The Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony that’s being held in Canton on Saturday night is big for one reason: It means we can stop talking about the Hall of Fame Class of 2016 and start arguing about who’s going to get inducted next year.
So thank you to Brett Favre, Tony Dungy, Marvin Harrison, Orlando Pace, Kevin Greene, Ken Stabler, Dick Stanfel and Eddie DeBartolo, Jr. You guys were great, but now it’s time to look at the Class of 2017.
Unlike 2016 with Favre, there’s no surefire candidate who’s going to get inducted in his first year of eligibility next year. The man with the best shot is probably LaDainian Tomlinson, who took home the MVP award while playing for the Chargers in 2006.
Besides Tomlinson, there will be several other notable players who will be Hall of Fame-eligible for the first time in 2017. That list includes Brian Dawkins, Donovan McNabb, Chad Johnson, Jason Taylor and Hines Ward. Unfortunately for that non-Tomlinson group, I don’t see any of them getting a Hall of Fame call in 2017.
Anyway, sometime in September, the Hall of Fame Selection Committee will get a list of about 100 players who have been nominated for the Class of 2017.
At that point, the committee will be asked to whittle the list down to 15 finalists. There will also be two contributor finalists and one finalist from the seniors committee, which will bring the total of finalists next year to 18.
Selection rules stipulate that at least four people get inducted each year, with a maximum of eight.
To be inducted, a finalist needs to receive at least 80 percent support from the 46-person selection committee. The 2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame class will be announced in a Fox television special that’s tentatively set to air Feb. 4, 2017, the day before Super Bowl LI.
So who will be in Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2017?
Let’s find out.
Class of 2017 predictions
Note: This is only the prediction for modern-era players. The contributor finalists and seniors committee nominee will be announced later this month.
1. Kurt Warner, quarterback
- St. Louis Rams (1998-2003)
- New York Giants (2004)
- Arizona Cardinals (2005-09)
Warner will be hoping that the third time’s a charm in 2017. Although the two-time NFL MVP was named a Hall of Fame finalist during each of his first two years of eligibility, he didn’t make the cut either time.
To be fair, you can’t really blame the selection committee for passing on a guy who played for three teams and went 8-22 as a starter from 2002 to 2006. Not even JaMarcus Russell thinks those are good numbers.
On the other hand, Warner’s story is one of the most improbable tales in NFL history: He was a grocery store clerk before he went on to play arena football, which was followed by a stint in NFL Europe (Amsterdam).
After that, he finally latched on with the Rams and became the ringmaster for the ‘Greatest Show on Turf.’
In 1999, Warner led the Rams to a Super Bowl, which is even more impressive when you consider that the team went 4-12 in 1998.
Warner also made an improbable Super Bowl run with the Cardinals in 2008. Overall, Warner ended up playing in a total of three Super Bowls in his career, while earning two MVP awards (1999, 2001).
The good news for Warner is that every player who has ever won multiple MVPs has ended up being a Hall of Famer. That list includes Joe Montana, Steve Young, Brett Favre and Johnny Unitas. Warner is currently the only eligible quarterback with multiple MVPs who’s not in the Hall of Fame, something that should change in 2017.
2. Terrell Owens, wide receiver
- San Francisco 49ers (1996-2003)
- Philadelphia Eagles (2004-05)
- Dallas Cowboys (2006-08)
- Buffalo Bills (2009)
- Cincinnati Bengals (2010)
You better get your popcorn ready, Canton, because there’s a good chance Owens is headed your way in 2017. The outlandish wide receiver probably should’ve been inducted in 2016, but he wasn’t, as the committee has been dealing with a logjam at wide receiver for the better part of a decade.
That logjam has been cleared up over the past three years though, with Cris Carter, Andre Reed, Tim Brown and Marvin Harrison all getting in. That leaves Owens, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt and Hines Ward as the outsiders looking in, and there’s almost a 100 percent chance that at least one of them will be inducted in 2017.
If you only look at the numbers, and not Owens’ antics, then there’s no doubt that he should be inducted in 2017.
During his 15-year career, the six-time Pro Bowler racked up 1,078 catches for 15,934 yards and 153 touchdowns. In terms of NFL history, Owens is sixth all-time in receptions, third all-time in receiving yards and second all-time in touchdown catches. It’s hard to argue against those numbers.
Really, the only way Owens won’t be inducted in 2017 is if he does something crazy this year, like sign with an NFL team. Every offseason, Owens insists that he can still play in the NFL. If he does actually end up signing, that would push his eligibility back by five years.
3. LaDainian Tomlinson, running back
- San Diego Chargers (2001-09)
- New York Jets (2010-11)
The fact that Tomlinson becomes eligible in 2017 is probably bad news for Terrell Davis, who’s been a Hall of Fame finalist for that past two years.
