1989-2006)
- Andre Tippett – Linebacker (1982-1993)
- Gary Zimmerman – Tackle (1986-1997)
I’m not saying that none of these guys are worthy of induction, but the rules limit each year’s class to a maximum of seven.