My All-Time Undrafted NFL Team: Offense

Just because the 2013 NFL Draft has concluded, that does not mean that NFL teams are done trying to find rookie players.  Immediately following the draft we saw storylines emerge about Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray signing with the Chiefs and Cris Carter’s son Duron Carter going to the Vikings.  The best NFL teams not only find exceptional value in the draft but the best also find value outside of it.  Recently Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo received a 6 year $108 million extension from the Dallas Cowboys.  He was an undrafted free agent out of Eastern Illinois University.  The New York Giants hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in 2012 thanks largely to the efforts of undrafted Victor Cruz out of the University of Massachusetts – Amherst.  Who knows what future superstar teams may discover in the coming days but it has prompted me to throw together my all-time undrafted NFL team.

Below you will find my all-time undrafted offense.   Defense and Special Teams will be released later this week.

Quarterback

Kurt Warner, University of Northern Iowa
St. Louis Rams (1998 – 2003); New York Giants (2004); Arizona Cardinals (2005 – 2009)
Super Bowl XXXIV Champion; Super Bowl XXXIV MVP;  2x NFL MVP; 2x All-Pro; 4x Pro-Bowl
Fun Fact: Holds the record for the most yards passing in a Super Bowl (XXXIV), 2nd most yards passing in a Super Bowl (XLIII), and you guessed it – third most yards passing in a Super Bowl (XXXVI)

Runner-Up: Warren Moon, Washington
Houston Oilers (1984-1993); Minnesota Vikings (1994-1996); Seattle Seahawks (1997-1998); Kansas City Chiefs (1999-2000)

Running Backs

Joe Perry, Compton College
San Francisco 49ers (1948 – 1960; 1963); Baltimore Colts (1961 – 1962)
3x Pro-Bowl Selection; 2x First Team All-Pro; 2x Rushing Champion; NFL 1950’s All-Decade Team; San Francisco 49ers #34 retired; Pro Football Hall of Fame
Fun Fact: In 1954 Joe Perry rushed for over 1,000 yards becoming the first NFL player to every rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons

Priest Holmes, Texas
Baltimore Ravens (1997 – 2000); Priest Holmes (2001 – 2007)
Super Bowl XXXV Champion; 3x Pro Bowl; 3x All-Pro; 2001 Rushing Title; 2002 NFL Offensive Player of the Year
Fun Fact: In 2001, Priest Holmes became the first undrafted player to ever win a rushing title.  Arian Foster duplicated this feat 2010.

Runner-Up: Arian Foster, Tennessee
Houston Texans (2009 – Present)

Fullback

Marion Motley, Nevada
Cleveland Browns (1946 – 1953); Pittsburgh Steelers (1955)V
4x AAFC Champion; 1948 AAFC Rushing Champion; 1950 NFL Rushing Champion; 1950 Pro-Bowl Selection; 1950 NFL Champion; NFL 1940’s All-Decade Team; NFL 75th Anniversary Team; Pro Football Hall of Fame
Fun Fact: Motley holds the best career average for yard per rushing attempt at 5.7.  He was also the Browns starting linebacker when he played.

Runner-Up: Vonta Leach, ECU
Green Bay Packers (2004 – 2006); New Orleans Saints (2006); Houston Texans (2006 – 2010); Baltimore Ravens (2011 – Present)

Offensive Guards

Larry Little, Bethune-Cookman
San Diego Chargers (1967 – 1968); Miami Dolphins (1969 – 1980)
2x Super Bowl Champion; 5x Pro Bowl selection; 5x First team All-Pro; Pro Football Hall of Fame
Fun Fact: In 1969, Little was upset with a trade that sent him from the Chargers to the Dolphins because he wanted to go somewhere he could win a championship.  Little went on to win two Super Bowls including being an integral part of the undefeated 1972 Dolphins team.

Brian Waters, North Texas
Kansas City Chiefs (2000 – 2010); New England Patriots (2011 – 2012)
6x Pro Bowl Selection; 2x All-Pro
Fun Fact: Waters played tight end and defensive end at North Texas before the Chiefs converted him into an offensive lineman.

