As the names of the 2021 Pro Football Hall of Fame class were released last night, my hopes for seeing Reggie Wayne’s entry diminished. Calvin Johnson and Drew Pearson were among the earliest names released by the Hall as new members. With Charles Woodson and Peyton Manning as first ballot locks, it was all but over.
However, Wayne made it as a finalist in his first year of eligibility and there was a genuine possibility that he would get in. That’s not a bad sign at all for his future prospects. This was a tough year to break in, with the aforementioned Manning and Woodson on the ballot. Prospects for a player with a coin flip chance or worse often depend on who they’re going up against, to speak the obvious.
Next year, there won’t be a generational-type of first ballot-lock quarterback to compete with for a spot, and long-time snub Drew Pearson is finally gone as far as competition at the WR position.
However, there is another tremendously talented WR that will be eligible next year, and Reggie knows him well: Andre Johnson. Johnson will headline a group of three new former Pro Canes that will be eligible for the 2022 Hall of Fame class: Johnson, Vince Wilfork, and Devin Hester.
Johnson’s career stats over his 14 year career are 193 games, 1062 catches, 14, 185 receiving yards, and 70 TDs. His 2008 season was among the best of the decade for a wide receiver: 115 catches for 1575 yards and 8 touchdowns, earning first team All Pro honors. He was first team All Pro twice and made 7 Pro Bowls. He eclipsed 100+ catches in a season 5 times (2006, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2013).
Wayne’s stats are strikingly similar. Over a 14-year career, Wayne played in 211 games, totaling 1070 catches for 14, 345 yards, and 82 TDs. He made 6 Pro Bowls and earned first team All Pro honors in 2010. He also caught a 53-yard touchdown pass that helped the Colts beat the Bears 29-17 in Super Bowl 41.
That will be an interesting debate for 2022, as Johnson had perhaps the slightly more impactful seasons statistically (with a lesser quarterback), but Wayne was almost equally productive and was instrumental in bringing a title to Indianapolis. That’s....pretty close, in my book.
Hester makes for an interesting argument. Recognizing he logged some decent stats as a wide receiver (255 rec, 3311 yards, 16 TDs), there’s absolutely ZERO doubt that Hester left his stamp and a lasting impact on the game of football as a return man. He’s the most lethal returner the league has ever seen. In the aforementioned Super Bowl 41, he took the opening kickoff for a touchdown in one of the more memorable plays of the decade. He shattered the NFL record for career punt return touchdowns (14; 2nd place 10) while tying for ninth-most kickoff return touchdowns in league history (5). His 3695 punt return yards are 3rd most and 7333 kick return yards are 11th most all time. In short, it’s hard to deny Hester’s playmaking ability, especially as a punt returner, impacted the game. He made teams change the way they approached punting the football and covering kicks. And all this despite the NFL changing the kickoff rule in 2010 to move the kickoff up from the 30 to the 35-yard line, dramatically reducing the impact of returners in the league.
My concern for Hester is the stubborn rigidity of the selectors in refusing to identify players who impacted the league in less traditional ways. Steve Tasker deserves a spot in Canton, in my humble opinion, but he continues to be shut out. Ronde Barber also deserves enshrinement for his unique yet undeniably impactful career in Tampa, but he doesn’t fit the standard CB mold. Hester deserves entry, and I think he’ll get it. It’s just a question of how long will the wait be?
Wilfork, like most interior lineman, can’t and shouldn’t be defined by statistics the way non-lineman are. He accumulated 16 career sacks from the inside, made 5 pro bowls, and earned one first team All Pro honor (2012). However, he was a wrecking ball on the inside of the Patriots defense and did his job as well as anyone - eating up blocks to allow others to make plays. He was an important cog on two Super Bowl champions (2004, 2014) while also appearing in the big game two other times.
My main worry for Wilfork is, once again, the obsession with the selectors on quantifiable output, i.e., statistics. It’s going to take a good presentation on his behalf to illustrate the unique and disruptive manner in which Wilfork affected the game and forged countless opportunities for his teammates - and his team - to succeed.
So who’s it going to be? Who will be the next Pro Cane to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Do you think all four of the aforementioned players will ultimately get in?
Which former Pro Cane will be the next to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
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