Hall of Fame finalists: Ray Lewis a lock, but who else will get in?

The 15 modern-era finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame‘s Class of 2018 are as follows (presented in alphabetical order): Tony Boselli, Isaac Bruce, Brian Dawkins, Alan Faneca, Steve Hutchinson, Joe Jacoby, Edgerrin James, Ty Law, Ray Lewis, John Lynch, Kevin Mawae, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Brian Urlacher and Everson Walls.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame‘s Class of 2018 will be announced during the NBC broadcast of “NFL Honors” from 9-11 p.m. ET on Feb. 3 (the eve of Super Bowl LII).

NFL.com’s Elliot Harrison breaks down the hopefuls’ chances of enshrinement below.

Strong candidates

Brian Dawkins, safety: Dawkins is going to hit Canton one of these days. In fact, I think that day will come in February. Dawkins was the top player at his position from the late 1990s into the 2000s. Like Lewis, he was named to the All-Decade Team of the 2000s.

Alan Faneca, offensive guard: This guy’s enshrinement is not a matter of if, but when. And like with Dawkins, Faneca’s year very well could be 2018. Offensive linemen have not been getting short shrift from voters of late (… well, except for centers, unfortunately). Seven guards have been voted in since 2007, despite the lack of sex appeal at their position. Faneca was a dominant player, a six-time first-team All-Pro who would block your face off. Dermontti Dawson told me he could tell Faneca was special from the dude’s first training camp. Faneca was the key member of the offensive line that paved the way for Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker on the Steelers‘ Super Bowl XL team.

John Lynch, safety: Lynch is doing himself a favor by knocking this GM gig out of the park so far. (That Jimmy Garoppolo trade looks like a stroke of genius.) The former minor league baseball player was a heckuva safety, despite being the least-heralded member (after Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks) of the Bucs’ triumvirate that controlled offenses in the late ’90s and early 2000s. That said, most folks I’ve spoken to would take Dawkins before Lynch — while a few others cite Darren Woodson first among eligible safeties.

Brian Urlacher, linebacker: This is an interesting case. Urlacher enjoyed a fantastic 13-year career, getting named Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2000 and Defensive Player of the Year in 2005. His name can be found alongside Lewis’ on the All-Decade Team of the 2000s. This year will be a tough sell for Urlacher, with Lewis sure to get in and so many tightly packed candidates. That said, Urlacher’s ability to cover ground in the middle of the field as a Cover 2 MLB should sit well with the young voters who came up on “Madden.” The video game, not the announcer.

Virtual lock

Ray Lewis, linebacker: Is this even a question? Lewis made a billion Pro Bowls, was named first-team All-Pro seven times, won Defensive Player of the Year twice and even managed to earn a Super BowlMVP. Also remember: Voters are asked to only consider on-field stuff, as other matters typically surface when Lewis’ name comes up in public forums. The former Raven is also a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All-Decade Team of the 2000s.

Ascending

Tony Boselli, offensive tackle: Been hearing this former No. 2 overall pick come up quite a bit in Canton chatter. The thinking here is that Terrell Davis finally hearing his name called could do much for other short-career guys like Boselli. In the late ’90s, Boselli was the premier left tackle in football when healthy.

Isaac Bruce, wide receiver: Bruce boasts numbers comparable to those of Terrell Owens (at least in terms of receptions and yards), but with what is perceived as a far better attitude. Add in the fact that Bruce scored the winning touchdown in Super Bowl XXXIV, and the wideout might indeed have enough juice to get the Canton call. How the former Rams great was able to post 119 catches for 1,781 yards and 13 touchdowns in 1995 — with past-their-prime QBs Chris Miller and Mark Rypien throwing him passes — is anyone’s guess. You think DeAndre Hopkins had it bad …

Edgerrin James, running back: Edge owns more support in that voter room than he’s ever had before, presumably because of a simple question: How many prolific running backs are coming down the pike? Adrian PetersonFrank Gore? That’s it. Maybe the newfound love for James’ run in pro football is an offshoot of the Colts sucking, and people realizing how special that Manning/James/Harrison/Wayne/Freeney/Mathis team really was. Kinda like John Smoltz and the ’90s Braves. To think, James touched the ball 881 times in his first two pro seasons.

Ty Law, cornerback: If there is one thing every Hall voter is well aware of, it’s the scant number of defensive players in comparison to offensive players enshrined in Canton. That paves the way for a guy like Law, who, similar to James, has the advantage of hardly any corners coming down the road boasting 50-plus career interceptions. (Champ Bailey and Charles Woodson are going to moonwalk their way into the Hall.) In this day and age of bubble screens and none-yard outs, how is a corner supposed to get to 53 interceptions, much less three Super Bowl rings?