Runner-Up:  Kris Dielman, Indiana
San Diego Chargers (2003 – 2011)

Center

Jim Langer, South Dakota State
Miami Dolphins (1970 – 1979); Minnesota Vikings (1980 – 1981)
2x Super Bowl Champion; 6x Pro Bowl Selection; 6x All-Pro; NFL 1970’s All-Decade Team; Pro Football Hall of Fame
Fun Fact: The award for the top offensive lineman in Division II is the Jim Langer Award.  Interestingly, he was a middle linebacker in college and became a lineman once he joined the Dolphins.

Runner-Up: Jeff Saturday, North Carolina
Indianapolis Colts (1999 – 2011); Green Bay Packers (2012)

Offensive Tackles

Lou Groza, Ohio State
Cleveland Browns (1946 – 1959; 1961 – 1967)
4x AAFC Champion; 4x NFL Champion; 9x Pro Bowl Selection; 4x All-Pro; NFL 1950’s All-Decade Team; Cleveland Browns Ring of Honor; Cleveland Browns #76 retired; Pro Football Hall of Fame
Fun Fact: Nicknamed “The Toe”, Lou Groza was also the placekicker for the Browns, leading the league in field goals on five occasions and retired as the all-time points leader in the NFL.

Nate Newton, Florida A&M
Dallas Cowboys (1986 – 1998); Carolina Panthers (1999)
3x Super Bowl Champion; 6x Pro Bowl Selection; 2x All-Pro
Fun Fact: While in Dallas he was nicknamed “The Kitchen”, the reason being he was larger than the Bears’ William “The Refrigerator” Perry.

Runner-Up: Jason Peters, Arkansas
Buffalo Bills (2004 – 2008); Philadelphia Eagles (2009 – Present)

Wide Receivers

Rod Smith, Missouri Southern State University
Denver Broncos (1994 – 2006)
2x Super Bowl Champion; 3x Pro Bowl; 2x All-Pro
Fun Fact: Rod Smith is the only undrafted player to ever eclipse the 10,000 career receiving yards mark.

Wes Welker, Texas Tech
San Diego Chargers (2004); Miami Dolphins (2004 – 2006); New England Patriots (2007 – 2012); Denver Broncos (2013 – Present)
5x Pro Bowl; 2x First Team All-Pro; 2x Second Team All-Pro; 3x NFL Receptions Leader
Fun Fact: Wes Welker was widely considered “too small” to be successful at the college level.  Only 1 Division I school offered him a scholarship (Texas Tech) and it was only offered to him after another recruit backed out of the offer right before Welker’s freshman year.  That same disrespect apparently followed him to the NFL Draft.

Drew Pearson, Tulsa
Dallas Cowboys (1973 – 1983)
Super Bowl XII Champion; 3x First Team All-Pro; 1x Second Team All-Pro; 3x Pro Bowl Selection;  Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor; Pearson’s #88 reserved for Best Cowboy’s Receivers (worn by Michael Irvin & Dez Bryant)
Fun Fact: In the 1975 Playoffs in a game against the Minnesota Vikings, Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach threw a 50 yard game winning touchdown pass to Drew Pearson with seconds left on the clock.  Afterwards he said of the pass, “I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary” and the Hail Mary pass was born.

Wayne Chrebet, Hofstra
New York Jets (1995 – 2005)
New York Jets #80 Discontinued
Fun Fact: In 1995, Wayne Chrebet became the first player from Hofstra University to make an NFL roster since 1964

Runner-Up: Victor Cruz, University of Massachusetts
New York Giants (2010 – Present)

Tight Ends

Antonio Gates, Kent State
San Diego Chargers (2003 – Present)
8x Pro Bowl Selection; 5x All-Pro; NFL 2000s All-Decade Team; San Diego Chargers 50th Anniversary Team
Fun Fact: Antonio Gates played basketball at Kent State but after his agent told him he wouldn’t make the NBA he arranged private NFL workouts with as many as 19 NFL teams.  His first was with the Chargers, they signed him on the spot.

Zeke Mowatt, Florida State
New York Giants (1983 – 1989; 1991); New England Patriots (1990)
Super Bowl XXI Champion
Fun Fact: Upon his retirement, Zeke Mowatt founded Mowatt, Inc. – a janitorial service in the New Jersey area.

Runner-Up: None.

Well there you have it, my all-time great NFL undrafted offense.  For some positions the options available is astounding (quarterback), while there are other locations where there is a surprising lack of choices (tight end and offensive tackle) but that does not change the fact that in hindsight every one of these players deserved to be drafted (and would’ve been high draft picks) but have succeeded in spite of it.   We often hear about the first round guys that don’t pan out but these are the undrafted guys who did.

