If the Pro Football Hall of Fame valued special teams as highly as offense and defense, Brian Mitchell would have been inducted years ago. To date, just three players primarily noted for their special teams play are enshrined - two placekickers and one punter. One of the biggest injustices as of today is the absence of Shane Lechler, arguably the greatest punter of all time.
The case for Mitchell is simple. No player other than Jerry Rice has accounted for more total yards in NFL games than the return specialist who spent most of his career with the Washington Commanders franchise. But if I’m in the room making the bid for his enshrinement, that’s only half the argument.
Mitchell was the greatest all-around special teams player in NFL history. There is no close second. That’s because he wasn’t merely an outstanding returner. He embodies every aspect of special teams.
He covered kicks and blocked, too. Mitchell was the spiritual leader of the wildest group of players on any NFL roster. And he performed at the highest levels for well over a decade.
I don’t think Mitchell is likely to get in anytime soon, but there was some good news this year. The Hall of Fame finally recognized Devin Hester, the greatest kick return specialist of all time in the 2024 class. He will be the fourth special-teamer to be inducted.
I don’t know if that increases Mitchell’s odds, but it at least removes a major impediment. Neither he - nor any of the other potential special teams inductees - was going to get into Canton before Hester, so at least that box is checked. However, he will still have to wait in line behind placekicker Adam Vinatieri.
He will be scrounging for votes along with players like Lechler, Steve Tasker, and, eventually Matthew Slater for the crumbs the Hall of Fame has thus far offered to special teams players.