Saturday, December 30, 2023

Andre Johnson—The Next WR to Make the HOF?

By John Turney 
When the Pro Football Hall of Fame announces its 15 finalists for the modern-era Class of 2024 on Wednesday, it's all but certain that former wide receiver Andre Johnson will be among them. In fact, it would be stunning if he wasn't.  

After all, he was a finalist in each of his first two years of eligibility and advanced to the final 10 each time before he was eliminated. So, he'll be back in the running and, in all probability, back in the Top Ten. 

Only one question: Is this his turn to earn a Gold Jacket?

The third overall pick of the 2003 draft, the former Houston Texans' star is the greatest offensive player in the history of the franchise, ranking 11th all-time in receptions with 1,062 and in receiving yards with 14,185. A three-time All-Pro selection (twice consensus) and seven-time Pro Bowler (2005, 2007, 2009-14), he led the NFL twice in catches (2006 and 2008) and twice in receiving yards (2008 with 1,575 and in 2009 with 1,569).

So, he's qualified. But so are Reggie Wayne and Torry Holt, also wide receivers ... also 2023 finalists ... and also Top Ten finishers. They're part of a Hall-of-Fame logjam at the position that's expected to be broken when the Hall's board of selectors meets next month, with one or more of the three elected.

The question, then, is simple: Will Johnson be one of them?

Holt and Wayne have been finalists the past four years. Johnson has been a finalist for two. Each has gaudy credentials, and each should eventually make it to Canton. But who goes first? Johnson would seem to have the edge for several reasons:

-- First of all, he was physically different from the other two. All-Pro edge rusher Terrell Suggs called him "a freak," adding that Johnson was "a physical mismatch to all the corners in the NFL ... six-four, 230 pounds of pure muscle." Former linebacker Channing Crowder agreed, calling him a "man amongst boys," and the numbers proved it. Though not paired with elite quarterbacks, he still managed to produce seven seasons with 1,142 or more yards receiving and five with 103 or more catches.

"You will have good coverage, (and) you'll have a guy in position," said former coach Jack Del Rio, "and he'd be a little stronger than the guy ... a little faster than the guy ... and make a play."

-- He was extraordinarily fast for his size. At the 2003 NFL scouting combine, he ran a 4.4 40, putting him in the 99th percentile of all players his size ever tested. By comparison, Hall-of-Fame receiver and fellow freak Randy Moss ran a 4.38 at 194 pounds on his pro day, while Calvin "Megatron' Johnson -- also part of the All-Freak team -- ran a 4.38 at the combine at 239 pounds.

Moss and Megatron are considered the two most physically gifted receivers ever, but Andre Johnson is right there with them. As accomplished as Holt and Wayne were, they weren't as athletically gifted.

"Coming out of the draft," said Johnson, "I was 230 pounds, which was huge for a wide receiver. I think the biggest question was my speed. Nobody knew how fast I was."

-- But that hasn't given Andre Johnson his Hall pass. Moss and Calvin each were first-ballot choices, while Johnson is still knocking on the door ... and you have to wonder why. Because when it comes to production, in some ways he was ahead of them.

For example, Andre Johnson is one of only five receivers to have three or more 1,500-yard receiving seasons (2008, 2009 and 2012). Only one player has more, and that would be Jerry Rice with four. Neither Moss nor Calvin Johnson had that many, though Megatron was close.

-- Johnson's seven Pro Bowls are more than Moss and Megatron at six, as well. They're also more than Terrell Owens and Marvin Harrison, each of whom had six.

-- Andre was first- or second-team All-Pro five times. Owens also had five, but Moss and Megatron did not. They were named four times, Wayne was named three and Holt twice.

--  Johnson is fifth all-time in receptions per game behind Antonio Brown, Marvin Harrison, DeAndre Hopkins and Julio Jones. In addition, he has 21 career games with 10 or more catches and 100 or more receiving yards. No player has more. His eight games with 10 receptions, 150 yards receiving and one touchdown are the most ever, too. Plus, he had 51 career 100-yard games, which ties him for fifth all-time.

-- Johnson is one of five receivers to surpass 1,500 yards receiving in consecutive years and one of just three receivers (Marvin Harrison and Antonio Brown) to produce four seasons of 100-plus receptions and 1,400-plus yards.

Those are massive numbers.

But there's more. He continued his stellar production late in his career, with a couple of his biggest seasons after the age of 30. Only two players have more than one 1,400-yard receiving in their 30s: Jerry Rice and Andre Johnson. At a time when most receivers, even Hall-of-Famers, tail off, Andre Johnson was still tearing it up.

If there's criticism it has to do with touchdowns. It was relatively low. He had only had 70, and there's not much of an explanation other than the Texans didn't use him more where it counted. Inside the red zone, they ran at such a high percentage (54 percent) that only two NFL teams exceeded them. Holt and Wayne's teams did the opposite, with runs on 45 percent of the Colts' play inside the 20 and 47 percent of the Rams.

It's similar when it comes to the kind of red-zone touchdowns their teams scored. The Texans ran for 49 percent of all TDs, while Harrison's Colts were down to 40 percent and the Holt-era Rams at 42. 

Part of those run/pass decisions was philosophy. Houston coach Gary Kubiak came from the Mike Shanahan tree and believed in a more balanced approach to offense, one that featured zone blocking in the run game and play-action off of that. Then there's the simple fact that Johnson didn't have a Peyton Manning or Kurt Warner throwing him the ball.

"I never played with a Hall-of-Fame quarterback," he told Houston NBC affiliate KPRC 2. "I never played with any other Hall-of-Fame (offensive) players. I don't know anyone that put up the numbers I put up without playing with a Hall-of-Fame player."

He's right. 

Holt had Warner, Isaac Bruce and Marshall Faulk, while Wayne was teamed with Manning, Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James.  Compared to them, Johnson was virtually alone.

Andre Johnson belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He's among the elite of the elite when it comes to physical prowess and monster years when he was paired with quarterbacks you won't find waiting in line for busts in Canton. We know he'll reach the Pro Football Hall of Fame. We just don't know if it will happen before or with Torry Holt and Reggie Wayne.

I believe it will. Because I believe it should.

Friday, December 29, 2023

What London Fletcher Fans Need to Know About Hall-of-Fame Voting

 By John Turney 

Fans of former linebacker London Fletcher are once again upset, and you don't have to look far to understand why: For the second consecutive year, he failed to become a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Fletcher has been eligible since 2019, but it took him five years to become a semifinalist as one of 26 for the Class of 2023. He returned to that group for the Hall's Class of 2024 but again failed to advance when its 15 finalists were named this week.

Optimists see Fletcher's path as one of progress, citing the traction he's made over the past two years. But his supporters, particularly the Washington fan base, aren't happy and took their anger to social media after this week's announcement.

Here's a sample of what they had to say on X (formerly Twitter) --

-- "London Fletcher getting snubbed again (broken heart emoji)"

-- "London Fletcher not making it is crazy London Fletcher not making it is crazy"

--"How the (expletive deleted) is Patrick Willis a finalist for the Hall Of Fame but London Fletcher isn't?"

-- "London Fletcher is being done so dirty! #HTTC"

-- "They just gonna keep doing this to London Fletcher? (sad emoji)"

-- "How is London Fletcher not on here!? Oh that’s right - he played most of his career in Washington, that why. Ridiculous"

-- "Complete (b.s.) how London Fletcher continues to get snubbed."