Questions? Comments? Snide Remarks? Let me hear ’em!
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A Tale of Two Linebackers

KickCanEarlier today, Ray Lewis announced that this postseason will be his “last ride” and regardless of the result of his push for a second ring, this postseason will be the last time that we see one of the most electric players in NFL history take the field.  Ray Lewis is an all-time great and five years from now will likely be enshrined in Canton.  More than that, he is the identity of the Baltimore Ravens and his #52 will likely be the first number the Baltimore Ravens retire.  You can debate the all-time greatest 49er or greatest Packer or Cowboy but when it comes to the Baltimore Ravens there is no debate, Ray Lewis is the greatest Raven to ever play the game.

As with any great player who retires, the media feels the need to reflect on that player’s career and more than anything, the recency-bias of the sports media comes out because we have a media that tends to forget there were sports prior to the existence of ESPN.  So of course today the debate was not whether or not Ray Lewis was a Hall of Famer (because that’s a given) but whether or not he is the greatest middle linebacker of all time.  ESPN writer Jamison Hensley took it a step further and called Ray Lewis, the “greatest defensive player in NFL history”.

With all due respect Mr. Hensley, how can you call a player the best defensive player ever when it’s arguable whether they weren’t the best at their position when they played? (You can read his asinine article here) For more than a decade all eyes have been on Baltimore but only 32 miles away there’s a linebacker with similar stats who has been just as good, if not better.

ESPN's Jamison Hensley had the audacity to call Ray Lewis the greatest defensive player ever when another player on the beltway could very well challenge him for the title of greatest middle linebacker of his era.

ESPN’s Jamison Hensley had the audacity to call Ray Lewis the greatest defensive player ever when another player on the beltway could very well challenge him for the title of greatest middle linebacker of his era.

Just two years after Ray Lewis was drafted, London Fletcher signed with the Rams as an undrafted free agent where he was named the Rams Rookie of the Year in 1998.  In his second year (and first year as a starter), Fletcher anchored the Rams defense that went on to win the Super Bowl and was a key piece in the Rams returning to the Super Bowl after the 2001 season.   While Ray Lewis will always be “Mr. Raven” so to speak, Fletcher left the Rams after the 2001 season to join the Buffalo Bills and in his first year, set the Bills franchise record for tackles with 209.   He led the Bills in tackles every year that he was with the team and continued that tradition when he joined the Redskins in 2007.

Not only has Fletcher led his respective teams in tackles year in and year out, he has led the NFL.  Nobody has more tackles this millennium than London Fletcher.

But the fact is that when London Fletcher does retire he will probably go quietly into the night.  While five years from now Ray Lewis will bring his evangelical stylings to the podium at Canton, London Fletcher will likely have to fight for years and years to get in the Hall if he ever does get in and my question is why?

I have compiled the following to show the similarity in the careers of London Fletcher & Ray Lewis:

LondonRayAs you can see in two fewer seasons, Fletcher has posted similar numbers to those of Hensley’s “greatest defensive player ever” and he has done so in a number of different schemes for different teams that did not have nearly the defensive personnel that Ray Lewis has surrounding him.   These are both great sets of numbers but forget arguing for the best defensive player ever the question really is – who is the best middle linebacker on the Beltway?

While the stats will be cited (and it is impressive to note that Ray Lewis is the founding and lone member of the 40 sack/30 interception club) the big thing people keep talking about is the leadership and longevity of Ray Lewis.

But if we’re going to talk about leadership then we have to talk about the quiet, reserved leadership of a man who has won the Bart Starr Award and never had issues with the law.  A man who seems ageless and has set the single season tackles record for 2 different franchises; a man who has led his respective team in tackles for nine straight seasons;  and a man whose leadership propelled an ailing Redskins defense into the playoffs this season; and that man is London Fletcher.

If we’re going to praise the longevity of Ray Lewis at a physical position, then we should be reminded that London Fletcher has never missed a game playing in 240 games over 15 seasons.  His 195 consecutive starts are second most among active players behind Ronde Barber.

If we’re going to praise Ray Lewis for his longevity then maybe we should take the time to ask ourselves whether longevity should be judged by playing for a long time or the level you play at over that time?  The fact is that Ray Lewis’s legendary career peaked  in the middle of last decade while London Fletcher continues to play at a high level having led the league in tackles in 2011.  While Ray Lewis has 9 more Pro Bowl appearances than Fletcher, it is due to the folly of the voters; not to the fact that Ray Lewis was better than Fletcher for more seasons.

