We’re getting close to learning who the 2012 inductees will be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this August. Much of the discussion on one of our other Hall of Fame posts revolves around which of the three wide receiver finalists — or whether any of them — will get chosen for the honor this season.

Four-time finalist Andre Reed seems to have gained the most momentum, based on his near miss last season. Three-time finalist Cris Carter and one-time finalist Tim Brown are the other two wideouts in the mix for this year’s honor.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame Website did a comparison of these three players and how they fared up against the other 21 wideouts already enshrined in Canton, Ohio. But I wanted to do some analysis of my own.

Let me start with this. All three of these guys had great careers and they definitely are strong candidates, at least in the eyes of Zoneblitz. They all would be in the top five in receiving yards, touchdowns and receptions among receivers already in the Hall. Even as we move into a heavy passing era, Reed, Carter and Brown all continue to match up strongly with the other candidates they’ll be compared with in the near future.

But as the competition gets stronger in the years ahead, as guys like Marvin Harrison, Randy Moss, Torry Holt, Terrell Owens and a host of others retire, it’s going to be more and more challenging for the current group of finalists to get in. That makes the voting over the next couple years that much more important. And frankly, after doing some analysis, I think the current wide receiver finalists might be gaining momentum in the wrong order.

Two of the most frequently cited metrics cited in the comment sections for our posts are Pro Bowls and All-Pro selections. The All-Pro nods were surprisingly low for all three of these guys. Carter earned two while neither Reed nor Brown was ever selected for this honor. In fairness, all of their careers overlapped with that of Jerry Rice, which made that a difficult status to attain. Reed did earn two second-team All-Pro awards from the Associated Press while Brown and Carter each added one.

(In fairness, other publications and voting syndicates did name each of these three guys to their All-Pro and All-Conference lists several times, but the AP list is considered the Gold Standard of NFL honors.)

In terms of Pro Bowls, Brown was the leader with nine selections, edging Carter’s eight and Reed’s seven. Carter was on the NFL’s first team All-Decade team for the 1990s. Brown was on the second team.

Brown Carter Reed
Seasons 17 16 16
Pro Bowls 9 8 7
1st Team AP All-Pro 0 2 0
Catches 1,094 1,101 951
Yards 14,934 13,899 13,198
Touchdowns 100 130 87
Super Bowls 1 0 4
Super Bowl wins 0 0 0
1000 Yard seasons 9 8 4
10 TD seasons 2 6 1
Times finalist 1 3 4

Now let’s compare the raw stats. Carter and Reed both played 16 seasons while Brown outlasted them by one for a total of 17 years in the NFL. Carter had the most catches, with 1101, compared with Brown’s 1094 and Reed’s 951. The former Viking, Eagle and Dolphin also headed the touchdown category. He had 130 to Brown’s 100 and Reed’s 87.

Yards? In this category, Brown was the leader with 14,934 to Carter’s 13,899 and Reed’s 13,198.

So, taking into account all the comparisons so far, none of three finalists is leaps and bounds ahead of the other two. But in each of the categories, Reed trails at least one of the competitors, if not both.

Where Reed really does set himself apart from Carter and Brown is Super Bowls. None of the three ever won a ring, but Reed did play on all four of the Bills’ four Super Bowl losing teams. Brown played in one with the Raiders. Carter came close a couple of times, particularly with the 1998 Vikings, but never quite got there.

Is that category enough to make Reed the most deserving of the three? Not so much, at least in my eyes, particularly given the numbers he posted when the Bills got to the big game: 27 catches for 323 yards and zero scores. Nearly half of that yardage came against Dallas in 1992. His other Super Bowl stats were yawners (which obviously wasn’t all his fault, but still, his performances did not stand out).

A couple other stats to consider are 1000 yard seasons and 10 touchdown seasons. Those numbers are a bit random, but I thought they were interesting benchmark numbers to use as potential tiebreakers. Brown had nine 1000 yard seasons and two 10 touchdown seasons. Carter had eight 1000 yard seasons and put up 10 touchdowns six times. Reed, I was surprised to see, had just four 1000 yard seasons and only eclipsed 10 touchdowns once.

So what other factors should come into play. One potentially forgotten but possibly significant advantage Brown has over his competitors is that he also was an accomplished return man. He put up a career 3,320 yards returning punts and 1,235 yards returning kickoffs. He also scored a touchdown doing each. Carter and Reed were not significant contributors on special teams.

Other factors? I suppose you could take into account which quarterbacks were throwing them the ball. Reed spent the bulk of his career catching passes from Hall of Famer Jim Kelly. Carter had a number of guys throwing to him, including Rich Gannon, Daunte Culpepper, and Warren Moon. Brown probably had the most interesting collection of all. A random sampling includes guys like Jeff George, Wade Wilson, Jay Schroeder and Vince Evans. There were many more. Yet he still put up top-notch stats.

Further complicating these comparisons is that Carter, Reed and Brown brought different skill sets to the table. Brown was more of a game-breaking burner. Carter worked the sidelines masterfully, having a special knack for getting 11 yards whenever his team needed 10 for a first down. And Reed was a master over the middle, excelling at taking a five-yard pass from Kelly and turning it into a big gainer. So, in some ways, statistical comparisons are not totally apples-to-apples, which gives Hall of Fame voters a remarkably difficult task in sorting between the three.

In scanning some of the comments at Zoneblitz and other sites, it would appear as though each of the three wideouts has supporters in their corners for various reasons. This is understandable. As I mentioned previously, they all, in my opinion, are deserving candidates, and I believe all three will have their day in the Ohio sun.

Now, could a potential tiebreaker come down simply to whose turn it is? If that happens, Reed could get votes that way. He is a four time finalist. Carter has been that far on the list three times. Brown, interestingly, just once so far.

But if you ask me what order these three future Hall of Famers should be inducted, I’m putting Tim Brown at the top of the list. He put up the most spectacular numbers while often playing on bad teams with a collection of quarterbacks who will only be visiting Canton on their own dime.

He should be followed by Cris Carter and then Andre Reed. What are your thoughts?

Which Hall of Fame Finalist Wide Receiver SHOULD be inducted first?

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