The longtime Dallas Morning News football writer and columnist has earned the reputation as the most well-informed and data-based voter on the 48-member Pro Football Hall of Fame voting committee.
My goal was to select a true team, position-specific. On offense, I would draft a true halfback and a true fullback, not two halfbacks. I would draft a speed wide receiver and a power receiver to complement him. I would draft a left tackle and a right tackle, not two left tackles.
On defense, I would draft a strongside end and a weakside end, not two weakside pass rushers. I would draft a power tackle and a speed tackle to complement him. I would draft a strongside linebacker and a weakside backer, a strong safety and a free safety.
If my team actually had to line up for a game, everyone would be comfortable at their starting spots. I also wanted proven commodities at those starting spots. And I got them. At the end of the 25 rounds, I had 24 All-Decade selections, 17 Hall of Famers, six members of the NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team and three members of the league’s 50th Anniversary Team. My 25 players combined to attend 172 Pro Bowls.
The two key elements of a successful football team are the quarterback and the pass rush. Those would be my priorities at the top of the draft. I also wanted to focus on defense early because there are fewer great defensive players in the game’s history than offense.
Getting Unitas at 3 made me most pleased. If he was gone, I would have taken Jim Brown. The game’s greatest quarterback or the game’s greatest player. If both were gone by the time I went on the clock at 3 I would have taken Tom Brady. Heck of a consolation prize, right?
|A true innovator, Brown in many ways established how pro football coaches approach their jobs today, systematizing the profession and hiring full-time assistants, among many novel practices. He also helped break the sport’s color barrier, bringing players such as Bill Willis and Marion Motley to the Browns in the AAFC. After winning all four titles in that league, he led Cleveland to NFL championships in 1950, ’54 and ’55. In 1968 he co-founded the Cincinnati Bengals and coached them for eight seasons.|
|Unitas is often called the greatest quarterback of all time, in part because he helped usher in an era of downfield passing—his nickname was “The Golden Arm,” after all. Unitas was a five-time first-team All-Pro and three-time league MVP, and quarterbacked the Colts to three NFL championships. The 1958 title game, dubbed “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” has been credited with sparking the rise in popularity of football. Unitas was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979.|
|LT was one of the best and most versatile running backs of his era. In his 11-year career, primarily with San Diego, he won two rushing titles and was a three-time All-Pro. He is fifth all-time in rushing yards (13,684), ninth in all-purpose yards (18,456) and third in touchdowns (162). In 2006 he set the NFL record with 31 total touchdowns and was league MVP. He is a member of the 2017 Hall of Fame class.|
|Often overshadowed by his more famous teammates on the Joe Montana-Bill Walsh 49ers championship teams, Craig was a gifted running back and a key pass-catcher out of the backfield. In 1985 he became the first player to compile 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same year. He made four Pro Bowls and had his best season in 1988, when he ran for 1,502 yards and was NFL Offensive Player of the Year.|
|Alworth is considered the best receiver of his era and one of the game’s all-time great deep threats—he averaged 19.4 yards per catch in his nine seasons with the Chargers, and his seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons stood as a record until broken by Jerry Rice. A 1978 Hall of Fame inductee, Alworth was the first player in Canton to have played primarily in the AFL.|
|Irvin, a.k.a. “The Playmaker,” was the No. 1 receiver paired with quarterback Troy Aikman and running back Emmitt Smith on the dynastic Cowboys teams of the 1990s that won three Super Bowls together. Irvin made five Pro Bowls and finished his 12-year career with 11,904 receiving yards, the 26th most of all time. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007.|
|Gates revolutionized the tight end position and served as the model for how the position is played today. When he entered the NFL in 2003, as an undrafted free agent, he had played only basketball at Kent State, and he thrived in the NFL thanks to his elite athleticism and his basketball sense of body control and spacing. His 111 career touchdown receptions are tied for the sixth-most in NFL history.|
|A mammoth of a man, Shell started every game at left tackle for the Raiders for nine consecutive years during the 1970s and made eight Pro Bowls in his career. He also won two Super Bowls as a player and another as a Raiders’ assistant coach. In 1989, Shell became the first African-American head coach of the modern era. He was|
|One of the most durable players in NFL history, Shields played in the NFL for 14 seasons, all with the Chiefs, and started 231 consecutive games, including the playoffs. He also was selected to 12 Pro Bowls and earned two All-Pro nods. Shields was a 2015 Hall of Fame inductee.|
|One of the best centers of his generation, Mawae played in the NFL for 16 years with the Seahawks, Jets and Titans, including a 10-year stretch in which he did not miss a start. He was a three-time first team All-Pro and made eight Pro Bowls. A cerebral player, Mawae also served two terms as the Players’ Association president and was in that role during the 2011 lockout.|
|A model of consistency and one of the premier guards of his generation, McDaniel started every regular-season game over the final 12 years of his career. He also tied a record by playing in 12 consecutive Pro Bowls. McDaniel had such agility and sense of control that the Vikings also used him as a fullback in goal-line situations. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009.|
|Standing a towering 6’ 9” and about 270 pounds, St. Clair was a steady presence for the 49ers at right tackle and known for his toughness. He was famously known for eating raw meat, and, in the first part of his career, he played with a leather helmet. He made five Pro Bowls over the course of his 11-year career and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990.|