-- "London Fletcher is still boxed out…smh"

But it's not just Washington fans. Fletcher played for the Rams and Bills before finishing his 16-year career with Washington, and Rams' followers are upset, too (a bit less so with BillsMafia) ... and I must admit: They have a compelling argument..

The 5-foot-10, 242-pound Fletcher did put up big defensive numbers compared to linebackers of his era, with one meme on social media comparing his statistics to Ravens' Hall-of-Fame linebacker Ray Lewis. It reads like this:

-- Fletcher played 16 seasons; Lewis 17

-- Fletcher played 256 games; Lewis played in 2008

-- Fletcher is credited with 2,039 tackles; Lewis totaled 2,059

-- Both were credited with 19 forced fumbles.

-- Fletcher intercepted 23 passes; Lewis pilfered 31.

-- Fletcher blitzed his way to 39-1/2 sacks; Lewis had just two more -- 41-1/2.

The memes I've seen don't include Super Bowl rings, but they should. Fletcher won one, and Lewis earned two. That is certainly a positive. So, the logic follows that with numbers in the same ballpark as Lewis, London Fletcher should absolutley be a finalist ... even worthy of a Gold Jacket. 

To his fans, that's a no-brainer.

But let's pump the brakes here. There's more to the story of an NFL player than just stats. No question, numbers are an important box to check for a Hall-of-Fame candidate. But there are others, too, with postseason honors at or near the top..

For seemingly forever, Hall voters favored players named to All-Pro first-teams or Pro Bowls more often than they did those with fewer selections, and that's understandable. Voters included NFL writers and media members who annually chose All-Pro teams, either for the AP and/or PFWA ... or now defunct wire services. Toward the end of each season, writers were asked to submit ballots naming the best players at each position. And when votes were counted, the winners were your All-Pro team.

At the end of a player's career, he can -- and often is -- identified by All-Pro designations, and those with more years generally are considered the game's top players. The "elite," if you will.

The same is true for the Pro Bowl, the NFL's all-star game which was voted on by players and coaches. While it became less meaningful when fans began to vote, it still plays a role and carries some weight with Hall voters.

Yet all these postseason honors -- All-Pro, Pro Bowl, All-AFC or All-NFC, etc., the "alls" as it were -- aren't included in the London Fletcher memes that exploded this week. Why? Because they don't promote his Hall-of-Fame campaign. In fact, they hurt it,

Here's why:.Ray Lewis was an AP first-team All-Pro seven times and was voted to the Pro Bowl 12 times. Fletcher was never a first-team All-Pro and was never voted to the Pro Bowl. Granted, he did go to four as a replacement and was second-team All-Pro twice. So he wasn't shut out.

Whether that is fair ... or that AP voters got it wrong for a decade and a half ... or that Fletcher should've made first-team ... really doesn't make a difference. There is no way to compare Fletcher's career to Lewis. The Ravens' linebacker was so dominant that he was one of the best, if not the best, inside linebacker in the NFL.

Then there's the case of the inside linebacker who did make the Final 15 -- Patrick Willis, who played eight seasons for the San Francisco 49ers. He had a productive, albeit short, career that ended prematurely because of injury. As such, his career tackles and relevant "splash" plays don't reach the totals of Fletcher (or Lewis) ... as Fletcher backers noticed.

"Hate to. Say but London Fletcher had better numbers," read one message comparing Fletcher with Willis.

If by "numbers" the writer means individual defensive stats, he's right. But if you look at other numbers -- the "alls" -- he's not. Willis was a consensus first-team All-Pro five times and second-team once. He was voted to seven Pro Bowls, only missing his final season in a career cut short by injury.

As Peter King once said, "All-Pro teams don't mean everything, but they don't mean 'nothing', either."

To the 50 voters who comprise the Hall's board of selectors, they do mean something. They pushed Willis into the Final 15 and made him a legitimate candidate for election. Moreover, they're almost certainly why Fletcher didn't graduate from a semifinalist.

During Willis' career, AP voters thought he was the best of the best. In his five seasons as a first-team All-Pro, he was the leading vote-getter for his position, sometimes by a wide margin.

Little-known fact: From the mid-1980s through the mid-2010s, the AP almost always included two inside-linebacker slots on its defensive All-Pro teams, making the unit 12 players. Consequently, the second-leading candidate was considered first-team All-Pro, something that doesn't happen now.

With most teams playing the 3-4 in the 1980s, the AP thought it fairer to have two slots. But when defenses swung back to the 4-3 in the 1990s, the slot was kept. Things leveled out in the 2000s with teams switching back and forth, so maybe two slots were appropriate.

Nonetheless, Willis was the top guy in each of his All-Pro seasons. Fletcher was not. Nor was he close. That's not to say there isn't room for an individual who has a strong statistical case but may lack the "alls." There is, and there are those exceptions.

Consider that good news for Fletcher's candidacy. It will boost his chances when the small but tough linebacker reaches the Final 15, which he should at some point. Until then, he must wait his turn while Willis gets his bust in Canton.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

TUESDAY TIDBITS: "And What a Game It Was"

By TJ Troup 
Otto Graham
What do the standings in the NFL tell us right now? What does the upcoming schedule tell us? 


Every season has its own interesting, sometimes fascinating story to tell, and this year is no exception. The standings tell us that the AFC North is the strongest division, and probably two teams from there earn a playoff berth. While, the NFC South is certainly the weakest, though Baker Mayfield would drop back to pass and challenge any team right now. 

Being able to watch so many games this weekend was the best Christmas present I got, and am certainly not going to go over every game, but three games stood out. The Ravens demonstrated last night that they are very serious contenders (bet you knew that), and the upcoming game against the Dolphins sure should be entertaining. 

Though Fred Warner & Roquan Smith are my two choices for best inside linebackers this season; neither of them gets the "zashchitnik" award this week. Each week through the rest of the season that award will be given out, and this week was a tie between Barmore of the Patriots, and Koonce of the Raiders. 

Since I mentioned the Raiders and watched intently yesterday as Pierce led his men into Arrowhead bent on destruction, they are part of the three games that stood out. Since every coach wants an opportunity to prove himself (been there) on the field of battle, that opportunity arrived yesterday for Antonio Pierce. 

My question for all of you is, has Pierce demonstrated he should be hired as the coach of the Raiders in 2024? 

The history of the Raiders has had as many twists and turns as any team since 1960, but on December 24th, 1977 Oakland needed to beat the Colts to advance to the AFC title game and continue their quest to be repeat champions. 
"Ghost to the Post" by Merv Corning
When NFL Films decides that one of your games should be featured in their "Greatest Games" segment you can surmise that there are plenty of reasons. What do we remember most from the game? The "ghost to the post"? Bert Jones missing an open receiver? The physicality of the game? Was humbled and honored to speak with Ted Marchibroda at the Hall of Fame one summer, and asked him numerous questions, and when needed I can shut up and just listen. 

We talked about his days with the Rams, and Redskins with Allen. He detailed the winning streak in '75, and he explained the strategy of the K-gun in Buffalo, but the game that he talked about with the most regret was that game of 12-24-'77. You could feel his pain, and how he knew that his Colt team that year might be his last chance to win in Baltimore. 

The third game that stood out this weekend was the Browns going to Texas and Joe Flacco heaving, lofting, firing, ah hell you pick the adjective in describing him throwing the ball to Cooper. Cleveland has finally found a quarterback—will he be directing the Browns attack in 2024? Speaking of directing an attack, that takes me to my final narrative of today, and that is where the title of today's column comes from. 

