Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Big Challenges Ahead for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee

By John Turney
This week the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced they are going to expand the Class of 2020 to uo to twenty players. The breakdown, as announced, is as follows:  Five modern-era candidates, ten senior candidates, three contributors, and two coaches.

The five modern candidates will be business as usual. There will be a final fifteen and up to five will be part of the 2020 class.

The senior committee usually picks one or two (depending on the year) candidates. For the NFL's 100th Anniversary there will be ten selected.

The contributor committee was slated to pick one this year will get to choose three. And There will be a set aside for coaches, totaling two.

Starting with the coaches we would say, of course, things can change but in recent years Tom Flores and Don Coryell have come closest to making the Hall but have been aced out by players. Jimmy Johnson has gotten some traction, too.

Other two-ring coaches Mike Shanahan and George Seifert have gotten nowhere. Seifert's second act with the Panthers was not pretty and he shares that trait with Flores who was not good in Seattle after his success with the Raiders.

Our guess is that Flores and Coryell will be the two and both are deserving but even though their fans won't admit it, neither were shoo-in, first ballot types. They may simply be the best of those waiting. It is our view their positives outweigh the negatives, but that both had to wait, it's sad, but if the Hall of Fame is to have high standards then the committee, as a whole, has every duty to examine the great things a player or coach did and also look at any possible warts. Every great player has them, and it's best to just be honest about them and discuss them.

As for contributors, we'd guess George Young will be one. The other two? Art McNally name seems to come up in Google searches. We'd chose Steve Sabol as one. An interesting candidate we'd support would be Elias Sports Bureau's Seymour Siwoff. He's the father of all metrics. His company, Elias, is the foundation of anything you see as it concerns statistics. If you are coming up with your own formulas based on statistics you find on the Internet, thank Seymour. He was the beginning of the standardization and the expansion of "the numbers". We've nominated him but he gets no traction. 

The ten seniors are where the committee will struggle the most. Though it sounds like a lot of nominees (ten) it's not. You could fill up have the slots with wide receivers. Or offensive linemen.

We hope they will use some of the slots for pre-WWII players. Our favorites are Al Wistert, Ox Emerson, Lavvie Dilweg, Duke Slater, and Verne Lewellen. And we could easily name five more from that era. We are content to let the collective wisdom of the committee sort that out.

If there are 4-6 more modern players, call it 1950s-1980s, there are plenty of contenders there. For some reason, fans care more about the skill positions than other spots. We could think of ten linemen and linebackers that are Hall-worthy that exceed the careers of all the possible skill players. But the committee always seems to balance it out and the linemen and linebackers (non-edge rusher 'backers) get shorted. It's just the nature of the beast.

The names we hear most often for Hall of Fame at the receiver position (speaking of skill positions) are Drew Pearson, Otis Taylor, Cliff Branch. We will look at them now, along with Harold Jackson and Del Shofner—some of the overlooked from the 1960s,70s, and 80s.

We put Lynn Swann's numbers first because any time and by that we mean EVERY time someone touts their favorite wide receiver who is getting "snubbed" they scream "LOOK AT SWANN'S NUMBERS COMPARED TO MY GUY".

It gets old. But it's a reality. We sho their catches per sixteen games and per 16 games in seasons they were a starter.
Swann has four rings, three as a starter, one as a backup and solid punt returner (1974). From 1979-81 he was hampered by various injuries. But according to one pro scouting service he was still a top player in 1979 and 1980 which is the equivalent of being All-Pro or at least Pro Bowl level. His skill set was as good, according to their "looks" as he was from in 1975, 77-78 when he was also blue.

Note" PSI began scoring in 1976 and rated top players in 1975 though the company was not yet formulated.

Those five "blue" seasons are part of what Swann's advocates spoke about when they were pushing for Swann's election in the 1990s. Paul Zimmerman was the leader in that push, always saying "Quality over quantity".

So, some may disagree with Swann being in but they sure use his relative lack of stats to propel "their guys".

Branch has three rings. He was All-Pro four times and went to four Pro Bowls. After that, he was more of a very solid contributor than the superstar he was from 1974-76.

Branch, like Swann, scored blue on PSI scale in 1975-77 (no score from 1974 but likely "blue" that year) and also 1979 and 1980. He was "red" or "low-red" in 1982 and 1983 as well.  "Red" is the next highest grade, not quite All-Pro but a player you can win with.  In 1978, 81, 84 he didn't fare as well.

Pearson has one ring and was All-Decade. From 1074-77 he got postseason honors every year including three All-Pro seasons. In 1979 he was Pro Bowl worthy but was just an alternate that year. The numbers show it was a solid year.

Turning to the scouting grades of PSI Pearson was looked on favorably. PSI didn't have a grade for 1974 and in 1975 he was high but that was the year before PSI began in earnest. He was blue in 1976, red in 1977. He was then blue in 1978, red in 1979, blue in 1980. From 1981-83 he was solid but not spectacular but rating higher than Cliff Branch every season.