|Defensive end on the Rams’ legendary “Fearsome Foursome” line, Jones is credited with ushering in the era of the pass-rusher—he was a master of the now-outlawed head slap and is credited with coining the term “sack.” A five-time All-Pro and eight-time Pro Bowl selection, he (unofficially) averaged 20 “sacks” a season from 1964 to ’68, and historian John Turney counts 173.5 for his career. Jones was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980.|
|Smith was a stout defensive end who put up impressive sack numbers with the Chiefs in his prime, then helped John Elway and the Broncos win back-to-back Super Bowls later in his career. Smith averaged 13 sacks per season with Kansas City from 1992 to ’95, and he finished his career having made six Pro Bowls.|
|The Vikings signed Randle after he went undrafted in 1990 out of tiny Texas A&M-Kingsville, but he became one of the best defensive linemen of the 1990s. Randle recorded at least 10 sacks a year from 1992 to ’99, and he finished his 14-year career with 137.5 sacks, tied for the ninth-most since the stat became official in 1982. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010.|
|Playing for the Rams, Colts and Steelers, “Big Daddy” was a combination of speed and size—he stood at 6’ 6” and 284 pounds—who revolutionized the way defensive linemen played in the ’50s and ’60s. After a turbulent childhood, he entered the Marines, and the Rams only signed him after Pete Rozelle, their PR director, saw him playing football with the Marines. Lipscomb made three Pro Bowls in his 10-year career, which was tragically cut short when he died of a heroin overdose at age 31.|
|One of the most feared and intimidating linebackers of all time. The Bears drafted Butkus No. 3 overall, out of Illinois in 1965, and he soon came to be synonymous with the gritty franchise. In nine seasons with Chicago, Butkus was a five-time All-Pro, eight-time Pro Bowler and a member of the Hall of Fame’s All-1960s and All-1970s teams. He was elected to the Canton in 1979.|
|A critical member of the Steelers’ dynasty that won four Super Bowls in six years in the 1970s. Considered the best pure coverage linebacker the game has seen, Ham racked up 53 takeaways in his career—32 interceptions and 21 fumble recoveries—the most of any non-defensive back. In his 12-year career, he was named All-Pro six times and made eight Pro Bowls. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1988.|
|A stalwart on the Chiefs as the team transitioned from the AFL to the NFL, Bell helped Kansas City win two AFL titles and Super Bowl IV over the Vikings. An athletic linebacker standing at 6’ 4” and 228 pounds—“the first of the great size-and-speed linebackers,” according to SI’s Paul Zimmerman—Bell scored nine touchdowns in his career, including six off interception returns. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1983.|
|Standing only 5’ 8”, Green referred to himself as the “itty bitty guy,” but he was also perhaps the best cornerback of his era and a four-time winner of the NFL’s Fastest Man competition. Green played a remarkable 20 years in the league, all with Washington, picking off 54 passes, earning seven Pro Bowl selections and winning two Super Bowls during the Joe Gibbs era. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008.|
|A ball-hawking cornerback, Law was instrumental in the Patriots’ three Super Bowl titles in four years in the 2000s. In his first Super Bowl, Law intercepted Kurt Warner and returned it for a touchdown for the Patriots’ first points of the game. The two-time All-Pro twice led the NFL in interceptions and finished his career with 53 picks, tied with Deion Sanders for 24th all-time.|
|Tunnell was the first African-American to play for the Giants and also the first African-American selected to the Hall of Fame (1967). Over the course of his 14-year career, primarily with New York, he was a four-time All-Pro and made the Pro Bowl nine times. At his retirement, he held NFL records for most career interceptions (79) and consecutive games played (143).|
|Easley only played seven years in the NFL before his career was cut short due to kidney disease. In those seven years with the Seahawks, he made five Pro Bowls and was a three-time first-team All-Pro. He was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1984, when he recorded 10 interceptions. He is a member of the 2017 Hall of Fame class.|
|Andersen is perhaps the greatest kicker in NFL history, and that’s due in large part to his longevity. He played 25 seasons, for five different teams, and holds the record for games played (382), points scored (2,544) and field goals made (565). This year he will become just the second placekicker to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and the first since Jan Stenerud in 1991.|
|Nicknamed “Thunderfoot,” Wilson was a valuable weapon for the Chiefs in the ’60s and ’70s, leading the AFL in punting twice and the NFL three times, after the merger. Over the course of his 15 seasons with Kansas City, Wilson averaged 43.4 yards per punt. He made three Pro Bowls and was named to the AFL All-Time First Team in 1970.|
|Known for his elaborate touchdown dances in the end zone, Johnson was one of the premier return men of his era. He packed most of his production into two great seasons for the Oilers, in 1975 and ’77, when he averaged more than 15 yards per punt return and scored seven TDs on punts and kickoffs. He also had 337 career receptions in 14 seasons with the Oilers, Falcons and Redskins.|
Team Gosselin’s first three selections (QB Johnny Unitas, DE Deacon Jones and LB Dick Butkus) all were Round 1 choices in the All-Time Draft’s mock draft (we Inception’d ourselves). So if there were grades handed out to the general managers here, that start would bode well.
Butkus stands at the heart of this defense on the second level. There, Gosselin can trot out the Bears superstar plus Jack Ham and Bobby Bell, with strong safety Kenny Easley standing as another intimidator. The game plan might be to stack the box and force QBs to test the secondary as Jones and John Randle bring the heat. With Emlen Tunnell playing single high and Darrell Green and Ty Law in coverage, those downfield throws still would be risky.
Hall of Fame RB LaDainian Tomlinson and “Hall of Very Good” FB/RB Roger Craig offer tremendous pass-catching ability out of the backfield, but the real key to opening everything up may have arrived in Round 23 with the selection of Michael Irvin. Unitas had been handed a pair of reliable weapons earlier: the always productive Antonio Gates and yards-after-catch monster Lance Alworth. Neither challenge defenses the way Irvin does. How he lingered on the board until pick 267 is one of this draft’s great mysteries.
A strong beginning to the draft and a sneaky good close. What happened in between should have done enough to make this roster a formidable one.
— Chirs Burke