BY Steve Rudman 12:08PM 02/05/2012

Rudman: Weighing Seahawk Alexander’s HOF Bid

In two years, ex-Seahawks Walter Jones and Shaun Alexander become Hall of Fame eligible. Jones is first-ballot worthy. Is Alexander worthy at all?

Shaun Alexander rushed for more than 9,000 yards and scored 100 touchdowns during his career with the Seahawks. / Getty Images

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.


YourThoughts

  • Johncharvey

    So we should overlook talent because of a lack of perceived effort?  Surely if a player of any sport can be as successful as Alexander then we should admire his abilities not focus on his shortcomings.  One of the reasons Shaun was a success was the length of his career, who’s to say that if he had run “harder” he would not have been injured and never have made the career impact he did. 

    Skill and brains are attributes too, not just toughness.

  • Johncharvey

    So we should overlook talent because of a lack of perceived effort?  Surely if a player of any sport can be as successful as Alexander then we should admire his abilities not focus on his shortcomings.  One of the reasons Shaun was a success was the length of his career, who’s to say that if he had run “harder” he would not have been injured and never have made the career impact he did. 

    Skill and brains are attributes too, not just toughness.

  • Anonymous

    On Alexander — He didn’t run hard enough is the kind of BS “style” argument that makes the NFL Hall of Fame a near complete joke. Guys are routinely held out for aesthetic reasons. I scratch my head when I hear that Alexander ran behind elite offensive lineman. No one ever brings that up about E. Smith, Tony Dorsett, Franco Harris, John Riggins or any number of runners in the HOF who ran behind HOF offensive linemen during their peak years. Alexander is the only guy have I EVER heard good blocking held AGAINST. WTH is that?

    The guy was an unbelievable open field runner, and was a dominant back while the NFL was transforming to a pass-dominant league (and his coach was at the forefront of that transformation). If the NFL HOF has any integrity, and I’m not sure it does, Alexander should be an easy case. Even if it’s not first ballot he should be 2nd ballot easy.

  • dcrockett17

    On Alexander — He didn’t run hard enough is the kind of BS “style” argument that makes the NFL Hall of Fame a near complete joke. Guys are routinely held out for aesthetic reasons. I scratch my head when I hear that Alexander ran behind elite offensive lineman. No one ever brings that up about E. Smith, Tony Dorsett, Franco Harris, John Riggins or any number of runners in the HOF who ran behind HOF offensive linemen during their peak years. Alexander is the only guy have I EVER heard good blocking held AGAINST. WTH is that?

    The guy was an unbelievable open field runner, and was a dominant back while the NFL was transforming to a pass-dominant league (and his coach was at the forefront of that transformation). If the NFL HOF has any integrity, and I’m not sure it does, Alexander should be an easy case. Even if it’s not first ballot he should be 2nd ballot easy.

  • Anonymous

    Steve, perhaps the biggest variable that separates Martin and Alexander and may be most indicative of whether Shaun gets in is Martin played in Boston and New York.   Alexander played in southern Alaska as Jimmy Johnson put it.

  • Jamo57

    Steve, perhaps the biggest variable that separates Martin and Alexander and may be most indicative of whether Shaun gets in is Martin played in Boston and New York.   Alexander played in southern Alaska as Jimmy Johnson put it.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_W7DNYX3Y6RZK7JBRP5SYBYG4TE RockStar

    If the voters did their job, Cris Carter would be in the hall, as would Parcels, instead the voters are egotistical, bitter people who don’t even deserve to cast a vote.  

    What gives them the right to punish athletes for their (the writers) opinion of them, while completely ignoring statistics?  We can only hope they are met with the same ignorance and bias in their lives at some point.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_W7DNYX3Y6RZK7JBRP5SYBYG4TE RockStar

    If the voters did their job, Cris Carter would be in the hall, as would Parcels, instead the voters are egotistical, bitter people who don’t even deserve to cast a vote.  

    What gives them the right to punish athletes for their (the writers) opinion of them, while completely ignoring statistics?  We can only hope they are met with the same ignorance and bias in their lives at some point.

  • Kelly9725

    Shaun had 112 total TD’s in his career. 100 rushing and 12 receiving.

  • Kelly9725

    Shaun had 112 total TD’s in his career. 100 rushing and 12 receiving.

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  • *logos*

    No contest. The guy produced; d@mn your eyes if his style upsets you. I’ll take 15 Td’s for five straight season. He may not have had the tenacity that Lynch or others have, but I don’t subscribe to the idea that anyone could’ve done what he did behind our line; he had vision like nobody I’ve seen, and it fit the way our line played better than anybody. Lynch would’ve initiated contact whereas Alexander looked for daylight. It worked. Maybe we should’ve realized the NFL’s gravitation to a 2 back rotation sooner, and not expected Shaun to be a 3rd-and-short back. You don’t see Matt Forte plowing through a steel curtain on 3rd-and-1. Different players have different skills. Alexander’s, like it or not, produced HOF numbers and production for some very good teams that counted on him.

