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Ranking former Bears most deserving of HOF

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With the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee voting to elect five modern-era finalists this weekend, what better time to discuss former Bears players who could be considered for enshrinement in future years?

The Bears already boast the most Hall of Famers of any NFL team, and that total will increase to 30 later this year when senior-era candidates Jimbo Covert and Ed Sprinkle are inducted. But here's my ranking of other former Bears who are most deserving of Hall of Fame consideration:

Rank
1
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Devin Hester
Return Specialist

Why he's worthy

Hester established himself as the most prolific kick returner in NFL history, setting records that may never be broken with 19 kick-return touchdowns, 14 punt-return TDs and 20 return touchdowns, which includes punts, kickoffs, missed field goals, fumbles and interceptions. Hester, who played eight of his 11 NFL seasons with the Bears, set a league record with five kick return touchdowns as a rookie in 2006 and then broke the mark with six in 2007. He is not eligible to be elected to the Hall of Fame until 2022.

Argument against and counter

No player who was primarily a return specialists has ever been inducted into the Hall of Fame. In fact, there are only three specialists enshrined in punter Ray Guy and kickers Jan Stenerud and Morten Andersen. Some voters may have to be convinced that someone who didn't contribute regularly on offense or defense throughout his career deserves to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

But Hester is certainly deserving because he simply was the absolute best at what he did in NFL history. He had a huge impact on every game he played in, routinely giving the Bears excellent field position with his long returns or via the short kickoffs that opponents employed in an effort to try to keep the ball out of his hands. Hester is the only Bears player who was voted to the NFL 100 all-time team who is not in the Hall of Fame.

Rank
2
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Jay Hilgenberg
Center

Why he's worthy

Hilgenberg not only played in but started seven straight Pro Bowls from 1985-91, a sure sign that he dominated at his position for a substantial period of time. The undrafted free agent from Iowa anchored one of the best offensive lines in NFL history for a decade. He helped the Bears win six division championships, one conference title and one Super Bowl during his 11 seasons with the team from 1981-91. The line helped the Bears lead the NFL in rushing for four straight seasons from 1983-86.

Argument against and counter

The great Bears teams of the 1980s won only one championship, yet Covert will become the fifth player from that era inducted into the Hall of Fame, joining Richard Dent, Dan Hampton, Walter Payton and Mike Singletary. Voters may be reluctant to select a sixth player from those teams. Plus there are only seven centers from the Super Bowl era in the Hall of Fame.

But Hilgenberg certainly seems to possess the necessary credentials. The seven straight Pro Bowl starts show that he was the NFC's best center during a sizeable chunk of his playing career, and while he was not named to the NFL All-Decade Team for the 1980s—Mike Webster and Dwight Stephenson were selected and are both in the Hall of Fame—Hilgenberg was a five-time All-Pro.

Rank
3
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Steve McMichael
Defensive Tackle

Why he's worthy

McMichael may be the most underrated player in Bears history. There are few if any who were as durable and productive as "Mongo." He was overshadowed by Dent, Hampton and Singletary. But McMichael was voted either first- or second-team All-Pro five times in 13 seasons with the Bears from 1981-93. Bet you didn't know that he ranks second in franchise history behind Dent with 92.5 sacks—35.5 more than Hampton, who is third on the all-time list.

Argument against and counter

Once again, the Bears were dominant in the 1980s. But they won only one Super Bowl and they already have three members of their defense in the Hall of Fame in Dent, Hampton and Singletary. Plus McMichael played defensive tackle, a position that requires an inordinate amount of dirty work in the trenches while receiving little fanfare.

But McMichael, who Mike Ditka once described as the toughest player he ever coached, retired in 1994 with the most sacks by a defensive tackle in NFL history. (He has since slipped to seventh on that list.) Plus, McMichael still holds the Bears record with 191 consecutive games played.

Rank
4
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Charles Tillman
Cornerback

Why he's worthy

Tillman was a takeaway machine during 12 seasons with the Bears from 2003-14. He turned forcing fumbles into an art form by smacking the ball away from opponents, a technique dubbed the "Peanut Punch." His 42 forced fumbles with the Bears were the most in the NFL during that span by a non-pass rusher. He also ranks third in franchise history with 36 interceptions.

Argument against and counter

Tillman was selected to only two Pro Bowls and was voted All-Pro once.

But playing in coach Lovie Smith's cover-two defense, Tillman was a game-changer who routinely produced impact plays for a unit that always seemed to rank near the top of the NFL in takeaways. He set Bears records that still stand with nine defensive touchdowns, eight interception return TDs and 675 interception return yards. And Tillman's 36 interceptions are the most by a cornerback in team history.

Rank
5
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Olin Kreutz
Center

Why he's worthy

Kreutz was voted to six straight Pro Bowls from 2001-06 and was named to the NFL All-Decade Team for the 2000s, evidence that he dominated his position for a lengthy period of time. Kreutz was among 122 modern-era nominees for the Hall of Fame's Class of 2020, but he did not make the cut when the list was pared down to 25 semifinalists.

Argument against and counter

Kreutz was voted first-team All-Pro only one time and—like Hilgenberg—he played a position on the interior offensive line that has garnered little Hall of Fame consideration.

But Kreutz was a dominant player and highly-respected team leader who helped the Bears win four division championships and one conference title during his 13 seasons in Chicago from 1998-2010. Talented and durable, he started 183 games for the Bears, the second most in franchise history behind only Payton (184).

Rank
6
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Lance Briggs
Linebacker

Why he's worthy

Briggs was selected to seven Pro Bowls in 12 seasons with the Bears from 2003-14. He appeared in 173 games with 170 starts, recording 1,566 tackles, 15 sacks, 16 interceptions and 18 forced fumbles. Like Kreutz, Briggs was among 122 modern-era nominees for the Hall of Fame's Class of 2020. But he did not make the list of 25 semifinalists.

Argument against and counter

Briggs was always considered "Robin" to the Bears' "Batman," Hall of Fame middle linebacker Brian Urlacher.

But Briggs consistently excelled, whether he was playing alongside Urlacher or not. When Urlacher suffered a season-ending wrist injury in the first game of the 2009 season, Briggs went on to lead the Bears with 118 tackles and earn a trip to the Pro Bowl. His six career defensive touchdowns are third most in Bears history and his five interception return TDs are second most. Briggs was the first linebacker in NFL history to return an interception for a touchdown in each of his first three seasons.

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