In the history of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the selection committee has never inducted two running backs from the same era in the same year, and that’s unlikely to change in 2017. (The Hall did induct two running backs in both 1994 and 2010, but in each of those years, one of the backs was a senior committee nominee.)
If the committee has to pick between Davis and Tomlinson, the numbers will be screaming at them to take LT. For one, Tomlinson put together what might go down in NFL history as the greatest all-around season ever by a running back.
In 2006, Tomlinson won the league MVP award after scoring an NFL-record 31 touchdowns (28 rushing, 3 receiving). To put that into context, no player has scored over 23 touchdowns in a season since then, and no other player in NFL history has even scored 30 touchdowns in a season.
During Tomlinson’s record-breaking year, he led the NFL rushing with 1,815 yards, and tacked on 56 catches for 508 yards. Tomlinson’s ability to catch the ball out of the backfield was unrivaled. In 2003, the Chargers running back actually finished fourth in the NFL in receptions after hauling in 100 passes.
The running back rushed for over 1,200 yards in seven straight seasons, and was named first-team All-Pro three times. The biggest edge Davis has over Tomlinson is his Super Bowl MVP award and two Super Bowl rings. During his 11-year career, Tomlinson only played in two conference title games and never played in a Super Bowl.
On the other hand, Tomlinson definitely has the numbers. The running back finished his career with the second-most rushing touchdowns (145) and the fifth-most rushing yards (13,684) in NFL history. Davis’ Hall of Fame case is basically riding on four brilliant seasons.
4. Alan Faneca, offensive guard
- Pittsburgh Steelers (1998-2007)
- New York Jets (2008-09)
- Arizona Cardinals (2010)
Faneca might go down as one of the most dependable offensive linemen in NFL history. During his 13-year career, he only missed two games, which means he played in 206 out of 208 regular season games. Not only did Faneca manage to stay healthy while playing in the trenches, but he managed to dominate while he was doing it.
During his 10 years in Pittsburgh, Faneca was voted first-team All-Pro a total of six times. The LSU grad was also voted to nine Pro Bowls in his 13 seasons.
Faneca’s blocking was a big reason why another Steeler, Jerome Bettis, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015.
During his career, Faneca played in four conference title games (three with Pittsburgh and one with New York). The lineman also won a Super Bowl with the Steelers in 2005.
If Faneca’s going to get in to the Hall of Fame, this seems like the perfect year.
The HOF selection committee has been showing some serious love to offensive lineman lately, with six lineman getting voted in since 2012. That number jumps up to eight if you also include the senior committee nominees in that time span. The committee’s love for lineman is good news for Faneca, because he’s really the only Hall-worthy lineman who will be up for induction in 2017.
The 1998 first-round pick was a finalist for the Hall in 2016, but didn’t get in during his first year of eligibility.
5. Morten Andersen, kicker
- New Orleans Saints (1982-94)
- Atlanta Falcons (1995-2000, 2005-06)
- New York Giants (2001)
- Kansas City Chiefs (2002-03)
- Minnesota Vikings (2004)
The fifth spot in the Class of 2017 feels like a wild-card spot that could potentially go to anyone. If the committee wants to include a coach, they could select Jimmy Johnson or Don Coryell. If the committee wants to select someone who’s been waiting for awhile, they could select John Lynch. If they want to select two running backs, it’s possible that Terrell Davis finally gets the call.
That being said, I think the committee is going to go completely crazy and take a kicker.
During an interview with CBS Sports at Super Bowl 50, Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri pleaded with the Hall to add more kickers.
“I think we’re underrepresented, punters and kickers and specialists,” Vinatieri told us in February. “I would like to see at least a handful of those guys in there.”
As of right now, there are only two true specialists in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: punter Ray Guy and kicker Jan Stenerud.
That number could go up in 2017 if the committee decides to induct Andersen, who is the NFL’s all-time leading scorer (2,544 points). If Vinatieri doesn’t pass him in the points category by the end of his career, Andersen will likely be the league’s scoring leader for the rest of time.
Besides Vinatieri, the only active player on the NFL’s all-time list of top scorers is Sebastian Janikowski (1,675), who’s nearly 900 points behind Andersen.
Andersen played for 25 years and finished in the top 10 of field goal percentage 12 times. To put that in perspective, Vinatieri’s only finished in the top 10 a total of seven times during his 20-year career.
Andersen has played in more games than any other player in NFL history and ranks No. 1 all-time in field goals made.
Just missed in 2017: Jimmy Johnson, Don Coryell, Terrell Davis, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, John Lynch, Hines Ward, Jason Taylor.