By Scott Kacsmer
Cold, Hard Football Facts Hall of Fascinator
As the Pro Football Hall of Fame prepares to induct seven new enshrinees for the 2011 class (Richard Dent, Marshall Faulk, Chris Hanburger, Les Richter, Ed Sabol, Deion Sanders and Shannon Sharpe), a look ahead at next year's selection process. 

First-Ballot Nominees
Players that retired after the 2006 season will be eligible for the first time for the HOF class of 2012. Notable names include: quarterback Drew Bledsoe, running back Corey Dillon, offensive tackle Tarik Glenn, wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, guard Will Shields, wide receiver Rod Smith, and cornerback Troy Vincent.
A closer look at three of these names to gauge where they stand.
Will Shields (1993-2006) may have the best HOF case, as he made 12 straight Pro Bowls in his 14 seasons with the Kansas Chiefs. Though it may not be as well-known as the streaks by Brett Favre and Jim Marshall, the right guard started 223 consecutive games in the trenches, and never missed a game in his career. What could hurt Shields right away is that he played guard (small representation in the HOF), and his former teammate, tackle Willie Roaf, was a finalist last year.
Drew Bledsoe (1993-2006) was the first overall pick of the 1993 draft by the New England Patriots. Once the highest paid player in the league, Bledsoe passed for 44,611 yards (8th all time) and 251 touchdown passes (14th all time) in his career. He made four Pro Bowls, started one Super Bowl, and won a Super Bowl ring as Tom Brady's backup in the 2001 season after his injury paved way for Brady's emergence. Despite his volume stats, Bledsoe was never a very efficient passer, and his reputation as a statue in the pocket led to many sacks and fumbles. Bledsoe is more in the Vinny Testaverde/Jim Hart/Kerry Collins/Dave Krieg/John Hadl tier rather than a HOF tier.
Rod Smith (1995-2006) is an interesting case that fuels the flames of the already heated debate on wide receivers that is only going to get more difficult as receivers that played in the modern passing era continue to pile up numbers. Smith had eight seasons with 1,000+ receiving yards, and finished with career totals of 849 receptions, 11,389 yards, and 68 receiving touchdowns for the Denver Broncos. His numbers very similar to Michael Irvin's, and Smith does have two Super Bowl rings of his own. Smith just wasn't nearly as flamboyant or headline-grabbing as Irvin. If all the other receivers continue to wait, Smith is definitely going to wait a long time.
It is unlikely any of these names will garner serious attention as first-ballot finalists or finalists for any year. This is a much different scenario from the previous year, when Deion Sanders, Marshall Faulk, Curtis Martin, Jerome Bettis and Willie Roaf were all eligible for the first time. That's good news for those last three names, as they all were passed over on their first-ballot attempt.
Wide Receivers Jammed
Something needs to be done about the logjam created at wide receiver. Cris Carter, Tim Brown and Andre Reed all continue to wait. They were all among the 15 finalists for last year. Reed has been a finalist the last five years; Carter the last four and Brown the last two. All three are clearly worthy, but there are weird unwritten rules in place where voters seem to not want to elect too many players at the same position in the same year.
Running Back Fumble
How can we have running backs like Doak Walker and Floyd Little in the HOF, but not Terrell Davis? The guy did everything, and he did it in basically four years: league MVP, Super Bowl MVP, two Super Bowl rings, named Offensive Player of the Year twice, first-team All-Pro three times, 2,000 yard rushing season, led the league in rushing touchdowns twice, led the league in yards per carry, seven straight playoff games with 100+ yards rushing, 97.5 rushing yards/game (4th all time). How many running backs have that kind of peak?
Unfortunately for Davis, Canton doesn't look to be in his future. Jerome Bettis and Curtis Martin were first-time finalists last season. There is a chance one will get in, but I think they both end up waiting another year. Roger Craig was also a finalist in 2010.
Dawson Or Kennedy?
Dermontti Dawson (1988-2000, Pittsburgh Steelers center) and Cortez Kennedy (1990-2000, Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle) both retired after the 2000 season. They have both been HOF finalists the last three years. That is usually a good sign for future enshrinement, though Bob Kuechenberg (8-time finalist) and Ray Guy (7-time finalist) would disagree. Dawson took over for Mike Webster to continue the tradition of great center play for the Steelers. Kennedy had 14 sacks as a defensive tackle in 1992 when he won Defensive Player of the Year. Both players were chosen for the 1990s All-Decade Team.
Defense Could Rest
In five of the last six years, at least two defensive players have been enshrined, but that might not continue next year. Most of the recent finalists that are eligible played on the offense, leaving Kennedy, Charles Haley and Chris Doleman.
Haley collected 100.5 sacks and won a record five Super Bowls. Doleman made eight Pro Bowls and his 150.5 sacks rank fourth all time, but the guy that ranks directly ahead of him is Kevin Greene (160 sacks), who is the all-time sack leader among linebackers, and has never been a HOF finalist. Greene regained some attention recently for his work as a linebackers coach for the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. 

