Tim Brown for the second consecutive year is a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and once again the Raiders legend shouldn't expect a call.

Not because he's unqualified, for he went to nine Pro Bowls. Not because his numbers don't hold up; he ranks fourth all-time in catches and yardage, tied for sixth in touchdown catches. And not because Brown, after an incredible start to his NFL career as a wide receiver and kick returner, suffered a devastating knee injury that reduced him to outstanding.

No, Brown is unlikely because he's not first among the four receivers who are finalists to be members of the Class of 2011.

One of the other three, Cris Carter, was a wideout with better numbers in nearly every receiving category -- and is in his fourth consecutive year as a finalist.

Another, Shannon Sharpe, was a revolutionary tight end whose significant statistics exceed all previous inductees at the position.

The fate of Brown and 16 others lies in the hands of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee, which gathers Saturday for its annual meeting. Naming no more than seven inductees will be an all-day job, with several candidates quickly dismissed but most others requiring hours of debate.


Advertisement

Also among finalists are running backs Jerome Bettis, Marshall Faulk and Curtis Martin; offensive linemen Dermontti Dawson and William Roaf; defensive linemen Richard Dent, Chris Doleman, Charles Haley and Cortez Kennedy; wideout Andre Reed; cornerback Deion Sanders; and NFL Films boss Ed Sabol.

Insofar as Seniors Committee nominees, in this case Chris Hanburger and Les Richter, usually are rubber-stamped, I'm here to help with the other five, even though I have no vote.

Sanders was the most electrifying presence in the NFL, matching Michael Jordan for jaw-dropping athletic theatrics. "Prime Time" hijacked games, commanding the spotlight, embracing it and shining beneath it. A two-time Super Bowl winner and eight-time Pro Bowl pick, he was the top cover man of his time and maybe the best kick returner ever.

Sanders is, has to be, a lock.

As should be Faulk, perhaps the NFL's most complete offensive machine. He played in two Super Bowls, winning one, and is unsurpassed as an all-purpose back, ranking fourth all-time in yards from scrimmage and scoring 136 touchdowns. Any man who rushes for more yards than Marcus Allen and catches more passes, for more yards, than Lynn Swann belong with them in Canton.

The third lock for me is Sabol, the video pioneer. Football is an audiovisual game; no team sport is more reliant on its sights and sounds, on the field and the sidelines. Sabol, a master at using film to create indelible images and bring them to the fan, sold the game better than the networks did. He is to football what Bud Greenspan was to the Olympics.

Now, with two spots left, it gets difficult. Real difficult.

Among the receivers, there's Brown and Carter and Sharpe and Reed, a finalist for the fifth straight year. My personal list would rank Carter first, Sharpe second, Brown third and Reed fourth. But it's extremely close. It's conceivable only one gets in.

Among the defensive linemen are three elite pass rushers -- Dent, Doleman and Haley -- and Kennedy, a beastly tackle. Dent and Doleman compiled terrific sack totals. Kennedy was wonderful on mostly mediocre teams. Haley was high-maintenance, but nobody was a more relentless pass rusher and no player equals his five Super Bowl rings.

The offensive linemen were the best of their era, Dawson a quick and smart center for good Pittsburgh teams that never won a Super Bowl and Roaf an 11-time Pro Bowl tackle named to all-decade teams in the 1990s and 2000s.

The running backs are the easiest call, because Faulk is a clear No. 1. The other two were very different but practically equal. Bettis had a bigger persona, but Martin ran for more yards. Martin was more consistent, but Bettis won a ring.

Every finalist on the list belongs. But only seven are called. My picks, after Hanburger and Richter, are Sanders, Faulk, Sabol, Carter and Haley, who edges Roaf.

There will be fireworks in the room when 44 selection committee members, one voter representing every football city and 12 at-large, meet. The finalists group will be trimmed to 10, from which no more than seven will enter the Hall this summer.

If Brown gets in, he can thank the voters who understand he spent the vast majority of his career without an excellent quarterback. And because those voters came to realize Brown ranks fifth all-time in punt return yardage. Sanders, by comparison, ranks 27th.

If Brown doesn't get in, it's because there's an order to the process. And the talent pool is deep.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com.