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MMQB Mailbag: Predicting 2010 HOF class beyond locks Rice, Smith

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. -- With the Hall of Fame enshrinement done for 2009, let's spend a few paragraphs talking about the ballot for the Class of 2010. It'll be a starry class.

As one of the 44 selectors, I'm into the Hall process year-round, asking veteran club people on my training-camp tour about various candidates, and those thoughts, plus my memories of who was close in 2009, lead me to this prospective list.

We can elect five modern-era candidates, and two from a list that the Seniors Committee of the Hall selectors will cull down when they meet in Canton in two weeks. Since the last four classes have been six-man groups each year, I'm going to give you six for the Hall next winter -- five modern candidates and one from the Seniors list, even though I don't know who the two candidates from the Seniors list are going to be yet. I'm going to project, so let's start there:

Dick LeBeau, cornerback, coach, defensive coordinator.The man's not going to be hotter than he is now, and it's time. I am projecting him to come out of the Seniors Committee vote this year. Maybe that's as much hope as anything else, because I believe strongly in LeBeau's candidacy. And it's also time that assistant coaches begin to get recognized for their massive influence on the modern game.

This is LeBeau's 51st season in the league as a player and coach. Only six players have more interceptions than his 62 career picks (he was a stalwart in a great Detroit backfield in the fifties and sixties), and he could be a strong Hall candidate on his playing days only. But add the fact that LeBeau invented the Zone Blitz in 1984 in Cincinnati, and multiple coaches have since used the odd scheme of dropping linemen into passing lanes and linebackers and backs to blitz. LeBeau has orchestrated the Steeler D into two Super Bowl titles in the past four years. Three times in the past five years Pittsburgh has had the top-ranked defense in the game.

As for the matter of LeBeau's poor record with the Bengals (12-36) in his only three years as a head coach, should three seasons tarnish the other 48? And could anyone have won in Cincinnati in the Klingler Era? Marv Levy, Hall of Famer, was 31-42 in five playoff-less years coaching Kansas City. Paul Brown: 55-56-1, with zero playoff wins, coaching the expansion Bengals ... Hank Stram: 7-21 in two years with the Saints. Let's get LeBeau in now.

Now for the five winners on the modern list:

Jerry Rice, wide receiver.Next.

Emmitt Smith, running back.Next. Everyone agrees Rice and Smith are locks, but there will be a fallout from their admission. It's two fewer spots for those who have been in line for some time.

Richard Dent, defensive end.Averaged 10.3 sacks in 12 seasons with the Bears, and made their fierce front go. He had some tremendous big games -- as Super Bowl XX MVP, he had 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in the 46-10 win over New England. I thought he was going to get in last year; there was major momentum built up for him, the kind of momentum where, as a voter, one would say: If not this year, very soon. Now is very soon.

Cris Carter, wide receiver.With 1,101 catches and 130 touchdowns, he should probably make it on his numbers alone, but this isn't baseball. The voters don't have a magic number for entry at any position. My argument on Carter has been he's the best boundary receiver (sidelines, end zone) I've seen, and that, combined with his production, is enough to propel him. However, I think it's entirely possible that Shannon Sharpe could jump Carter. It's also possible that Sharpe and Carter could both make it. They'll be strong candidates. But I'm going in a different direction on my fifth man for this class ...

Russ Grimm, offensive line, line coach. We need a Hog in the Hall. This is one of the best offensive lines of all time, and quite possibly the best, and it should be represented in Canton. What's hurt Grimm over the years is his shelf life -- he started just 114 regular-season games (19 more in the playoffs) and played four full seasons due to injuries -- but when he played, he was a dominant force at guard and center. He was a gritty force in the best running game in football in the eighties. I hope this is his year.

Now, could the final man be Sharpe? Certainly. Could there be a surprise in the room, like John Randle sneaking in? Of course. Hall of Fame voting is like an NFL game weekend: always surprising.

