The HOF cases for Harrison, Brown, Reed: Untangling the WR logjam

Tim Brown will have yet another shot at Hall of Fame enshrinement. (Getty Images)
Tim Brown will have yet another shot at Hall of Fame enshrinement. (Getty Images)

Hall of Fame cases: The receiver trio (Harrison, Reed and Brown) | Charles Haley | Jerome Bettis | Eddie DeBartolo | Aeneas Williams | Kevin Greene | Tony Dungy | John Lynch | Morten Andersen | Will Shields

The day before the Super Bowl, 46 Hall of Fame voters will enter a conference room somewhere in New York City, and they won't leave until they emerge with the 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame class. The election will take hours, because each of the finalists will be presented by a media member who extols his virtues and the reason why that particular man should be inducted in with the next class. Then, the debates will begin, and they will rage for hours. Eventually, a Hall of Fame class will be elected, and all will rejoice.

Until then, we're left to ponder the possibilities. On this page during the next few weeks, we'll debate most of those who have a chance to land a spot in Canton this year. At the end of the debate, we'll come up with our own ballot of those who we feel deserve to be enshrined (a quick FYI: I am not a Hall of Fame voter, and neither is anybody else on the current roster). I can tell you right now that I'll include linebacker Derrick Brooks, defensive end Michael Strahan and offensive tackle Walter Jones on my ballot, so those three won't be among those we debate.

Until then, let's think things through with the receiver trio of Marvin Harrison, Andre Reed and Tim Brown.

2014 Hall of Fame Finalists
Name Position
Morten Andersen Kicker
Jerome Bettis Running back
Derrick Brooks Linebacker
Tim Brown Wide receiver
Edward J. DeBartolo, Jr. Owner (49ers)
Tony Dungy Head coach (Bucs, Colts)
Kevin Greene Linebacker/defensive end
Ray Guy Punter
Charles Haley Defensive end/linebacker
Marvin Harrison Wide receiver
Claude Humphrey Defensive end
Walter Jones Tackle
John Lynch Safety
Andre Reed Wide receiver
Will Shields Guard
Michael Strahan Defensive end
Aeneas Williams Cornerback/safety

Nothing but the facts: The HOF voters tried to ease the logjam of receivers last year by electing Cris Carter, but with the inclusion of Harrison on his first ballot, the logjam has returned. Of these three, Harrison has the most career receptions (1,102, the third-highest total in league history) while Brown is fifth all-time with 1,094 and Reed is 11th with 951. Brown has an advantage in receiving yards (14,934 compared to Harrison's 14,580 and Reed's 13,198), while Harrison vastly outpaces the other two with 128 touchdown catches (Brown had 100 and Reed accumulated 87). Harrison spent his entire career in Indianapolis, while Brown spent all but one of his seasons with the Raiders and Reed played all but one year with the Bills. Together, the three combined for 24 Pro Bowl bids.

Why they should be elected: Harrison is one of the best receivers of all time and helped Peyton Manning win the only Super Bowl of his career. Harrison's 2002 season where he collected 143 catches, 1,722 yards and 11 touchdowns is one of the best receiving years in NFL history. Brown, meanwhile, played four seasons longer than Harrison, and he was a definitive threat returning kicks as  well. So, if we're talking versatility, you'd have to give the nod to Brown in that situation. Plus, you have to consider that Brown, for much of his career, caught passes from the likes of Marc Wilson, Jay Schroeder, and Steve Beuerlein. Not exactly Hall of Fame-level quarterbacks unlike Harrison (who had Manning) and Reed (who had Jim Kelly). Reed was a consistent threat. Every season but two from 1998-2007, Reed recorded at least 850 receiving yards. Consider that Reed was a fourth-round draft pick out of some place called Kurtztown, you have to be impressed with what he accomplished in his pro career. His former coach Marv Levy said he's never seen a better receiver when it came to gaining yards after a catch.

Why they shouldn't be elected: While Harrison was always one of the best receivers of his time, the same can't necessarily said of Brown (not when he was competing for that title in his day against Jerry Rice and Michael Irvin). Brown led the league in receptions only one time, and in his 17 seasons, he scored double-digit touchdowns only twice. Reed, as we see it, has two major problems. His statistics simply don't measure up to those put up by Harrison and Brown (not to mention future ballot mainstays like Randy Moss, Isaac Bruce and Terrell Owens). Problem No. 2 is that in his final six seasons in the league, Reed never topped 70 catches or six touchdown in a single season. He played 16 years, but he wasn't an elite receiver after he turned 31. He had a fantastic quarterback in Jim Kelly throwing him passes every year, but he just wasn't as dominant a player as you'd like to see in a receiver, especially in this pass-heavy day and age. That's probably not fair to Reed, but that's just how it is.

What a Hall of Fame voter thinks: "How many first-ballot receivers are there? Unless you're Jerry Rice, getting in as a first-ballot receiver is pretty difficult at best. When you look at guys' sixth year and later on the [ballot], a good percentage of them are wide receivers. I don't know why. It just seems that out of all the stats, the one that gets the most scrutiny is receiving.  Receivers and pass-rushers, those are the ones that are going to take the most time [to debate]. Andre Reed and Cris Carter had been almost even, and last year, there were a lot of private conversations. We had to get one in to get rid of the backlog. The presentation speech last year on Carter shed some new light and it was good. Of all those guys, we thought, 'Let's get Carter in.'"

How are their chances: I assume the voters will do all they can to get another receiver in this year, because Bruce becomes eligible next year and Owens the year after that. If we're talking pure HOF worthiness, I think you'd have to put in Harrison over Brown, but I'm not sure the voters will do it. If the choices are Brown and Harrison, I think the voters will take Brown this year and then Harrison in 2015. It's unfortunate for Reed that so many of the best receivers of all time (statistically, at least) retired after Reed did. If Reed, who has been a finalist every year since 2007, could have sneaked into the HOF before the recent big-name receivers were eligible, that probably would have been a fair deal. As it stands now, his chances of enshrinement aren't great.

Coming Thursday: The case for and against Charles Haley.

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