Within 24 hours of announcing the 27 semi-final candidates for the Class of 2018, the Pro Football Hall of Fame sent its 48 selectors ballots to cut the list to 15 finalists — with results announced in early January. That’s not much time. So anyone with questions is asked to raise their hands now, and, yes, there should be plenty of them. Such as …
Is there a dead-bolt cinch here or something close to it?
A: Yes. Ray Lewis. The former Baltimore Ravens’ linebacker is the most electable candidate. He checked all the boxes — 13 Pro Bowls, 10 All-Pro teams, first-team all-decade, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Super Bowl champion, Super Bowl MVP and one of the few players ever to play a Pro Bowl in three different decades (1990s, 2000s, 2010s). Lewis is considered one of the greatest and most dominating middle linebackers in the history of the game — one reason the Ravens have a statue of him outside their stadium. If Junior Seau can be enshrined on his first try — which he was, in 2015 — there’s no reason Lewis can’t … or won’t. This is as close to a sure thing as it gets.
What impact will Ray Lewis have on Brian Urlacher?
A: Good question. With only five modern-era spots available, it’s uncommon — though not rare — that selectors choose two Hall-of-Famers from the same position in the same year. Yeah, I know, two running backs were chosen this summer. But the last time it happened before then was 2006 when Warren Moon and Troy Aikman were elected, one year after Steve Young and Dan Marino were inducted. Follow the bread crumbs, people. All four were quarterbacks. Lewis and Urlacher were not. They were middle linebackers, and they’re almost interchangeable. I said … almost. Urlacher was an eight-time Pro Bowler, five-time All-Pro, all-decade choice and Defensive Player of the Year. What he wasn’t was a Super Bowl champion. Nevertheless, he has the qualifications to make it as a first-ballot choice … except … except that Lewis is in line ahead of him. And, prior to this summer, the last time a position other than quarterback had two modern-era choices elected in the same year was 1983 when wide receivers Bobby Mitchell and Paul Warfield went in. That tells you something. It tells you Urlacher could have trouble.
What impact will Randy Moss have on Terrell Owens?
A: Uncertain. It could be considerable … though not so much in the voting as in the debate. Moss and Owens have similar backgrounds in that clubs gave up on them, with both traded, released and/or suspended. Each is among the NFL’s career receiving leaders, but each has his share of detractors — with Hall-of-Fame GM Bill Polian going so far as to say he wouldn’t elect either to Canton. OK, so that’s not going to happen. In fact, both will be finalists. But then the intrigue begins. Moss may jump the queue of Owens, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt simply because he was first-team all-decade. Holt and Owens were second-teamers. But that doesn’t mean Moss is a first-ballot slam dunk. Expect the debate to be considerable and long … on both candidates.
With four safeties as semifinalists what are the odds that one is elected?
A: Good. Very, very good. The Hall this summer inducted former safety Kenny Easley, and that was a huge step for the position. It marked the first time since Paul Krause in 1998 that a safety was elected and the first time someone who played later than Hall-of-Fame safety Ken Houston was chosen. Houston retired after the 1980 season. Easley retired in 1988. OK, so it wasn’t that much later, but the point is: Voters proved they’re not blind to the position. In fact, they made two safeties — Brian Dawkins and John Lynch– top 10 choices this year, with Dawkins getting there in his first year of eligibility and Lynch reaching the upper tier for the second straight year. One of them will be elected in February, with Dawkins the early favorite.
With two running backs enshrined this year, who’s next to move forward?
A: The likely candidate is Edgerrin James. He has the resume — four All-Pro selections, four Pro Bowls, two-time rushing champion and all-decade choice — but he disappeared after making it as a finalist in 2016. I don’t know what that was about, but expect him back. The sentimental choice might be Roger Craig, mostly because this is his last shot as a modern-era finalist. But his case was discussed in 2010, and he didn’t make the cut to 10. Color him a longshot … with the emphasis on long.
What are the chances one of the two coaches makes it to the finals?
A: Fair to good. Don Coryell made it the past three years. Jimmy Johnson made it in 2015. But neither will reach the final five … not this year, at least, and for two reasons: 1) There are too many qualified players, and 2) Coryell is the only one to reach the final 10, and that was in 2016 … which means his candidacy is losing strength. Nevertheless, voters keep bringing him back, so he’s the more likely choice.
What are the odds that Joe Jacoby makes it?
A: Good, if you’re talking about the Final 15. He’s been there the past two years. But his Hall-of-Fame candidacy is on life support after what happened earlier this year. Where he was a Top-10 finalist in 2016, he failed to make the cut from 15 to 10 one year later. So momentum he does not have. This is Jacoby’s last turn as a modern-era finalist, so it’s now or never … and the arrow is pointing more toward never, with Jacoby sent to the senior pool if/when he’s not elected this time around.
Which darkhorse could sneak into the Final 15?
A: It could be cornerback Everson Walls, in his first try as a semifinalist … but in his last try as a modern-era candidate. Voters may decide they must hear his Hall-of-Fame case before he disappears into the abyss … otherwise known as the senior pool. But there’s stiff competition at cornerback, with Ty Law and Ronde Barber. That will hurt his chances. It could be someone like a Leslie O’Neal, too. This is his first time as a semifinalist, and that makes him a longshot. But remember: Voters love edge rushers, electing at least one in nine of the past 10 years, and there are only two here: O’Neal and Simeon Rice. And that’s significant if one of them gets through. Because Jason Taylor was the only edge rusher among the 2017 finalists, and selectors made him a first-ballot choice.