Taylor has one ring. Looks wonderful on film. We'd say he got postseason honors in all of his good years—1966, 1967, 1971, 1971.

All of Taylor's career was pre-PSI but four seasons sure look good. The rest seem average. On film, he looks great. We at PFJ have been able to see a lot of AFL games and Taylor is certainly wide receiver eye candy. But so was Lionel Taylor and Charley Hennigan.

A while back I though Lionel Taylor may not be too fast because he had a low yards per catch average. I was looking just at stats. And he was in photos he had a slightly stocky build (for a wide receiver). But seeing him on film he had good speed and great moves and excellent hands. Much more athletic than I thought. Hennigan was speed. He ran very, very well. A poor man's Del Shofner in a way.

So, the question is if Otis Taylor becomes the 10th Chief (including owner and coach) to make the Hall of Fame. This is a team that dominated the AFL, but all told, won but one world title. They are not the 1960s Packers or 1970s Steelers or 1980s 49ers or even 1990s Cowboys or the 2000-2018 Patriots. Will his "scouting report accolades" surpass his production. Will the "he was the prototype big WR, the kind of guy that teams look for now" type of declarations carry enough weight to dispell the four great years and maybe six-seven so-so years? Unknown.

However, we see his name a lot on chat boards, Facebook and Twitter so he has some momentum. How much of that support is pro-Chief partisanship is hard to tell.

From 1969-81 Jackson led the NFL in receptions, yards, touchdowns and was fifth in yards per catch. That also includes 1970-79. Yet, he got no traction for All-Decade. If you like numbers, he's one of the kings of the NFL's dead-ball era (roughly 1970-77).

Jackson was not highly rated by PSI in 1976 or 1980 but he was 'blue' in 1977, 1978 and red 1979. We think 1969, 1972 and 1973 would have likely been blue.

Shofner's numbers in seasons he was a starter (1958, 59, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65) are amazing. In 1960 the Rams, for some reason thought he should play defensive back. He was a starting defensive back in 1957 as well, and he was a good one according to T.J. Troup's film study. In 1966 and 1967 he was hurt most of the time.

He was also All-Decade for the 1960s and a five-time consensus All-Pro.

All of his years were pre-PSI. However, T.J. Troup's observations of Shofner show that while Bob Hayes got credit for changing the game it should have been Shofner who got that distinction as it relates to how zone defenses were used.

Troup will explain that zone defenses existed in the 1950s and usually, they would roll the zone to the strong side of the formation. But, when there was a speed demon on the split end side (away from the tight end) teams would roll the coverage to the weak side to give that weak cornerback some deep help. It happened with players like Harlon Hill, according to Troup but not in tremendous numbers. It was with Shofner and his terrific speed that teams began to do that with regularity.

It's true teams did it with Bob Hayes and did it a lot, but they did it with Shofner before Hayes was in the NFL. Hayes was faster than Shofner (and everyone else) but Shofner was extremely fast as well.

Will he ever be recognized for it? Unknown.
Speedie was dominant in the AAFC and did very well in NFL and then was a CFL All-Star after bolting to the CFL. He's had chances before and the writers of the 1960s and 1970s didn't reward him like they did Dante Lavelli the Browns other fine end. Speedie's name gets mentioned by some members of the Pro Football Researchers Association and some HOF voters. 

One has to ask if his numbers plus his five rings are enough to justify another Brown of that era. They have good representation as it is. That could factor in to some degree.

In upcoming weeks we will look at other positions. We do this to show how hard it is to separate great players. Who is the most worthy of these wide receivers? Hard to say. If you had to choose one, and only one who would it be?

And if you had to exclude the receiver who may have played for your favorite team who then would you select?


  1. Showing a players catches per 16 games is great, but you have to remember that in the era of the 60's and 70's, and into the 80's, teams were not throwing the ball 40 times a game. Most good teams threw 20-25 times a game. To give the HOF voters a better idea of what the numbers might have looked like for players like a Harold Jackson lets say, Find out what percentage of his teams passes he caught. Then figure out how many passes that team would have completed had they thrown as much as they do today. Then figure out how many catches Jackson might have had using the same percentage of catches from the original stats. Just an example of what I'm saying. Harold Jackson in his first season with the Rams in 1973 caught 40 passes for 874 yards (21.9 Y/C) and 13 TD's. The Rams as a team threw 271 passes, completing 144 for 2107 yards and 22 TD's. Jackson caught 27.78% of the teams completions for 41.48% of the teams yardage and 59.09% of the teams TD passes. In 2018, the NFL average for pass attempts by a team was 552.2 with 358.2 of those completed. If you use those numbers and exstrapilate Jackson's percentages thus, he could have posted numbers of 99.5 Receptions for 2179 yards and 26 TD's. Theoretically!

  2. Very aware of what teams were doing in the 60s and 70s and 80s. That is why we call 1970-77 the "dead ball era" and most of the players in this post had parts of their career in that era.

