Hall of Fame finalist: Orlando Pace

The Pro Football Hall of Fame's 2015 class will be announced on Jan. 31. The St. Louis Rams' Orlando Pace is one of 18 finalists.

With the possible exception of quarterback Kurt Warner, Pace is the Ram I believe has the best chance to go in this year. And recent trends would seem to be working in Pace's favor.

The Hall of Fame inducted Walter Jones last year and fellow left tackle Jonathan Ogden before that.

Pace, Jones and Ogden are widely regarded as the three offensive tackles who set the stage for the "Blind Side" era of dominant left tackles. In many ways, the three of them redefined what a left tackle could be and elevated the importance of the position to another level.

Arguments abound about which player was the best of the three, but I would argue that Pace is the one who first really drew attention to the importance of a franchise left tackle back in his college days at Ohio State.

Before Pace, I'd never heard of an offensive tackle being legitimately discussed as a possible Heisman Trophy winner. He finished fourth in 1996. The term "pancake block" might have preceded Pace, but I'd never heard it as much as I did when Pace was a Buckeye. He became the only two-time winner of the Lombardi Award as the best college lineman or linebacker.

None of those college accomplishments means anything when it comes to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But make no mistake, that work in college only set the stage for an illustrious pro career. Pace played 12 years in St. Louis, posting seven Pro Bowl trips and five All-Pro honors, and landing a spot on the NFL's 2000s All-Decade team.

Not only does Pace deserve to be a finalist, he deserves to go in on the first try.