There are 24 modern-era wide receivers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Only one -- Jerry Rice -- has more receiving yards than Tim Brown. And the former Raiders great still had to wait six years before he was enshrined. Such is life for any wide receiver playing in today's game -- even the greats are stuck on the waiting list.
Brown's credentials are rock-solid: he's seventh all-time in receiving touchdowns, fifth all-time in receptions and sixth all-time in punt return yardage. The problem is counting statistics have lost their luster, especially for receivers who are racking up huge numbers in the modern, wide-open offenses we see today.
Examining Hall of Fame credentials across different offensive eras is wildly difficult and the former Raiders legend knows he was punished for his timing.
"I don't know this to be a fact, but the media was reporting the reason why Andre [Reed], Cris [Carter] and myself didn't get in first ballot, second ballot, whatever, is because of what's happening with today's game," Brown said while preparing for a HOF pre-party at TGIFridays. "If that is the case, how are these guys going to get in when they didn't surpass our numbers? And we supposedly didn't play in the passing era -- they're in the passing era. It's going to be tough, no doubt."
These guys make up an interesting list.
There are eight receivers who are either active or who became eligible in the past five years in the top 20 for receiving yards all-time in NFL history. (The rest are in the Hall of Fame except for Tony Gonzalez, a lock tight end, and Henry Ellard, who finished playing in 1998.)
|Future Hall of Famers?|
|Receiver||Receptions (Rank)||Receiving Yards (Rank)||Receiving TD (Rank)|
|Terrell Owens||1,078 (6th)||15,934 (2nd)||153 (3rd)|
|Randy Moss||982 (11th)||15,292 (3rd)||156 (2nd)|
|Isaac Bruce||1,024 (8th)||15,208 (4th)||91 (11th)|
|Marvin Harrison||1,102 (3rd)||14,580 (7th)||128 (5th)|
|Reggie Wayne||1,070 (7th)||14,345 (8th)||82 (22nd)|
|Andre Johnson||1,012 (9th)||13,597 (12th)||64 (58th)|
|Torry Holt||920 (17th)||13,382 (13th)||74 (30th)|
|Steve Smith||915 (18th)||13,262 (14th)||73 (33rd)|
That's a mish-mash of receivers who did a lot of impressive things during the 20 years. They're all ranked in the top-20 in catches and all top 50 in touchdown receptions, save for Andre Johnson, who has an extraordinarily low touchdown rate given the rest of his statistics. Such is life with mediocre quarterbacks.
Brown knows a thing to two about that too -- he caught passes from 19 different quarterbacks.
"I caught passes from 19 different quarterbacks in my career," Brown says. "So being able to be consistent with those type of situations almost year in and year out is something I believe helped me to get where I am right now."
The best quarterback Brown played with was Rich Gannon, with the pair sweet music whistling through the air like a modernized Autumn wind.
The next best was ... Jay Schroeder? Jeff Hostetler? Jeff George?
But even a guy like Schaub put up huge numbers in the last 10 years thanks to changes in rules helping offenses, changes in philosophy about approaching offense (no huddle, etc.) and myriad other ways teams got better on that side of the ball.
In 1990, Boomer Esiason was 10th in the NFL with 3,031 passing yards. In 2014 he would've squeaked past Kyle Orton for 22nd with that number. Similarly, 1990 saw 10 1,000-yard receivers. This past season boasted 23.
With a surprising list of guys on the cusp of greatness -- Roddy White and Santana Moss are 38th and 39th all-time in receiving yards! -- the Hall of Fame is faced with a wide receiver conundrum. Opening up the floodgates for anyone with top-10 statistics means creating a revolving door of wideouts walking into Canton.
Holding back guys like Reed, Carter and Brown, making them wait creates confusion, disappointment and surprise among those that follow the game.
"I don't know that surprised is the right word -- there are other former Raiders who should be, but are not yet, in the Hall of Fame -- but I was certainly disappointed and frustrated that it took as long as it did for Tim's induction," former Raiders executive and current CBS analyst Amy Trask says.
The long-time Oakland exec also puts Brown "at or near the top of the list" when it comes to all-time receivers as well.
"No matter that everyone knew the ball was coming to Tim, he always found a way to get open," Trask says.
What makes Brown such an interesting case for Canton is he was never definitively the best receiver in the game in any one year. But he was consistently one of the best receivers year in and year out.
Football Outsiders has data back to 1989 on DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) for receivers. From 1993 through 2002, Brown finished outside the top 12 receivers just twice. Five times he was top five in that span, although never higher than fourth overall.
He's the tail-end of the first wide receiver logjam, with Carter, Reed and Brown all going one-by-one to the tailor for a golden jacket.
The issue is moving forward.
There's no question Moss is a future Hall of Famer ... right? I'm not voting but he's got the necessary statistical rankings and there's no question he was the best wide receiver in the game several years when he played. He's got a reputation but he transcended the game.
Owens should be in based on numbers and career production and he probably will get in, eventually. But it's no guarantee at all. It's not hard to imagine the voters dragging their feet on TO based on his off-field behavior, especially with other receivers from the era involved in the discussion.
Harrison is a good bet to follow suit in the current one-at-a-time entry when 2016 comes around. He's got a short window with Moss/Owens coming, Holt/Bruce already waiting as well and guys like Tony Gonzalez (who may very well take away a receiver "spot" in the Hall) prepared to enter the fray too.
There are some other first-ballot names who will soon skip to the front of the line, like Brett Favre and LaDainian Tomlinson.
The criticism and critiquing of wide receivers when it comes to immortalizing their names is only going to get louder with growing statistical achievements.
Timing is everything. And now's not a great time to put your resume up against other wideouts. Just ask Tim Brown.