Hall-of-Fame stunner: Walls finally makes it as finalist


Photo courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys

Four players in their first years of eligibility are among the 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2018 — linebackers Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher, guard Steve Hutchinson and wide receiver Randy Moss. But they’re not the story of this class.

Everson Walls is.

The former Dallas Cowboys’ cornerback reached the list of 15 finalists for the first time in his life … and his last time as a modern-era candidate … and, no, that is not a misprint. In his 20th year of eligibility, Walls — a guy who three times led the league in interceptions but had never been a semifinalist, let alone a finalist — will have his candidacy discussed, and hallelujah.

It’s about time. No, it’s way past time.

And he’ll have company in the Last Call Department. Former tackle Joe Jacoby of the Washington Redskins, also in his 20th and last year of eligibility, is among the Class of 2018 finalists — with the group announced Tuesday night.

But Jacoby’s been there before. In fact, he’s been a finalist the past two years and was a Top-10 finisher in 2016. So what are his chances? And what are Everson Walls’? Keep reading.

THE LOCK

LB Ray Lewis. The guy touched all the bases — a 13-time Pro Bowler, 10-time All-Pro, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, two-time Super Bowl champion and Super Bowl MVP. In short, he wasn’t just one of the best linebackers of his generation. He was one of the best linebackers of any generation. But what, you ask, about that tragedy in Atlanta? Forget it. Off-the-field and out-of-the-locker room incidents aren’t allowed to be discussed. So it comes down to Lewis’ play for the Baltimore Ravens, and he was such a dominant, physical performer for one of the most dominant, physical defenses anywhere that he’s a cinch to make it as a first-ballot choice.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Has to be CB Everson Walls. The only cornerback and one of only two players in NFL history to lead the league three times in interceptions (safety Ed Reed was the other), Walls somehow fell through the cracks for the first 19 years of his eligibility. But then, when the curtain was about to drop, he somehow resurrected his candidacy and not only makes it as a semifinalist for the first time … but as a finalist. That’s the good news. The bad: He has stiff competition at the position in Ty Law, a Top-10 finalist a year ago.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Safeties LeRoy Butler and Steve Atwater not making it, with Roger Craig close behind. This is Craig’s last year of eligibility as a modern-era candidate, so he now goes into a senior pile with far too many Hall-of-Fame worthy candidates waiting for a call that never comes. If there’s solace, it’s only this: At least Craig had his candidacy discussed. It happened in 2010. Atwater did, too, in 2016. But he’s moved backward since then, and I don’t get it. He was a first-team choice for the all-decade team of the 1990s. So was Butler, also one of the 27 semifinalists. Yet neither made the next cut, and here’s why that makes no sense. They’re the only members of the first-team 1990s’ all-decade defense not in Canton and two of only three first-teamers from the 1990s’ team, period, locked out. The other? Tony Boselli.

TOUGHEST CALL

John Lynch or Brian Dawkins? The two played the same position (safety) and were Top-10 candidates a year ago. In fact, Lynch has been one the previous two years. This is Lynch’s fifth try as a Hall-of-Fame finalist; it’s Dawkins’ second run … but only because he’s been eligible two years. The smart money is on a modern-era safety making it for the first time since 1998, when all-time interceptions leader Paul Krause was chosen. But who will it be — Lynch or Dawkins? Each was chosen to nine Pro Bowls, but Dawkins was an all-decade choice. Lynch was not. Lynch was a Super Bowl champion. Dawkins was not. Look for a photo finish.

NO PASS RUSHER?

Nope. Leslie O’Neal and Simeon Rice were the choices, and neither made it. Of course, both were first-time semifinalists, so not moving to the next level isn’t exactly a surprise … except for this: In nine of the past 10 years at least one edge rusher was elected to Canton, including first-ballot choice Jason Taylor in 2017. And Taylor was the only pass rusher on the ballot.