If we want to talk about true longevity then we need to remember that Ray Lewis has not topped 139 tackles in a season since 2004.   In that same span, Fletcher equaled or topped that mark 5 times.   Fletcher had more sacks in the month of December than Ray Lewis had all season.   London Fletcher’s interceptions (5) in 2012 were more than Ray Lewis has had in the last 4 years combined (3).   London Fletcher has 1 more forced fumble over the past four seasons (with 8) than Ray Lewis.  This is not to discount the career of Ray Lewis but in what is supposed to be the twilight of his career, London Fletcher is still playing at an incredibly high level and shouldn’t that be a true measure of a player’s longevity.

Today many are asking if Ray Lewis is the greatest middle linebacker of all time and those clouded with Baltimore or recency bias (or maybe a shred of both) are asking if Ray Lewis is the greatest defensive player of all time.    There’s no doubt he’s had a Hall of Fame career and while this is an acceptable conversation to have the better question is:

Was Ray Lewis the best linebacker/defensive player of his era?

Because while Lewis was dancing in front of the cameras in Baltimore, Fletcher was grinding away in St. Louis, Buffalo, and D.C. getting the same results.  While Ray Lewis was not much more than an emotional cheerleader the last two seasons, Fletcher was busy leading his team and the league in tackles.   While Ray Lewis dazzled the sports media and was voted into Pro Bowl after Pro Bowl, Fletcher put up the same (and better) seasons as Lewis and was ignored.

And while Ray Lewis will get a call from Canton within the first two years of eligibility; Fletcher will likely wait and wait on a call that may never come.   And it’s not because Ray Lewis was that much better but it’s because the story the sports media told us was a lie.

The media would’ve told us that Ray Lewis was the greatest defensive player ever when he wasn’t even the best active player at his position.

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Remembering the Soul of Baseball

Author’s Note: I encourage you to read Buck O’Neil’s autobiography “I Was Right on Time” or Joe Posnanski’s “The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip through Buck O’Neil’s America” to truly understand the greatness of John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil.

There once was a light that shined brightly in Kansas City but five years has passed since it last burned so bright.  For some Kansas City is jazz; for some it’s barbeque; to others it’s art; to many, it’s baseball.  But to John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil, Kansas City was home.  If jazz and baseball are the heart of Kansas City, Buck O’Neil was it’s soul.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of  Buck O’Neil.  He lived a good long life (died just a month before his 95th birthday) but I still feel he was taken from us way too soon.  Buck O’Neil was born in Carrabelle, Florida on November 13, 1911.  He was raised in Sarasota.  Times were tough for young Buck growing up but one thing he knew as a young boy was that he loved baseball.  He got the chance to grow up watching greats like Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Walter Johnson play the game he loved.   However Buck would tell you any day of the week that Negro Leaguers Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, and Satchel Paige were even better.  Many like to argue Ruth vs. Gibson or Paige vs. Johnson but O’Neil was one of the few in that debate who actually saw them play.  He was one of the few who had met and played against greats like these.

There is so much that I can say about Buck O’Neil and for the sake of brevity I do not even know where to begin.   This is a man who was a player and manager for the Kansas City Monarchs, one of the greatest baseball teams in the history of the game.   In the Negro Leagues he coached Jackie Robinson and Elston Howard.   He played on the same teams as Satchel Paige, “Cool Papa” Bell, and Oscar Charleston.  He was the first black coach in Major League history.  As a coach for the Chicago Cubs he discovered players like Ernie Banks, Lou Brock, Joe Carter, and Lee Smith.  He was one of the best scouts in the Major Leagues for a number of years.  He was even named the Midwestern Scout of the Year by the MLB while working for the Kansas City Royals in the late 1980’s.  In 2006 (about 4 months before his death), Buck O’Neil signed a one day contract with the Kansas City T-Bones and became the oldest man in the history of professional baseball to make a plate appearance.  He was walked safely to first.  He was a great player and an even greater coach.  But for most of his life, very few knew who he was.

