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Palmer and Big Ben are still babies, of course. But I like Palmer's chances better. He seems to carry the team, whereas Roethlisberger, as effective as he is, is more a product of the system.
Four runners have made it right away in the last 13 years. I've got no argument with Emmitt or Curtis Martin, a high-yardage guy and the ultimate team player. Plus, what is very important in the minds of the selectors, a fine person. But a first-ballot choice? Depends on the other runners who come up, especially Edgerrin James and Marshall Faulk.
But here comes a guy who is only 27 years old, and I will take great pleasure in voting for his enshrinement the first time he's up-- LaDainian Tomlinson. He does it all: catches a lot of passes, makes people miss. I believe he'll walk in.
Only one wideout has made it on the first ballot in the last 23 years: Steve Largent in 1995. The trouble is that the numbers are getting so inflated that people cancel each other out. But I believe three heads will rise above the crowd, and I'll vote for each of them--Rice; Cris Carter, who ranks No. 2 to Jerry on the alltime pass-receiving list; and Marvin Harrison, who is the only receiver in history to average better than 90 catches a season. Shannon Sharpe has the most tight end receptions ever, but no TE has made it in this current 13-year era.
We are through with the glamour positions, and now it becomes a matter of perceptions, mine against those of the other selectors. The grunt position is my special field of interest, but my track record here is not good. For instance, I feel that few players are more deserving than the Jets' old DE-DT Joe Klecko, and he has yet to get out of the prelims.
O-line. Bruce Matthews is the front-runner of the class of '07, which has no other really strong candidates, and I feel will become a haven for former also-rans. Yes, I think Matthews will squeak through on the first ballot, on the basis of a career that went back to the days of earmuffs and round footballs, but if it comes down to, say, Matthews against Bob Kuechenberg, my vote goes to Kooch.
Larry Allen is my choice as offensive lineman of this era, although it pains me to see him now, barely functional on two bad legs, his balance just about shot, but still making Pro Bowls. Yeah, I think the selectors will be kind to Allen and give him a quick entry, and I won't disagree.
Still about 10 years in the future is Walter Jones. Yep, a smooth-as-silk pass blocker, but I think he'll take a backseat to more flashy candidates for a year or two. Boselli will come up in '08. Six functional years made up his career. Not enough.
D-line. Bruce Smith, already retired. Bryant Young and Michael Strahan, each 34 and good for about three or four more productive seasons--maybe. Richard Seymour, still a baby. Smith, yes. First ballot all the way. They say his pass rush far outweighed his ability against the run, and usually I'm very sensitive about that, but I have to disagree here. He always hustled, he didn't take plays off, he made a lot of backside tackles.
Strahan, yes, a complete player, but he might be coming up against Young, an emotional favorite after his great comeback, and that's big with selectors. So Michael might have to wait a year. Seymour? Solid, productive, but must make more big plays to catch voters' eyes. I see him waiting a while.