Friday, August 6, 2010

Canton-Bound: A Look at this Year's Hall of Fame Class

In the beginning of August each year the NFL opens the doors to welcome in a few new members of the league's Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. This year's very deep class includes the greatest receiver to ever put on an NFL uniform, and the league's all-time NFL rusher.

We've been waiting for this for five years and it has finally come, Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith will both be joining fellow legends in the Hall.

Others being inducted are cornerback Dick Lebeau, running back Floyd Little, guard Russ Grimm, linebacker Rickey Jackson and defensive tackle John Randle.

Here's a closer look at each inductee's career:

Jerry Rice; San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks WR

Rice is basically football's Michael Jordan. He caught practically every single ball thrown his way and did it with class. Having two Hall of Fame quarterbacks (Montana and Young, obviously) throwing him the ball may have given him a slight edge over other receivers, but I certainly think that Jerry's graceful, acrobatic catches made their jobs a whole lot easier.
Rice's career numbers blow his competition out of the water. Jerry finished his 21st and final season with 1,549 receptions, 22,895 yards and 197 receiving touchdowns. All of which are still league records. His 13 Pro Bowls, 10 All Pro selections and 14 1,000 yard seasons are astonishing, not to mention his speed and outlandish athletic ability.

Rice even managed to put up 1,000 yards on 92 catches at age 40, in '02 with Oakland.

Emmitt Smith; Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals RB

Much like Rice, Smith dominated his position for years. After being told he was too small to make it in the league, Smith went out in his rookie season in 1990 and ran for 937 yards and 11 touchdowns. For the next 11 years after that he ran for over 1,000 yards before finishing his last three seasons on limited carries with Dallas and Arizona.

Smith broke the career rushing yards record, held by Chicago great Walter "Sweetness Payton, and ended his 15-year career with 18,355 yards, 164 touchdowns and 8 Pro Bowl appearances. He was part of one of the greatest trios in history alongside Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman and receiver Michael Irvin.
Dick LeBeau; Detroit Lions CB

Probably known better for his blitzing schemes as the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator (2004-present), LeBeau made a name for himself in the defensive backfield as well.

The three-time Pro Bowler played all 14 of his seasons in Detroit. And in 185 games played he intercepted 62 passes, good enough for a tie with Dave Brown for eighth all time.

Floyd Little; Denver Broncos RB

Little's numbers may not look all that impressive in comparison to today's Hall of Famers, but his 6,323 rushing yards was good enough for seventh all time when he retired from the league after nine seasons in 1975.

Little only had one season of 1,000-plus yards ('71) and one season with double digit touchdowns ('73), but was named to five Pro Bowls. The little man (5'10," 195 pounds) was drafted No. 6 overall in the 1967 draft and is currently in Denver's Ring of Fame.

John Randle; Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks DT

Randle dominated opposing offensive lines for years, attending seven Pro Bowls and being named to six All Pro teams in the process. Randle, along with Bruce Smith, was one of the best pass rushers of the decade in the 1990s.

Randle's 137.5 career sacks is tied (with Richard Dent) for sixth-most in history, and the most among all defensive tackles. In nine of his 14 seasons Randle recorded 10 or more sacks, plus three more seasons with seven or more.

Randle wasn't exactly the biggest defensive tackle out there (6'1" 290 pounds), but he could beat guys with his speed and athleticism, not to mention he was a great trash talker and could get inside opposing players' heads with ease, and entertain us fans at the same time.
Russ Grimm; Washington Redskins G

In my opinion, it's much tougher judging offensive linemen when it comes to the Hall of Fame. I mean, there really isn't many stats to go by when comparing these large men, who have one of the toughest and most important job on the field: protecting the quarterback.

What I tend to look for in offensive linemen is consistency, which Grimm had early on in his 11-year career. He was also named to four Pro Bowls and three All Pro teams while in Washington, his only NFL team.

Grimm was named to the 1970s all-decade team. But, to tell you the truth, I think it's his three Super Bowl rings (four counting the one he won as a coach for the Steelers in '05) that has finally pushed Grimm over the top and in to the Hall.
Rickey Jackson; New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers LB

Jackson, most likely because of the fact that he spent 13 of his 15 NFL seasons with the lowly "Aints," was one of the most underrated linebackers of his era.

The six-time Pro Bowler recorded 128 sacks, which puts him 10th on the all-time list, and made 1,173 tackles. Jackson was surely a sideline-to-sideline playmaker, recording 100-plus tackles five times and forcing 40 fumbles in 227 games.

Possible inductees for 2011 HOF class (first-year eligibles):

Jerome Bettis
Curtis Martin
Marshall Faulk
Deion Sanders

You can watch the induction on Saturday at 7 P.M. on ESPN and NFL Network...the Hall of Fame game between the Bengals and Cowboys is the following evening (kicks off pre-season).

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