It wasn’t until the 1990’s when Ken Burns made his famed documentary “Baseball” for PBS that many met Buck for the first time.  He was initially brought on to provide commentary for the episode “Shadowball” about the Negro Leagues but Ken Burns soon realized how great a treasure Buck really was and interviewed him for nearly all of his segments. Burns remarked that, “[Buck] is wise, funny, self-depreciating, and absolutely sure of what he wants from life. He is my hero, my friend, and my mentor. He is like Abraham Lincoln and Jackie Robinson, what human progress is all about.”   It’s fair to say that Buck stole the show and became a national phenomenon.  Buck always liked to joke that it was “nice to be discovered at 82”. He became an even greater ambassador for the game he loved and was the driving force behind the founding of the Negro League Baseball Museum in the 18th and Vine Jazz District in Kansas City.
He was the greatest ambassador that America’s greatest game has ever had and likely, will ever have.   Unfortunately for Buck, he was never really included in baseball.  The Cubs had a longstanding tradition of letting their bench coaches rotate in and out to serve as 1st base or 3rd base coach but the Cubs refused to ever let Buck step foot on that field.  Shortly before Buck died, the Baseball Hall of Fame held a special election for Negro League players.   Buck O’Neil had not wanted much from this life.  He was a simple guy with simple tastes but he wanted to be enshrined in Cooperstown.  Well the day came and went and 17 Negro Leaguers were inducted into the Hall of Fame but the MLB’s first black coach was denied entry.

The baseball community was outraged by the exclusion of Buck from the list of Hall of Famers.  New York Post columnist Mike Vaccaro wrote, “They left Buck O’Neil off the list… which makes the list a complete joke.” A Detroit News editorial read, “The committee should be ashamed of itself.”  Many Hall of Famers – Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, and Joe Morgan among them – were up in arms over Buck’s exclusion.  Hall of Famer Bob Feller remarked upon hearing the committee had excluded Buck, “What the hell do they know about baseball?”

For those at the museum with Buck that day it was obvious that O’Neil was saddened by the news that he did not get in but his only response was,  “Seventeen huh? That’s wonderful.”

Because that’s the kind of guy Buck was.  He loved everybody and he cared more about the game of baseball and more about his friends than he ever cared about himself.  And he considered every person he met a friend.  He always took time to sign autographs for kids (even when he was battling arthritis in old age he would sign hundreds of balls a day) and never passed up the chance to talk to a girl in a red dress (one of his many rules for living).  He never held any bitterness towards anyone in spite of the raw hand he was dealt.  When induction day came around that July, it was Buck O’Neil who stood up there and introduced each and every one of them.  He talked about honor and how he had never felt more loved in the days since the 17 were inducted.   He was a class act all the way and never blamed anyone.  He loved the game and was just thankful to be a part of it.

A year after his passing the Hall of Fame decided to institute the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award to be given no more than once every three years to someone who has served as a great ambassador of the game.  There was no talk of actually inducting Buck into the Hall at the time or since.  They even constructed a statue that they placed right outside of the gallery where they store the Hall of Fame plaques.  I guess it makes sense.  The story of his life was always being just outside of the Majors, just outside of managing, just outside of the Hall – why wouldn’t his legacy be any different?

I am amazed by Buck in his lack of bitterness.  Time and time again Buck would say in regards to his career, “Waste no tears for me.  I didn’t come along too early – I was right on time.” There once was a light that burned bright in Kansas City but it’s been five years since the light has left us.  Buck may have been born right on time but he was taken from us way too soon.  Kansas City and the game of baseball are just not the same without him.

Congratulations to Jim Thome on #600!

Questions? Comments? Snide Remarks? Let me hear ’em!

Waiting on that Gold Jacket

All 7 Members of this year's Pro Football Hall of Fame class are deserving but it still feels like somebody's missing.

Every year when a Hall of Fame class is named or inducted in any sport, just as much time is spent talking about those who did not get in as much as it is those who did.   The longer that a potential Hall of Famer is snubbed, the more the event becomes about them than those actually getting inducted.   Baseball’s Hall of Fame induction is never complete every year without some mention of Roger Maris not being enshrined in Cooperstown.  This weekend marks the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction in Canton.  Unlike most years, I can honestly look at this class top to bottom and say that every single person in this year’s class is deserving which is not always the case.   Marshall Faulk, Deion Sanders, Shannon Sharpe, Chris Hanburger, Les Richter, and Richard Dent all had Hall of Fame caliber careers.  My only real complaint about those who make up this year’s class is that Ed Sabol, the founder of NFL Films,  is being inducted.