Everson Walls, cornerback: Walls’ name has been broached in Canton chatter more in the last year than any I can remember in over a decade of covering the sport, much less the last five years covering the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Walls is the only corner in the history of the NFL to lead the league in interceptions three times. He picked off Joe Montana, the greatest quarterback of his era, four times. He posted four picks in 10 postseason games. He won a ring as a starting corner on the 1990 Giants under defensive coordinator Bill Belichick. And he was better than your favorite eligible-but-not-in-the-Hall-yet cornerback.

Heated debate: Randy Moss vs. Terrell Owens

Appropriate or not, Moss and Owens will be linked together. They both played in the same era, both were considered distractions and both could absolutely take over a game. While the stats are there for both — Moss is second and Owens is third all-time in touchdown receptions, behind only Jerry Rice — I don’t see either hearing his name announced the Saturday before the Super Bowl.

There is a bloc of voters who, at least for the time being, are a hard “no” on T.O., which could precipitate pushback on Moss. Put another way: If Owens and Moss were even in scope — Owens is second in career receiving yards, Moss is fourth — and the former can’t get inducted in three tries, why should Moss make it on his first? It’s worth noting that, when it came to the defensive coordinators whose job it was to stop these dynamic wideouts (even more so than the corners covering them), surely no one was scarier than Moss. That could be worth a handful of additional votes. Not enough to be first-ballot — fortunately or unfortunately, depending on what you expect from your Hall of Fame wide receiver.

Not this year

Kevin Mawae, center: Mawae continues to slowly bubble to the surface of Hall discussions. He enjoyed a long, decorated career. But he also played a position that has been overlooked by Hall voters for some time — something one of the senior voters brought up to me, specifically citing Mawae. In the last 30 years, only five centers’ names have been called. Thankfully, two of those — Mick Tingelhoff and Dermontti Dawson — were enshrined in the last six years. That said, don’t see three offensive linemen being inducted in the 2018 class — two is a stretch. Those two: Boselli and Faneca.

Steve Hutchinson, offensive guard: Hutchinson was an awesome player. Look no further than Shaun Alexander’s production, or lack thereof, after the All-Pro guard left Seattle to sign with the Vikings in 2006. Alexander won league MVP with 1,880 rushing yards in 2005. He wouldn’t equal that total in the remaining three seasons of his career combined. That said, with Faneca still waiting — and all the other names above — Hutchinson will fall victim to a numbers game this year. Speaking of, numbers don’t support two guards, one class.

Joe Jacoby, offensive tackle: This marks the last year that Jacoby will be grouped with the modern-era finalists. That’s because Jacoby’s last season was 1993. Candidates have 25 years from their last year in the league before they fall into the seniors abyss. With Walls also up after this year (his last season was also 1993), one of those two should receive a solid push. With two senior candidates (at most) per year, voters know how important it is for guys like Jacoby and Walls to make it while still within the modern-era parameters. My guess: Walls will be the name you hear, mostly because he has quantifiable numbers and an NFL record, to boot (see above).

Quick notes on the Seniors Committee/Contributor nominee

Robert Brazile was a new name that many of those odd ducks who follow Canton’s proceedings were surprised to hear. The do-everything outside linebacker on Bum Phillips’ Oilers teams seemingly came out of nowhere to be nominated — well, unless you followed his career. The first eight years of Brazile’s NFL tenure were special. He made seven Pro Bowls, and despite not being known as just a pass rusher, posted 6.5 sacks in the strike-shortened 1982 campaign that featured all of nine games. Between him, Elvin Bethea and Curley Culp, those “Luv Ya Blue” teams had a helluva front seven. Kinda like what the Lombardi Packers had on the offensive side of the trenches, with Jerry Krameranchoring the interior portion from right guard. As the author of the most famous block in NFL history, Kramer’s name has been screamed from the mouths of every Packers fan over age 50 for the last two decades. No player has been mentioned as a Hall oversight more than the man who wrote “Instant Replay.” There is no way Kramer will miss the cut, as voters have been inundated with enough Kramer chatter (Packer Backers complaining) to last a lifetime. Not to mention, he was a fantastic player on pro football’s greatest team of all time, the 1962 Green Bay squad.

As a contributor, Bobby Beathard might be unequaled in terms of resume. The teams for which he worked, scouted and served as personnel czar made it to an incredible seven Super Bowls. SEVEN!That includes the Chiefs (1), Dolphins (2), Redskins (3) and Chargers (1). Good luck finding a dude who can match those itals on a LinkedIn profile. Beathard’s most famous work? Building those Joe Gibbs Redskins teams that won two Super Bowls in the 1980s. Ain’t no way Beathard gets too many “no” votes. It’s people like him for whom this “contributor” category was created in the first place — and deservedly so.

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