Six years ago, Jonathan Ogden became the first player drafted by the Ravens to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and he did it the first time he was eligible. Last year, Ray Lewis followed him, again without having to wait.
Late Saturday afternoon in Atlanta, Ed Reed will find out whether he’s going to join his former teammates in this exclusive fellowship.
There are few sure things when it comes to making the Hall of Fame in a player’s first year of eligibility. Other great stars from Reed’s era have had to wait several years. But there’s a sense that because he was such a unique force at safety — there are only 13 players from the position in the Hall of Fame — he’s a sound bet to be in the 2019 class.
“He’s the best free safety in the history of the game in my opinion,” said ESPN analyst and former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. “So that’s pretty unique.”
Reed made nine Pro Bowls in 12 seasons after the Ravens picked him 24th overall in the 2002 NFL draft. He ranks seventh all-time with 64 interceptions and first all-time in interception-return yardage (including the two longest individual returns of 107 and 106 yards).
NBC Sports columnist Peter King, an influential member of the Hall of Fame selection committee, has written that Reed is a “heavy favorite” to make it this year.
He’s one of three first-time candidates, along with Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez and Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, among the pool of 15 modern-era finalists.
Up to five can make it from that group. Other candidates include Jacksonville Jaguars tackle Tony Boselli, Pittsburgh Steelers guard Alan Faneca, Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings guard Steve Hutchinson, New York Jets and Tennessee Titans center Kevin Mawae, Indianapolis Colts running back Edgerrin James, and Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams wide receiver Isaac Bruce.
Reed’s defensive competitors include New England Patriots cornerback Ty Law, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Broncos safety John Lynch, Broncos safety Steve Atwater, and Patriots and Oakland Raiders defensive lineman Richard Seymour.
Coaches Don Coryell (St. Louis Cardinals and San Diego Chargers) and Tom Flores (Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders and Seahawks) round out the 15.
If Reed is one of those selected, Hall of Fame president and CEO David Baker will knock on the door of his Atlanta hotel room to inform him of the news. Then the 2019 class will be revealed at a taping for the NFL Honors ceremony, which will run from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and be broadcast on channels 13 and 9 at 9 p.m.
Reed said Monday that he feels little anxiety about the impending vote. He enjoyed attending Lewis’ induction in August and rubbing shoulders with past greats such as Lawrence Taylor, Andre Reed and Ronnie Lott. But even there, he did not dwell on all the talk about him being next in line.
“I’ve thought about it a little bit,” Reed said. “But even when I sit and think about it, I think about all the work, my mom and dad and all the people who helped me. … I think about those people who believed in me as a kid and saw the things I didn’t see in myself.”
Teammates, opponents and coaches would be surprised if Reed has to wait, even though that’s been the fate for many of his fellow finalists.
Lynch has reached this juncture six times, most of any current modern-era candidate, followed by Coryell at five and Faneca at four. Since 1970, 89.3 percent of finalists have eventually earned induction.
If Reed makes it, he would join Ogden, Lewis, safety Rod Woodson, tight end Shannon Sharpe and cornerback Deion Sanders as former Ravens in the Hall of Fame. Former general manager Ozzie Newsome made it for his work as a tight end with the Cleveland Browns.
The 48-member Hall of Fame selection committee, which features media representatives from each NFL city (veteran broadcaster Scott Garceau for Baltimore) along with 16 at-large selectors, will begin its work Saturday by considering the cases of “seniors” finalist Johnny Robinson (a safety for the Dallas Texans and Chiefs from 1960 to 1971) and contributors Pat Bowlen (owner of the Broncos since 1984) and Gil Brandt (a longtime front-office figure for the Dallas Cowboys).
A finalist must receive yes votes from at least 80 percent of the full committee to earn induction.
Next, the committee will winnow the list of 15 modern-era finalists, which includes Reed, to 10. After another round of debate, the pool will go from 10 to five. Then each of those five will receive a yes/no vote from the entire committee, with 80 percent again the bar for entry.
There’s no set size for the class, but it must contain at least four members and no more than eight. Last year’s class, headlined by Lewis, featured the full eight.
Former Ravens see poetry in the possibility of Reed entering the Hall of Fame one year after Lewis. For so long, they were the brains and heart of the teams overwhelming defense, with Lewis patrolling the middle and Reed the back end.
“Yeah, it definitely fits, man,” former Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb said. “There’s no other way. I just always knew that when their time came up, they were going to be first-ballots. They’d better be.”
“Who could’ve wrote up a better scenario than that?” added former Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain.
Lewis relished joining the circle of all-time greats with their ceremonial gold jackets last summer, and he hopes to be back in Canton, Ohio, this August to celebrate his longtime partner.
“I think it honestly solidifies him as one of the greatest players to ever play this game, period,” he said, anticipating good news for Reed.