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Pro Football Hall of Fame announces finalists

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Pro Football Hall of Fame announces finalists (photos courtesy of AP)

First-timers Lewis, Moss, Urlacher among 15 on ballot

The number of potential new enshrines in Canton has been narrowed to 15 finalists.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced their trimmed-down list last week. This list came by way of trimming the group of semifinalists down from 27. Next month, the selection committee will narrow the list of contenders to 10, then to five. Those five will then be officially voted on by the 48-member committee; anyone who receives 80 percent of the vote or better will be in.

There are just four first-year eligible players in this year’s group of finalists, all of whom have reasonable arguments for induction into the Hall.

Ray Lewis has a case as one of the best linebackers of his generation. He was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and was a part of two Super Bowl winning teams during his tenure with the Baltimore Ravens, the only team he ever played for. He had 41.5 sacks among his 2,000-plus career tackles; he also had 31 interceptions and forced 19 fumbles. A defensive game-changer unlike any other.

Randy Moss has a case as the best wide receiver not named Jerry Rice in the history of the NFL. He was certainly one of the most feared, and with good reason – Moss holds the single-season record for touchdown receptions with 23 (he also had two seasons of 17, which is tied for fifth-best all-time). For his career, he’s got 156 TD catches, second only to Rice. He’s 15th on the receptions list with 982, but fourth in yardage with 15,292. A historically fearsome offensive weapon.

Brian Urlacher had a phenomenal career as a linebacker for the Chicago Bears. He was viewed as one of the staunchest defenders of the 2000s – he was named Defensive Player of the Year in 2005 and made eight Pro Bowls. His numbers bear that out – he managed nearly 1,500 tackles, with 41.5 sacks, 22 interceptions and 11 forced fumbles. He was the face of the Bears for a decade – no easy feat in a town that adores its middle linebackers.

Steve Hutchinson is the only lineman among this quartet of newcomers. He played guard for a dozen seasons – five for Seattle, six for Minnesota and one in Tennessee. Eight of those seasons saw him play all 16 games. He was named to seven Pro Bowls and was a first-team All-Pro five times. Generally considered to be a generational talent at his position.

All four of those players certainly merit consideration, but there are only five spots and a whole lot of holdover candidates with strong cases of their own.

Maybe the biggest holdover is wide receiver Terrell Owens, whose statistical case might surpass even that of Moss. He’s currently second in receiving yards, eighth in receptions and third in TD catches. His contentious relationship with the media has dinged him, but this third time as a finalist might be the charm. Edgerrin James is the sole running back on this year’s list. He rushed for over 12,000 yards and had 80 TDs on the ground. He also caught 433 passes for 3,364 yards and an additional 11 scores.

The rest of the list includes dominant defenders like Ty Law, Brian Dawkins, John Lynch and Everson Walls (a first-time finalist in his 20th and last year of modern-era eligibility). Some great linemen are here too – Tony Boselli, Alan Faneca, Joe Jacoby and Kevin Mawae. Wide receiver Isaac Bruce is also a finalist, but even with over 1,000 catches and over 15,000 yards receiving, he kind of gets lost in the massive shadows cast by Moss and Owens.

It’s an impressive list – one that will almost certainly be difficult to pare down even to 10, let alone to five. And even with that list of five, there’s no guarantee of induction. If I had to guess, I’d say that Lewis and Moss will be tough to keep out – both were such game-changing talents – but there’s no way of knowing what will happen inside the room once the selection committee begins their deliberations.

Look, there’s no denying that the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s process is a convoluted one without a lot of transparency. But even with that opacity, it’s hard to argue against the 15 names on this list of finalists. Whatever happens from here is anyone’s guess, but thus far, it looks like they’ve done a solid job of advancing a potential 2018 class.

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