Commentary

Bears' Dent could break through

Originally Published: February 5, 2010
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Rice/Dent/SmithUS PresswireJerry Rice, left, and Emmitt Smith, right, the leading receiver and rusher in NFL history, are considered locks to be elected to the Hall of Fame. Former Bears standout Richard Dent, who had 137.5 career sacks, could also make it.

Even though the NFL has evolved into a pass-heavy league, Pro Football Hall of Fame voters have struggled electing wide receivers.

Lynn Swann, John Stallworth and Charlie Joiner were among the top receivers during the run-dominated 1970s, but it took until 2001 and 2002 for Swann and Stallworth to be enshrined. (Joiner was elected in 1996.) Art Monk, who retired in 1995 with more receptions than any other NFL receiver, waited eight years before he was elected.

On Saturday, Jerry Rice, who is considered not only the greatest receiver of all time but also one of the great players of all time, should slide through as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Former Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith is also expected to enter on his first try.

But receivers will dominate the conversation. Among the 15 modern-day players under consideration are Tim Brown of the Raiders, Cris Carter of the Vikings and Andre Reed of the Buffalo Bills. Rice, Carter, Brown and Reed rank in the top 8 for all-time receptions.

Shannon Sharpe, one of the great tight ends in NFL history, is also up for selection.

Forty-four voters, including yours truly, will decide this year's inductees. Election results will be announced Saturday at 5 p.m. ET.

In what is usually an unpredictable vote, here is how I handicap them:

• Jerry Rice, wide receiver, San Francisco 49ers and two other teams: Slam dunk. Check out ESPN.com NFC West blogger Mike Sando's excellent breakdown of Rice.
Chances: 100 percent.

• Emmitt Smith, running back, Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals: Slam dunk. Should be unanimous.
Chances: 100 percent.

• Richard Dent, defensive end, Chicago Bears and three other teams: With top pass-rushers such as Fred Dean and Derrick Thomas making it the past couple of years, Dent should finally have his day. He had 137.5 sacks in his career.
Chances: 85 percent.

• Dick LeBeau, longtime coach, Detroit Lions cornerback: LeBeau is one of two senior nominees who go before the board of selectors separate from the modern-day candidates. Voters simply vote yes or no. He doesn't count against the limit of five modern-day candidates. Although he is best known as the coach who invented the zone-blitz scheme, he also was a great player who finished his career with 62 interceptions.
Chances: 80 percent

• Floyd Little, running back, Denver Broncos: Little is another senior candidate who doesn't count against the limit of five modern-day candidates. He had more than 12,000 all-purpose yards as a Bronco. He helped establish the Broncos as one of the league's best franchises.
Chances: 75 percent

• Cris Carter, wide receiver, Minnesota Vikings and Miami Dolphins: Carter caught 1,101 passes for 13,899 yards and 130 touchdown passes. He was perhaps the top possession receiver of his era. He failed to make it in his first two tries.
Chances: 55 percent

• Tim Brown, wide receiver, Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Brown, a receiving star of the Raiders, was also dangerous and dependable as a returner. He caught 1,094 passes for 14,934 yards and 100 touchdowns. This is his first year of eligibility.
Chances: 50 percent

• Cortez Kennedy, defensive tackle, Seattle Seahawks: Kennedy was a dominating interior force for Seattle. He played at least 90 percent of the defensive snaps from 1991 to 1996.
Chances: 50 percent

• John Randle, defensive tackle, Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks: The undrafted Randle recorded 137.5 sacks during a 14-year career. Guards and centers couldn't handle his quickness.
Chances: 48 percent

• Shannon Sharpe, tight end, Denver Broncos, Baltimore Ravens: Sharpe changed the thinking of how offenses used tight ends. Even though he was labeled a tight end, he worked the inside slot to perfection, catching 815 passes. He went to eight Pro Bowls. It could hurt his chances if voters consider him just a pass-catcher instead of a tight end.
Chances: 45 percent

•  Charles Haley, defensive end, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys: The five-time Pro Bowl pass-rusher played a fierce style of football on teams that won consistently. He recorded 100.5 sacks in 12 seasons.
Chances: 40 percent

• Dermontti Dawson, center, Pittsburgh Steelers: Dawson was an all-decade center for the 1990s and went to seven Pro Bowls. He played 170 games over 13 seasons.
Chances: 38 percent

• Russ Grimm, guard, Washington Redskins: It's hard to believe that "The Hogs," perhaps the best-known offensive line in NFL history, don't have a Hall of Famer. Grimm is the only member of that group with a chance of making it.
Chances: 33 percent

• Rickey Jackson, linebacker, New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers: The "Who Dat" excitement of the Saints' being in the Super Bowl has carried over to the Hall of Fame. Jackson is one of the greatest defensive players in Saints history. He had 128 sacks in 13 seasons, but this is his first chance in the final 15.
Chances: 33 percent

• Andre Reed, wide receiver, Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins: Reed has the numbers to be in the Hall of Fame, but he has had a hard time getting the final votes for enshrinement. He had 951 catches for 13,198 yards and 87 touchdowns for those great Bills teams.
Chances: 30 percent

• Roger Craig, running back, San Francisco 49ers and two other teams: Craig was the halfback who helped make the 49ers' West Coast offense work. He rushed for 8,189 yards and caught 566 passes. He might not have the rushing numbers to make it.
Chances: 20 percent

• Don Coryell, coach, St. Louis Cardinals, San Diego Chargers: Coryell engineered two of the more exciting offenses in NFL history. He doesn't have a Super Bowl ring, which could hurt, and he's going against a pretty strong field.
Chances: 10 percent

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer