BEREA - Some critics might say that a great opportunity was missed by the Browns when they didn't select Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson in the first round of the 2007 draft.
Instead, the Browns used the third overall pick on Wisconsin offensive tackle Joe Thomas. Peterson was selected by the Minnesota Vikings with the seventh choice.
This is one time when it's difficult to blame the Browns, who entrusted their football decisions at that time to former general manager Phil Savage. Granted, Peterson is the greatest running back of his generation and a sure Hall of Famer, but Thomas has carved out a career that will one day be worthy of mention for the Hall of Fame.
Last Wednesday Thomas learned that he was selected to the AFC Pro Bowl roster for the sixth time in his six-year career. There is more than one quarterback that has played for the Browns since 2007 that would likely say that Thomas is deserving of each of the honors.
It's fair to place Thomas among the elite tackles of his era. His ability to pass protect is par excellence.
"When you say a great tackle of an era, I'm going to say it's probably back to you (the media)," offensive coordinator Brad Childress said. "You're writing about the era. I don't know that I'm qualified to comment on it.
"He's a good player and six years as an All-Pro is pretty doggone good. I told him that it's better for a player to know than for a coach to know the directions out of the Honolulu airport and to the west side of the island very well. Unfortunately, we did it three years in a row to where the car kind of led the way. For him it's a good thing; for coaches not so good."
Childress was joking about how the coaching staffs of losing teams in the conference championship games coach the NFC and AFC teams in the Pro Bowl. The honor of being involved in the game is more important to the players because they're selected by a weighted vote of fans, players and coaches.
"It's pretty humbling to look at the list of guys that have gone six-for-six," Thomas said. "Even my wife, who isn't a huge football historian; you read that list to them and people know who those guys are. Those guys are the legends of this game. It's pretty special to be in that company."
Thomas took a bold step on draft day in 2007 when he said that one of his goals was to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Six Pro Bowl nominations is a good start to achieving that goal.
"I know as offensive linemen we don't have stats you can rattle off," Thomas said. "Other than Super Bowl wins, Pro Bowls are the only thing you can talk about when you're talking about Hall of Fame voting. Six is a nice start, but like coach said earlier about finishing the season and getting a couple of wins, I'd like to be greedy and try to get more than just six."
Hall of Fame voters can be hard to convince in cases where a nominee has a bunch of Pro Bowl selections but little to nothing on the playoff and Super Bowl side of things. Former Ohio State and Denver Broncos linebacker Randy Gradishar, who graduated from Champion High School, made seven Pro Bowl appearances in a 10-year career (1974-83) and was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in the 1978 season, but he's not in the Hall of Fame.
Gradishar's eligibility as a modern-era player expired a few years ago. His only hope of getting in is as a senior nominee. That's how the late Gene Hickerson, a guard for the Browns, entered the Hall in 2007.
Thomas has never played in a playoff game. An indication of how things have gone for him is that he'll likely be playing for his fourth head coach next season.
"It's part of the game," Thomas said. "There aren't many guys that have played for one coach over their whole career. The ones that have are extremely lucky. It's never easy, but it's part of playing in the NFL."