Not wanting to face backlash from selecting all offensive players, you would have to expect one or two of these players will make it to next year's induction ceremony.
Don't Forget The Coaches

There are two head coaches that will be included for the first time, and another name returns to the eligible list.
Bill Parcells – New York Giants 1983-1990, New England Patriots 1993-1996, New York Jets 1997-1999, Dallas Cowboys 2003-2006
Bill Cowher – Pittsburgh Steelers 1992-2006
Marty Schottenheimer – Cleveland Browns 1984-1988, Kansas City Chiefs 1989-1998, Washington Redskins 2001, San Diego Chargers 2002-2006
Head coaches have a hard time making it on the first ballot. Parcells was actually a finalist twice already (2001, 2002) before returning to coach Dallas. Bill Walsh was not a first-ballot selection. Don Coryell is not in. Hank Stram, George Allen, and John Madden only made it as senior nominees. No head coach has made it as a first-ballot selection since Don Shula in 1997. and none of these three can touch Shula's career. Don't expect to see any coach selected next year.
Senior Nominees
To become eligible for a senior nominee, a player has to be retired from his playing career for at least 25 years. Since 2004, two senior nominees have been added to the list of 15 finalists considered for enshrinement that year.
Arguably the most notable player eligible to become a senior nominee is Jerry Kramer, the Packers' legendary guard that won five championships with Vince Lombardi's great teams. Kramer was a five-time All-Pro (1st team) selection, and was voted as the number one player not in the HOF by the NFL Network. Kramer is the only member of the NFL's 50th Anniversary All-Time team that is not in the HOF. He was a senior nominee in 1997, but did not pass the vote. It is unclear what the holdup has been on Kramer (too many Packers already in?), but perhaps 2012 will be his year.
It's impossible to figure out the senior committee, bit Jerry Kramer is a real possibility, as is defensive end Claude Humphrey, the last senior nominee (2009) to not get voted in. Ken Anderson retired after the 1986 season, and CHFF chief Kerry Byrne has lavishly outlined his merits in a series of pieces. Doing the math, 1986 plus twenty-five years comes out to 2011. Is it about time for Ken Anderson to get a senior nomination and enter Canton?
Prediction Time
As for the five "regular" inductees, most likely are:
  • WR Cris Carter
  • DE/LB Charles Haley
  • DT Cortez Kennedy
  • WR Andre Reed
  • OT Willie Roaf
No first-ballot choice opens things up for the others. Carter and Reed finally get in, as both have had a longer wait than Brown. Roaf gets in over Dawson for playing tackle instead of center. Kennedy gives Seattle their second exclusive enshrinee (Steve Largent). Charles Haley, finalist the last two years, is a token defensive player selection to round things out. Plus we'll no longer have to hear Jamie Dukes bring his name up every single time this discussion comes around.
We'll find out in early February 2012.