Assessing Willie Roaf’s Hall of Fame Chances

Now that the year-long celebration of the Saints’ Super Bowl victory is finally over, I thought it’d be interesting to look at Hall of Fame chances of The Greatest Saint*, Willie Roaf.

*Drew Brees will probably retire with the title of Greatest Saint, but it’ll take another couple of years. He’s only been the Saints’ QB for 5 years, whereas Roaf played 9 years with the Saints at a similarly high level at a position that’s nearly as important as QB. Rickey Jackson has a good argument, as well, after 13 great years as a Saint. However, OLB isn’t nearly as important a position as LT or QB, so that penalizes him a bit.

Maybe I’ll break this down further at some point. But, for now, I’ll consider Roaf to be The Greatest Saint. If you disagree, that’s fine.

As you may have heard, Willie Roaf wasn’t elected into the Hall of Fame this year. He made the final 10, but wasn’t one of the 5 chosen for enshrinement. Roaf lost to Richard Dent, Marshall Faulk, Deion Sanders, Shannon Sharpe, and NFL Films founder Ed Sabol.*

*I’m ignoring the Seniors Committee folks because they’re elected under a different process, so Roaf wasn’t really competing against them.

First thing’s first: I don’t have a problem with any of those 5 people getting selected over Willie Roaf. The committee can only choose 5 honorees each year, and this year’s 5 are all deserving. Sanders and Shannon Sharpe were among the finest to ever play their position. Marshall Faulk was, too, and was a new running back prototype, changing the way the position was played. Ed Sabol founded NFL Films, which is a huge part of why the NFL is as popular as it is.

A lot of people have decried Sabol’s inclusion, saying he shouldn’t take away a spot from a player. I agree that the contributors should be elected separately from the players, but they aren’t. Since Ed Sabol is a no-doubt Hall-of-Famer, what should the writers have done? They can’t change the bylaws.

If I were choosing, I would probably pick Roaf over Richard Dent, but Dent has been waiting for quite some time, and his credentials are solid.

Of course, Willie Roaf’s credentials are solid, too. He was a top-3 left tackle for most of his career, and had several seasons when he was probably the best tackle in the NFL. There is no doubt in my mind that Willie Roaf will eventually get elected into the Hall of Fame. The question is: when will we he get elected?

Let’s look at the upcoming Hall of Fame candidates to see where Roaf might fit in, keeping in mind that the writers can only elect 5 people per year.

First, the leftovers from 2011: there were several deserving players who weren’t elected this year. In addition to Roaf, the rest of this year’s “top 10″ included Cortez Kennedy, Andre Reed, Dermonti Dawson, and Tim Brown.

This group is a difficult one to rank, because they were all great players at a bunch of different positions. I’d probably guess that Roaf ranks above the receivers (Andre Reed and Tim Brown) and below Dermonti Dawson.¬†Dawson (a center) and Willie Roaf had very similar careers: they each made the All Pro team 6 times in 12-year careers, though Roaf made the Pro Bowl more often*.¬†Roaf played the more important position, although center is arguably as important as left tackle and certainly is more important than any other line position. Plus, Dawson’s been waiting for 5 more years. If I were a voter, I’d probably put Dawson in before Roaf, just because of that waiting time.

*I recognize that it’s goofy to use All Pro and Pro Bowl teams as evidence of how good a player was. However, it’s one of the only things that the Hall of Fame voters have to go by, since there aren’t great statistics for offensive line play.

So, for the fun of it, let’s put Roaf second in that group, behind Dawson and ahead of Cortez Kennedy and the receivers. That would mean he has a good shot at making the final 5, but don’t forget that there’ll be newly eligible players and coaches next year.

The new candidates will include Drew Bledsoe, Bill Cowher, Bill Parcells, Marty Schottenheimer, and Will Shields. Does Roaf belong in the top 5 of this expanded group?

Drew Bledsoe, Marty Schottenheimer, and Bill Cowher aren’t Hall-of-Famers, so you can cross them off the list. Even if you mistakenly think Cowher is a Hall-of-Famer, he’s not likely to get voted in next year: the voters are typically hesitant to elect someone who might return to the sidelines (ask Bill Parcells).

Parcells will get elected to the Hall of Fame, but might suffer because the writers aren’t convinced that he’s truly retired. If they are convinced, though, then he probably deserves to be in over Roaf.

Will Shields poses a bit of a problem for Roaf. Put simply, Shields was a better guard than Roaf was tackle. He was elected to the Pro Bowl 12 times, was a 9-time all pro, never missed a game, and was named Man of the Year in 2003 (which shouldn’t matter, but might). Further complicating things, Roaf and Shields played on the same offensive line in Kansas City, which means that they might split some votes. In Roaf’s favor, Shields was a guard, which is a less important position than left tackle.

If you rank Roaf and Shields as approximately equal, then Roaf’s chances in 2012 come down to one question: will the voters really vote in 3 offensive linemen in 2012? If not, are you sure that Roaf will be in front of Dawson and Shields?

The offensive line is underrepresented in the Hall of Fame, but I don’t think the writers will use 2012 to catch up. Instead, I think they’ll use the lack of new skill position players as a chance to put some of the old skill position players (Andre Reed, and perhaps Chris Carter or Curtis Martin, neither of whom made the final cut this year) into the Hall.

So, I believe Roaf will only get elected in 2012 if the voters think he was greater than Dawson and/or Shields. The voters might put 2 linemen in, but I just can’t see them putting in 3. Still, there’s a good chance he’ll make it in 2012.

If Roaf isn’t selected in 2012, things will get difficult. Let’s look at who becomes eligible in subsequent years:

2013: Larry Allen, Jonathan Ogden, Warren Sapp, Michael Strahan. Frankly, Roaf won’t get selected over any of these players, especially with the media love that a few of them got. I’d probably vote Roaf in ahead of Strahan, but I’m not sure about the rest of them. It’s a tough call. Either way, 2013 probably isn’t Roaf’s year.

2014: Shaun Alexander, Derrick Brooks, Tony Dungy, Marvin Harrison, Rodney Harrison, Mike Holmgren. Roaf would probably get picked over all of these guys except Derrick Brooks. The question is: which of the previous candidates are remaining? Is Jonathan Ogden still waiting to get elected? He’ll get picked before Roaf, as he was probably (slightly) better than Roaf and played on a championship team in Baltimore.

2015: Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Walter Jones, Orlando Pace, Junior Seau, Kurt Warner. Roaf belongs in before everyone here except Junior Seau, who was about as good a player as Roaf at a much different position. However, at this point, there will likely be a LOT of Hall-worthy linemen waiting to get in, which means Roaf still might be passed over.

It looks like 2012 needs to be Roaf’s year. If not, then the mechanics of the Hall of Fame election process could mean he’ll be waiting until 2015 or later. It’s a tough gig to get.

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