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Ranking the Last 10 NFL Hall of Fame Classes

On Saturday, August the 8th, the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio said hello to its 8 shiny new members. In what now stands as the largest draft class since 1967, the class of 2015 will surely go down in history as one of the most eclectic and diverse collection of inductees. Even with the whole Junior Seau fiasco casting a cloud over the festivities, we got the traditional set of emotional speeches and moments to remember, which is something we can always look forward to when the HOF selections are announced.

But outside of the total of inductions alone, how will this draft class be remembered? Does it stand up to previous inductions in terms of quality? And what can we learn towards future selections from the 2015 class?

Today we take a look at the past 10 HOF inductions in Canton, and rank them in order of relevance and quality. For this exercise, we take into account all individuals selected for the Hall, including coaches, executives, and overall contributors for the NFL. While name power sometimes plays a role, we will try to convey the full body of work for these historic figures.

#10 – Class of 2008

DE Fred Dean, DB Darrell Green, WR Art Monk, DB Emmitt Thomas, LB Andre Tippett, T Gary Zimmerman

With the legendary Monk as the only player from outside the line of scrimmage, the 2008 Class suffered from poor timing and a lack of potential impact stars. Even then, Monk was certainly not a slam-dunk candidate, and had been on the ballot for a while after his retirement in 1995. In fact, the only first-ballot inductee among this group was Green, who also doubles as the most valuable player of the bunch, according to Approximate Value (AV). The rest of the inductees were highly bland choices who had finished playing many years before, and this class as a whole can certainly be considered as one of the weakest of all time.

#9 - Class of 2012
DB Jack Butler, C Dermontti Dawson, DE Chris Doleman, DT Cortez Kennedy, RB Curtis Martin, T Willie Roaf

This class was probably doomed by a lack of recognizable names and skill-position players, as it was probably Curtis Martin who had the biggest profile. However, even Martin had a relatively short career by HOF standards (11 seasons), and actually fell behind the 100 threshold in Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value. This six-player group combined for only 18 All-Pro selections, and had Chris Doleman as arguably its most valuable performer.

#8 – Class of 2014

LB Derrick Brooks, P Ray Guy, DE Claude Humphrey, T Walter Jones, WR Andre Reed, DE Michael Strahan, DB Aeneas Williams

Andre Reed became the first player since Rickey Jackson’s selection in 2010 to be inducted into the Hall without an All-Pro appearance. That may serve as a reflection of this group of players, which was full of worthy names but no real eye-popping candidates. Only Jones and Brooks were first-ballot inductees, while the Hall welcomed its first punter in the legendary Ray Guy. Still, this 7 players combined for only 21 All-Pro nods. A special mention has to be given to Derrick Brooks, who is the most valuable selection in terms of AV since Jerry Rice.

#7 – Class of 2007

G Gene Hickerson, WR Michael Irvin, G Bruce Matthews, TE Charlie Sanders, RB Thurman Thomas, DB Roger Wherli

If we split this class into two parts, we can see three players who made their name in the sixties (Hickerson, Sanders, and Wherli), and three others who were quintessential 90’s stand-outs. Even as Matthews was the only first-ballot selection, Irvin and Thomas helped define this group by being skill-position guys who had a lot of success on the gridiron. These players combined for 19 All-Pro choices, with Matthews being by far the most valuable player with an AV of 134.

#6 – Class of 2015

RB Jerome Bettis, WR Tim Brown, DE Charles Haley, LB Junior Seau, G Will Shields, C Mick Tinglehoff, Bill Polian (contributor), Ron Wolf (contributor)

This newly-minted class was met with mixed results when it was first announced. On one hand, we have a sure-fire candidate in Junior Seau, while a controversial pick like Jerome Bettis probably made it more by name recognition. Still, its 6 players combined for 17 All-Pro selections and 50 Pro Bowl games, while 4 of its members had an AV above 100. Bettis and Haley were at least part of two of the most prominent teams of the last decades, so their case was also justified, at least. The Polian and Wolf picks probably signal a new movement to induct more and more non-players, so it will be interesting how that plays out during the following years.

#5 – Class of 2013

G Larry Allen, WR Cris Carter, DT Curley Culp, T Jonathan Ogden, LB Dave Robinson, DT Warren Sapp, Bill Parcells (Coach)

Allen, Ogden, and Sapp were inducted in their first try after long and productive careers, but probably were not the ideal candidates when it came to public relations and ticket sales. However, this class also included the legendary Bill Parcells, who won two Super Bowls and is integral part of the history of 4 NFL franchises (not to mention the deep coaching tree he left behind). The six players inducted combined for 18 All-Pro selections, but only Sapp was able to finish his career with an AV above 100. This is why this class would rank lower if not for Parcells’ presence.

#4 – Class of 2011

DE Richard Dent, RB Marshall Faulk, LB Chris Hanburger, LB Les Richter, DB Deion Sanders, TE Shannon Sharpe, Ed Sabol (NFL Films Founder)

Richer could be considered as one of the weakest picks of the past 10 years, but even then he was a pioneer in the early years of the league (1954-1962). Outside of him, this Class includes two 90’s icons in Faulk and Deion, while also including Sabol, who is an integral part in the NFL’s transition from middling league to global phenomenon via the popularity of NFL Films. The six players combined for 19 All-Pro nods, but even that underscores their value to the league and their teams, with Faulk being ranked as the best running back of all time in terms of AV.

#3 – Class of 2009

SE Bob Hayes, G Randall McDaniel, DE Bruce Smith, LB Derrick Thomas, DB Rod Woodson, Ralph Wilson Jr. (Owner)

Even without any skill-position star among its members, the Class of 2009 has to be considered as both underrated and special. Both Smith and Woodson entered in their first try and almost unanimously, and serve as the only pair of players who entered the Hall in the same year with an AV of at least 140. The rest of the selections were no slouches, as only Hayes can be taken as a controversial pick, but even then he was an iconic player in his time. This Class combined for 25 All-Pro selections and 46 Pro Bowl trips. To cap it all off, Ralph Wilson was a true pioneer of the game, founding the AFL and then being an integral part of the AFL-NFL merger. 

#2 – Class of 2006

QB Troy Aikman, LB Harry Carson, QB Warren Moon, DE Reggie White, T Rayfield Wright, John Madden (Coach/Contributor)

The Class of 2006 was short on names, but big on star power. In terms of AV, Reggie White ranks as the second-best player ever selected to the Hall of Fame, with his playing career and life outside of football serving as a prime example of a legendary player. Also, Aikman won 3 Super Bowls and Warren Moon can be considered as one of the best QB’s of all time, statistically. To cap it all off, we have John Madden, who is iconic as a coach, TV personality, and backer of the classic Madden video game franchise. Even as Aikman, Carson, and Moon didn’t even make an All-Pro team during their careers, the value of this Class is defined by many other factors that make it rank among the best.

#1 – Class of 2010

G Russ Grimm, LB Rickey Jackson, DB Dick LeBeau (Coach), RB Floyd Little, DT John Randle, WR Jerry Rice, RB Emmitt Smith

While the Grimm, Jackson, Little, and Randle selections can be a bit underwhelming, when you feature the NFL’s all-time leading rusher and receiver, then you know that it will be hard to top this Class. Rice and Smith combined for 14 All-Pro selections, 21 Pro Bowls, and 6 Super Bowl titles, and have to be considered among the inner-circle Hall of Fame club. LeBeau’s contributions as a player and as a defensive coach also merit a special mention. Thinking forward with today’s crop of players, this could be matched if Peyton Manning and Tom Brady decide to retire in the same season.

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