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Assessing Steelers’ Hall of Fame Chances

by Steelbydesign

Ben Roethlisberger could play this weekMarc’s write up last week about some of Ben Roethlisberger’s career milestones got me thinking about the Hall of Fame for several Steelers.

For me this is always a hard conversation to have because the Steelers are an extremely polarizing team.

Steelers fans are obviously extremely proud of their team.

I live in Cincinnati and I think people here hate the Steelers more than they like the Bengals. So it’s hard to have any great football conversations here.

I don’t consider myself a homer, so I’ve decided to try and look at some recent Steelers objectively, and analyze what their hall of fame prospects are.

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, 2004-Present

• 2X Superbowl Champion
• 3X AFC Champion
• 2X Pro Bowler
• 63.3 Completion Percentage (Ranks 12th all-time)
• 219 Touchdown Passes (26th)
• 34,104 Passing Yards (24th)
• 92.6 Passer Rating (9th)

I think that Big Ben has consistently been one of the most underrated quarterbacks throughout his entire career. I actually had a Bengals fan tell me about a year ago that Andy Dalton could take the Bengals to a Superbowl, the same way Ben did in his 2nd season because “he rode that defense to a championship.”

Anyone that actually paid attention knows that in his Sophomore season, he didn’t play well in the Superbowl, but he was stellar and extremely important in that playoff run.

Obviously Ben’s resume isn’t finished. I think that because he doesn’t put up Manning or Brees like numbers, his winning percentage will be important. If the Steelers continue to decline it could hurt Ben.

Ben compares favorably to Cowboys great, Troy Aikman. Aikman was 3-0 in Superbowl where Ben is 2-1. Ben’s regular season win percentage is currently at .669 where Troy Aikman’s was .570. They had similar playoff records (currently) too with Ben at 10-4 and Aikman at 11-5.

I should also point out, that currently only 12 Quarterbacks in NFL history have started in 3 Superbowls. Of those 12, 8 are in the hall of fame. So who are the other 4? Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Kurt Warner, and Big Ben… Brady and Manning are first ballot locks, Warner probably gets in too… So would Ben be the only one on that list not on? I don’t think so.

My Verdict: 85% chance he gets in.

Troy Polamalu, SS, 2003-Present

• 2X Superbowl Champion
• 3X AFC Champion
• 8X Pro Bowler
• 5X All Pro
• 2010 Defensive Player of the Year
• 32 Interceptions, 13 Forced Fumbles, 12 Sacks

The only thing that keeps Troy from being a first ballot lock is his health, that’s it. It’s interesting that the different Steelers I’m discussing are in the conversation for different reasons.

Troy’s career numbers aren’t all that incredible, because of all the injuries. He’s a guy though that just jumps off the screen when you watch him play. Troy Polaamalu has one of the greatest collection of highlight plays in NFL history. I think he’s probably worth of Canton based on the eyeball test alone.

One thing you hear come up a lot in HOF talks is was he the best player at his position, in his era. I’d say that in his prime Troy and Ed Reed were 1A and 1B, and they both get in.

Another thing I think Troy has going for him, is it’s almost impossible to have a real “dynasty” in today’s NFL but I’d say the Patriots and Steelers had the closest thing to is during the 2000’s. The Steelers went to 3 Superbowls, known as defensive teams, and Troy was the face of that defense each time.

If Troy or Ben were to snag another ring I’d say that vaults them both into first ballot status.

My Verdict: 90% chance he gets in.

Hines Ward, WR, 1998-2011

• 2X Superbowl Champion (1X MVP)
• 3X AFC Champion
• 4X Pro Bowler
• 1,000 receptions(9th), 12,083 yards (21st), 85 touchdowns(15th)

Hines Ward is probably the hardest for me to assess because he’s my all-time favorite player, so I try to look at it unbiased.

It appears that the HOF committee values guys like Polamalu that play at the highest level in the sport even if it’s in spurts, versus a guy like Ward who was just very good for a very long time. I think that’s why we’re seeing Jerome Bettis get passed over.

Hines Wards numbers are good, but they’re not elite. He trails guys like Steve Smith, Andre Johnson, and Jimmy Smith in yardage. Still though, his numbers are pretty impressive considering he played in rushing offenses his entire career.

I think if Hines doesn’t get in, the biggest reason will be that he was never the best receiver in the NFL at any point in his career. I’m not sure he was ever top 3 even.

