Friday Focus: Calvin Johnson, 2007 draftees could be in Hall of Fame consideration in 15 years

Posted Feb 1, 2013

With Hall of Fame voting taking place on Saturday, Detroitlions.com columnist Mike O'Hara takes a look at the 2007 draft class and how five of those players could make a case as being the best at their respective positions

Calvin Johnson

In another 15 years or so, Calvin Johnson could be one of the stars of the NFL's dazzling 2007 draft class who will be in the final voting stage for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Given the way his career has ascended steadily in six seasons with the Detroit Lions, Johnson is on track to be a first-ballot selection - just like Jerry Rice, whose one-season record for receiving yards Johnson broke last season, was in 2010.

There are no guarantees, especially for wide receivers  because of the way receiving statistics have been inflated in recent years. Cris Carter, Andre Reed and Tim Brown all have spectacular stats but have failed multiple times to get 80-percent of the votes from the 46-member Board of Selectors that is required for induction.

Voting for the Hall of Fame Class of 2013 is Saturday in New Orleans, the day before the 49ers play the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII.

The results always spark debate, as much for those who fail to make the cut as those who get in. I have my opinion about who I favor in Saturday's vote. We'll get to that.

It's just as intriguing to look ahead at how a large segment of the 2007 draft class will end up in Canton, Ohio. Five players taken within the first 14 picks can make a case as the best players at their positions. If they continue to play at the same rate, they can punch a ticket for Canton.

Johnson, taken second overall by the Detroit Lions, has set the standard for his position. For two straight years he has gotten 49 of a possible 50 votes for All Pro. He had 1,964 receiving yards in 2012, shattering the mark of 1,848 set by Rice in 1995.

Offensive tackle Joe Thomas, taken third by Cleveland, plays on a perennial loser but is 6-for-6 in making the Pro Bowl.

Running back Adrian Peterson, drafted seventh by the Vikings, was the NFL's best offensive player in 2012.

He didn't set a record, the way Megatron did for receiving yards, but he had the second-most rushing yards in history with 2,097 yards on a Vikings offense that had running as a first option and hoping for anything  as the second.

Middle linebacker Patrick Willis of the 49ers, taken 11th overall, is 6-for-6 in Pro Bowls.

And Derrelle Revis of the Jets, taken 14th overall, is the best cornerback in the league. The only issue for Revis is longevity. He is coming off a serious knee injury that caused him to miss most of last season.
The Hall of Fame process and voting is fascinating in every sport, and Saturday's vote is certain to spark another round of controversy.

Football is at a disadvantage in one way because it's the only sport that elects players who have no statistics. Offensive linemen have no catches, yards or touchdowns, and they are lumped in with players who do.

For example, guard Will Shields of the Kansas City Chiefs made the Pro Bowl 12 times and is one of 15 modern-era finalists. He's competing against Warren Sapp, a defensive tackle who had 96.5 sacks for the Tampa Bay Bucs and Oakland Raiders.

Based on my experience as a Selector, including last year, I think the process is fair. Anwar Richardson of Milve.com and Booth Newspapers has taken over the Detroit vote.

For the purposes of discussion and argument, I'm weighing in on the five modern-era finalists I'd vote for tomorrow and how the other finalists rank.

As usual, feel free to disagree.

Envelopes, please, on the Class of 2013 finalists:

OT Jonathan Ogden, Ravens: A massive, athletic and smart player who excelled as a run blocker and pass protector. Anthony Munoz and Forrest Gregg from separate eras are often regarded as the best tackles of their era. Ogden is in a group that's close behind.

G Will Shields, Chiefs: A Pro Bowl pick 12 straight years in a 14-season career and a member of the all-decade team of the 2000s. One season he blocked for Priest Holmes to set a then-league record with 27 TDs. Another year he helped the Chiefs set a franchise record by giving up only 19 sacks.

DT Warren Sapp, Bucs, Raiders: He's entertaining – from a distance – and a self-promoter, but his production and impact are undeniable. Having 96.5 sacks as an interior lineman speaks for itself. Sapp made the all-decade teams of the 1990s and 2000s. If he makes the Hall, he might stop taking shots at Ndamukong Suh.

DE Michael Strahan, Giants: He was a strong two-way player who had 141.5 career sacks playing mostly left end, which is the tougher side because of responsibilities defending the run and playing against blocking tight ends. He set the one-season sack record with 22.5 in 2001 but it was tainted. Packers QB Brett Favre rolled out and dropped to the turf, letting Strahan touch him for the record-setting sack.

WRs Andre Reed/Cris Carter: One of them should get in, but neither will. Both are deserving, as is Tim Brown, but the three cancel out each other in the voting.

Reed had 951 career catches in the regular season and 85 more in the playoffs.  Reed was known as a tough receiver inside the numbers, which separates him from Carter in the eyes of some. Reed played in four Super Bowls for the Bills.

Carter was a great boundary receiver, catching passes either on the sideline or he end line of the end zone. His career stats are unquestionably of Hall of Fame - 1,101, and 130 TD catches. His postseason record was nothing special, though.

Seniors: Curley Culp, who played briefly for the Lions in the last two seasons of his career, and linebacker David Robinson of the Packers are nominated by the Seniors Committee after a thorough vetting process. They should be voted in automatically.

Other candidates: Sentiment seems to be gaining for Bill Parcells, best known for winning two Super Bowls as coach of the Giants. Parcells has a strong chance to edge out the receivers for the fifth spot.

Guard Larry Allen's day will come, perhaps as early as next year. It's Shields' turn this year.

Running back Jerome Bettis is popular but his stats don't quite rise to Hall of Fame level.

Kevin Greene and Charles Haley are borderline candidates who played defensive line and outside linebacker and could make it under some circumstances. Haley was a proven big-game producer and the only player to play on five Super Bowl winners.

Cornerback Aeneas Williams had 55 career interceptions and made the Pro Bowl at cornerback seven times and once at safety. Like Parcells, support has been building for him. The interception total stands out.

Among the others, Ed DeBartolo's backers have pushed hard for the owner who built the 49ers into a dynasty that won five Super Bowls from 1981 through 1995.

Art Modell, who died last year, was a visionary, but moving the Browns from Cleveland to Baltimore after a losing battle to get a new stadium in Cleveland created such ill will that it overshadowed what he meant to Cleveland and the NFL.

Modell seems to have the slimmest chance of those with the best credentials.