A quote in the Bob Glauber article that Ed linked to recently about Jeff Feagles prompted me to begin my "Feagles for the Hall of Fame" bandwagon again. I haven't been shy about my love for Feagles in the past, prompting Ed to write this post halfway through the Super Bowl season stating that Feagles has no shot. Since mini-camp is over and there doesn't figure to be much Giants news in the next few weeks, I thought this might be a good chance to take another look.
The obvious starting point for this discussion is that in the history of the NFL, 247 players have made the Hall of Fame. Of those 247, only one of them was a player whose contribution to the game came via his leg, and that guy was a kicker (Jan Stenerud). No punter, not even the great Ray Guy, has made it to the Hall of Fame. To say we're talking about a longshot here is a gross understatement. However, I'm not trying to see whether Feagles will make the Hall of Fame, I want to determine if he should make the Hall of Fame.After playing at the University of Miami and helping them to an undefeated National Championship season in 1987, Feagles was signed as an undrafted free agent by the New England Patriots in 1988. He made the Pro Bowl for the first time in 1995 while a member of the Arizona Cardinals, which until this past season was his only trip to Honolulu. In addition to the Patriots, Cardinals, and Giants Feagles also spent time with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Seattle Seahawks.
Over the course of a 21-year (and counting) career, Feagles has amassed a number of NFL records. He has played in 336 consecutive games, blowing away the previous record of 283 straight games held by lineman Jim Marshall. Feagles also holds the records for most punts, most punting yards, and most punts landing inside the 20. It is that last record that probably best defines Feagles: he has never had the strongest leg, but he is consistently one of the most accurate kickers in the league.
As a rookie Feagles finished 3rd in the AFC with 24 punts inside the 20. After last season, he has now placed at least 20 punts inside the 20 in 19 consecutive seasons, an NFL record. This past season Feagles became one of only five players to have a net average of 40.0 yards per punt, though it should be noted that all five players have accomplished this feat in the past two seasons (and Shane Lechler has done it two years in a row).
I think it's pretty hard to dispute that Feagles is one of the greatest punters in NFL history, if not the very best. However, if history is any lesson, even the greatest punters don't get enshrined in Canton. Is that fair, though? I'm not going to argue that punters have as big an impact on the game as quarterbacks or linebackers, or even placekickers, but punters clearly do have an impact on games. It's harder to score when your drive starts from the 5-yard line than it is when it begins from the 20, and a good punter can really help a defense.
As long as NFL teams use a roster spot and pay money to guys who do nothing but kick the football, those guys should get some of the respect they deserve. Feagles has been among the best at his position for 20+ years, which should be enough to get him serious consideration for the Hall of Fame.