The Sporting News in 1985 published a book called "The Super Bowl Book" and in that outstanding publication was a section on Championship Games written by Dave Klein, and his telling the tale of the 1950 title game stood out to me. 

The 1950 season was the dawning of modern football, and anyone who believes otherwise, just hop in your truck and drive here to Louisville, and will pour you a cup of coffee, and put on the film. Since Shaughnessy has been dismissed the Rams are a much happier team in '50 and Stydahar with able assistance from Hampton Pool has taken the Clark S. template and wreaked havoc with all the defenses in the National Conference. Except for the Bears— two losses to an excellent Bear team have set the stage for a playoff game in the Coliseum, and Waterfield on target to Fears takes the Rams back to the title game. 
In 1950 the Chicago Bears gave the LA Rams fits
The team the Rams face is in the city they once called home, and they are also faced with a playoff game against an opponent that beat them twice in the regular season. One of the best rushing attacks in league history will finally be stopped by a Browns defense that is not only well-coached they are much more physical than has ever been given credit for. How many playoff games have been won by a score of 8-3? 

Film study of this game tells us that this is the beginning of a 15-year rivalry that has stood the test of time as one of the best. Otto Graham takes the field knowing that the Browns' offense must score a boatload of points since the Ram offense has set records for scoring during the season. Waterfield can return to where he won a championship as a rookie, and again walk off the field as a champion. 

How juicy is this plot? Spielberg, where are you? 

Los Angeles 14 Cleveland 13 at the half as the missed extra point looms large. Graham has thrown two touchdown passes and had to since the league rushing champion cannot seem to gain much against a very motivated Ram defense. 

The NFL in 2023 has a number of quarterbacks that can gain yards when forced out of the pocket or when they decide to just run the ball. Graham on this afternoon who most likely would receive praise from Allen, Mahomes, and especially Jackson, and the rest of the quarterbacks from this era that can move the chains by running. 
Otto Graham in the 1950 NFL Championship Game vs LA Rams
Down by eight in the fourth quarter, Graham completes nine passes (five in a row at one point) on a 65-yard march to the end zone. Can the Browns get the ball back and drive one more time down the field in front of the frigid home crowd? Otto in his Chuck Taylor gym shoes keeps his feet and gains 19 rushing and completes passes to Bumgardner and Jones and after Graham dives to his right to put the ball in the center of the field with 28 seconds remaining—here comes Groza. 

When your nickname is "The Toe" you don't miss with the game on the line. 
Lou Groza kicks the game-winning field goal in the '50 title game
Van Brocklin enters and the desperate long pass is intercepted thus the Browns have accomplished their goal. They earned league-wide respect and became the target for every team in the league for the next 20 years. 

Enjoy the games, and see ya next week.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Predictions for Hall of Fame Class of 2024 Final 15

By John Turney 
Next week the Pro Football Hall of Fame will announce the finalists for the Class of 2024. They will be debated in a Zoom call in January and the guys that will get Gold Jackets will come out of that meeting.

These are by guesses for the Final 15.

In my opinion, the first twelve are predictable -- they are the ones who were on last year's Fina l15 plus strong first-ballot guys who are new to the process this year -- Julius Peppers and Antonio Gates. 
  1. Jared Allen, DE 
  2. Willie Anderson, T 
  3. Jahri Evans, G 
  4. Dwight Freeney, DE 
  5. Antonio Gates, TE 
  6. Devin Hester, Ret
  7. Torry Holt, WR 
  8. Andre Johnson, WR 
  9. Julius Peppers, DE 
  10. Reggie Wayne, WR 
  11. Patrick Willis, LB
  12. Darren Woodson, S
The final three are more difficult but two stand out.

In a December 7th article on the Talk of Fame Two website, I thought Fred Taylor had more buzz than the other runningbacks. All are similarly qualified on paper but for a few years Taylor, it seems to me has gotten the most support in comments by voters in articles and social media. 

So he's my 13th Pick. 

    13. Fred Taylor, RB

Next is the only cornerback on the semifinalist list. It could be just my sense of things but it is my impression that votes will spread their votes among different positions.

    14. Eric Allen, CB

The final pick is the most difficult and I honestly have no idea. The player who got talked about by some voters in the past couple of years, again it's just my perception, is Hines Ward.

What makes it hard for him is the other three wide receivers who will undoubtedly be on the Final 15. Four might be on too many, but he's my pick anyway.

    15. Hines Ward, WR

So, we'll see.

Packers Slip Past Win-Starved Panthers

 By Eric Goska

Aaron Jones, shown here in a preseason game,
rushed for 127 yards against the Panthers.
(photo by Eric Goska)

Over the years, the Packers have played dozens of teams that had 10 or more losses. In most cases, Green Bay prevailed.

This tradition of dispatching bottom feeders continued – barely –as the Green and Gold staved off Carolina 33-30 at Bank of America Stadium. The win was hard earned as the Packers had to weather a last-ditch effort by the Panthers that came within a whisker of forcing overtime.

Teams with 10 or more losses can be ticking time bombs. With little to lose, they can play loose and take chances.

With the worst record in the NFL, the Panthers have embraced the role of spoiler. A week before hosting the Packers, they dealt a blow to Atlanta’s postseason aspirations by edging the Falcons 9-7.

Sunday, they did their best to upend Green Bay’s run for the playoffs.

The Packers first encountered a 10-game loser on Nov. 27, 1930 when they, with a record of 8-2, traveled to Philadelphia to face the Yellow Jackets (4-11-1). Red Dunn threw three touchdown passes as Green Bay romped 25-7.

A year later, the Pack (11-1) took on the Dodgers (2-10) at Ebbets Field. Verne Lewellen’s 1-yard scoring plunge proved the difference as Green Bay escaped with a 7-0 triumph.

With 14-game (or fewer) schedules in effect from 1932 through 1977, the Packers only faced six 10-game losers during those 46 seasons. They went 5-1 with the lone loss coming in Atlanta where the Falcons (2-11) beat them in the 1974 season finale.

Most of the contests involving 10-game losers have come after the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978. Green Bay has faced 29 such opponents in the last 45 seasons.

Overall, Green Bay is 30-7 against teams with 10 or more losses. The last Packers stumble against a win-starved club occurred on Jan. 9, 2022 when the Lions (2-13-1) toppled them 37-30 to close out the 2021 campaign.

That’s the only time the Green and Gold has dropped a decision to a team with 12 or more losses.

In Charlotte, Jordan Love’s 5-yard TD toss to Romeo Doubs on the first play of the fourth quarter gave Green Bay a 30-16 lead. But the game was far from over as that period is the one in which the Packers have yielded the most yardage.

Sure enough, Bryce Young, came alive in the final 15 minutes. He completed 13 of 17 passes for 177 yards and two scores (148.4 rating) to pull Carolina into a 30-30 tie with four minutes, five seconds remaining.

Even after Anders Carlson’s 32-yard field goal put Green Bay in front 33-30, Young didn’t blink. With 19 seconds and no timeouts remaining, the rookie from Alabama completed consecutive passes of 22 yards to D.J. Chark Jr. and Adam Thielen to reach the Packers’ 31-yard line.

But time ran out before Young could spike the ball to stop the clock. Instead of Eddie Pineiro taking the field to attempt a 49-yard field goal, the officials declared the game over.