If he does get in though, it will be because he was the leader on two Superbowl rosters, and was a great clutch receiver. Also, because he was probably the best blocking receiver in NFL history. I’ve heard Cris Collinsworth say he’ll definitely be in for that reason.

Hines shines in a lot of areas that don’t show up in the stat sheet, but certainly are important in helping a team win games.

It all depends on that committee. My gut tells me he comes up short but he could possibly sneak in if there’s a weak class one year. He’ll certainly be waiting a while as he’ll be eligible around the same time as Terrell Owens and Randy Moss.

My Verdict: 40% chance he gets in.

James Harrison, LB, 2002-2013

• 2X Superbowl Champion
• 3X AFC Champion
• 5X Pro Bowler
• 2X All Pro
• 2008 Defensive Player of the Year
• 66 Sacks(84), 6 Interceptions, 29 Forced Fumblest

“Silverback” definitely played at a Hall of Fame level during his prime years, the problem is he was a late bloomer after starting his career undrafted. In his DPOY season he was unblockable with 101 tackles, 16 sacks, and 7 forced fumbles.

James was a great all around player. He was a great pass rusher, and devastating run defender, and really had a great knack for turning sacks into turnovers. He also earned the nickname “Mr. Monday Night” due to his habit of stepping up in prime time games. There was no more prime time than his longest interception return in Superbowl history.

All that being said, James’ stretch of dominance really only spanned about 3-5 seasons. His career numbers just don’t even compare to the HOF greats.

If the Steelers had a long stretch of dominance like the 70’s team, or the 90’s Cowboys then I think James would have a shot with 3 or 4 rings, but unfortunately he just started too late in his career.

My Verdict: 10% chance he gets in.

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Ian May 29, 2014 - 1:50 pm

Something to consider: of the 53 players that have been inducted into the Hall of Fame whose careers ended after 1991, only 3 had a CarAV under 90. Russ Grimm (last year 1991, HOF Class of 2010) had a CarAV of 76, Jackie Slater (last year 1995, HOF Class of 2001) had a CarAV of 87, and Shannon Sharpe (last year 2003, HOF Class of 2011) had a CarAV of 80. The other 50 players whose careers have ended between 1991 and 2008 (the last year that any of the inductees played in the league) all had CarAV’s over 90.

Before I move forward, I should note that PFRef’s CarAV numbers only go back to 1960, so they are not entirely accurate for some of the players that played before the 60s.

Using that as a baseline, here’s a look at some players from the Steelers who have 90+ CarAVs:
Alan Faneca: CarAV 111 – Faneca is the highest rated Steeler not in the HOF. His last year in the league was 2010.
James Farrior: CarAV 97 – Farrior never jumped off the page, but this he was incredibly consistent over his career.
Ben Roethlisberger: CarAV 94 – Since CarAV is a cumulative metric, it will only get higher the longer he plays.
Kevin Greene: CarAV 94 – He only played 2 seasons for the Steelers so it’s uncertain if he’d go into the hall as a Steeler, but he was a Finalist in 2014.
Troy Polamalu: CarAV 93 – Like Ben, this number will only get higher, but he’s in pretty good shape right now.
Greg Lloyd: CarAV 93 – Sleeper alert! Sadly, Lloyd probably won’t get in, despite his excellent career.

On the Bubble:
Joey Porter: CarAV 89 – Hard to argue with 98 career sacks, but with all the pass-rushing talent in his era, it might be a tough sell
Hines Ward: CarAV 87 – While Hines is my favorite Steeler ever as well, it’s a tough call as he played in a generation with Randy Moss and Marvin Harrison who set all kinds of records.

Outside looking In:
Levon Kirkland: CarAV 82 – I wouldn’t call him a Hall of Famer, but he had a very good career
Carnell Lake: CarAV 81 – The Lake Effect made for a great t-shirt but probably not for the HOF.
Jerome Bettis: CarAV 79 – Sad to put Bettis this far down the list. He was a Finalist in 2014 and you certainly have to consider his running style when looking at his career numbers.

steelbydesign May 29, 2014 - 1:56 pm

Thanks for this contribution Ian.

I’m not familiar with CarAV… but while it may be interesting, if it were as easy as saying above this # you’re in, then we wouldn’t need a vote. I’d say the fact that Bettis is so low sort of breaks the validity of just using a stat… Bettis, IMO covers everything you want in a HOF prospect… He had longevity, consistency, was a dominating player, and got a ring. The only thing he didn’t have was that home run threat.

I will say I forgot Faneca, but he has a very good shot at going in.

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