  3. Another great article that gets to the Nitty Gritty...

    First off, let's hope Buddy Parker can get traction as a Head Coach. When you're involved with three championship teams, though he left Detroit in 57, and beat Paul Brown's teams in consecutive years, that's a good case. Parker and Layne couldn't get it done in Pittsburgh, but winning there was hard for anyone.

    Coryell gets consideration because he has been a HOF finalist five times, while Shaughnessy has three finalist tallies himself.

    I like Flores to, because he was part of all three world champion Raiders teams and was their AFL QB as well, and that history should count for something.

    As for receivers, Shofners speed was before Hayes, but Branch's speed helped the Raiders become a great 70s team, that won in the 80s as well.

    Pearson was a great possession receiver, who was great in postseason, but his big knock was not catching enough TD passes. Being All Decade will certainly help.

    Despite being considered a militant player, I hope Bernie Parrish gets considered as a contributor, not only as a Player Advocate, who fought to help players get better treatment and compensation from greedy owners, but because he was an excellent player who could have played longer, had he not been blackballed by owner Art Modell. Whether people like him or not, he is one of the few dissenters, who actually made a difference for future generations of players.

  4. I see Pearson, Jackson, Branch and Shofner all as deserving HOFers. Buddy Parker also belongs, not only for his Detroit years but also the fine job he did with the Steelers.

  5. In defence of Otis Taylor, his so-so years, had alot to do with Dawson's aging body. Dawson never had a gun like Namath or Lamonica anyway. Similar to Carrol Dale with an aging Bart Starr.
    Though he wasn't the graceful athlete that Warfield was, Taylor was a great weapon on running first team, who could make one handed catches. He deserves to be in the Hall.

    1. Well, it's not a HOF for pro personnel finds, it's for the best players. I bet lots of receivers would love to have had Dawson and Stram's offense. Also, he had Dawson in his prime from 1968-70 and Dawson did lead in passing in 1974.

      Have to disagree, Taylor a HOF-athlete with non-HOF production.

    2. I don't think you have a good idea of Stram's offense. The Chiefs were last in passing attempts in the AFL in 65, 66, and 68 and were 7th of 9 in 67 and 8th of 10 in 69. Post merger, in 70 they were last of 26 in the NFL. In 71, they were 18th of 26 in attempts. From 72 to 74, they were 6th, 17th, and 6th in attempts -- but all because they went heavily to a short passing game in which the RBs got the majority of receptions.

      No idea what you are talking about regarding Dawson. His last really good year was 68. He was injured and out half of 69 (the Super Bowl IV year) and pretty mediocre in 70. He rebounded for a Pro Bowl year in 71, but was largely done after that. From 73-75, he started less than half the team's games. He led nothing in 1974.

  6. The right comparison for Otis Taylor is Bob Hayes. Both played from 1965-75. Hayes is in the HOF with 371 catches for 7414 yards and 71 TDs. He went to two SBs, winning one, but was a non-factor in both. Taylor had 410 catches for 7306 yards and 57 TDs. He went to two SBs, winning one, and was a key contributor to both, including the iconic TD reception that is oddly overshadowed in the video highlights only by Hank Stram being mic'd for his "65 Toss Power Trap" and "matriculate the ball down the field, boys" quotes. Both Hayes and Taylor played in run first offenses -- indeed, over their careers 60%+ run offenses. Hayes was All-Pro twice and played in 3 Pro Bowls. Taylor was All-Pro twice and played in 3 Pro Bowls (but his selections were both pre and post merger). Both were game changers -- Hayes by his uncoverable speed and Taylor by his uncoverable size.

    In my view, the WRs of the 60s have been underrepresented based on the inflation of receiving stats that started in the 70s and just continued thereafter. Of WRs who played at least half of their careers in 60s, only Alworth, Maynard and Hayes are in. Otis Taylor, Lionel Taylor, Art Powell, and Jimmy Orr should be given some meaningful consideration. I think Otis Taylor is most deserving personally, but arguments can be made for each of the others.

    I also note that George Sauer was arguably a better receiver than Don Maynard. Sauer went to the AFL Pro Bowl four straight years from 66-69, was AFL All Pro in 67 and 68, and had 8 recs for 133 in SBIII. Maynard went to the AFL Pro Bowl four years (65, 67-69), was AFL All_Pro just once in 69, and was shut out in SB III. Maynard had incredible longevity which left him the career leader in yards and receptions at his retirement -- but was not as dominant player as others in his era. Sauer would have had a real shot had he not retired at age 27.

  7. Looking at Shofners numbers, they are spectacular. Given that 1957 and 1960 be played DB, he easily could have been all pro and all conference from 1958 thru 1963. Six consecutive years of A/P and A/C? Not many have accomplished that in a specialty position. These were the days when receivers were "mugged" constantly. Del was still able to grab 4+ balls a game, and averaging 100 ypg in doing so. We can't forget these dominant receivers of the 60s!