I've always enjoyed hall of fame debates and I find the NFL Hall of Fame paticularly fascinating. On this year's short list of potential inductees are wide receivers Art Monk, Michael Irvin, and Andre Reed, along with running back Thurman Thomas. There are no quartberbacks on this year's short list. Currently, from the modern era (1945 to the present day) there are 23 quarterbacks, 24 running backs, and 17 wide receivers.
Wide receivers are a paticulary interesting group- Only three wide recievers in the Hall of Fame played the majority of their career in the 80's- Steve Largent, James Lofton, and John Stallworth, and one of those (Stallworth) is much more well known for his Super Bowl victories with the Steelers in the 70's than for anything he did in the 80's.
Among running backs, Barry Sanders is the only 90's inductee, although among quarterbacks, Troy Aikmen, John Elway, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, Warren Moon, and STeve Young all represent the final decade of the twentieth century.
Going beyond the question of Monk, Irvin, Reed, and Thomas, the interesting question is who else should (and shouldn't) be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Let's take a look at all three positions.Quarterbacks
This may be the simplest cattagory. There are no significant quarterbacks who have been left out, there are none waiting the mandatory five year period to be inducted, and among the current crop of quarterbacks, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady should be locks. Favre and Manning will go for their phenomenal numbers and Brady for his championships.
Clearly numbers do not mean everything for quarterbacks- Vinny Testervede and Drew Bledsoe have great career numbers, but none seriously thinks either of them should be in the Hall of Fame. The same goes for Boomer Esiason and Dave Krieg from the previous generation. For the younger guys, McNabb is a possibility, but with no rings and not enough yet in the numbers department, he still would have a ways to go.Running backs
There are several locks who will be inducted as soon as they can be- Emmitt Smith, Curtis Martin, Jerome Bettis, and Marshall Faulk. Throwing them in the mix as running backs of the 90's, this means that about five to six running backs per decade, on average are Hall of Famers. So who does that leave amongst today's RB's? What's interesting is the number of running backs in the last twenty years or so who have posted big numbers. To get into the Hall of Fame today, you're likely going to need to finish your career with not just good, but great numbers- like Martin and Bettis finishing #4 and #5 all time respectively, or Marshall Faulk's 136 career TD's
Here's the list of active (or recently retired) running backs not yet in the hall of fame, but worthy of consideration. Beyond this year's nominee Thurman Thomas there is Eddie George, Ricky Watters, Corey Dillon, Tiki Barber, Edgerrin James, Fred Taylor, Warrick Dunn, Shaun Alexander, Ladanian Tomlinson, and possibly Priest Holmes.
And meanwhile, don't forget the younger running backs who could come to dominate the second half of this decade- Larry Johnson, Steven Jackson, Brian Westbrook, Rudi Johnson, and who knows who else.
See the problem as far as these running backs go- I've named 15, and in all likiehood, only five or six of them are hall of famers. Obviously, a lot will depend on how everyone names finishes their careers. But just looking at numbers today, it's hard to distinguish anyone on the list. Ladanian Tomlinson will probably end his career in catagory by himself, and Alexander could be a lock too, with a couple more good years. Tiki Barber was probably in the same position, but retiring at the top of his game will undoubetdly hurt his Hall of Fame chances.
Among all the players on this list here's who has numbers that stand out: Thurman Thomas with 16,500 plus career total yards and Ladanian Tomlinson and Shaun Alexander, both with 100 plus career TD's. I'd put them at the top of any list. Watch how Thomas does this year- if he doesn't make it, maybe no one on the list of maybes is going to make it with what they've done to this point. Wide Receivers
This is the most fun. Look at the top twenty receivers all time in terms of receptions and you'll find only three- Steve Largent, James Lofton, and Charlie Joiner- who are in the Hall of Fame. Similar to running backs, going with about five or six players a decade, this leaves up to 10 spots for wide receivers from 1985-2005. So who gets in?
First, the locks- Jerry Rice, Cris Carter, Marvin Harrison, and Tim Brown, all with 13,000 plus yards, over 1,000 catches, and all with over 100 TD's.
Everyone else is a question mark. On that list of everyone else is Art Monk, Andre Reed, Michael Irvin, Irving Fryar, Henry Ellard, Jimmy Smith, Issac Bruce, Terrell Owens, Torry Holt, and Randy Moss. And if you're going to be thourough you really should include Rod Smith, Keenan McCardell, Muhsin Muhammad, Eric Moulds, Joey Galloway, Andre Rison, Gary Clark, Keyshawn Johnson and maybe even Sterling Sharpe. That's a list of 19, not including young up-and-comers like Chad Johnson and Steve Smith.
As much as I hate to give credit to Michael Irvin, I think you need to ask yourself which receivers on this list were playmakers- Irvin certainly was. Sterling Sharpe was too, and I think he warrants consideration despite a career that was cut short. Who else goes in the playmaker cattagory? No one else stands out, other than TO and Randy Moss, and maybe Torry Holt and Irving Fryar.