My complaint is not that Sabol is finding a home in Canton, it’s that Ed Sabol should’ve been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame decades ago!  His ideas about preserving sporting events on film and using that as a marketing tool changed sports forever. It came as a shock to me that he was being inducted because, to be completely frank, I thought he had already been enshrined.

However, like anyone, I find it necessary at Hall of Fame induction time to talk about some of the people not in the Hall of Fame who deserve to be in the hope that if we talk about them enough, like the thirteen years of talk about Bert Blyleven prior to his induction in Baseball’s Hall of Fame this year, these great players will finally get the recognition they deserve.

So below I give you my top 11 Pro Football Hall of Fame Snubs.   Why 11?  Well first off, everyone does a top 10  and I have never been one to do something just because everyone else does (my mom would be proud  that her “If all your friends jumped off a cliff….” logic rubbed off on me).  Secondly, because while the common adage is “less is more”, as you can tell from my previous writings, I am  a proud member of the “more is more” camp.  Third of all, for a variety of reasons, 11 is my favorite number.  I started with a list of 25 guys and after much thought, was able to get it down to 11.  So without further ado from 11 to 1, my top 11 Pro Football Hall of Fame snubs.

11.  Steve Tasker, Wide Receiver/Special Teamer – Houston Oilers (1985 – 1986),  Buffalo Bills (1986 – 1997)

Buffalo Bills Head Coach Marv Levy once called Steve Tasker, “the most important man on the Bills roster.”  On a roster that included greats like Jim Kelly, Andre Reed, and Thurman Thomas that should mean something.   Many are going to be shocked that I have put a a Special Teamer on this list but in my mind, Steve Tasker is, without a doubt, the greatest special teams player of all time.    He had an ability to cover kicks/punts, block kicks/punts, and make plays on the Special Teams side of the ball.  He was so good at what he did, that while he was a capable receiver, Marv Levy rarely used him on offense because he didn’t want to risk injury to Tasker or do anything to that could prevent him from giving 100% to special teams.  Bill Parcells admitted that he had to game plan around Tasker.  There are many who believe that special teams players like coverage guys, kickers, and punters don’t deserve to be in the Hall of Fame but many coaches would tell you that “special teams is one-third of the game”.  My question is, if this is the case – why doesn’t Canton reflect that?

10.  Ray Guy, Punter – Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders (1973 – 1986)

Most would concur that Ray Guy is the best punter that the NFL has ever seen.   He is so good in fact that the collegiate award for the best punter is named after Ray Guy.   People usually don’t realize how important it is to have a good punter, until your team has an awful one.  Punters dictate field position throughout the course of a game.  In Guy’s 14 year career, he was named to six straight Pro Bowls, was an All Pro three times, and was named the punter on the 1970’s All-Decade Team and the NFL 75th anniversary team.  He is remembered as a key part of a Raiders team that won three Super Bowls.  He is remembered for being able to not only punt the ball far (average of 42.4 yards over career and had five punts over 60 yards in the 1981 season) but for having a high hang time.  His hang time on his punts was so high that the officials once tested a ball he had punted for helium.   He had 210 career punts inside the 20 yard line, never had a punt returned for a touchdown, and finished his career with a streak of 619 unblocked punts.

Like Steve Tasker and Gary Anderson (maybe the greatest kicker of all-time who just missed my list), Ray Guy is often overlooked because he was a specialist.  While many of his teammates would tell you that he won them games because of how he was able to control field position, many believe that special teamers don’t belong in Canton.   I find it hard to understand why the 29th best quarterback in NFL history is deserving of enshrinement but the best special teams player and punter in NFL history are not.  This exclusion is American professional sports’ version of the Caste System.

9.  Andre Reed, Wide Receiver – Buffalo Bills (1985 – 1999), Washington Redskins (2000)

Of my top five wide receivers of all time that are eligible for enshrinement, three of them still find themselves on the outside looking in.  Many make fun of the Bills inability to win a Super Bowl after winning four straight AFC Championships in the early 1990s but that does not detract from the fact that the Buffalo Bills were a great team.  As a Minnesota Vikings fan (the other 0 – 4 Super Bowl franchise) I have always sympathized with the Bills’ streak of bad luck.  Andre Reed was a big part of that success.   He finished his career with 951 career receptions (8th all time), 13, 198 receiving yards (9th all time), and 87 touchdown receptions (11th all time).   He is third all time in Super Bowl receiving yards and second all time in Super Bowl receptions.  To understand the difference maker that Reed was, you only need to watch the highlights of the Bills/Oilers 1993 playoff game comeback victory where Reed finished with 136 yards receiving and 3 touchdowns.  One thing that I always appreciated about Andre Reed was that he just went out and played ball.   Unlike many receivers today and of the 90s, he did not self promote, he just let his body of work on the field do the talking.

