Willie Roaf deserves HOF spot

By the end of the day Saturday, Rickey Jackson could have some company.

At the moment, Jackson is the only player to have spent most of his career with the New Orleans Saints that is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That could change very soon because offensive tackle Willie Roaf will be a finalist when the voters gather Saturday.

Roaf also was a finalist last year and reportedly came very close to selection. But Roaf’s chances in this class might be even better than they were last year. There is no slam-dunk first-time candidate and that could open the door for Roaf.

His resume already does a pretty good job of that. Roaf played for the Saints from 1993 through 2001 and finished his career with the Kansas City Chiefs, from 2002 through ’05. During those 13 seasons, Roaf was an All-Pro seven times and a Pro Bowl choice 11 times. He also was a member of the All-Decade Team for the 1990s.

The biggest obstacle I see for Roaf’s selection this year is that Dermontti Dawson and Will Shields also are on the ballot. That makes three strong offensive-line candidates from the modern era, but I’d take Roaf ahead of the other two.

It’s hard to quantify offensive linemen because you can’t trace their statistics as easily as you can those of skill-position players. You look at things like longevity, All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections and how their teams fared.

If you go by that, I think it backs up my belief that Roaf is the best candidate. First off, he was a tackle. That’s a more difficult position than center, which Dawson played, and guard, which Shields played.

Dawson and Roaf each played 13 seasons and Shields played 14, so the longevity issue is basically a draw.

Roaf’s seven All-Pro selections might be the strongest argument for his candidacy. Making All-Pro is a much bigger deal than making a Pro Bowl squad because it means you’re among the best in the league, not just in your conference. Dawson was All-Pro six times. Shields got the honor three times.

Roaf also made 11 Pro Bowls, while Shields went to 12 and Dawson six.

Some people may look at the fact that Dawson played for the Pittsburgh Steelers and give him a big edge over Roaf and Shields. The Saints and Chiefs were far from dominant teams when Roaf played for them. He was part of a division champion only twice. Shields, who spent his entire career in Kansas City, is in the same boat. Shields played for four division champions. But the Chiefs never won a Super Bowl or an AFC title while he was there.

But the fact Dawson played for Pittsburgh shouldn’t give him as much of an edge over Roaf and Shields as some people might think. Although the Steelers have been good for most of their history, they weren’t particularly dominant during Dawson’s time. They did win five division championships and one conference title. But Dawson never was on a Super Bowl champion.

So the fact Roaf didn’t play on great teams shouldn’t hurt him. The fact he was one of the best tackles ever should land him in the Hall of Fame.