So who else gets in on numbers? Well, remember, with receivers, receptions probably get the least respect- we'll look more to yards and TD's. So who are the leaders amongst this group in terms of yards and TD's? The top five for yards (after our 4 locks) are Henry Ellard, Andre Reed, Irving Fryar, Art Monk, and Jimmy Smith. The top five for TD's are Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, Andre Reed, Irving Fryar, and Andre Rison.
Interesting, huh? Personally, I'm not sure if Fryar or Reed or Hall of Famers, but they're the two on both lists. As I mentioned before, I think Irvin is, and I think Sterling Sharpe warrants serious consideration. And if Sharpe warrants consideration, Randy Moss does too, regardless of how his career works out over the next few years. After all, a Hall of Famer should be the sort of player that inspired fear in oponents- Sharpe, Irvin, and Moss all did that. I'm not sure anyone else did.The Stats Retired Receivers
Jerry Rice 1549 catches for 22,895 yards, 197 TD's (20 years)
Cris Carter 1101 catches for 13,899 yards, 130 TD's (16 years)
Tim Brown 1094 catches for 14,934 yards, 100 TD's (17 years)
Andre Reed 951 catches for 13,198 yards, 87 TD's (16 years)
Art Monk 940 catches for 12,721 yards, 68 TD's (16 years)
Jimmy Smith 862 catches for 12,287 yards, 67 TD's (12 years)
Irving Fryar 851 catches for 12,785 yards, 84 TD's (17 years)
Henry Ellard 814 catches for 13,777 yards, 65 TD's (16 years)
Michael Irvin 750 catches for 11,904 yards, 65 TD's (12 years)
Andre Rison 743 catches for 10,205 yards, 84 TD's (13 years)
Sterling Sharpe 595 catches for 8,134 yards, 65 TD's (7 years)
Gary Clark 699 catches for 10,856 yards, 65 TD's (11 years)Active Receivers
Torry Holt 712 catches for 10,675 yards, 64 TD's (8 years)
Keyshawn Johnson 814 catches for 10,571 yards, 64 TD's (11 years)
Keenan McCardell 861 catches for 11,117 yards, 62 TD's (16 years)
Muhsin Muhammad 702 catches for 9,364 yards, 53 TD's (11 years)
Terrell Owens 801 catches for 11,715 yards, 114 TD's (11 years)
Randy Moss 676 catches for 10,700 yards, 101 TD's (9 years)
Eric Moulds 732 catches for 9,653 yards, and 49 TD's (11 years)
Marvin Harrison 1102 catches for 13,697 yards, 122 TD's (11 years)
Joey Galloway 612 catches for 9,558 yards, 71 TD's (12 years)
Issac Bruce 887 catches for 13,376 yards, 80 TD's (13 years)
Rod Smith 849 catches for 11,389 yards, 68 TD's (12 years)Running Backs
Emmitt Smith 4,409 carries for 18,355 yards (4.2 ypc) 164 TD's
(3,224 yards receiving, 11 TD's - 15 years)
Curtis Martin 3,518 carries for 14,101 yards (4.0 ypc) 90 TD's
(3,329 yards receiving, 10 TD's - 11 years)
Jerome Bettis 3,479 carries for 13,662 yards (3.9 ypc) 91 TD's
(1,449 yards receiving, 3 TD's - 13 years)
Marshall Faulk 2,836 carries for 12,279 yards (4.3 ypc) 100 TD's
(6,875 yards receiving, 36 TD's - 12 years)
Thurman Thomas 2,877 caries for 12,074 yards (4.2 ypc) 65 TD's
(4,458 yards receiving, 23 TD's - 13 years)
Ricky Watters 2,622 carries for 10,643 yards (4.1 ypc) 78 TD's
(4,248 yards receiving, 13 TD's - 10 years)
Eddie George 2,865 carries for 10,441 yards (3.6 ypc) 68 TD's
(2,227 yards receiving, 10 TD's - 10 years)
Corey Dillon 2,618 carries for 11,241 yards (4.3 ypc) 82 TD's
(1,913 yards receiving, 7 TD's - 10 years)
Tiki Barber 2,217 carries for 10,449 yards (4.7 ypc) 55 TD's
(5,183 yards receiving, 12 TD's - 10 years)
Edgerrin James 2,525 carries for 10,385 yards (4.1 ypc) 70 TD's
(3,056 yards receiving, 11 TD's - 8 years)
Fred Taylor 2,062 carries for 9,513 yards (4.6 ypc) 56 TD's
(2,205 yards receiving, 8 TD's - 9 years)
Shaun Alexander 1,969 carries for 8,713 yards (4.4 ypc) 96 TD's
(1,435 yards receiving, 11 TD's - 7 years)
Ladanian Tomlinson 2,050 carries for 9,176 yards (4.5 ypc) 100 TD's
(2,900 yards, 11 TD's + 6 TD passes in 6 years)
Warrick Dunn 2,256 carries for 9,461 yards (4.3 ypc) 43 TD's
(3,771 yards receiving, 15 TD's - 10 years)
Priest Holmes 1,734 carries for 8,035 yards (4.6 ypc) 86 TD's
(1,945 yards receiving, 8 TD's - 9 years)