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Brian Mitchell Was Modern Era’s Floyd Little, Minus The Hall of Fame Love

Mitchell was a return specialist and dual threat, similar to the former Denver Broncos' HOFer who passed at 78.

Former Denver Broncos and Hall Of Fame running back Floyd Little aka “the Franchise” passed away on January 1st, 2021 at the age of 78.

The former three-time All-American at Syracuse was the sixth overall selection of the first common AFL-NFL draft in 1967. The dynamic Little was dubbed “The Franchise” because of his versatility which really intrigued the “Mile High City” Broncos. He was a do-it-all back with multidimensional skills that translated well to the professional level.

He was also ahead of his time as a swiss army knife runningback with no specific position. The kind of guy teams would salivate over these days.

Early in his career, the dynamic Little was used more as a return specialist for the Broncos. He even led the league as a rookie with a 16.9 YPR average on just 16 returns. In 1967 he had the only punt return for a touchdown in the entire league. A dual-threat return specialist he also returned 35 kicks for an astounding 942 yards for a 27 YPR average. As a rookie, he also managed a little over 400 combined rushing and receiving yards.

As Little refined his rushing style to adapt to pro-style offenses, he began to receive more touches in the offense during his second season. By 1969 he averaged a career-best 5.0 yards per carry and in 1971 he became the first 1,000-yard back in Broncos history. He even won the NFL rushing title that season with a league-best (1,133) yards (284) carries and (6) touchdowns.

 Little amassed over 12,000 career all-purpose yards in his career, with 54 career total touchdowns, (43 rushing), (9 receiving) and (2 return). He finished with 6,323 career rush yards in a career that spanned from (1967-75).

He joins Gale Sayers, Terrell Davis, Earl Campbell, Joe Perry, Lenny Moore, Leroy Kelly, John Henry Johnson, Ollie Matson, and Marion Motley, as the only BLACK tailbacks to make the Pro Football Hall Of Fame without eclipsing the career (10,000) rush yard barrier.

The Hall Of Fame loves to throw curveballs at BLACK players and never was that more evident than when Terrell Owens — arguably the third-best receiver ever  — was unfathomably denied first-ballot induction. 

The committee’s reasoning was completely asinine. The committee stated they didn’t hold any personal grudges towards Owens but instead took the lead from the leaders of the teams for which he played for. He was elected in year two, but in typical “TO” fashion decided against showing up to Canton and held his own ceremony at his alma Mater (Chattanooga).

READ MORE: Terrell Owens Declines Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony Invite

Seeing the likes of Little and other backs get in is a great thing, but it behooves me to ask what exactly is the real criteria to be elected into “Canton Ohio”?

Has that criteria changed as the game has changed from a ground and pound style to monotonous aerial attacks engineered by undersized quarterbacks who wouldn’t have seen the light of day during the “2 Yards And A Cloud Of Dust” era?

Yo! Canton…What About Brian Mitchell?

Is it stats, longevity, or do titles outweigh these factors?  For me, it’s always been about the eye test above all, which brings me to former Washington Redskins (Washington Football Team) return specialist Brian Mitchell who’s second all-time in career all-purpose yards to the iconic Jerry Rice. 

Despite his dominance as a return specialist and his contributions as an all-purpose back, Mitchell has never really been considered a Hall Of Fame candidate. He never became an every-down back, but he was a key member of the (1991 Redskins) Super Bowl team — arguably the greatest team in NFL history. A true locker room presence and a consummate pro. It was showtime, every time he touched the rock. 

READ MORE: TSL Sports Talk Recap: NFL All Time Return Leader Brian Mitchell on Martin & Incognito.

Mitchell’s 4,000 combined rushing and receiving yards and 19,000 plus combined punt and kick return yards should at least get him a HOF sniff. He accomplished these milestones in just 14 seasons.

I thought football was a game that consists of three phases: offense, defense and special teams. If that’s the case, how do return guys who have been so vital to the game and provided some of the most memorable and game-changing moments in NFL history constantly get overlooked for Hall of Fame consideration? 

This makes you wonder if the greatest return man of All-Time in Devin Hester gets stopped at the entrance to Canton beginning in 2022, his first year of eligibility.

READ MORE: Does Devin Hester Belong In The Hall Of Fame?

Mitchell has been eligible since 2009 and hasn’t come close to cracking the inductee list.

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