At 7-8, Green Bay still has a chance to reach the playoffs. To get there, Green Bay will have to defeat the Bears (6-9) who could have 10 losses when the teams meet to wrap up the regular season in a couple of weeks.

Green Bay is 6-0 in games against Bears teams that have had 10 or more losses.

Twelve Days of Losing
How Green Bay has fared against teams with 12 or more losses.

Record   Team                  Date                       Outcome
0-15           Lions                    Dec. 28, 2008         GB won, 31-21
1-14            Cowboys             Dec. 24, 1989          GB won, 20-10
2-13           Lions                    Dec. 15, 1979          GB won, 18-13
2-13           Buccaneers         Dec. 22, 1985          GB won, 20-17
2-13-1        Lions                    Jan. 9, 2022           GB lost, 30-37
0-12           Browns                 Dec. 10, 2017         GB won, 27-21
2-12           Buccaneers         Dec. 12, 1983          GB won, 12-9
2-12           Buccaneers         Dec. 14, 1986          GB won, 21-7
2-12           Buccaneers         Dec. 21, 2014          GB won, 20-3
2-12           Panthers              Dec. 24, 2023         GB won, 33-30
3-12           Vikings                 Dec. 16, 1984          GB won, 38-14

Saturday, December 23, 2023

John Abraham—Hall-of-Fame Worthy?

By John Turney 
Here's what you should know about former pass rusher John Abraham: He was so productive that his 133-1/2 career sacks rank 13th among the NFL's all-time leaders, just ahead of Hall-of-Famer Lawrence Taylor and just behind Hall-of-Fame finalist Jared Allen. 

In fact, of the 12 Canton-eligible players ahead of Abraham, only two aren't in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Allen and first-time candidate Julius Peppers, both considered favorites for the Class of 2024.

Here's what you should also know about John Abraham: He's not only not in the Pro Football Hall; he's never been a finalist or a semifinalist.


He wasn't one of 25 semifinalists for next year's class, just as he wasn't among the semifinalists this year ... and last ... and the year before that. In five years of modern-era eligibility, John Abraham hasn't once been a semifinalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, provoking the obvious question.


He was a four-time All-Pro and a five-time Pro Bowler. Plus, he tied Michael Strahan in 2001 for the NFL's most forced fumbles with six. I mention that because Strahan is in the Hall, too, elected in 2014 on his second try. But Abraham? Sorry. Not on Canton's guest list.

And I don't understand why. His numbers are similar to edge rushers who have been semifinalists for the Hall and include a couple who advanced as far as the Final 15 -- including the Colts' Dwight Freeney. 

Granted, Freeney won a Super Bowl ring, and Abraham did not. But Freeney also had a quarterback named Peyton Manning and Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne on the other side of the ball. Name the quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers who played with Abraham on the New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons and Arizona Cardinals.

That's OK. I couldn't, either.

It's also true that Freeney had a signature spin move that we can see in our mind's eye. It was synonymous with him, scoring high on "the eye test," and, yes, that's important. It is, after all, the Hall of Fame. But was Freeney more productive than someone who went to Pro Bowls with three different teams?

You tell me:

-- Freeney played 16 seasons and 218 games; Abraham played 15 years and 192. However, Abraham started more (175-157). Call it a draw.

-- Freeney went to seven Pro Bowls. Abraham went to five. Also, Freeney was All-Pro in (2004-05, and 2009), while Abraham was first-team in 2001, 2008, and 2010. All three of Freeney's All-Pro seasons were consensus with only two of Abraham's. That, plus more Pro Bowls and a place on the 2000s' all-decade team give Freeney the edge in postseason honors.

-- Abraham had 133-1/2 sacks. Freeney had 125-1/2. Abraham had eight seasons with double-digit sacks, 10 with 9-1/2 or more and a career-high of 16-1/2. The Colts "Spin Doctor" had seven seasons with 10 or more plus two more with at least eight. It's close, but a slight edge goes to Abraham.

-- Abraham was more involved in the overall defense, making 560 career tackles to Freeney's 350. That's a big difference. Edge: Abraham.

-- If deflecting passes matter -- and they do -- the 6-foor-4 Abraham had more than the 6-foot-1 Freeney by a margin of two-to-one.

-- Then there are the "splash plays," i.e., moments that change games, with forced fumbles front and center. They're a big deal and were highlighted when Freeney forced an NFL-high nine as a rookie. Chopping the football out of a quarterback's hand, Freeney had a reputation for creating havoc ... and the numbers prove it. He had an astonishing 47 for his career, tied for third all-time with ... you guessed it, John Abraham.

Now, let's get something straight: This isn't to say Abraham is the better player. Nor is it to say that his numbers are significantly better. But it is to say they're not significantly less, either. More to the point, they're in the same ballpark.

And that's the rub.

Freeney is much farther along in the Hall-of-Famer process than Abraham when, in terms of results on the field, the two were much the same. But it's not just Freeney whom Abraham approximates. He went to the same number of Pro Bowls as Jared Allen, for example.  Plus, he's just 2-1/2 sacks behind Allen's total ... but with more forced fumbles.

Freeney's teammate, defensive end Robert Mathis, has been a semifinalist three consecutive years, and while he had more forced fumbles (a league-best 54) than Abraham, he has the same number of Pro Bowls, was All-Pro fewer times and has 10-1/2 fewer sacks. 

So, if they can move forward, why can't John Abraham?

When the Jets made the University of South Carolina standout a first-round draft pick in 2000, they envisioned him as "the next Derrick Thomas" -- with veteran tackle Grant Williams telling the Boston Globe that Abraham was so fast and quick off the ball that  "he's right out of the Derrick Thomas mold."
That was the hope. The reality was that Abraham's career took an immediate turn one year later when the Jets fired Al Groh and replaced him with Herm Edwards. Shifting from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3, Edwards moved Abraham from rush linebacker to defensive end -- a position he played most of his career, be it with the Jets, Atlanta or Arizona, and where he was undersized.

Nevertheless, he became an elite pass rusher, producing double-digit seasons three times in six seasons with the Jets.

No, he didn't have the fame of Derrick Thomas, who excelled at a free-wheeling position. As a mostly 4-3 defensive end who never weighed more than 265 pounds, Abraham had to grind things out opposite bulkier offensive tackles. But he excelled, too, with more career sacks and forced fumbles than Thomas.

So, why can't he at least make the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame's semifinalists list? I don't know, but I do know this isn't the first time that question has been posed. Pass rusher Leslie O'Neal had 132-1/2 career sacks, tying him with Lawrence Taylor for 14th all-time, yet wasn't a semifinalist until his 14th year of modern-era eligibility.

That was also the last time he made it. O'Neal's modern-era eligibility expired when he failed to make the Hall's cut to 25 last month for the 19th time in 20 years.

Like O'Neal, John Abraham deserves better. He deserves to be in a Hall-of-Fame conversation. He compares favorably to Derrick Thomas. He compares favorably to Robert Mathis ... and Jared Allen ... and Dwight Freeney ... and other edge rushers already enshrined. Yet he can't even make a list of 25 semifinalists?

It makes no sense.

Maybe he's been overlooked because of a logjam at his position, with an abundance of accomplished edge rushers eligible for election at approximately the same time. But, whatever the reason, it's not enough. The semifinalists list for the Class of 2024 is sans Abraham. The next year shouldn't be.