FIVE THINGS YOU PROBABLY SHOULD KNOW

  1. Fourteen of the 17 finalists (includes senior candidates Jerry Kramer and Robert Brazile) were all-decade. Only Bruce, Walls and Lynch were not.
  2. Six all-decade choices were eliminated in the cut from 27 semifinalists to 15 finalists. They are first-teamers Richard Seymour, Atwater and Butler, as well as Torry Holt, Roger Craig and Ronde Barber.
  3. Eight of the 17 won championships, with Kramer’s five the most. Jacoby and Law are next with three.
  4. There are no head coaches for the first time since 2011. No Don Coryell. No Jimmy Johnson. No nothing. Coryell and Johnson have been finalists, with Coryell reaching the final 15 the past three years — including the Top-10 in 2016.
  5. Lewis’ 13 Pro Bowls top everyone. Faneca, Lynch and Dawkins are next with nine each.

THE LOGJAM

That would be the offensive line, where there are five candidates (tackles Tony Boselli and Jacoby, guards Alan Faneca and Hutchinson and center Kevin Mawae). Boselli and Mawae were Top-10 finishers for the Class of 2017, but having this many candidates at one position — and, remember, guard Jerry Kramer is a senior nominee, so there are really six offensive linemen — could create a logjam that confuses voters. Could all cancel each other out? Not likely, but possible.

LOGJAM, PART DEUX

That would be wide receiver, where Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Isaac Bruce comprise the list of finalists. Owens is a third-year finalist. Bruce is a second-year finalist. And Moss joins the party for the first time. Some voters will tell you that Moss is a slam dunk, a first-team all-decade receiver who deserves to jump the queue because he was … well, unstoppable. Except this is also the guy who said, “I play when I want to play,” and, guaranteed, if there’s something that keeps him out this time around it’s voters wrestling with that statement. Once upon a time, we had Andre Reed, Tim Brown and Cris Carter canceling each other out at this position. The same could happen here, with Bruce — who wasn’t an all-decade choice — a longshot as a tiebreaker, only because Moss and Owens are so polarizing.

WELCOME RETURN

Running back Edgerrin James is back after failing to make the cut last year … and don’t ask me what happened then. He was a finalist in his first try for Canton in 2016. Then he failed as a semifinalist last year. But now he’s back, and he should be. He was an all-decade choice who twice led the league in rushing, was a four-time All-Pro and Offensive Rookie of the Year and who is the Colts’ all-time rushing leader. James is the only running back among the finalists, and that might bode well. There has been a running back chosen in each of the past three years.

THE HALL OF FAME’S CLASS OF 2018 FINALISTS

OFFENSE

RB (1) — EDGERRIN JAMES

WR (3) — ISAAC BRUCE, RANDY MOSS, TERRELL OWENS.

T (2) — TONY BOSELLI, JOE JACOBY

G (2) — ALAN FANECA, STEVE HUTCHINSON

C (1) — KEVIN MAWAE

DEFENSE

LB (2) — RAY LEWIS, BRIAN URLACHER

CB (2) — TY LAW, EVERSON WALLS

S (2) — BRIAN DAWKINS, JOHN LYNCH

 

 

 

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21 Comments

  1. Jeff
    January 3, 2018
    Reply

    I have to say that I’m really disappointed that neither Butler or especially Atwater can sustain much interest from voters. I’d take either of them over any of the DBs on this list with the possible exception of Dawkins.

    I don’t want to be unfair to Walls. He has some impressive credentials and I can see justification for taking a final opportunity to discuss his case…but I’ve never quite seen him as HOF level. Plenty of INTs and of course a really impressive achievement leading the league three times, and played well with the NYG in 1990. But also gave up some big plays. I’d have a hard time coming up with a list of five final inductees from this group that included Walls. I think he’d take a back seat to some superior cornerbacks in the senior pool as well.

    • January 3, 2018
      Reply

      Jeff, I’m with you. But at least he finally got in the room. We owe him that. And let’s see what happens there. Might be some things said or revealed that push him farther. Not sure why it took 20 years to get him here, but I’m with you on Atwater and Butler. Both were first-team all-decade choices. And both got the stiff arm. Again. Just don’t get it. Worse, Butler not even a HOF semifinalist until this year. Must get both of them into the room, too.