Onto your e-mails before I head out to Colts' practice today:

I AM SHAMEFUL. From Aaron of Appleton, Wis.: "In regards to your statement about maintaining scheduled times for presenters during the Hall of Fame Induction, I think your remarks are absolutely shameful. The Hall of Fame is not just another awards ceremony. It is the pinnacle of acknowledgment for a very select group of people who represent the greatest sport in this country. The majority of people at this event are the friends and family of the people being enshrined after a LIFETIME of professional success. To spend a few extra minutes hearing about the respect people have for them and the glory of their accomplishments should be an honor. If the 'pain' this causes you is too great, I would kindly suggest you find something else to do during that weekend each year. The rest of us enjoy remembering and reliving the great moments and characteristics of the truly great players, coaches and contributors that shape the game we love so much.''

You aren't alone, Aaron. But I don't agree, because I think so much of what is said can be said in half the time, and there's redundancy in the program. But it's clear you're passionate about it.

PREACHING TO THE CHOIR ON JACKSON. From Joseph Mann of Pensacola, Fla.: "Since the HOF weekend is now over, and consideration for the next class is several months away, can you provide an explanation as to why a player like Rickey Jackson has not been able to make the HOF? His numbers exceed those who are currently being elected. He missed only a handful of games in his career, and that was because of an automobile accident. He played strongside LB, where he was doubled teamed and the quarterback could see him coming, yet he has 128 career sacks, over 1,000 tackles, several Pro-Bowl appearances, a member of the best LB corps in NFL history (the Dome Patrol), has been in a Super Bowl and won a ring.''

I think Jackson's a Hall of Famer, and I will speak up for him when and if his candidacy is debated in our room of 44 selectors the day before the Super Bowl. Why hasn't he been up? I've said this a few times about the elections process: Guys like Jackson and Kevin Greene are in a queue behind players who either played before them or who have more juice because of championships or they're perceived to have had better careers -- like Andre Tippett, Derrick Thomas, Fred Dean and Richard Dent. Occasionally, great players like Bruce Smith jump the line. That doesn't mean Jackson won't get in. I don't know if he will or he won't get in, but I can tell you I'll be an active supporter.

I THINK HE'S RIGHT: THE GIANTS HAVE DEFENSIVE-LINE DEPTH OUT THE WAZOO. From Mike R. of New York: "What do you think are the chances that this year's Giants defense can dominate like the 2000 Ravens? The depth and skill of that D-Line could very well have a quarterback in an ambulance weekly."

I'm on record as saying I think the Giants have the best depth chart on the line of any team. I just worry a little bit about their health. When I saw them practice last week, I saw Fred Robbins and Barry Cofield off to the side rehabbing injuries, and Osi Umenyiora is coming off the knee surgery, and Justin Tuck is sitting some practices out with a sore foot, and Rocky Bernard has shoulder and leg injuries. As of today, the only thing that might linger into the season is Robbins' bad hamstring, but there are 33 days 'til the opener, so there seems to be enough time to get him right.

THANKS, PAUL, AND THANKS TO ALL FOR YOUR KIND WORDS. From Paul Intartaglia of Brooklyn: "No question. Just wanted to congratulate you on receiving the McCann Award. You definitely deserve it. I have been reading your columns for as long as I can remember. MMQB is the best football column in the country. Thanks for keeping us up on Dr. Z as well. I thank you for everything. Well-deserved honor. Take care and have a great season.''

I appreciate it, Paul. I'm using your note to thank everyone who has written and left texts and VMs congratulating me. Thanks, thanks, thanks. And I owe Adam Schefter a special thank-you for his story on me yesterday on this Web site (and to ESPN and NFL Network for allowing him to do it). I read his story and said, "Did I die?'' The sum total of it is humbling. Very humbling.

I THINK I GOT 416 TWEETS ON THIS MONDAY. From Barry Fischel of Marietta, Ga.: "Both Delta and Airtran offer Wi Fi internet connections during the flight after you pass 10,000 feet. It works well and is great, especially on longer flights.''

Thanks to all for who chimed in on this.

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