No one paid attention to James Harrison when he was coming out of Kent State in 2002. But he’s got everyone’s attention now.
In our weekly Talk of Fame Network poll, we asked listeners and readers the best non-combine player of all-time and gave them a slate of candidates that included Hall of Famers, all-decade selections and Pro Bowlers. Harrison won easily, receiving 39 percent of the vote to easily outdistance tight end Antonio Gates.
Gates, an NFL all-decade selection of the 2000s, received 22 percent of the vote, followed by Hall-of-Fame defensive tackle John Randle at 17 percent. Wide receiver Wes Welker was next at 10 percent, with wide receiver Julian Edelman, cornerback Chris Harris and defensive ends Robert Mathis and Osi Umenyiora all finishing with single-digit support.
Harrison led the Mid-American Conference with 15 sacks at Kent State as a senior, but was not invited to the combine and then went undrafted. So Harrison signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers and went on to go to five Pro Bowls. He helped the Steelers win two Super Bowls and was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2008. He also set a Super Bowl record with a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown in Pittsburgh’s 2009 victory over Arizona, 29-27.
Gates also came out of Kent State and was a combine and draft snub. But he was an All-MAC basketball player who lacked the size to be a power player in the NBA. So he took up football for the first time since high school. He signed with the Chargers in 2003 and has since gone to eight Pro Bowls. He has 897 career receptions for 11,192 yards and 111 touchdowns.
Gates receiver the vote of Talk of Fame Network host Clark Judge.
“This one is easy — Antonio Gates,” Judge said. “He’s the next guy on this list to join John Randle in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and for good reason. He’s one of the greatest tight ends ever.”
Talk of Fame Network hosts Ron Borges and Rick Gosselin both cast their votes for Randle. He became only the second defensive tackle in history to leads the NFL in sacks with 15 ½ in 1997 and retired after 14 seasons with 137 ½ sacks.
“With apologies to Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, Antonio Gates and the rest, but only one of these guys is a Hall of Famer and you can’t do better than that,” Borges said. “I’ll take John Randle.”