Which Patriots should expect a call from the Hall?
|08.03.13 at 11:10 pm ET|
The Pro Football Hall of Fame inducted the class of 2013 on Saturday night, with Bill Parcells, Larry Allen, Cris Carter, Jonathan Ogden, Dave Robinson, Warren Sapp and Curley Culp honored in Canton. The most recent round of inductions got us wondering: What members of the Patriots over the last decade-plus could eventually end up being fitted for a yellow jacket? Here are 13 possibilities, with their Patriots careers in parentheses.
Bill Belichick (head coach, 2000-present): Regardless of how his career ends, whenever Belichick decides to retire the hoodie, five rings (three as head coach, two as a coordinator) are certainly enough to land a spot.
Tom Brady (2000-present): At the age of 36, with three Super Bowl titles and two MVPs, Brady is already a no-brainer. Can’t imagine that there would be much debate over his candidacy.
Wes Welker (2007-2012): We wrote this column at the end of the 2012 season, and stand by it: Welker needs another 100 catches and another 1,000 receiving yards, and if he gets it, he’ll be at the center of a great debate when he does decide to hang them up. That would give him almost 900 career receptions and close to 10,000 career receiving yards, which would put him in the heart of a discussion that once included Carter (1,101 catches, 13,899 receiving yards and 130 touchdowns, inducted this year) and now will focus on Andre Reed (951 catches and 13,198 receiving yards and 87 touchdowns, not in) and Tim Brown (1,094 catches, 14,934 yards and 100 touchdowns, not in). One thing that would help his candidacy would be at least one ring.
Randy Moss (2007-2010): Moss drew some flak this past January when he said he was the “greatest receiver ever to play,” But he’s not too far off. Moss’s 156 receiving touchdowns are second only to Rice’s 197, and his 15,292 yards are third behind Rice’s 22,895 and Terrell Owens’ 15,934. (For what it’s worth, if Moss could have hitched his wagon to Brady for more than three-plus seasons, he might have been able to catch Rice.) Like many of the guys on this list, his candidacy would be considered truly ironclad if he came away with a ring, and I’m not sure if that’s possible at this stage of his career. But his stats should be more than enough to get him to the Hall. That induction speech will be an all timer.
Adam Vinatieri (1996-2005): Vinatieri should be the fourth kicker to make the Hall, joining George Blanda (who also played quarterback), Lou Groza and Jan Stenerud. Vinatieri made his bones as the best big game kicker of his generation, coming through in the 2001 and 2003 postseason. The first kicker ever to win four Super Bowl rings, he’s a two-time All-Pro. Belichick said there’s no reason why Vinatieri shouldn’t make it, saying in 2012; “He’s certainly one of the greatest kickers I’ve ever seen since I’ve been in the league – the longevity, the production, the performance in championships and big games,” said the New England coach. “What more could he do? Go out there and play wide receiver and catch a bunch of passes? Is that what he needs to do? I don’t know. What more could he do?”
Corey Dillon (2004-2006): Dillon probably doesn’t have a chance — he isn’t much of a self-promoter, and has pretty much dropped off the radar screen since he retired other than the occasional arrest. But he’s 17th overall among NFL career rushing leaders with 11,241 yards (more than O.J. Simpson, Eddie George, Herschel Walker and Roger Craig), and the guy one spot ahead of him on the list (John Riggins, who finished with 11,352 yards) was inducted in 1992. In hindsight, he may have needed one more 1,000-yard season to really inject himself into the discussion, as the only guys who have surpassed 12,000 career rushing yards and aren’t in the Hall are LaDainian Tomlinson, Jerome Bettis and Edgerrin James.
Vince Wilfork (2004-present): We’ve discussed Wilfork’s potential candidacy on a few occasions, and his resume should at least merit some discussion, regardless of how his final years in the NFL end up. A perennial All Pro who has anchored the New England defense for almost a decade, Wilfork’s hopes for Canton would certainly be helped by two things: one, if he’s able to win at least one more ring before he retires. And two, Hall voters need to change their thinking when it comes to space-eating defensive tackles. When it comes to DTs, voters reward sacks (like Sapp), but don’t necessarily give guys like Wilfork their due. As it stands right now, he’s considered one of the best of his generation, but he’ll need an advocate in the room (not unlike how Ron Borges worked on behalf of Andre Tippett) if he wants to be fitted for a yellow jacket in the future.
Rob Gronkowski (2010-present): Gronkowski is three years into his career, and has averaged 62 catches, 888 yards and 13 touchdowns a season. If he can continue that pace over the course of a 10-year career, that would give him 620 catches, 8,880 yards and 130 touchdowns, numbers which would certainly put him in the discussion. (By way of comparison, Hall of Famers Shannon Sharpe finished his career with 815 receptions, 10,060 yards and 62 touchdowns, while Kellen Winslow had 541 catches, 6,741 yards and 45 touchdowns.) The biggest question at this point would be longevity and health — if he can stay consistent and string together more seasons like his ridiculous 90-catch season in 2011, he could create an interesting debate when he retires.
Logan Mankins (2005-present): Mankins has established himself as one of the best offensive linemen in the league since he was drafted out of Fresno State in 2005, and would certainly has the chops to be considered if his career ended tomorrow. One of the things that certainly works in his favor is that the Hall is starting to recognize truly great veteran offensive linemen (Allen and Ogden were inducted this year), and if Mankins is able to put together another five great seasons where he stays healthy and helps the Patriots play deep into January, he would almost certainly be part of a Hall debate when he decides to retire.
Jerod Mayo (2008-present): The linebacker has carved out an impressive career since being drafted in the first round out of Tennessee in 2008, and right now, he’s second only to Wilfork in terms of his importance to the New England defense. While he’s a tackling machine with an impressive resume, he would have to take his game to the next level over the second half of his career if he wanted a real shot at the Hall of Fame. However, while he might fall short of a spot in Canton, he certainly appears to be putting together the type of career that will see him earn his own red jacket as a spot of the Patriots Hall of Fame.
Tedy Bruschi (1996-2008): Bruschi was emblematic of the Patriots’ successes for more than a decade — and was rewarded as a no-doubt first-ballot selection in the Patriots Hall of Fame this year. But when you stack his career against some of the games great linebackers, it appears he doesn’t quite have the sort of resume that will get him to Canton.
Rodney Harrison (2003-2008): Harrison didn’t have the best rep — and the Hall of Fame is notoriously stingy when it comes to rewarding safety play — so at first glance, it looks like Harrison could have an uphill climb. (That doesn’t even begin to figure in the possible fallout from a suspension for HGH use.) But at the same time, Harrison was also the most intimidating defensive back in the game for almost a decade. He was a two-time Super Bowl winner who was the only safety to record at least 30 sacks and 30 interceptions, and is only one of 12 players in league history to finish with 20 sacks and 20 picks in his career. Those numbers are enough to generate a good debate.
Ty Law (1995-2004): We didn’t have him on the original list, and that was an oversight. (Thanks to @MadAL78 for the alert.) One of the best cornerbacks of his day, Law was instrumental in the successes of the Patriots for almost a decade. A two-time All-Pro who was one of the most important parts of the New England defense, he had a knack for big plays in big games (just ask Kurt Warner and Peyton Manning). There aren’t a lot of pure corners from the modern era in the Hall of Fame, but his 53 career picks are tied for 24th all-time with Deion Sanders. He’ll likely be part of a discussion regarding a whole host of great modern-era corners/defensive backs like Champ Bailey and Charles Woodson.
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