Brian Dawkins' motor has never waned. A second-round pick out of Clemson in 1996, the strong safety spent 13 seasons in Philadelphia before signing a $17 million deal in 2009 to finish his career in Denver — news that irks Eagles fans to this day. At age 38, Dawkins still breaks up passes over the middle and helps the front seven control the line of scrimmage.
Smart, hard-hitting and fearless, Dawkins has been one of the most consistent defensive backs ever to play the game. Yet, most rate him a step or two below the other elite safeties of his generation (Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu). Perhaps it's because his career lacks an identity. Polamalu's ability to make plays sideline-to-sideline and Reed's ballhawking ways help to distinguish those two players; Dawkins has never been part of a championship roster, doesn't convert turnovers into touchdowns and has never appeared in a Head & Shoulders commercial. Will this have an impact on his candidacy for Canton? Here is how his résumé stacks up …
Statistics: There is not one statistical category that illustrates Dawkins' dominance. He has intercepted 37 passes, never more than four in any one season, and has accumulated 26.0 sacks — respectable for a safety, but not a number that will jump out at voters. He has collected 100 or more tackles only once (2009) and has scored only four career touchdowns. The most impressive number might be his 36 forced fumbles. Dawkins does not have a banner season to claim or a game-changing play in a big game to define him.
Success: Dawkins was an integral piece for the Philadelphia teams that qualified for five NFC championship games (2001-04, 2008). He is tied with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady for the most playoff-game starts among active players with 18.
HOF comparison: Darrell Green
Green played cornerback, not safety, but like Dawkins his legend grew over time. For the first half of his career, Green was recognized for his world-class speed. When he left the game in 2002, at age 42, Green was recognized for having played at a high level for two decades. Dawkins' longevity should earn him similar praise when it's time for Hall voters to review his candidacy.
Accolades: Of the nine safeties in the Hall of Fame, all but one (Jack Christiansen) made it to at least eight Pro Bowls — the number Dawkins boasts. In fact, Dawkins' Pro Bowl and All-Pro (four) count matches up nicely with guys like Larry Wilson (eight, five), Willie Wood (eight, five) and Emlen Tunnell (nine, four).
Intangibles: For much of his career Dawkins was an intimidator, controlling the back half of the secondary with fear. He punished any receiver or ballcarrier that crossed his path. But Dawkins' greatest intangible for Hall of Fame consideration is his leadership. He has led by his words and actions, and most of his teammates have offered nothing but praise for Dawkins' locker-room contributions. During last week's game between Denver and Minnesota, broadcasters argued that Philadelphia might be in better shape this season if Dawkins were still roaming the secondary and policing the locker room.
Dawkins also always has been a fan favorite. Eagles fans still consider him one of their own, and many are bitter the team failed to sign him for the final few years of his career. When Dawkins signed with Denver in 2009, Lincoln Financial Field game day west gate chief Dan Leone voiced his frustrations on Facebook and was fired by the organization. Dawkins gave Leone two tickets to the Eagles-Broncos game that season.
First-ballot candidate: Maybe
HOF probability: 75 percent
Had Dawkins retired three seasons ago, I'm not sure his candidacy would be as strong. The fact that he has continued to play at a high level for Denver — well into his late 30s — has brought him added recognition. Mostly, though, voters will appreciate how steady he has been throughout his career. Whereas most players rely on gaudy numbers — or a defining season — to gain the attention of Hall of Fame voters, Dawkins consistency, longevity and reputation as a leader should say plenty.
Mike Beacom is a pro and college football writer whose work has appeared in numerous print and online sources. He is also the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Football (Alpha, 2010). Follow him on twitter @mbeac