8.  Kenny Stabler, Quarterback – Oakland Raiders (1968 – 1979), Houston Oilers (1980 – 1981), New Orleans Saints (1982 – 1984)

Kenny “The Snake” Stabler found ways to win.  That more than anything sets him apart from many quarterbacks out there.  The ability that Stabler had to bring his team from the jaws of defeat to late comeback victories allowed him to lead the Oakland Raiders past the Minnesota Vikings to their first Super Bowl win (Super Bowl XI) in franchise history.  Hall of Famer Gene Upshaw remarked that, “When we were behind in the fourth quarter, with our backs to our end zone, no matter how he had played up to that point, we could look in his eyes and you knew, you knew, he was going to win it for us. That was an amazing feeling.”  I am continuously dumbfounded that Stabler has been overlooked for enshrinement.  He is the only member of the 1970’s All-Pro team not enshrined and he broke Johnny Unitas’s record for fastest quarterback to reach 100 wins (only Tom Brady and Joe Montana reached 100 wins fasters than Stabler).   He was the 1974 MVP, a 4 time Pro Bowler, and twice led the league in passing touchdowns.   Stabler is one of the all time great quarterbacks and is in my mind, the most worthy Hall of Fame eligible quarterback of enshrinement.

7.  Charles Haley, Defensive End/Linebacker – San Francisco 49ers (1986 – 1991, 1998 – 1999), Dallas Cowboys (1992 – 1996)

The main reason that Charles Haley is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame is because his off-field troubles have distracted from his on-field accomplishments – particularly a physical confrontation with Steve Young that led to Haley being traded to Dallas.   Charles Haley is the only player in NFL history to be a member of five Super Bowl winning teams (2 with the 49ers, 3 with the Cowboys).   Haley was a ferocious defensive player known for his hard work and unmatched ability to rush the pass.   Haley finished his NFL career with 100.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, and 9 fumble recoveries.  He was an All-Pro player twice and named to the NFC Pro-Bowl team five times.

6. Curtis Martin, Running Back – New England Patriots (1995 – 1997), New York Jets (1998 – 2006)

In his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility Curtis Martin was overlooked which I consider a shame.  He is one of the NFL’s all-time great running backs and perhaps, one of the game’s most underrated.  Martin is one of only two running backs all-time (Barry Sanders being the other) to start his career with 10 straight 1,000 yard seasons.   He is one of 16 players all-time to have scored 100 touchdowns (90 rushing, 10 receiving) and his 14, 101 yards rushing are 4th all-time.  Most impressive is that Martin sustained excellence over such a long period of time.  He fell short in his quest to become the first player in NFL history to have 11 straight 1,000 yard seasons when he missed 4 games of his 11th season to injury.  Regardless he still had 735 yards rushing that year.  In 2004, at age 31, Martin rushed for 1,697 yards and beat out Shaun Alexander by only 1 yard to become the oldest NFL rushing title winner ever.   Curtis Martin is a Hall of Fame running back that will one day will find himself in Canton but unfortunately for Martin and Jets fans everywhere, today is not that day.

5. Jim Marshall, Defensive End – Cleveland Browns (1960), Minnesota Vikings (1961 – 1979)

Jim Marshall is the true Iron Man of the NFL.  He finished his career with 282 consecutive games played and 270 consecutive starts.  Brett Favre broke both of these records as a member of Marshall’s old team,  Minnesota Vikings, but what player hasn’t had a record broken by Brett Favre?  Jim Marshall was a part of the famed “Purple People Eaters” defensive line (of which Alan Page and Carl Eller are both Hall of Famers)  and recovered 30 fumbles in his career, an NFL record.   The trade that brought him from Cleveland to Minnesota in the Vikings’ first year of existence is a big part of the reason the Vikings were able to rise so quickly into one of the NFL’s (and later NFC’s) top teams.  While many remember Jim Marshall most for his famous “Wrong Way Run” in which he recovered a fumble and ran 66 yards in the wrong direction for a touchdown (which resulted in a safety), he is one of the all-time great and resilient players and is deserving of a spot in Canton.

4. Tim Brown, Wide Receiver – Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders (1988 – 2003), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2004)

Tim Brown is the second wide receiver to make this list.  I really thought that we would see more wide receivers make the Hall of Fame now that Jerry Rice, the consensus best wide receiver of all time, is now enshrined but it seems that wide receivers that played during the Rice era can hardly catch a break.  Brown is one of the best wideouts to ever play the game.  As a collegiate player, he became the first wide receiver to ever win the Heisman trophy and as a pro he became one of the most prolific receivers of all time.   As a member of the Raiders, he owns the franchise records for games played, receptions, receiving yards, and punt return yards.   He was just as dangerous as return man as he was a receiver and holds the record for being the oldest man to ever return a punt for a touchdown.  He was the third receiver to ever have 1,000 receptions.  He is second all-time in receiving yards, has 19,683 all-purpose yards, and finished his career with 105 touchdowns (100 of which were receiving TDs) which had him tied for 3rd all time when he retired.  He accomplished all of these things in spite of the fact that for most of his career he played with mediocre quarterbacks.

3. Willie Roaf, Offensive Tackle – New Orleans Saints (1993 – 2001), Kansas City Chiefs (2002 – 2005)

While special teams players clearly have the hardest hill to climb to enter Pro Football’s Hall of Fame, offensive linemen are not far behind.   What makes it even more difficult is that there are no real stats (other than pancakes) to really measure how good an offensive lineman really is.   Roaf started out his career with the New Orleans Saints.  He quickly became one of the NFL’s premier linemen because of his combination of size, speed, and strength.   In nine years with the Saints, he was named to 7 Pro Bowls.  After suffering an injury, he was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs where he was a Pro Bowler all 4 of his years in Kansas City.   Roaf was a member of both the 1990’s and 2000’s NFL All-Decade teams.

2. Jerry Kramer, Guard – Green Bay Packers (1958 – 1968)

Jerry Kramer was a key part of the Packers dynasty of the 1960’s.  With Kramer at right guard, the Green Bay Packers won five NFL Championships and two Super Bowls.  Kramer is best remembered for his block that allowed Bart Starr to dive into the endzone and beat the Cowboys in the “Ice Bowl” but there was more to Kramer’s career than that one block.  His agility and strength made him the key component of Lombardi’s “Packer Sweep” that the Green Bay dynasty was built on.   Kramer is one of the all-time great guards.  He was an All-Pro five times and is the only member of the NFL’s 50th Anniversary team not in the Hall of Fame.

The difficulty with offensive linemen is without the stats it is hard to see on paper the caliber of a guard, tackle, or center.  However, all you need to do is watch old Packers highlights to realize that Jerry Kramer belongs in Canton.

1. Cris Carter, Wide Receiver – Philadelphia Eagles (1987 – 1989), Minnesota Vikings (1990 – 2001), Miami Dolphins (2002)

If you were to ask most people who the biggest Hall of Fame snub is they would either answer Jerry Kramer or Cris Carter.  Considering that one of these two is my favorite player of all time, it was pretty easy for me to choose a one and a two.  In the words of famed Eagles’ coach Buddy Ryan, “All he [Carter] does is catch touchdowns.”  Considered by many to have the best hands of any wide receiver ever, Carter is most likely the greatest possession receiver of all time.  He started his career with the Philadelphia Eagles but was cut after two seasons due to problems relating to drug and alcohol abuse.  The Minnesota Vikings decided to take a chance on a wide receiver that was trying to turn his life around, which has since become the team’s M.O. (Randy Moss and Percy Harvin), and that gamble paid dividends in his second season in purple.  Carter was an 8 time Pro-Bowler, 3 time All-Pro, and was the 2nd starting receiver on the 1990’s All-Decade Team behind Jerry Rice.  He was the 2nd receiver to ever pass the 1000 reception plateau and at the time of this retirement was 2nd all-time in receptions (1,101) and receiving touchdowns (130).   He finished his career with 13, 8999 receiving yards and holds the vast majority of the Vikings franchise records for wide receivers.

Questions? Comments? Snide Remarks? Let me hear ’em!