Rudman: Weighing Seahawk Alexander's HOF Bid

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by Steve Rudman

SportsPressNorthwest

Posted on February 8, 2012 at 5:01 PM

Seventeen years elapsed between the time the Seahawks produced their first Pro Football Hall of Famer,Steve Largent in 1995, and their second, Cortez Kennedy Saturday. Not nearly as many calendar pages will flip before the Seahawks have their third Canton nominee, and possibly their fourth.

Kennedy, an eight-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle, received three rejection notices by Hall of Fame voters before they elected him on his fourth appearance on the final ballot. Offensive tackle Walter Jones, a nine-time Pro Bowl participant whose NFL career spanned 1997-2008, all in Seattle, should make it the first year he becomes eligible, in 2014.

In fact, it's impossible to imagine there being any debate at all, as there was with Kennedy, over a Jones candidacy. Jones is so first-ballot worthy that further discussion is superfluous.

Shaun Alexander, though, presents an entirely different matter. As with Jones, Alexander becomes Hall of Fame eligible in 2014, and the suspicion here is that he will cause Hall  voters, a panel of 44 media members, no end of angst.

If voters consider only a statistical summary of Alexander's career, he is a slam dunk, if not when he makes the ballot for the first time, then in his second or third time under consideration.

For comparison purposes, line up Alexander's numbers against those of Curtis Martin, the former New York Jet who was ushered into Canton Saturday along with Kennedy.

  • Martin scored 100 touchdowns (90 rushing, 10 receiving) in 168 career games. Alexander also scored 100 (88 rushing, 12 receiving) in 45 fewer games (123).
  • Martin averaged 83.9 rushing yards per game to Alexander's 76.9, but Alexander averaged 4.3 yards per carry to Martin's 4.0.
  • Each made multiple Pro Bowls (Martin 5, Alexander 3) and earned first-team All-Pro honors once.
  • Each captured NFL rushing titles, Martin in 2004, Alexander in 2005.
  • Martin never led the NFL in touchdowns, but Alexander led three times.
  • In Martin's best overall year (2004), he ran for 1,697 yards and 12 TDs. In Alexander's best (2005), he ran for 1,880 yards and produced a league-record 28 touchdowns.
  • Alexander won the league's MVP award (2005). Martin 's biggest honor was his 1995 Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
Baseball Reference.com features a nifty tool called "Similarity Scores." In it, you'll find, for each player in baseball history, a list of players similar to that player. These lists are generated by a method introduced by Bill James in the 1980s, and his aim was to find players who were similar in quality, but also similar in style of play.

Such is not possible with football stats, which are simply not descriptive enough to capture players' styles. So at Baseball Reference's companion site, Pro Football Reference.com, the editors/geeks behind these pages settled for a method that attempts to find players whose careers were similar in terms of what the web site defines as quality and shape.

By quality and shape, Pro Football Reference.com means things like: how many years did a player play? How good were his best years, compared to his worst ones? Did he have a few great years and then several mediocre years, or did he have many good-but-not-great years?

According to Pro Football Reference, Martin and Alexander share commonalities with a number of whom are Hall of Famers. Two stand out: Franco Harris and Earl Campbell, especially Earl Campbell, when compared to Alexander.

  • Campbell made 103 NFL starts for the Houston Oilers, Alexander 96 for the Seahawks.
  • Campbell rushed for 9,407 yards, Alexander 9,453.
  • Campbell averaged 4.3 yards per carry, Alexander also 4.3.
  • Campbell scored 74 TDs, Alexander 100.
  • In Campbell's three greatest years (1978-80), he averaged 1,683 yards and 15 TDs. In Alexander's three best (2003-05), he averaged 1,670 yards and 21 TDs.
So, as we said, Alexander's statistics and achievements look Hall of Fame ready, perhaps first-ballot Hall of Fame ready, from here.

The "angst" that Alexander will cause Hall of Fame voters stems from the simple fact that all of them saw him play -- and he was never a "load," a word always attached to Campbell. HOF voters will easily recall the dozens, perhaps hundreds of times, that Alexander gave up on a run too quickly or went down too fast without a second effort, much less a third one.

If the collective eyeballs of HOF voters are anything like ours, they will recall Alexander primarily as a painfully soft runner -- the opposite of Campbell and, more recently, Marshawn Lynch -- who amassed Canton-type numbers running mainly behind Jones and Steve Hutchinson.

And HOF voters, we suspect, will wonder whether a dozen other backs couldn't accomplish what Alexander did if they'd had the luxury of Jones and Hutchinson, who would have become another Seahawks Hall of Fame nominee if he hadn't escaped to Minnesota.

HOF voters cannot discount any of Alexander's monster productions: 266 yards and 3 TDs vs. Oakland (2001), or his NFL-record 5 TDs in a half against Minnesota (2002), to cite just two. Neither can they ignore the fact that Alexander scored at least 15 touchdowns in five consecutive seasons (2001-05), a feat that escaped both Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith.

But neither will HOF voters likely forget that the most memorable performance of Alexander's career occurred on Dec. 24, 2006.

His stats that day -- 140 yards, 2 TDs -- weren't the story. What was the story was that, in a confrontation against the NFL's new rushing king, San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson, Alexander actually ran hard, tough and with Lynch-like determination every time he touched the ball.

Alexander's performance was so startlingly out-of-character, so radically opposed to his usual, avoid-a-hit approach, that it stood out like a large nose wart. No one could recall Alexander ever running that way before, and before he could do it again, he was done.

The meat of Alexander's career matches statistically with those of many Hall of Fame runners, including Jim Taylor, Larry Csonka, John Riggins and even Walter Payton, especially when viewed on the basis of statistical averages.

The question then is twofold: whether Alexander passes Pro Football Reference's "quality and shape" test, and whether he passes the eyeball test.

We think he more than passed the first, but flunked the second. And that Alexander spent an entire career carefully avoiding any semblance of "Beast Mode," will give HOF voters itches and fits.

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