John Abraham's career measures up to others whom Hall voters considered worthy of consideration. It's time he was given the same treatment.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Ed Budde—RIP

By John Turney 
Hall-of-Fame defensive tackle Buck Buchanon once said there were only two players he didn't want to tangle with -- and, lucky for him, both were his teammates on the Kansas City Chiefs.

"I figure I could handle just about anyone one-on-one," Buchanon said, "except Ed Budde and Willie Lanier when they're mad."

Given that Buchanan was 6-foot-7 and weighed 275 pounds that's quite a statement. But there are plenty of NFL defensive linemen who could've echoed Buchanon's remark about Budde, one of the AFL's standout guards.

Simply put, he was as good a football player as he was tough.

Sadly, Ed Budde passed away Tuesday at the age of 83, leaving behind a 14-year career with the Chiefs where he was one of the most decorated interior linemen in the history of the AFL.

He was named to two Pro Bowls and five-time AFL All-Star Games -- the AFL's version of the Pro Bowl -- and chosen All-AFL in 1966 and 1968 and second-team in 1967-68. Plus, when the all-time AFL team was announced, Ed Budde was one of two guards on the first team.

Nicknamed "Bluto" after the Popeye villain, Budde chose the AFL  in 1963 after he was a Top-Ten draft pick by the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles and the AFL's Chiefs. The Eagles suggested they might want him to play defense, which he had tried before, but he had other thoughts. He felt he was better suited for the offensive line, and, so, joined the Chiefs who, it just so happened, offered more money.

As it turned out, Budde was right about playing the offensive line. He won a starting job as a rookie guard and held that job through the first game of 1975 when he was sidelined by a knee injury.

"He was a cornerstone of those early Chiefs' teams that brought pro football to Kansas City," said Chiefs' chairman and CEO Clark Hunt in a prepared statement. "He never missed a game in the first nine seasons of his career, and he rightfully earned recognition as an all-star, a Pro Bowler and a Super Bowl champion."

Budde was big for a guard in that era. Most weighed in the 250-pound range, but Budde was anywhere between 260 and 265 and had good mobility. He was part of the great Chiefs' team that went to Super Bowls in 1966 and 1969, winning the latter in a 23-7 defeat of heavily favored Minnesota.

That was the game when Chiefs' coach Hank Stram was wired for sound and kept repeating a certain play he wanted to be called -- "65 toss power trap."

"It might pop wide open, 'Rats' ", said Stram on the NFL Films wire.

It did, thanks in part to Budde. 

The Vikings had inserted an extra defensive lineman, Paul Dickson, who lined up just inside of Budde. At the snap, Budde down-blocked him while pulling guard Mo Moorman trapped Alan Page, and, just like that, running back Mike Garrett waltzed into the endzone to give Stram's "Rats" their first touchdown of the game.

The previous year, Budde had a game of games when he was named the AP AFL Offensive Player of the Week, making him the first of only two guards to win that award during its existence.

"Budde's blocking at the point of attack was devastating," Stram told reporters afterward.

That Budde had a meaningful pro career, however, was no small miracle. After his rookie season, he was involved in an off-season barfight with two men, one of whom hit Budde in the head with an 18-inch lead pipe that caused a skull fracture. Medical procedures followed, a plastic plate was inserted into his skull and he was fitted with a helmet with extra foam padding to ensure a tighter fit. After rigorous testing in training camp, Budde decided he not only could continue to play ... but would.

"I made up my mind to play football", he said then. "The organization was a little skeptical. They put me up against Buck Buchanan that first day ... I didn't have any concerns about it, but I think maybe they thought that at first contact that disc in my head would go spinning around."

His line coach at the time, Bill Walsh (not that Bill Walsh), recalled the incident, saying it was so important that the entire team had gathered around to watch.

"Everyone knew what was going on," Walsh said. "By God, the first time (Budde) just blew into the guy like nothing had happened."

"Bluto" proved he could play. And he didn't stop, serving the Chiefs for 13 more years with the surgically implanted "disc".

"I loved him," said Walsh. "He'd run through a wall for you."

Yet the Michigan State All-American and All-Time AFL guard never has been given a push for the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a modern-era or senior candidate. He was chosen to the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, the Michigan State Athletics Hall of Fame and the Chiefs' Hall of Honor ... but nothing from Canton. 

Maybe that changes. Maybe it doesn't. If nothing else, the career of Ed Budde merits a debate by the Hall's voters because he was more than one of the AFL's best guards. He was one of the NFL's, too. 

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

TUESDAY TIDBITS: "You Play to Win the Game"

By TJ Troup 
Three regular season games to go, and we have some teams eliminated, and so many playoff scenarios that your mind and mine just might get boggled attempting to figure out which teams earn a postseason berth. There have been so many quotes by coaches that are worth repeating, and one of those for me is Herman Edwards. 

Since statistics can tell the tale (bet you knew that), let us revisit Sunday and the cuddly little bears in Cleveland. 

Edmunds returns an intercepted 45 yards for a touchdown, and that simply means historically that Chicago has an 80% chance of winning. Stevenson plucks a Flacco pass out of the air and dashes 34 yards, which increased the yardage returned on interceptions by the Bears to 106. 

Historically that means the Bears have a 91% chance of winning. Cleveland with a 9% chance of winning wins the game! 

Eberflus is still coaching? 

Alright, all of you out there—if the lowly Cardinals go to Soldier Field and win Sunday does that finally end the debacle for the team that was once "The Monsters of the Midway"? 

Since my statistical world was shaken, needed a team to step up and right my sinking ship; and here comes the Niners...we will take care of Coach TJ, and they did. Ward returns an interception 66 yards for a touchdown, and McCaffrey darts, pounds, bounces and dashes to the tune of 115 yards rushing. 

When a team has a 100-yard rusher, and returns an interception for a touchdown they win 91% of the time. Ready to go down our December 17th historical path?

Here we go; once upon a time the Bears won close games, and in 1933 Chicago defeated NYG 23-21 in a thrill-packed title game—

December 17th, 1944 and the Packers defeated NYG 14-7 for the championship in a game that is significant for the offensive game plan by Green Bay—

No, I did not attend either game but did attend the December 17th, 1989 game between NYJ and the Rams at Angel Stadium. The Rams trail a very powerful 49er team in the standings but sure look like a playoff team, and boy oh boy did they play like it that afternoon. 

The Rams easily defeated the Jets 38-14, but the story of the game is one of those you had to be there to see him do it tales. Brett Farynairz recorded three sacks and two opponent fumble recoveries in the game. 
When Brett looks back on his career he can proudly say he achieved something that many Hall of Fame linebackers, and defensive linemen would like to have on their resume. Watching him that day was pure raw enjoyment, and the fans responded as the game wore on. 

Usually finish my column with enjoy the games, yet want to hear from all of you and tell me what game stands out to you this coming weekend? Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Baker Mayfield: A Perfect Gentleman at Lambeau Field

 By Eric Goska

(photos by Eric Goska)

Sunday was a perfect day for football. Ask Baker Mayfield.

Mayfield shredded the Packers defense as only a handful of quarterbacks have throughout the years. The top pick in the 2018 draft proved virtually unstoppable, throwing for more than 300 yards and four touchdowns as his Buccaneers overwhelmed Green Bay 34-20 at Lambeau Field.

On a rainy, dreary afternoon with temperatures in the low forties, Mayfield completed 22 of 28 passes for 381 yards and four scores. He compiled a perfect passer rating of 158.3.

Until Sunday, Vince Evans of the Bears had been the only player to max out against Green Bay. Evans nailed 18 of 22 passes for 316 yards and three touchdowns in Chicago’s 61-7 victory in 1980.

Mayfield’s rating never fell below 112.5. He reached 158.3 for the first time when he connected with Mike Evans from 19-yards out to put the Buccaneers up 10-7. He got there a second time on his final pass, a 52-yarder to David Moore that put Tampa Bay up 34-20 with six-and-a-half minutes remaining.

Mayfield completed nine passes of 20 or more yards. Chris Godwin snagged four of those with Rachaad White (2), Cade Otton (2) and Moore coming away with the other five.

Since 1921, only two quarterbacks have thrown more 20-yarders while battling the Pack. Matthew Stafford hit on 12 on Jan. 1, 2012 and Ben Roethlisberger had 10 on Dec. 20, 2009. Dak Prescott also had nine in a game in 2019.

Those chunk plays accelerated Mayfield on his drive to 300. No. 6 needed only 24 attempts to surpass the milestone, getting there on a 22-yard strike to Otton late in the third quarter.

Only five players – Randall Cunningham, Vinny Testaverde, Evans, Troy Aikman and Tua Tagovailoa – needed fewer attempts to reach that benchmark against Green Bay. All but Tagovailoa came away victorious.

Mayfield became the 87th player to surpass 300 yards passing aginst the Packers in a regular-season game. He is the seventh to do so while throwing at least four TDs and no interceptions.

That Mayfield had his way is somewhat surprising. Since Matt LeFleur became coach in 2019, Green Bay had permitted just nine individual 300-yard passing performances, tied with the Saints for the fewest over that span.

Surrendering 300 yards passing to an individual is not a death knell. The Packers own a winning record (65-56-1) under those circumstances.

But when Green Bay fast-tracks quarterbacks as it did with Mayfield, the story is different. The Green and Gold is 6-25 when opposing field generals lay claim to 300 in fewer than 30 pass attempts.

To their credit, the Packers sacked Mayfield five times for 28 yards in losses. But it hardly mattered. Because of Mayfield’s hot hand, Tampa Bay wound up averaging 10.7 yards per pass play, the highest by a Green Bay opponent since Christmas 2022 when the Dolphins managed 10.9 in a losing effort.

Non-Stop Flights to 300
Fewest pass attempts needed to reach 300 yards passing by an opposing quarterback against the Packers in a regular-season game.

Atts.      Quarterback               Team                    Date                          Result
20           Randall Cunningham     Vikings                  Oct. 5, 1998               GB lost, 24-37
21           Vinny Testaverde             Buccaneers          Sept. 13, 1992            GB lost, 3-31
22           Vince Evans                       Bears                   Dec. 7, 1980               GB lost, 7-61
22           Troy Aikman                     Cowboys              Oct. 3, 1993                GB lost, 14-36
22           Tua Tagovailoa                 Dolphins              Dec. 25, 2022             GB won, 26-20
24           Peyton Manning              Broncos                Nov. 1, 2015               GB lost, 10-29
24           Baker Mayfield                 Buccaneers         Dec. 17, 2023              GB lost, 20-34

Saturday, December 16, 2023

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: "It Burned the Hell Out of Me"

By TJ Troup 
One of the few challenges for writing the saga of Lenny Moore was choosing the title, as had so many terrific quotes available. 
The title comes from Olderman's book the running backs. Tomorrow the 17th will mark the 56-year anniversary of Moore's last game, and as such, I felt time to explain in detail this man's career. 

We can all look at his game-by-game and lifetime stats and come away impressed with his accomplishments. This saga will hopefully shed light on his transformation from mid to late '50's game breaker, to steady contributor. 


Here we go—and what better way to start than to go to his rookie season of '56. After two games Moore has carried the ball 12 times for 4 yards, not exactly what was expected of this number #1 draft choice. Baltimore has a record of 1-3 and Moore has gained 148 yards on just 21 carries as the Colts take the field at home against the Packers. Moore contributes to the touchdown drive in the 2nd quarter as new starting quarterback John Unitas mixes his plays well. 

Right before the half on a second and seven play at the twenty-eight-yard line Unitas moves to his right as Moore flanked right takes the deep hand-off on a reverse. Long-legged Lenny demonstrates his talents as he weaves, cuts and changes direction expertly, and then in the open field turns on the after burners and dashes into the endzone after his spine-tingling 72-yard score. 

There were just 22 seconds left in the half when Moore scores. Fourth quarter and after a Marchetti sack the Colts get the ball back and Moore scores on a 79-yard run as Baltimore has won 28-21. 

Before we go any further, lets quickly examine what he just accomplished, how many rookies have ever had two runs of over 70 yards in the same game? Marion Motley established a record in 1950 of gaining 188 yards on just 11 carries. 

Though Moore does not break the record; gaining 185 on 13 carries puts him in a very small fraternity of average yards per carry in a game. The rumor that Weeb Ewbank would be dismissed if Baltimore did not defeat Washington in late December dies quickly since the Colts won. Moore and fellow rookie Unitas have infused the Colt offense with the right amount of fire, and energy to have the Colts become a factor in the Western Conference in years to come. 

The next three seasons are very memorable in Baltimore Colt history as they become champions. The Colt offensive structure is the mirror image of the Cleveland Browns since Ewbank learned under Paul Brown. Fullback Ameche hammers between the tackles, blocks very well, while John Unitas directs the offense with not only efficiency but with brilliant and innovative play calling. What made the play calling innovative you ask? Dub Jones at his peak was the "chess piece" in the Browns attack. Flanked as a receiver, motion to alignments that stretched the defense, ability to run the sweep, and of course his talents as a receiver. 

Lenny Moore is the chess piece in the Colt arsenal. John Unitas spread the ball around to everyone, yet Moore could and did humble a defense with his ability to score either running or receiving from anywhere on the field....and I mean ANYWHERE. Baltimore develops two rivalries during this three-year time frame with the Bears and Packers. Baltimore's record against these two clubs was 10-2 while going 13-5 against the rest of the league. Big game after big game, and the names of Colt players are on the path to legend. 
Credit: Merv Corning
Late in the '60 season when the Colts stumbled the main reason many writers believed was Ameche's injury. Whether or not that is true—the Colts over the next four seasons (1960-1963) were 4-12 against the Bears and Packers, while going 25-13 against the rest of the league. Lenny Moore played brilliantly in both '60 & '61, but injury and age have brought the champions to a level of we can beat everyone else, but we can't beat the Bears and Packers. 

There is also a dramatic coaching change in Baltimore as Don Shula is now in charge, and he is IN CHARGE! Having so many insightful sources is paramount to me telling this folks you are gonna get quote, after quote...and then more quotes to enlighten all of you on what was said about Moore and the Colts in this era. 

"Street & Smith's" in 1963 magazine predicts Baltimore to finish third, and begins with "in Baltimore, the population grows restless". Concerning Moore states "to aid Unitas in the passing game attack, Baltimore owns one of the finest sets of receivers in the game. The best man Lenny Moore has been shifted to halfback. Once considered the most dangerous flanker in the league, Moore still is a bothersome receiver from his tight back spot". 

Bothersome? Boy oh Boy, from ultimate game breaker to bothersome. 

Why the change? 

Hang in there folks, more quotes coming before the answer to that question. Jack Hand in his book Heroes of the NFL states "spors writers had not been bothering Lenny very much during the past two seasons There had been rumors that he had been offered around the league as trading material. But it seemed nobody was interested. 

