Pro Football Hall of Fame: 12 favorites to join the 2014 class
The 2013 Pro Football Hall of Fame class officially takes its place on Saturday night in Canton, Ohio. Which means that it is not too early to look ahead to 2014.
The first-ballot nominees next year include Shaun Alexander, Derrick Brooks, Tony Dungy, Marvin Harrison and Zach Thomas. Those players will join a long list of candidates for induction, including some perceived snubs from this year's class, like Tim Brown and Charles Haley.
So, who will get the Hall nod next August? Here's a look at a dozen of the most likely possibilities:
Jerome Bettis: "The Bus" is sixth on the league's all-time list for rushing yards, lest you only remember him from later in his career. In addition to winning a ring in Super Bowl XL, Bettis was the 1993 Offensive Player of the Year and 1996 Comeback Player of the Year. He topped 1,000 yards eight different times during his 13-year career, which spanned three seasons in St. Louis and 10 in Pittsburgh. Bettis also sits 10th on the career rushing TDs totem pole, with 91. He will not ease into the Hall of Fame, but he certainly has a convincing case.
Derrick Brooks: The only real mystery regarding Brooks' Hall of Fame future is if he'll be a first-ballot entry in 2014. As much as Dungy's Tampa-2 revolutionized the NFL, the former coach may not have enjoyed nearly as much success with the Bucs had Brooks not helped alter the way we think about 4-3 outside linebackers. Brooks was an 11-time Pro Bowler and member of the NFL's 2000s All-Decade Team. He was one of the greatest defenders of his generation, hands down.
Tim Brown: You can find much more on Brown's quest for the Hall in Andrew Lawrence's piece on The MMQB. Brown watched Cris Carter earn an induction last year, and he may be next in line at a crowded receiver spot. Few in NFL history have been more exciting to watch than Brown, who racked up nearly 15,000 yards receiving in his career (he's fifth all-time in catches and yards) to go with more than 4,500 return yards. He did himself no favors last January, hinting that ex-Oakland head coach Bill Callahan "sabotaged" Super Bowl XXXVIII, which Tampa Bay won by 27.
Don Coryell: Will Coryell's coaching record, which included zero conference championships or Super Bowl in 14 years, offset the impact he's made to the game as a whole? Odds are that Coryell, whose "Air Coryell" attack laid roots for a lot of the offense we see around the league now, will find his way into Canton eventually. Will his time come in 2014?
Eddie DeBartolo, Jr.: The extremely influential former owner of the 49ers, DeBartolo oversaw five Super Bowl championships in the 1980s and '90s, when his team became one of the great NFL dynasties. Perhaps holding him back? DeBartolo's guilty plea on a felony charge of failing to report an extortion attempt back in 1998.
Tony Dungy: Dungy finished his coaching career 70 games over .500 (139-69), with an all-important Super Bowl title. Perhaps more importantly, he helped devise and implement the now famous Tampa-2 defense, which continues to play a critical role in coaching schemes league-wide. That Dungy remains a well-liked and extremely well-respected presence around the NFL certainly will not damage his Hall of Fame case.
Charles Haley: A ferocious pass-rusher, both as an outside linebacker and defensive end, Haley earned five Pro Bowl nods and won five Super Bowl rings (three with Dallas, two with San Francisco). His 100.5 sacks rank only 27th on the all-time list, so he does not have the case there that, say, Michael Strahan does. Still, Haley was an integral part of a pair of two NFL dynasties.
Marvin Harrison: Another of the first-ballot contenders in 2014, along with Brooks and Dungy. Harrison and Peyton Manning were as recognizable a WR-QB combo as there has been in league history, with Harrison catching 1,103 passes in his career -- 965 coming after Manning took over as the Colts' QB in 1998. Harrison topped 100 catches in four straight seasons, from 1999-2002, topping out with an NFL record 143 in '02. (Wes Welker, with 123, is the next closest to that mark.) Harrison finished his career third all-time in receptions and eighth in yards receiving. The debate over Harrison, Brown and Andre Reed ought to be a fascinating one.
Andre Reed: Reed has to be storing up some pretty strong karma, right? He was part of those Bills teams that lost four straight Super Bowls and now he's been denied Hall entry despite being named a finalist seven times. Can he get in before Brown? Reed made it to less Pro Bowls (seven) and sits lower on the all-time list than Brown in both catches (11th) and yards receiving (12th).
Will Shields: Another guy who has to get in eventually, Shields took over as the Chiefs' starting right guard in Week 2 of the 1993 and never left that spot until he retired after the 2006 season -- a span of 223 consecutive starts. Shields was one of the most dominant interior linemen the NFL ever saw, as evidenced by 12 straight Pro Bowl appearances from 1995-06. Now that Larry Allen has his bust at the Hall, Shields should get his turn.
Michael Strahan: If the informal Hall voting recently conducted by Bleacher Report's Michael Schottey is any indication, Strahan is a virtual lock. Schottey asked 13 football minds, including yours truly and SI.com producer Tom Mantzouranis, for their '14 Hall picks. Strahan received 12 votes, easily surpassing anyone else's total. Strahan, owner of the league's single-season sack mark at 22.5 and the 2001 Defensive Player of the Year, was a Hall finalist in 2013 but just missed out on entry.
Aeneas Williams: A lot of people may not realize just how special Williams was, but he rightfully earned a spot on the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1990s, behind only Deion Sanders and Rod Woodson. Williams made eight Pro Bowls and picked off 55 career passes. He was a dominant cover man for the Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals, prior to finishing his career in St. Louis.Other names to remember for 2014: