Handicapping the modern-era finalists for the Hall of Fame's Class of 2020
MIAMI BEACH -- It’s 24 hours until five more modern-era candidates join the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and, naturally, people want to know who’s going to make it. So let me tell you.
After Troy Polamalu, it could be just about anyone.
Now, before we continue, let me say this: Polamalu is no lock. Nevertheless, I’ve listened to enough voters that I’d be surprised if he didn’t make it in his first try Saturday. Why? Keep reading. What follows is my handicap for the Class of 2020 finalists:
TROY POLAMALU. The former Pittsburgh safety checks all the boxes: He’s an eight-time Pro Bowler, six-time All-Pro, 2010 Defensive Player of the Year, all-decade choice and two-time Super Bowl champion. Plus, he’s in his first year of eligibility, and that’s a plus, too. Why? Good question: The Hall’s board of selectors the past three years loves first-ballot choices, with eight of the 15 inductees elected in their first years of eligibility. If there’s a knock on Polamalu it’s this: He wasn’t a first-team all-decade selection; he was a second-teamer, behind Brian Dawkins and Ed Reed. Reed was a first-ballot choice; Dawkins made it in his second year. But that shouldn’t deter voters. Remember: Jason Taylor was second-team all-decade, too. And he was elected in his first year on the ballot (2017) … and never went to a Super Bowl.
NOT FAR BEHIND
EDGERRIN JAMES AND OFFENSIVE LINEMEN. This could … maybe should … be the year James crosses the finish line. The former Indianapolis/Arizona running back made the jump to the Top 10 last year, which means he’s in the on-deck circle – and I’d be surprised if he doesn’t make it. The same goes for one or two offensive linemen, with tackle TONY BOSELLI and guards ALAN FANECA and STEVE HUTCHINSON the choices. One will make it, but I’d love to see two to break the traffic jam. Boselli is in his 15th year of eligibility and his fourth straight year as a finalist. But he’s been a Top-10 finisher each year, which makes him a favorite to reach Canton. The only problem is that Faneca and Hutchinson have been Top-10 finalists the past two years, too, and it’s possible the three could divide votes. But I don’t see it. The board knows what’s coming up in 2021 (Peyton Manning, Charles Woodson, Calvin Johnson and Jared Allen all become eligible), so there’s an urgency to break the gridlock of offensive linemen. But full disclosure: For some reason, voters have trouble warming up to guards. They’ve inducted only three modern-era guards in the past ten years.
THE X FACTOR
There’s going to be at least one … maybe two … wildcards in this year’s class, and logic tells you it should be safety STEVE ATWATER. He was a Top-10 finalist last year and would be a logical choice if voters respect the queue. But they’re not wed to it, and JOHN LYNCH is proof. In his seventh straight year as a finalist, he was a three-time Top-10 choice but failed each year to take the next step. In fact, in 2018-19 he went in the other direction, failing to make the first cut from 15 to 10. I’ve heard ISAAC BRUCE’s name mentioned here, mostly because he’s back for a fourth try as a finalist. But voters are loathe to act quickly on wide receivers not named Jerry Rice or Randy Moss. It took Marvin Harrison – a first-team all-decade pick – three years to reach Canton, and Bruce never was all-decade. Plus, he’s never made it from 15 to 10. Then there’s defensive tackle RICHARD SEYMOUR. He’s a longshot, except our Ron Borges is presenting him … and he got in Ty Law, Ray Guy, Les Richter and Andre Tippett in when others said it couldn’t be done.
There's no position stocked more heavily than safety. Four of the 15 finalists played the position, which means 27 percent of the candidates are safeties. That figures. Because after ignoring safeties for decades, the Hall’s board of selectors now can’t get enough of them. It’s put as many into Canton the past three years (7, including the Centennial Class) as it did the first 54. But there are three offensive linemen and three wide receivers, too. All 15 candidates are represented by only five positions, so look for some early weeding. My guess? Two safeties and maybe two wide receivers disappear early. That’s a projection, and it’s based on a history of voting. But you can book this: All three offensive linemen will get through to the Top 10.
Most of the first-year eligible are vulnerable. That means receivers REGGIE WAYNE and TORRY HOLT, linebackers SAM MILLS and ZACH THOMAS, safety LeROY BUTLER and, maybe, BRYANT YOUNG are on the bubble. My guess is that neither linebacker makes it, and neither wide receiver, either. Then, it’s a coin flip, and because it took Butler 15 years just to get in the room I may make him the most vulnerable. Of course, it took Young eight years to be recognized as a semifinalist, too, but something tells me his candidacy may have legs. I’m curious to see if he can crack the Top 10. The real question here is: Does John Lynch make a move forward? There is a lot of public sentiment outside the room for him, but his candidacy stalled the past two years and voters don’t seem inclined to change their minds.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I’m going with Polamalu, James, Boselli and either Faneca or Hutchinson. After that, I’m taking your calls. But based on last year’s performance, Atwater should have the inside track.
Follow on Twitter @ClarkJudgeTOF