  • *logos*

    No contest. The guy produced; d@mn your eyes if his style upsets you. I’ll take 15 Td’s for five straight season. He may not have had the tenacity that Lynch or others have, but I don’t subscribe to the idea that anyone could’ve done what he did behind our line; he had vision like nobody I’ve seen, and it fit the way our line played better than anybody. Lynch would’ve initiated contact whereas Alexander looked for daylight. It worked. Maybe we should’ve realized the NFL’s gravitation to a 2 back rotation sooner, and not expected Shaun to be a 3rd-and-short back. You don’t see Matt Forte plowing through a steel curtain on 3rd-and-1. Different players have different skills. Alexander’s, like it or not, produced HOF numbers and production for some very good teams that counted on him.

  • Xavier

    What annoys me the most is when people give all of the credit to Seattle’s offensive line. People love to say that ANY RB could put up the type of numbers Shaun did, if not best them. The left side of Seattle’s line was great, no question about it, but Shaun was one of the best backs I’ve ever seen in terms of vision and patience. He was the perfect RB for that system.

    And besides, just about every great RB has had the benefit of a good-to-great offensive line. Everyone loves to talk up LaDainian Tomlinson as one of the greatest ever, yet they never mention that he ran behind a great line during his best seasons. In his record-breaking season of 2006, he had the help of PRO BOWL players such as Left Tack Marcus McNeil, Center Nick Hardwick and FB Lorenzo Neal. I’ve never heard anyone ever use that to diminish Tomlinson’s achievements. Yet many diminish Alexander’s MVP season and the rest of his career.

    I also think that playing in nowhereville, a.k.a. Seattle, hurt Alexander tremendously. If he had played for a big-name franchise such as Dallas, New England or Pittsburgh, Alexander would be more respected and have a much better chance of making it into the HOF.

  • Xavier

    What annoys me the most is when people give all of the credit to Seattle’s offensive line. People love to say that ANY RB could put up the type of numbers Shaun did, if not best them. The left side of Seattle’s line was great, no question about it, but Shaun was one of the best backs I’ve ever seen in terms of vision and patience. He was the perfect RB for that system.

    And besides, just about every great RB has had the benefit of a good-to-great offensive line. Everyone loves to talk up LaDainian Tomlinson as one of the greatest ever, yet they never mention that he ran behind a great line during his best seasons. In his record-breaking season of 2006, he had the help of PRO BOWL players such as Left Tack Marcus McNeil, Center Nick Hardwick and FB Lorenzo Neal. I’ve never heard anyone ever use that to diminish Tomlinson’s achievements. Yet many diminish Alexander’s MVP season and the rest of his career.

    I also think that playing in nowhereville, a.k.a. Seattle, hurt Alexander tremendously. If he had played for a big-name franchise such as Dallas, New England or Pittsburgh, Alexander would be more respected and have a much better chance of making it into the HOF.

  • CM0175

    Definitely should be in the Hall of Fame with those stats.  I’m an Alabama fan and the same things people said about him in the NFL, they said when he was in college.  He doesn’t LOOK like he’s running hard…he just doesn’t.  It’s effortless, so it looks like he’s not giving much effort.  But the guy was an amazing RB…and a TD machine.  I was hoping he’d get one more good season in to break 10,000 yards rushing, but when comparing him with other HoF RBs…he should definitely be voted in.  It doesn’t hurt he’s one of the all time great “people” in the NFL.  A truly great guy off the field.  And yes, that should matter.  If off the field behavior can keep a guy like Kenny Stabler out of the HoF…then it should only help a guy like Shaun.

  • CM0175

    Definitely should be in the Hall of Fame with those stats.  I’m an Alabama fan and the same things people said about him in the NFL, they said when he was in college.  He doesn’t LOOK like he’s running hard…he just doesn’t.  It’s effortless, so it looks like he’s not giving much effort.  But the guy was an amazing RB…and a TD machine.  I was hoping he’d get one more good season in to break 10,000 yards rushing, but when comparing him with other HoF RBs…he should definitely be voted in.  It doesn’t hurt he’s one of the all time great “people” in the NFL.  A truly great guy off the field.  And yes, that should matter.  If off the field behavior can keep a guy like Kenny Stabler out of the HoF…then it should only help a guy like Shaun.

  • Dehrich

    And a HOF runner like Barry Sandrrs who avoided hits better than anyone is more deserving than Alexander? For get me wrong, I love watching his highlights, but the sole fact that he tried to avoid hits and didn’t run hard enough to get his stats isn’t enough to say he doesn’t deserve HIF recognition. I think Alexander deserves it just as much as anyone does.