The experts were whispering that Lenny Moore was "all washed up". Don Shula's first year as head coach he attempted to put his stamp on the Colts, and while Unitas set passing records in that season there was no doubt that this two ultimate competitors were going to clash. Which is the title of Jack Gilden's book "Collision of Wills". 

Raymond Berry states in his book "All the Moves I had" "Lenny had speed, he had power, and he could run the football inside, and outside. He could run pass routes and catch well. I definitely think he was one of the best offensive weapons I've ever seen on a football field, right there with Jim Brown and Unitas. He was a total team-oriented player. Self-centeredness and selfishness were not part of his makeup".

Berry goes on to state about Lenny's personality and his God-given talents. October 13th, 1963 and Raymond Berry is not the starting left end. Moore who fought and overcame a broken kneecap in '62 is starting in place of Berry. 

Baltimore with Unitas using what weapons he has, and brilliant play calling finds a way to move the Colt offense, and thus a 20-3 home victory over San Francisco (the Colts are now 2-3). Watching and evaluating Moore at split end tells us this is not where he should be on the field, yet his does contribute as a receiver and scores in the victory. 

Later in the season the Colts are at home against the nasty grizzlies from Chicago and their league-leading defense. Moore is at left halfback now, and on a straight off tackle right play he reads the blocks, and accelerates into the secondary knifing between McRae and Taylor and scores from 25 yards out (longest touchdown run of the year against the Bears). Baltimore loses 17-7. 

The story goes that Shula after a sit down meeting with Moore decides that Lenny will stay in Baltimore in '64, but will have to unseat starting halfback Tom Matte. Street & Smith's '64 magazine predicts the Colts will finish fourth, and states "room will have to be made somewhere for Lenny Moore, either at end or halfback. Moore has been injured each of the last two years, but his speed and prancing stride have made him one of the league's best runners". 

Much was written during this year concerning McCaffrey closing in on Moore's record of scoring in consecutive games. Not once did anyone attempt to explain that Moore adjusted his game, and how he played during 1964. 

Watch film of this prideful man who has lost his game-breaking speed, but not his will to gain yards. He now bounces off tacklers, keeps his feet moving, cuts, dances, slices, and finds his way into the endzone every week. Unitas aligns the Colts in formations to force opposing defenses into match-ups that just won't work. 

Best example you ask? 

Dan Currie has Moore man-to-man when Lenny runs a seem streak against the Packers. Touchdown Baltimore! He is voted comeback player of the year, and of course, was deserving, but no one ever mentions how he changed his game? 

Tom Matte was an excellent football player, and when you are a Colt you are a team player, and Matte truly was one, but Moore of course won back his job as a starter early in '64 in his ninth season. Take a look at Moore's yards per carry average early in his career, and now in '64. 

Watching NFL Game of the Week for the '66 season the NFL Films crew in-depth ability in this 27-minute show allows the fan to really get the feel for how each team played. Moore contributes but Matte is now back as the starter. When Lenny does get the ball he still gains yards as a receiver and a runner, but he is not the Lenny Moore of the late '50's. 

The 1967 remains one of the most intriguing seasons in league history, and one of the reasons was placing Baltimore and Los Angeles in the same division. The last four years (64-67) the Colts have again gained superiority over the Bears and Packers as their record against these two rivals is 8-6 while against the rest of the league they are 34-5-3. 

Baltimore has a record of 5-0-1 on the road, and 4-0-1 at home as the talented Dallas Cowboys come to Memorial Stadium to meet the Colts on a quagmire of a field. The Cowboys claw back into the game and lead 17-16 late in the game, and with the game on the line Lenny Moore scores from the two to win the game. 

Interestingly note:  That in this game both Moore and Berry both score the last touchdowns of their careers. Baltimore easily dispatches New Orleans the next week and head to the Coliseum to take on George Allen and the Rams. Lenny plays very little in the last game of his career, as Baltimore with just one loss returns to home to watch the playoffs on TV. 

Page 68 of Tex Maule's book "The Players" is a classic picture of Moore, breaking Tom Vaughn's tackle with that focused determined look on his face, and one of my favorite quotes about Lenny comes from Ray Nitschke when he states, "He ran as if he wanted it." 

Looking back on his career and what he accomplished statistically:  Moore scored 84 touchdowns in victory, and 26 in loss. 

Moore as a runner carried the ball 153 times for 894 yards against the Rams (5.84 a carry), and scored 12 times rushing, while impressive, the fact that he gained 962 yards on 192 attempts against the Packers speaks volumes—how many runners in their career averaged better than 5 yards a carry against those Fox River studs? 

Lastly, cannot end this saga without revisiting his greatest play. When San Francisco had the lead on Baltimore on November 30th, 1958 Moore scored on his signature play FLOW 39—and Lenny states "The play was designed for me to cut anywhere I could hit the opening or carry it around end". "As a runner I liked the quick pitchout, if you could get around the end, with the flanker cracking back on the outside linebacker, you had had good running room to pick up downfield blocks". 

Moore went 73 to score in the division-clinching victory that catapulted Baltimore to Champions. "Good running room"? Hell yes, Lenny, hell yes!

Game-used Lenny Moore Jersey

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Julius Peppers—Poised to be First-ballot Hall-of-Fame Inductee?

By John Turney 
Julius Peppers, the former defensive end who starred with Carolina, Chicago and Green Bay, will be a Hall-of-Famer soon, and that's not exactly news. The only question is: How soon?

When the Pro Football Hall of Fame announces its list of 15 finalists next month for the Class of 2024, guaranteed, Peppers' name will be on it. That's a certainty. Furthermore, there's a likelihood that he will also be a first-ballot selection.

But I hedge there because that part is no lock.

And here's why: Similar edge rushers recently have gotten different treatment by voters. Where Jason Taylor made it on his first try (2017), for example, DeMarcus Ware (2023) and Michael Strahan (2014) each had to wait a year.

So which will it be for Peppers? 

It shouldn't matter. What does is that Peppers had a truly great career worthy of induction and one that, statistically, few edge rushers can boast -- checking all the so-called "boxes" that voters often talk about.

Let's take a look:

-- First up is longevity and durability.  Peppers played 17 seasons and 266 games. Among defensive ends, only Hall-of-Famer Bruce Smith and Jim Marshall played more.

Also noteworthy is that Peppers missed just two games due to injury. He did miss four during his rookie season because of a league-imposed suspension after testing positive for a banned substance, one Peppers thought was allowed.

So, lesson learned for someone who played so long and missed so few games. That is rare. But so was Peppers.

-- Then there are the stats, the numbers box. His 159-1/2 sacks trail only Bruce Smith, Reggie White and Kevin Greene on the official NFL sack list. But even if you count unofficial sacks, only Deacon Jones would be ahead of Peppers among the pre-1982 guys.

Peppers had more sacks than edge rushers Chris Doleman, Michael Strahan, Lawrence Taylor Jason Taylor, Richard Dent, DeMarcus Ware, Jared Allen, Derrick Thomas, Dwight Freeney and anyone else you'd care to name, Hall-of-Fame or not.

The bottom line is that Peppers could put heat on passers like few others in the history of the game.

-- Not only that, but when Peppers reached the quarterback he was able to dislodge the ball like few others. He forced 51 fumbles. Since 1994, only Hall-of-Fame semifinalist Robert Mathis has more.

