I slept on it, thought it over on a nearly six-hour road trip ride home, and slept on it again – for two more nights.
And yet, I’m not sure exactly who the Chicago Bears’ next representative to be inducted and enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame could be. Brian Urlacher brought up some names worthy of consideration during his speech. And since then, Patrick Finley (Chicago Sun-Times) and Larry Mayer (ChicagoBears.com) have broached the topic.
The Bears haven’t been steadily great for a while and under-performing teams generally don’t produce Hall of Famers. But there are a handful of Bears who will make compelling cases over the next few years. Let’s discuss some of the names atop the list.
OLB Lance Briggs (Hall of Fame Eligibility: Class of 2020)
Briggs stood next to Urlacher for a decade as one of the game’s best outside linebackers. When Urlacher wasn’t making plays, it was Briggs doing the clean-up work. And although Briggs’ role was different than that of Urlacher, Briggs was still able to put up some pretty big numbers. Briggs played the weakside outside linebacker spot in Lovie Smith’s Tampa-2 scheme, much like Tampa Bay Buccaneers Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks. In that role, Briggs did a little bit of everything. He came away with 936 tackles and was someone who consistently helped the defense create turnovers. Briggs grabbed 16 interceptions, forced 16 fumbles, recovered seven more, and scored a total six defensive touchdowns.
The Bears drafted Briggs in the third round (68th overall) in the 2003 NFL Draft and he earned seven Pro Bowl trips and a first-team All-Pro nomination in 2005 during his 12-year career, which exemplifies how much value the team received from Briggs during his time in Chicago.
C Olin Kreutz (Hall of Fame Eligibility: Class of 2019)
Not only are offensive linemen under-represented in the Hall of Fame, centers are criminally overlooked and undervalued despite their importance in the grand scheme of the offense. Kreutz was one of the best who played the position, even though it’s admittedly difficult to quantify offensive line play. And yet, you could watch him and know that guy was part of the cream of the crop at the position.
During his career, Kreutz made six straight Pro Bowls from 2001-06 and was a first-team All-Pro player in 2006. He was also a leader on the offensive side of the ball and an anchor of what was a steadily productive running game. No matter how you – as an individual – grade offensive line play, being the best offensive lineman leading the way for one of the best run games has to mean something.
Kreutz isn’t likely to make it on the first ballot. But if fellow center Kevin Mawae (eight-time Pro Bowler, three-time first-team All-Pro) makes it next year, it would help Kreutz’s case.
CB Charles Tillman (Hall of Fame Eligibility: Class of 2021)
Ummm, Tillman’s Hall of Fame class appears to be absolutely stacked …
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 27, 2016
… and yet, there aren’t too many cornerbacks who have revolutionized the position the way Tillman did.
In addition to being a solid cover corner in a Cover-2 defense, Tillman was a menace to opposing ball carriers. Tillman perfected the Peanut Punch, forcing 44 fumbles in his 13-year NFL career. The Bears’ best defenses created a ton of turnovers and Tillman was often in the middle of making things happen. Just check out his career numbers. Tillman intercepted 38 passes, came away with 12 fumble recoveries, and added nine defensive touchdowns in 168 games. Tillman intercepted at least three passes in nine of his 13 seasons and forced two fumbles or more in 10 seasons. This wasn’t luck. This wasn’t a fluke. This was pure skill … and something others have tried to copy over the years.
Tillman isn’t getting in on the first ballot, but there’s certainly a unique case for his name to be seriously considered in the conversation.
KR/PR Devin Hester (Hall of Fame Eligibility: Class of 2022)
Saving the best for last? You betcha.
Devin Hester is literally the greatest return specialist of all-time and his résumé speaks for itself. And the fact that the ball is already rolling on a public push for Hester’s Hall of Fame candidacy is encouraging.
It’s a bold take, but Hester is getting into the Hall. It’s just a matter of time.