      • Marc
        January 3, 2018
        Reply

        Agree that it is nice to see Walls at least get in the discussion. There should be some sort of clause or by-law where if a player in their last year of eligibility gets into the semifinals, they automatically get their case stated in the room one last time before falling into the senior abyss. Unfortunate for Roger Craig, but at least two of the three (Walls and Jacoby) will get one last shot.

        Regarding Butler and Atwater, it is very frustrating both can’t get in the room. If five players get in this year and with Walls, Jacoby, and Craig all in their final year of eligibility, it is possible eight people from the semifinals and seven of the final 15 get replaced by new names next year. The problem for Butler and Atwater is that Ed Reed and Champ Bailey, two defensive backs, will most certainly take two of these slots. I’m starting to fear a bit for both of these guys that they will get lost in the shuffle.

        • January 3, 2018
          Reply

          Agree with you, Marc. Writing about them for tomorrow.

  2. Rob
    January 3, 2018
    Reply

    Hey Clark, Bill Parcells was elected in 2013. What do you think is more likely 2 defensive backs or 2 offensive lineman in this class?

    • January 3, 2018
      Reply

      Rob, thanks. Think I wrote first time since 2013 no coaches … and, yeah, was referring to Parcells. Anyway, think two DBs more likely. Would expect one CB and one S. Not two safeties and not two corners. Real battle will be Dawkins vs. Lynch at S. I’d have to check but I think I once wrote the last time two guys were chosen from the same position … excluding quarterback … in the same class was somewhere in the late 1970s. Pretty sure that’s right. The danger with the OL is that they may all cancel each other out. Most qualified guy there is Faneca. One problem: Wasn’t a Top-10 pick last year or year before. Boselli and Mawae were … both last year in first run at finals.

    • January 3, 2018
      Reply

      Rob, I apologize. Either misunderstood you or me. Whatever, you are correct. First time since 2011. Thanks for the fact check. And I apologize again. Appreciate the input.

  3. Justin
    January 3, 2018
    Reply

    Clark: There were two RBs last year: Davis and Tomlinson. If you count OL as one position, there were two in 2013: Allen and Ogden. Also two OL in 2012: Dawson and Roaf.

    Therefore, there is some precedent for having multiple players and specifically, multiple OL in the same class. Since 2007, the HOF has averaged one OL per year. The last time the HOF selectors omitted an OL (before last year) was 2011. The result was 4 OL in the next two classes (see above). Therefore, it might be time to double up again to lessen the backlog.

    My own opinion is consistent with John Turney: at least get Jacoby in this year and then sort out the rest of the OL in the coming years (including some of the older guys like Kenn, Hinton, etc.).

    • January 3, 2018
      Reply

      Agree, there is precedent. But it could be tough … especially at a position (safety) where the last modern-era candidate was inducted in 1998. One of those guys (Lynch or Dawkins) is going to make it this year. I have no doubt, and my guess is that it’s Dawkins … even though Lynch is ahead of him in the queue. And there probably will be one offensive lineman … and, yeah, if you think Jacoby is worthy, you better act now. The problem there is that he slid backward a year ago, going from the Top 10 in 2016 to not making the first cut a year later. This is an intriguing class, because it’s wide open after Lewis. My next most qualified guy is Alan Faneca, but he hasn’t been able to crack the top 10 in two tries. Reason: Guard. People just don’t warm up to the position. I know, not a good reason. But we’re so slow to act on some positions, and, frankly, I don’t get it. If a guy is the best at his position during his era… no matter the position … and checks most of the boxes (All-Pro, Pro Bowl, championships, awards, team leader, etc) he deserves to be pushed forward. I find this class difficult to predict … which makes the vote … and discussion … something I very much look forward to.

      • Justin
        January 3, 2018
        Reply

        The comparison between Lynch and Dawkins isn’t really that close. Yes, Lynch won a championship, but he also had Sapp, Brooks, Barber, and Rice on his defense — 2 HOFers and 2 semi-finalists. Lynch and Dawkins also both went to 9 pro bowls, although arguably several of Lynch’s pro bowls while in Denver were on reputation more than his play.

        However, in every other respect Dawkins dominates Lynch. First, he was the unquestioned leader of the Philly team (not just defense) that made it to the playoffs eight times, five championship games, and 1 Super Bowl. He was also an all decade selection. He also has more all pros (4 to 2). According to pro-football-reference, there respective weighted career AV are 101 for Dawkins and 90 for Lynch (that is a very significant difference). Dawkins’ stats are 37 INTs, 2 TDs, 26 FF, 26 sacks, and 895 tackles. Lynch falls well short in every category: 26 INTs, 0 TDs, 16 FF, 13 sacks, and 736 tackles. The FF and tackle numbers are pretty telling given that Lynch’s alleged best attribute was his hitting ability.

        In short, Dawkins is the second best safety since Lott (Reed is the unquestioned best). But for the fact he retired first, Lynch would naturally have to wait for the queue to clear of Dawkins, Reed, and probably Polamalu, who were all appreciatively better players.

        • January 3, 2018
          Reply

          Don’t disagree with you. Why I said Dawkins is probably the favorite to come out of there this year. But there is support for Lynch, and there are voters who respect the queue … which I agree with if the candidate is Hall of Fame worthy.

        • bachslunch
          January 4, 2018
          Reply

          Being one who firmly believes AP isn’t the only all pro game in town, I’ve got Dawkins as a 5 time and Lynch as a 3 time first team all pro. Honors respectively then would be 5/9/00s and 3/9/none.

          • January 4, 2018

            Think if it comes to the choice of those two, Dawkins probably makes it … even though Lynch has been in the queue longer. Dawkins all-decade. Lynch not. But Lynch won Super Bowl. Dawkins did not. Very interesting debate, but my guess is that room tilts toward Dawkins this year.

          • bachslunch
            January 4, 2018

            Clark, agree with you. They’ll either go with seniority (Lynch) or perceived ability (Dawkins). My guess is they go with the latter.

          • January 4, 2018

            I’m with you.

        • Rasputin
          January 4, 2018
          Reply

          On the other hand, inducting Lynch might open up the logjam for other great 90s safeties like Darren Woodson, Atwater, and Butler. My concern is that inducting Dawkins (who was mostly a 2000s guy) first might signal that entire earlier era of safeties is being passed over until they’re senior candidates.

          • January 4, 2018

            Valid concern.

          • Justin
            January 5, 2018

            Rasputin: Good point. I have been struggling myself with my position that Dawkins should be inducted over Lynch but hoping for Jacoby to be inducted over more decorated OL. The only justification I can give is the fact that Jacoby is in his last year–in other words, it is now or never. That said, you raise a good point that the “respecting of the queue” has other longer lasting impacts.

  4. Rasputin
    January 3, 2018
    Reply

    I’d go with Lynch over Dawkins since he’s been waiting longer and has the Super Bowl ring. A lot of the “All Decade” stuff is dictated by timing, like did you straddle decades a little more than another guy at about the same level did? All Decade status is an awesome positive but not being All Decade shouldn’t be a disqualifier.

    Do you have a pretty good idea of how you’re voting, Clark?

  5. bachslunch
    January 4, 2018
    Reply

    Agreed, very surprised to see Everson Walls reach finalist stage. I’m not sold on his candidacy (3/4/none, not overwhelming reportedly in film study), but at least he gets a chance in the room. No real surprises for the rest, though this officially ends Roger Craig’s regular candidacy (not sold on him either, though). It would be great for Karl Mecklenburg and Mike Kenn to get a finalist chance next year (their last), though not expecting it.

    Hope Steve Atwater (2/8/90s) and Leroy Butler (4/4/90s) make it through soon. They have 5 and 7 years left respectively, though it may not be enough time. Same problem with Darren Woodson (4/5/none, 9 years left). Having Lynch, Dawkins, Polamalu, and Reed ahead of them is going to be a problem for them all. We will see.

  6. bachslunch
    January 4, 2018
    Reply

    Clark, by the way, excellent analysis. Well written and solid observations.

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