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What are Bob Sanders’ Hall of Fame chances?

Super Bowl XLI: Indianapolis Colts v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Last night, five Indianapolis Colts players were among the 94 people nominated for the Hall of Fame Class of 2017, and one of them in particular garnered a lot of attention: safety Bob Sanders made the list of nominees in his first year eligible.

So the question then becomes why was Sanders nominated? And what are his chances? Both questions are actually relatively easy to answer.

Why was Bob Sanders nominated?

Sanders was drafted by the Colts in the second round of the 2004 NFL Draft and was a true difference-maker when he was healthy. The problem, however, was that he struggled to stay healthy. In fact, he only played in 50 games over his eight year career, and only twice did he play in more than six games in a season (or four times, if you include the playoffs). It was those two seasons, however, that really made him stand out. In 2005 Sanders played in 14 games, while in 2007 Sanders played in 15 games - and both years he was a dominant force. The Colts’ defense ranked in the top two in scoring defense in both years and was number three in terms of yards allowed in 2007, while Sanders was a Pro Bowl selection and a first-team All-Pro selection in both years. In 2007, he was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year, one of just five safeties to receive that honor (one of only four safeties if using the PFWA award instead of the AP one). Then in addition to those two seasons, Sanders returned in time for the team’s playoff run in 2006 and sparked the Super Bowl run, as the Colts ranked first in yards per game allowed and second in points per game allowed that postseason. Sanders was a huge factor, recording 22 tackles, four passes defensed, two picks, and a forced fumble in four games - and forcing two turnovers in the Super Bowl. So when he was healthy, he wasn’t just the best safety in the game, he was arguably the best defensive player period. During his seven seasons in Indy, the Colts defense gave up 18.0 points per game with him and 21.1 points per game without him. Overall in his career, he recorded 302 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 13 passes defensed, six interceptions, and two forced fumbles.

So it’s pretty easy to see why Sanders was among the 94 nominees, as he was an elite player when healthy. So since he played at a Hall of Fame level for two years (and one playoff run), his name is just being throw into the large group of players for the voters to consider. That’s a wise thing, too, as it’s a discussion the voters have been having for a while - how long does a player need to play at a high level to be a Hall of Famer? That’s the question that Sanders’ entire candidacy hinges on, and so it’s a worthwhile endeavor to simply throw his name into the mix.

What are Bob Sanders’ chances of making the Hall of Fame?

While his name is in the mix, that doesn’t mean he’ll make the Hall of Fame, or even the cutdown to semi-finalists. In fact, I’d be shocked if he even makes it past the nominee stage, and here’s why: though he was Hall of Fame good for two years, I think a player needs to play at that level for longer than that in order to actually make the Hall of Fame. It sucks for Sanders because his career was hampered by injuries, but part of being a Hall of Famer is being able to play for an extended period. Bob Sanders is certainly deserving of a spot in the Colts’ Ring of Honor, but not in the Hall of Fame. He was an incredible player, a difference-maker, and a Hall of Fame-caliber player when healthy, but he just couldn’t stay on the field to build a Hall of Fame-worthy resume. I don’t think Bob Sanders has any shot of actually making it to the Hall of Fame, nor should he.