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2012 Hall of Fame class proves importance of linemen, player development

Doug Farrar
Shutdown Corner

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The 2012 Hall-of-Famers get their gold jackets in a Friday evening ceremony. (AP)

Each Hall of Fame class comes with its own interesting stories, but the 2012 NFL all-timers are a group of formerly underrated and unheralded men who finally (and deservedly) get their place in the sun. There's an old-school cornerback who went on to help develop what is now known as the scouting combine, a mountain of a man who was the best defensive player on perhaps the worst offensive team in NFL history, a running back who overcame great obstacles to impress even Bill Parcells, one of the forefathers of the current "endbacker" hybrid pass-rusher position, and two of the greatest offensive linemen we'll ever see. (Bios provided in part by the Pro Football Hall of Fame).

The 2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony Saturday can be seen on NFL Network, starting at 7 p.m. ET. The pre-coverage starts three hours earlier.

Jack Butler, Cornerback: 1951-59 Pittsburgh Steelers

Butler joined the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1951 as a free agent out of St. Bonaventure.  Over the next nine NFL seasons, he established himself as one of the game's most effective  cornerbacks. He ranked as the NFL's second all-time leading interceptor when he retired following the 1959 season. In 103 games, Butler intercepted 52 passes which he returned for 827 yards, and had four pick-sixes. He also had four touchdown receptions and returned one fumble recovery for a  score. Butler was named to the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 1950s.

After his playing career, he was involved in BLESTO, the scouting service that eventually led to the scouting combine and the current explosion of draft coverage.

Dermontti Dawson, Center: 1988-2000 Pittsburgh Steelers

Dawson, a second-round draft pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1988, had a knee injury interrupt his rookie season. Despite the injury, he managed to start five of eight  games that year at guard. The following year he replaced future Hall of Famer Mike Webster as the Pittsburgh's starting center. He remained an anchor of the Steelers' front line for the remainder of his 13-season NFL career. Dawson, who also served as the team's long snapper through 1993, earned his first Pro Bowl berth following the 1992 season. It marked the first of seven straight Pro Bowl invitations.

Dawson played in 184 regular-season games and his 170 consecutive games  played ranks second in club history. Named a center on the NFL's All-Decade Team of the  1990s, Dawson started in three AFC championship games and was Pittsburgh's starting center in Super Bowl XXX against the Dallas Cowboys.

Chris Doleman, Defensive End/Linebacker: 1999 Minnesota Vikings, 1994-95 Atlanta Falcons, 1996-98 San Francisco 49ers

Doleman was drafted as a linebacker out of the University of Pittsburgh and was moved to a starting  defensive end position for the final three games of his second season before assuming the full-time role as starter at the spot in his third year. It was then that he unleashed his great pass rushing ability when he racked up a team-high 11 sacks in 1987. It marked the first of six sack titles with the Vikings. For his efforts he was named All-Pro, All-NFC and voted to his first Pro Bowl.

His finest season came two years later in 1989 when he led the NFL with 21 sacks, just  one shy of the single-season record at the time. In 1992, he was named the NFC's Defensive  Player of the Year after he led the Vikings with 14.5 sacks, had 64 tackles, returned an  interception for a touchdown, forced six fumbles, recovered three fumbles, and had a safety.

He retired as the fourth-ranked sack leader of all time with 150.5 sacks and was tied for third in the NFL Record Book with eight seasons in which he recorded 10 or more sacks. Doleman was extremely durable as evidenced by him missing a mere two games due to injury during his 15-season, 232-game NFL career. In all, he was named to eight Pro Bowls, six with the Vikings and once each as a member of the Falcons and the 49ers. He was named first-team All-Pro in 1987, 1989 and 1992 and first-team All-NFC four times. Doleman is a member of  the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 1990s.

Cortez Kennedy, Defensive Tackle: 1990-2000 Seattle Seahawks

The Seattle Seahawks used the third overall selection of the 1990 NFL draft on All-America defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy from the University of Miami (Fla). In his rookie season, Kennedy played in all 16 games, two of which were starts. He produced impressive numbers including a season-high 10 tackles and a sack against the  Miami Dolphins. For his efforts, he was named to the NFL's All-Rookie team.

The following season, Kennedy moved into a full-time starting role at right defensive  tackle for the Seahawks and responded by earning his first Pro Bowl berth. In 1992, despite the Seahawks finishing with a disappointing 2-14 record, Kennedy was named the NFL's  Defensive Player of the Year. It marked just the third time in league history that a player from  a losing team won the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year Award. He led Seattle  that season with a career-high 14 sacks, the most of any interior lineman, and also recorded a career-best 92 tackles, recovered one fumble and batted down two passes.

In all, he registered 58 sacks, intercepted three passes and scored one touchdown on  a fumble recovery during his 167-game career. He twice led the team in sacks (1992 and  1995). Aside from his eight Pro Bowls, Kennedy was named first-team All-NFL in 1992, 1993  and 1994, selected second-team All-Pro twice, All-AFC four times and was named to the  NFL's All-Decade Team of the 1990s.

Curtis Martin, Running Back: 1995-97 New England Patriots, 1998-2005 New York Jets

Martin, who missed most of his final college season at the University of Pittsburgh with an ankle injury, was drafted in the third round by the New England Patriots in  1995. He showed no effects of that injury during his rookie season. He ran 30 yards on his first  NFL carry, scored the game-winning touchdown and became the first Patriots player to rush for  100 yards in his pro debut. It was the first of a rookie record-tying nine games that he eclipsed the  100-yard mark. Martin finished the year as the AFC's leading rusher with 1,487 yards and scored  14 touchdowns. He was named Rookie of the Year, All-AFC and voted to the first of his five Pro  Bowls.

Martin  joined Hall of Famer Barry Sanders as the only runners ever to start their careers with 10 straight 1,000- yard seasons.  Martin led his team in rushing in each of his 11 seasons in the NFL, and he gained 14,101 yards on 3,518 carries and scored 90 rushing touchdowns in his career. He rushed for 100 or more yards in a game 56 times. He also caught 484 passes for  3,329 yards and 10 touchdowns and his 17,421 combined net yards placed him 10th all time at the time of his retirement. The three-time All-AFC pick also threw two touchdown passes on his only career pass attempts.

Willie Roaf, Offensive Tackle: 1993-2001 New Orleans Saints, 2002-05 Kansas City Chiefs

The New Orleans Saints drafted Roaf out of Louisiana Tech in the first round of the 1993 NFL draft. Roaf started all 16 games at right tackle and did not miss an offensive snap during his first season and earned All-Rookie honors. The following year he was switched to left tackle and performed at a level that earned him more national accolades. He was voted to the Pro Bowl for the first time, named first-team All-Pro, All-NFC, and honored as the NFLPA's NFC Offensive Lineman of the Year for the first of two consecutive seasons.

He played nine seasons in New Orleans where he started 131 regular-season games. A knee injury shortened Roaf's 2001 season to just seven games, and he was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs after that season. He rebounded from his injury to earn All-Pro honors in three of the four seasons he played with the Chiefs. He was a key part of Kansas City's offensive  line that helped the Chiefs lead the NFL in points scored in 2002 and 2003.

Roaf played in 189 career  games over 13 seasons and was named first-team All-NFL seven times (1994-96, 2000, 2003-05), All-NFC six times, and All-AFC three times. He was also voted to 11 Pro Bowls. The only  times he did not receive an invitation to the league's All-Star game during his career was following his rookie year and his injury-shortened 2001 season.  Roaf is also a member of the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 1990s.

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