The debate over an NFL player's Hall of Fame potential is a hotly contested one and a topic many fans turn to during the mid-summer doldrums of football inactivity.
With ESPN.com's Hall of Fame Debate Week currently taking place, fans' gloves are off, and the Atlanta Falcons appear to be shut out.
NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas posed the idea that former Falcons Head Coach Dan Reeves has an outside shot based on his success as a player and coach, including taking the 1998 Falcons to the franchise's only Super Bowl.
Yasinskas excluded recent franchise linebackers Jessie Tuggle and Keith Brooking. Tuggle, a member of the Falcons Ring of Honor and a five-time Pro Bowler, often gets left out of the debate because he played on predominately losing Falcons teams.
Brooking, now a linebacker with the Dallas Cowboys, also was nominated for five Pro Bowls and was twice an All Pro selection.
The Falcons are a young and emerging team with numerous promising players with Hall of Fame potential over long careers who will be included in the discussion in the coming years. Current tight end Tony Gonzalez is Canton-bound, but with only a few seasons as a Falcon he is naturally excluded from the discussion of current and former Falcons.
There is one veteran player on the Atlanta roster that may be an under-the-radar consideration for the Hall once his career concludes.
32-year-old John Abraham at first glance appears to be a talented pass rusher in the pass-rushing heyday, but a closer look shows he ranks among the best at the craft in recent NFL history. In many ways Abraham both benefits and is hurt by the quarterback sack only becoming an official NFL stat in 1982.
Because it went unrecorded for so long, many defensive ends that played before '82 are ignored for the Hall of Fame. On the other hand, with the stat's rise to prominence came many talented players who excel at it.
Abraham, who enters his 11th season in 2010, currently ranks fourth on the list of active sack leaders with 89.5, a 1/2 sack behind Baltimore's Trevor Pryce and 2.5 behind Arizona's Joey Porter. 35-year-old current Jets end Jason Taylor leads the list with 127.5.
His 16.5 sacks in 2008 set the Falcons franchise record for sacks in a season. Despite five seasons of double-digit sacks, Abraham has only been selected to three Pro Bowls and named an All Pro once, including a glaring snub to both honors in '08.
In many of the 2000 first-round draft pick's seasons, his sack totals have helped carry his team's defense. In '08, his total was just shy of half of Atlanta's 34 on the season. His 13 in 2001 as a member of the Jets was similarly just short of half of the team's total of 33.
Plagued by injuries during much of the early part of his career (he missed nine games in '03, three in '04, and eight in '06), Abraham still has managed to be among the active leaders. Looking beyond the stat sheet, Abraham has often been the primary pass rusher on his teams and has been subject to double teams through much of his career.
The last three seasons Abraham has remained healthy, playing in every game, missing only one start. Over that stretch, he's accumulated 32 sacks. Though last season his totals dropped to 5.5, research by Pro Football Focus suggests he was still among the elite at getting to the quarterback.
The extensive statistical website ranked Abraham as the fourth-best 4-3 defensive end in the NFL last season, based on their cumulative statistics combining a player's effectiveness as a pass rusher, run defender, and ability to pressure and hit the quarterback.
Though Abraham was unable to register the sack totals he's posted in the past in 2009, he was getting to the quarterback, often a split second too late. His 39 QB pressures were second in the NFL, according to PFF. Since the website began recording the stat in 2007, Abraham has ranked among the top 5 in pressures, including his league-leading 38 in '08, further proving the point that the defensive end often accomplished his sack totals in spite of double-teams and receiving constant attention from the opposing team's linemen.
Comparing Abraham's career to a current Hall of Fame defensive end is a good way to gauge where he ranks among his historical peers.
Howie Long, a 13-year end and 2000 Hall of Fame inductee, was an eight-time Pro Bowler, even though he recorded double-digit sacks only three times in his career, from 1983 to 1985. Long's career began in 1981, one year before the sack became an official stat, but his 84 career sacks finish behind Abraham's current career totals.
To close out his career, Abraham needs to continue his strong play and find himself among the all-time leaders to reasonably expect to be in the discussion. Of the current top-15 all-time sack leaders, seven defensive ends are not in the Hall of Fame. Rickey Jackson (10th all time) was inducted this year. Richard Dent, Chris Doleman, and Leslie O'Neal are expected to eventually be voted in. Michael Strahan, who retired in 2007, is believed to be a strong candidate once he's eligible.
If Abraham averages a minimum of his career average of nine sacks over the next three seasons it will place him 15th on the all-time list and make it difficult to ignore him when talking about Hall of Fame caliber defensive ends.