The NFL tonight announced the 94 modern-era nominees for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2017, and five Colts made the cut. Running back Edgerrin James, center Ray Donaldson, offensive lineman Chris Hinton, linebacker Cornelius Bennett, and safety Bob Sanders are the Colts’ representatives among the nominees.
This list will be trimmed to 25 semi-finalists later this year, then down to 15 finalists before the Class of 2017 is announced in February the day before the Super Bowl.
This is the third year of eligibility for Edgerrin James, who was a semi-finalist in his first year eligible and a finalist last year. Edge played eleven seasons and rushed for 12,246 yards and 80 touchdowns (averaging four yards per carry) and caught 433 passes for 3,364 yards and eleven scores. He had seven 1,000 yard rushing seasons and led the NFL in rushing twice, was a member of the NFL All-Decade Team of the 2000s, was a four-time Pro Bowler and a first-team All-Pro in 1999, and is a member of the Colts’ Ring of Honor. James will have a very tough time getting in this year with LaDainian Tomlinson eligible for the first time, but it’s no surprise that he’s a nominee.
The biggest surprise is with safety Bob Sanders, who is a nominee in his first year of eligibility. He played in 50 games over eight seasons and was a two-time Pro Bowler, a two-time first-team All-Pro, and the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2007. He recorded 302 career tackles, 3.5 sacks, 13 passes defensed, six interceptions, and two forced fumbles.
But what about Sanders’ case? There’s no harm in him being among the 94 nominees, even if he doesn’t seem to have much of a shot at actually making the Hall of Fame. It will be a very interesting discussion for this reason: how long does a player have to play at a very high level to be a Hall of Famer? That’s a similar question that the voters will need to answer regarding Denver running back Terrell Davis. Sanders was healthy for two seasons, and in those two seasons he was a first-team All-Pro and helped the Colts have one of the best defenses in the NFL. It could be argued that he was the top safety in the game during his healthy years, if not the best defensive player period. In addition, his return in the 2006 playoffs sparked the Colts’ Super Bowl run. So while I don’t think Sanders will get in and while I was a bit surprised by his inclusion on the list, his candidacy will all come down to longevity. I think you need to play at a high level for a longer period of time than just two or four years to be a Hall of Famer, but that’s the question the voters will have to wrestle with.
As for Donaldson, he played 13 seasons for the Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts (also spending time with the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys) and was a six-time Pro Bowl selection. He played in 244 career games, starting 228.
Hinton played for the Colts for seven seasons (also playing for the Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings) and made seven Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams. He played in 177 career games, starting 172.
Bennett played for the Buffalo Bills, Atlanta Falcons, and Indianapoils Colts during his 14-year career, making five Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams, and he was a member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1990s. He played in 206 career games and recorded 71.5 sacks.