Posted by Jason Lisk on January 30, 2009
On January 31, the Hall of Fame selectors will meet and choose the members of the 2009 Hall of Fame Class. The finalists include thirteen "modern" players, two veteran's selections, and two non-player contributors (Paul Tagliabue and Ralph Wilson). I thought I would take a look at how the current Hall of Fame finalist class stacks up to their peers using the Approximate Value rankings that Doug developed last off-season.
Approximate Value is just one tool that can be used to evaluate these players. Keep in mind that these numbers don't in any way reflect post-season results. Further, if a player's career was shortened, then that will impact the total numbers, even if the player was productive while playing. Keeping that in mind, I’ve included four rows of information for each finalist. The first is the raw Approximate Value for the player’s entire career. This is cumulative, so the longer the career, the more years a player had to add to their total. The remaining three rows of information are all position-specific. We are only comparing Bob Kuechenberg to other Offensive Guards, and not to Offensive Tackles.
The first is “Hall of Fame Percentile Rank”. This represents the percentile rank of the subject player compared to the current Hall of Famers at the same position. The higher the percentage, the better. For example, a percentile rank of 70 means that the player’s career Approximate Value (AV) score is higher than 70% of the current members of the Hall of Fame at the same position.
The next row is “Non-HOF with Higher AV”. It is fairly self-explanatory. This is just a raw number of HOF-eligible players at the same position, who have a higher career AV score than the subject, but have not yet been elected. This is not to say that the subject player is worse than all of those, because remember, this is “approximate” value. It’s just another way of illustrating how clear cut the player is to others at the same position.
The third row is “% of Similars in HOF”. Here, I found all HOF-eligible players who are within 10 AV points, plus or minus, of the subject’s career AV. The % represents the number of players within +/- 10 points who are already in the Hall of Fame. Just like the Percentile Rank, the higher the number here, the better.
I didn’t include players who are not yet eligible either because they are still active or retired fewer than five years ago. While this is probably a wash at most positions, at a position like receiver, it means that Cris Carter and Reed appear better than they would if they were also compared to Jerry Rice and the current crop of still active players, of which several are likely to make the Hall, and already rank higher than Carter and Reed in career AV. Here are the fifteen finalists for the Hall of Fame, listed in descending order of Approximate Value.
DE Bruce Smith Approximate Value 146 Hall of Fame Percentile Rank: 93 Non-HOF with higher AV: 0 % of Similars in HOF 100 DB Rod Woodson Approximate Value 142 Hall of Fame Percentile Rank: 100 Non-HOF with higher AV: 0 % of Similars in HOF 100 DT John Randle Approximate Value 107 Hall of Fame Percentile Rank: 20 Non-HOF with higher AV: 1 % of Similars in HOF 57 OLB Derrick Thomas Approximate Value 105 Hall of Fame Percentile Rank: 50 Non-HOF with higher AV: 3 % of Similars in HOF 13 G Randall McDaniel Approximate Value 103 Hall of Fame Percentile Rank: 70 Non-HOF with higher AV: 0 % of Similars in HOF 100 TE Shannon Sharpe Approximate Value 101 Hall of Fame Percentile Rank: 100 Non-HOF with higher AV: 0 % of Similars in HOF 100 DT Cortez Kennedy Approximate Value 98 Hall of Fame Percentile Rank: 10 Non-HOF with higher AV: 3 % of Similars in HOF 22 WR Cris Carter Approximate Value 98 Hall of Fame Percentile Rank: 67 Non-HOF with higher AV: 0 % of Similars in HOF 78 WR Andre Reed Approximate Value 97 Hall of Fame Percentile Rank: 67 Non-HOF with higher AV: 0 % of Similars in HOF 78 DE Richard Dent Approximate Value 97 Hall of Fame Percentile Rank: 25 Non-HOF with higher AV: 2 % of Similars in HOF 31 DE Claude Humphrey Approximate Value 91 Hall of Fame Percentile Rank: 21 Non-HOF with higher AV: 6 % of Similars in HOF 17 C Dermontti Dawson Approximate Value 83 Hall of Fame Percentile Rank: 40 Non-HOF with higher AV: 1 % of Similars in HOF 16 WR Bob Hayes Approximate Value 78 Hall of Fame Percentile Rank: 17 Non-HOF with higher AV: 12 % of Similars in HOF 15 G Bob Kuechenberg Approximate Value 77 Hall of Fame Percentile Rank: 10 Non-HOF with higher AV: 8 % of Similars in HOF 16 G Russ Grimm Approximate Value 65 Hall of Fame Percentile Rank: 10 Non-HOF with higher AV: 18 % of Similars in HOF 5
For the most part, I'll leave the commentary to you. Who do you think should be selected, and why? Whether you use AV or some other measure, Bruce Smith and Rod Woodson look like locks. After that, several others have Hall of Fame worthy profiles, when we compare them to players already in the Hall, but only some of them can get in this year. It will be interesting to see who gets the necessary support in among that next group of worthy finalists. As there are several Hall-worthy player candidates, I would probably be disappointed if some were bumped by the induction of Tagliabue or Wilson this year. Honestly, I think the Hall should separate out the selection of the "contributors" from the players, rather than having them compete for spots.
I said "for the most part". But I am a homer, so that double line is there to clearly mark a shift in the tone of this post. I'm going to use the rest of the post to stump for my candidate, Derrick Thomas. I'm not going to put down any other candidates, because I think at least half this group is deserving of eventual enshrinement. I'll just say that Derrick Thomas is a Hall of Famer, and deserves to be selected posthumously as soon as possible.
The Hall has had difficulty with outside linebackers and pure pass rushers, and figuring out how to value them. Only six outside linebackers who began their career since 1950 have made the Hall, and that number is too low. The primary criticism of Thomas is that he was one-dimensional. Thomas rarely played in coverage, and was a relentless edge pass rusher. To those critics, I say that the goal of any player or team is to win. What Thomas did changed games and led directly to victories. He was a specialist, and was one of the all-time best at his specialty. I doubt we will hear anyone complain that a quarterback specialist like Peyton Manning runs it too infrequently and isn't well-rounded. Similarly, any coach who dropped Thomas into coverage rather than repeatedly utilize him at a premium job (pass rusher) in the modern NFL would be a fool. I don't care what he didn't do. What he did do was directly impact games throughout his career, moreso than an "all-around" player who does everything okay.
Sadly, Thomas died too young. Would his resume have been that much better if he had lingered around and played some mediocre seasons into his mid-30's? His career AV number above would have been higher, and put him in "near-lock" status. His sack totals would have been higher. As it stands, his sacks/yr rate is better than everyone on the list ahead of him except for Reggie White. Even if we assume just 5 sacks/yr for another 3 seasons, to get him more in line with the seasons played by others ahead of him, his sack rate would have still been one of the best. I also don't think the raw sack totals do him justice. He forced team to gameplan against him. If we had hurries and hits stats, I suspect he would look even better. What we do have is Forced Fumble data. Now, I can't tell you for sure that everyone of the forced fumbles was a result of a sack, but a high percentage were. Thomas forced 41 fumbles. His FF/Sack ratio (32.4%) is astounding, and is higher than everyone ahead of him on the career sack list. The average FF/Sack ratio for the rest of the group of pass rushers ahead of him is 21.2%. Thus, Derrick Thomas' sacks were more "valuable" than your average sack, because he forced turnovers at a higher rate. He wasn't getting alot of cheap coverage sacks where the QB ate the ball and fell toward the line of scrimmage. He was blowing quarterbacks up from the blindside, or stripping the ball as he sped by, just as the quarterback was pulling the arm back.
It's been just over nine years (January 23, 2000) since Thomas was paralyzed in a car accident on an icy day while speeding to the airport to travel to Saint Louis for the NFC Championship game. I think it's about time he is recognized as the Hall of Famer that he is. I've presented the case for why, as a player, he should be in the Hall of Fame. But the story is a worthy one as well. He never knew his father, a fighter pilot who died in Vietnam, but he honored his memory throughout his career. He went from a troubled youth in inner-city Miami, to someone who was consistently recognized by the NFL for his charity work with his Third and Long foundation. I know he won't be there to give a speech, but I think his selection would give an opportunity to recognize others who died too soon, and won't themselves be gaining enshrinement in the Hall on the basis of their careers. I just realized that the Chiefs have had a lot of tragedy in their history, from the sad post-career stories of Jim Tyrer and Mike Webster, to the death, way too soon, of Joe Delaney. I think it would be a nice touch if Thomas was recognized as a Hall of Famer, and there was some recognition of Joe Delaney as well.