Thursday, March 6, 2008

Is he a Hall of Famer? NFL Edition

In late July and early August, football fans everywhere rejoice. Training camp is fully underway and the newest anchor on the NFL Network is probably already embarrassing himself. (See: Sanders, Deion).

At that same time Canton, Ohio plays host to the annual Hall of Fame game at Fawcett Field. But before the first snap of the first preseason game occurs, Canton hosts a tiny little event called NFL Hall of Fame weekend. That weekend celebrates the career of the newest class of players, coaches, etc to be inducted into the Hall of Fame with festivities that culminate with the players giving speeches to thousands of endearing fans.

NFL Hall of Fame weekend has produced its share of memorable moments. We got to see Dan Marino lick his fingers one more time completing a pass to Mark Clayton at the end of his speech and Michael Irvin break down crying in the middle of his speech (Of course, some people thing that he just had some bad coke and it was burning his sinuses. But I digress.)

In August 2008, Darrell Green and Art Monk will headline the newest HOF class as they become members of the exclusive football fraternity in Canton. But who of today's active players may one day find themselves at Hall of Fame Weekend in the near future?

Let's find out, as it's again time to play everyone's favorite little game (or not): "Is he a Hall of Famer?"

(*As always, to make the debate more interesting, I am omitting players that almost certainly will make the Hall of Fame barring something catastrophic happening to their career. Active players such as Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Tony Gonzalez, Marvin Harrison, Ray Lewis, and Brett Favre. Favre's still active right? ESPN hasn't told me otherwise.)

Today's NFL edition will be about three players: Torry Holt, Ty Law, and Warren Sapp.

Tory Holt
6'0", 190 lbs, Wide Receiver
College: North Carolina State
1st round draft pick (6th overall) of the 1999 draft (St. Louis Rams)

-Career Stats: 805 Receptions, 71 TDs, 11,864 Yards
-7 time Pro-Bowler
-2 time All-Pro
-Super Bowl Champion (XXXIV)
-19th on career receptions list (805)
-17th on career receiving yards list (11,864)
-1st on career receiving yards per game list (83.1)
-20th on career yards per reception list (14.7)
-Led the NFL with 117 receptions in 2003
-Only NFL player ever to record 1,300 receiving yards in six consecutive seasons
-Second fastest player ever to reach the 600-reception plateau (107 games)

Argument Against
Holt will drop some passes when he tries to run before he brings the ball in. He sometimes tries to make too much happen. His career numbers are solid but not overwhelming yet. For a guy who has the ability to catch the deep ball and tremendous acceleration and quickness, his 14.7 yards per catch average does not put him near the top with guys like Paul Warfield (20.1). 2 of his 7 Pro Bowls he did not originally make, he was added as an injury replacement.

Comparison to Current Hall of Famer
At this point in Holt's career, He compares favorably with former Green Bay and Buffalo WR James Lofton. Although, Lofton had better hands and a slightly taller frame at 6'3", both receivers possess speed to stretch the defense. Holt already has more catches than Lofton but Lofton has 3,000 more yards and 4 more yards per catch average (18.3 compared to 14.7). Both players are extremely durable as Holt has only missed 2 career games and Lofton played 16 seasons and was the first player to catch a touchdown pass in 3 different decades (Holt could match that as his first season was in 1999).

Final Verdict
Torry Holt has quietly established himself as one of the best wide receivers of this generation. Just exactly how quiet is evident in this question: Who has the most receiving yards since 2000? Not Marvin Harrison or Randy Moss or Terrell Owens. Torry Holt does. He also has a Super Bowl ring and owns two of the nine highest single-season receiving yardage totals since 1960 (1,696 in '03 and 1,635 in '00). He eventually will get in. As of right now, he is not a Hall of Famer, but he is only 31 with many more productive seasons in sight. If he reaches 15,000 yards, 100 touchdowns, and 1,000 receptions, he is definitely in. Barely not in yet, but will be.

Ty Law
5'11", 200 lbs, Cornerback
College: Michigan
1st round draft pick (23rd overall) in the 1995 draft (New England Patriots)

-5 time Pro-Bowler
-2 time All-Pro
-3 time Super Bowl Champion
-2nd among active players in interceptions with 52 (23rd on career list)
-28th on career interception return yards (791)
-7th on career interception returns for touchdowns list (7)
-6 career postseason interceptions
-Led NFL in interceptions in 2 different seasons (1998, 2005)

Argument Against
Law was never a dominant shut down cornerback as he always dared the opposing quarterback to throw his way. He only averaged 53 tackles a season and has only forced 6 career fumbles while only recovering 4. Never known for blitzing off the edge with only 5 career sacks. When passes defended became a stat in 2001, Law has only averaged 12 passes defended a season. He was never known for his excellent speed but he could turn and run with the best of them because of his solid hips and instinct. He is an excellent cover corner in man to man but only average in zone. He also at times displays a me first attitude.

Comparison to Current Hall of Famer
Law compares favorably with former Green Bay CB Herb Adderley. Both were the same size, have 3 championship rings, and played in 5 Pro Bowls. Law has 4 more career interceptions. Both have marvelous instincts needed to be dominant in the secondary to shut down opposing numbers 1 receivers.

Final Verdict
Law isn't an extremely hard hitter but he excelled in the physical bump and coverage. His physical play against some of the game's best receivers prompted the NFL to more strictly enforce the five-yard illegal contact rule on defensive backs after the 2003 season. He has always played well in the postseason (ask Peyton Manning) but his level of play has dropped severely since he left New England. He was a risky and aggressive player who benefited from baiting quarterbacks into making mistakes and compiling his interceptions total. Out, but not too far away.

Warren Sapp
6'2", 300 lbs, Defensive Tackle
College: Miami (FL)
1st round draft pick (12th overall) of the 1995 Draft (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

-7 time Pro-Bowler (1997-2003 consecutively)
-6 time All-Pro (1997-2002 consecutively)
-1999 Defensive Player of the Year
-Super Bowl Champion (XXXVII)
-5th on active career sacks list with 96.5, (28th overall)
-88th on career games started list (188)
-19 career forced fumbles

Argument Against
While Sapp's sack total is impressive, he never led the NFL in sacks in a single season. Sapp can be a negative influence (fined for referee confrontation in 2007) when things aren't going well. He can get heavy at times and lose some of his explosiveness. He was dominant for 7 years consecutively and that was it (except for 10 sacks in 2006 with Oakland). He took 3 of his 4 seasons off in Oakland while playing for a bad team but collecting $33 million (only averaged 32 tackles a season).

Comparison to Current Hall of Famer
Warren Sapp compares with former Minnesota DT Carl Eller. Both men were both extremely quick and mobile for their size. They both could stuff the run and were superb at rushing the passer. Sapp played in 1 more Pro-Bowl than Eller and both men won a Defensive Player of the Year Award. Eller was a taller pass rusher but Sapp had a stronger midsection that generated just as much force to the quarterback as Eller's taller frame did.

Final Verdict
Warren Sapp dominated his position for many years in a row. He and Derrick Brooks were the stalwarts among the very good Tampa Bay defensive units of the late 90's and early 2000's. He was a load to block, even for a double team. He collapsed offensive pockets and tossed blockers aside with relative ease. However, it seemed late in his career he took entire games off and was not anywhere close to being a dominant force. Sapp just retired this week. If he could have slimmed down and had a productive 2008 and/or 2009. He would almost definitely get in. But since he retired and left a sour taste in lots of fans and writers/reporters mouths, he may get passed up for Canton. Out, not that far away.

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