-- Peppers was also adept at pouncing on free footballs. He recovered 21 fumbles and was second among defensive ends in all-time interceptions with 11. Plus, his four pick-sixes are the most of any defensive lineman.
His interceptions were not just "freak" things like tipped balls that fell into his lap; they were often by design, with Peppers dropping into coverage on zone blitzes, making a break on the ball and picking it off. Or he'd read a screen pass and use his size to reach up and snatch the ball out of the air.

That's 32 takeaways for "Pep,"as he was called, one of only a handful of defensive ends to top 30.

-- Want more? After securing the ball, he'd take off like the running back he was in high school -- totaling 293 return yards on his interceptions and 131 yards on fumble recoveries. When you add his two scoop-and-scores to pick-sixes, you'll find that only Jason Taylor (nine) and George Martin (seven) have more defensive scores than the six Peppers had among defensive ends.

-- For good measure, throw in passes defended -- plays when a defender knocks a pass down, causing it to fall to the turf, or when he's credited with "defending" the throw.  Peppers was credited with 82. Among Hall-of-Fame edge rushers, only Jason Taylor had more with 99, though research shows Ed "Too Tall" Jones with over 100 such plays. So count Peppers third.

That's another category of huge defensive plays where Peppers is near the best-ever. Seeing a pattern?

-- But what about special teams? Did he do anything special there?

Yes. He blocked 13 placekicks, including 12 field goals and one PAT. Only one player since 1999 has more -- that was Shaun Rodgers with 17, though Tennessee's Denico Autry is close, with his 11th block Monday vs. Miami. 

"In essence," the Chicago Tribune said when Peppers signed with the Bears in 2010,  "Peppers has taken 25 points off the board (eight blocked field goal attempts, one blocked extra point attempt) in his career. 

"In terms of defensive ends, he's the best at it," said Lions' special teams coach Danny Crossman, who coached him on the Panthers' special teams. "He'll get you a couple every year. You can write it down."

The 25 points taken off the board then ended up being 37 by the end of Peppers' career.

Sacks, forced fumbles, recoveries, interceptions, defensive scores, deflected passes, blocked kicks -- you name it Peppers did it. The man was a walking "splash play" -- with 255-1/2 in his career when you add all the mentioned stats except passes defensed. Only Bruce Smith and Reggie White -- arguably the two best defensive ends in history -- had more.

"I don't know what else there is to do in a game," said Mike Rucker, Peppers' former teammate in Carolina, "except maybe take snaps under center at quarterback."

Another important box is the "Alls"-- the all-decade selections, All-Pro, Pro Bowl and All-Conference choices -- and Peppers checks that one, too. He was on both the NFL's 2000's and 2010's all-decade teams, a consensus All-Pro three times and named to nine Pro Bowls.


That's more than any Hall-of-Fame defensive end not named Reggie White, Bruce Smith or Gino Marchetti, all of whom were elected to the Hall in their first years of eligibility. He was also a four-time NFC Defensive Player of the Month, as well as the NFL Rookie of the Month in October 2002.
The "eye test" is another of the proverbial "boxes," and, yes, Peppers checks that, too. In short, he was a freak athlete. In a world where that term is overused, it applied to Peppers.

In volumes.

"A Bigger Deacon Jones"

When he emerged from the University of North Carolina, he stood just over 6-feet-6 and 283 pounds (eventually weighing over 295 and standing close to 6-feet-7) and had excellent quickness - with a reported sub-4.7 40 time and a vertical leap of 36-1/2 inches. Both are remarkable for someone his size.

But he had extraordinary reach, too, with arms so long that ESPN described him as having "the wingspan of a 747," and that reach helped him as much as the classic "triangle numbers" of size, speed and strength. Look at any photo or film clip of Peppers, and you see that his arms are not only expansive; they're muscular, too, what scouts called "guns" due to their size. 

Peppers used his quickness to get to passers and tremendous strength and leverage to push tackles backward. It was a combination of power and speed, and it distinguished him from finesse edge rushers. He simply made plays others could not, including chasing down running backs from behind or returning fumbles or interceptions for touchdowns.

In his second year in the NFL, Peppers was instrumental in the Panthers reaching Super Bowl XXXVIII, where they lost to New England on a last-second Adam Vinatieri field goal. But that was a Carolina team that was 1-15 the year before it made Peppers the second overall pick of the 2002 NFL draft.

He was what Hall-of-Fame coach Dick Vermeil called a "bigger Deacon Jones," and Vermeil should know: He was a Rams' assistant coach in 1969 and saw Jones up close. So he knew a physical freak when he saw one. 

But so did the Panthers. According to team officials, Peppers was the most researched and studied player in the team's history at that time. For the Carolina Panthers in 2002, there was no room for a miss. It had to be a home run.

And it was, 

"One of my favorite players to watch on film is Julius Peppers," Hall-of-Fame candidate Jared Allen told NFL Films. "The way he can move and do the things he does over his span of the years is still impressive."

As I've detailed, Peppers' body of work is impressive and Hall-worthy. The only question may be the timing of his election, i.e. if he can jump a couple of other edge rushers who've been finalists and are on Canton's doorstep, waiting to be voted in.

Among those is Jared Allen. Another is Dwight Freeney. Like Peppers, both have solid credentials. Nevertheless, it's possible that Peppers' career may be dissected so thoroughly that nitpickers will argue against first-ballot inclusion. I'm not saying it happens; simply that it's possible.

Maybe it's something like the Defensive Player-of-the-Year Award that Jason Taylor won but Peppers did not. He was fourth twice. Strahan won one, too, yet he still was bumped a year. Or it might be that Peppers didn't have a pair of NFL sack titles like Strahan and Ware or one like Jason Taylor.

Peppers never had a monster sack season of, say, 18, 20 or 22. His career high was 14-1/2, a respectable number, but not one that will win you a Deacon Jones Award (the NFL award for a given season's sack champion). Since sacks became official in 1982, 36 players have had two or more seasons with 14 or more sacks.

Peppers had the one.

But he was usually in double digits (10 of 17 seasons), and since 1982, only Bruce Smith and Reggie White had more seasons of 10-plus sacks. So, while Peppers didn't have an abundance of huge sack seasons, he was consistent year-in and year-out in getting to quarterbacks.

And that's how you get to be in the top five in sacks all-time -- with consistency.

"I was never really a stat-chaser," Peppers once told Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer. "I really didn't care about having this amount of sacks in a season or a career." 

Maybe. But he sure racked them up.

Yet critics contend that Peppers was not a great run defender, and that's not really fair. Was he good? Yes. Great? Probably not. But if you look at many of the top pass-rushing defensive ends, few were considered elite run defenders. And that includes some Hall-of-Famers. 

Look, few ... if any ... players have perfect resumes. Maybe Jim Brown but no one else I can think of. Almost all others will have a small flaw or two, yet they didn't damage their first-ballot chances. I mean, what do people want? Physically, Julius Peppers was a cross between Michael Jordan and Lawrence Taylor -- both Tar Heels -- but not quite as good as both. But how many people played in the NCAA basketball Final Four as well as a Super Bowl?

Has to be a short list.

Had Peppers played more of his NFL career in media centers like Chicago (Jordan) or New York (Taylor) rather than Charlotte, who knows what kind of attention he may have garnered?

"Everything you can ask from a player on the field," said Strahan, a defensive end who played his entire career in New York, "the leadership, the stats, the showing up every week .. the putting in the work and also being great citizen off the field ... he gave you every bit of that."

Yes, he did. And more.