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Hall of Fame Class of 2020: Who should be enshrined a year from now?

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In honor of centennial celebration, class will be expanded

Wild Card Playoffs - Baltimore Ravens v Pittsburgh Steelers
Troy Polamalu 
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

We’ve just seen Champ Bailey, Pat Bowlen, Gil Brandt, Tony Gonzalez, Ty Law, Kevin Mawae, Ed Reed and Johnny Robinson enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Robinson was inducted as a Senior nominee, while Bowlen and Brandt made it into Canton as Contributors. Congratulations to those eight terrific contributors to this great sport, but who is most deserving to be enshrined one year from now?

First, we have to establish the criteria. A player has to be at least five years removed from the game. And here is how the selection process has taken place taken directly from the Hall of Fame’s official website:

When the Selectors meet in February on the eve of the Super Bowl in this host city to name the newest class members, they will have before them a roster of 18 finalists, along with detailed biographies on each. The 18 Finalists include 15 Modern-Era nominees and on an alternating annual basis either one or two Senior nominees and one or two Contributor nominees. The Senior and Contributor finalists are selected by special nine-person committees appointed from the full Selection Committee.

However, this upcoming year, the Class of 2020 will actually have 20 inductees in honor of the centennial and to clear the backlog of worthy candidates. 10 Seniors, 5 modern players, 3 contributors and two coaches will be inducted.

Who are the players that have now finally waited five years and are eligible for the very first time? The names to know here are Troy Polamalu, Justin Smith, Reggie Wayne and Patrick Willis.

The finalists from a year ago who didn’t get the nod include Steve Atwater, Tony Boselli, Isaac Bruce, Don Coryell, Alan Faneca, Tom Flores, Steve Hutchinson, Edgerrin James, John Lynch and Richard Seymour. Joe Jacoby and Everson Walls were also finalists for the 2018 class. Lynch has now been finalist six times, Coryell five and Faneca four. Boselli, Bruce and Jacoby have made it ever so close three times. Coryell should be a lock this year with the Hall of Fame set to open its doors to two new coaching additions.

Here are several Senior candidates that will certainly be helped out by the number of these players being increased: Ken Anderson, Maxie Baughan, Cliff Branch, Todd Christenson, Randy Gradishar, LC Greenwood, Alex Karras, Jim Marshall, Ken Riley and Duke Slater. Possible Contributors include Bobby Beathard, Bucky Kilroy, Robert Kraft, Paul Tagliabue and George Young.

But let’s focus on the modern players. Which five modern players are most deserving?

Of the first ballot players, Polamalu looks like an easy selection, much as Reed was a year ago. These two defined the safety position for many years as members of a great rivalry between the Ravens and Steelers. Over the history of the NFL, rarely has there been a safety that stands out like Polamalu, even to the untrained observer. Not only was he consistently a massive piece of fantastic Pittsburgh defenses year after year, but he helped lead the Steelers to two Super Bowl victories. While Polamalu did go to eight Pro Bowls, he should be better remembered for his unorthodox style of play, the extremely creative ways in which Dick LeBeau employed him and his extreme pension for creating gigantic plays for Pittsburgh’s defense.

As for the “just misses” last year, Hutchinson stands alone as most deserving. There is no way that Hutchinson should not have been enshrined this past year and the committee needs to make that right immediately. A seven-time Pro Bowler in 11 seasons with Seattle and Minnesota, Hutchinson was one of those players that just excelled in every single aspect of his position and did so at just such a high level play after play after play. Adrian Peterson early in his career and especially Shaun Alexander in his prime would not have done what they did without Hutchinson.

After Hutchinson, Faneca should rightfully receive his induction. But we know how these things often work and will the committee take a second guard who also happens to be a second Pittsburgh Steelers player in the same class? Probably right behind Hutchinson as the best guard of his era, Faneca excelled out in space leading the way for Pittsburgh’s running game or playing a power brand of football right off the snap against heavier interior defensive linemen. He went to the Pro Bowl nine straight times. Now it is time for Faneca to go the Hall of Fame.

That leaves just two spots remaining for modern players. Lynch has been a finalist the most of those to consider, but his career wasn’t as impressive as guys like Reed, Polamalu and Brian Dawkins, all of whom should be getting into Canton in a very short span of time. Atwater also falls short of that extremely high standard at safety. Would the committee consider another offensive lineman like Boselli, even though he doesn’t have longevity on his side? Seymour very well could have been the best football player of everyone being considered for these two final spots, but because of the nature in which he was utilized, Seymour doesn’t have great stats to back his cause.

It should come down to James and Willis. Only 12 players in history have more rushing yards than James, who won the rushing title twice. But James was also well ahead of his time as a receiving threat with five seasons of more than 50 receptions and 433 catches for his career. He would fit in perfectly in today’s game. Peyton Manning gets tons of deserved credit for the greatness that was the Colts offense during this time, but James played a gigantic role as well in all facets of those offensive juggernauts in Indianapolis.

Unlike Lewis and Urlacher, Willis doesn’t have the “Feel” of a first ballot linebacker, but his career was spectacular nonetheless. With the exception of one season, Willis went to the Pro Bowl every year he was in the NFL. Willis was remarkably productive year after year and like James would fit into today’s NFL extremely well with his ability to play every facet of the position, particularly as a great coverage linebacker for his day that never left the field.

A year from now will obviously be a Hall of Fame class like we have never seen before. But of the modern day players, those that are most deserving are Polamalu, Hutchinson, Faneca, James and Willis in that order.