The 2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame class was enshrined in Canton this past weekend. The group was led by two first-ballot inductees, Chargers great LaDainian Tomlinson and Dolphins defensive standout Jason Taylor. The rest of the class included former two-time MVP Kurt Warner, Super Bowl XXXVII MVP Terrell Davis, kicker Morten Anderson, safety Kenny Easley, and the ubiquitous owner of the Cowboys, Jerry Jones.
The induction’s of Warner and Davis, in particular, are noteworthy. Both players had short bursts of excellence. Warner had an unbelievable three-year stretch early in his career with the Rams, leading them to two NFC titles. He closed his career with the Cardinals, becoming the first quarterback to take two franchises to a Super Bowl. Davis, meanwhile, is widely regarded as one of the greatest running backs in playoff history, as he averaged close to 150 rushing yards in eight playoff starts. He’s also only one of seven back to rush for over 2,000 yards in a regular season.
However, both Warner and Davis’ resumes are unbelievably flawed. After a sizzling start with St. Louis, Warner’s record as a starter from 2002 to 2007 was a pathetic 13-29. That six-year stretch accounts for half of his twelve-year career! Similarly, Davis was only productive for roughly half of his career as well, and his career was even shorter than Warner’s. Davis played just seven seasons, and he only made an impact in four of them! In his last three years, he ran for a combined 1,194 yards on less than 4.0 yards a carry. But in fairness to Davis, and to a lesser extent Warner, injuries contributed to his downfall.
In short, I would not have voted for either Warner or Davis to make the Hall. But I don’t have a vote, so it’s a moot issue. Plus, I like both guys: I was a big fan of Warner when he played for Arizona, and I love watching old Davis highlights from Denver’s Super Bowl runs in the late-’90’s.
Additionally, I think Warner and Davis’ elections open things up for other candidates playing today who previously might not have had the longevity to qualify for the prestigious Hall. So with this in mind, let’s rundown my list of active players who will one day be enshrined in Canton.
Aaron Rodgers, QB Green Bay: Multiple MVP’s; regarded as one of the greatest QB’s to ever play the position
Adrian Peterson, RB New Orleans: This generation’s most dominant rusher
Antonio Gates, TE San Diego: One touchdown away from being the all-time leader in TD’s for tight end’s
Ben Roethlisberger, QB Pittsburgh: Sixth in all-time wins among quarterbacks
Drew Brees, QB New Orleans: Ranked near the top of practically every major QB statistic
Jason Witten, TE Dallas: Fifteen-year veteran has embodied consistent excellence
J.J. Watt, DE Houston: Most dominant defensive player since Lawrence Taylor
Joe Thomas, OT Cleveland: Pro Bowler for every year of his career; has never missed a snap
Julius Peppers, DE Carolina: More career sacks than Jason Taylor and Michael Strahan, both Hall of Famers
Larry Fitzgerald, WR Arizona: One of the NFL’s most outstanding receivers despite rarely playing with a good QB
Rob Gronkowski, TE New England: The Sandy Koufax of tight end’s; helps Gronk immensely that Davis was elected with such a short-run of success
Tom Brady, QB New England: No explanation needed
Von Miller, OLB Denver: Led a team to a Super Bowl title as a defensive player; should continue to pile up big numbers
At the rate they’re going, these guys will make it
Aaron Donald, DT LA Rams
With three Pro Bowl appearances in his first three seasons, along with two first-team All-Pro selections, Donald is widely regarded as the best defensive player in football now. If he keeps this Watt-level of dominance up, which I think he is capable of, he will get to Canton.
A.J. Green, WR Cincinnati
Green is the only receiver in NFL history to be named a Pro Bowler in each of his first six seasons. A consistent performer (he’s topped 1,000 yards in every season in which he has played at least 13 games), Green’s aggregate numbers will be too good for the Hall to ignore by the time his career is over.
Antonio Brown, WR Pittsburgh
Speaking of numbers, Brown has had one of the most prolific stretches for a receiver in NFL history. His two-year total of 255 regular season receptions from 2014-15 is a record. He’ll need to adjust to a different quarterback once Ben Roethlisberger moves on, but his outstanding level of play over the past few years will serve as the prime argument for his induction case, just like it did for Warner and Davis.
Earl Thomas, FS Seattle
Thomas had a run of five consecutive Pro Bowl appearances snapped after breaking his leg last season. Nonetheless, he is one of the best defensive players of the decade and should be at least one of the representatives from the Seahawks’ famed ‘Legion of Boom’ defense in the Hall.
Julio Jones, WR Atlanta
Jones has battled injuries throughout his career, but he’s the closest thing to Calvin Johnson since…well, Calvin Johnson. He should continue to benefit from a statistical standpoint from playing with Matt Ryan, too.
Khalil Mack, OLB Oakland
The third-year pro won his first Defensive Player of the Year award last season. I have a feeling that wont’ be the last time he’s named the league’s top defensive player, either.
Luke Kuechly, ILB Carolina
Kuechly’s been the league’s best middle linebacker for the past few seasons, and it’s astounding how he impacts the game in a variety of ways: he’s already amassed 700 tackles, 12 interceptions, and 9 sacks in his five-year career. That’s more tackles and interceptions than Ray Lewis had at this point in his career–and Kuechly’s got just as many DPOY awards, too. Pretty solid company.
Marshall Yanda, OG Baltimore
The ten-year pro has put together a terrific stretch over the past six seasons (six Pro Bowls, two first-team All-Pro selections). Showing no signs of slowing down, I bet Yanda gets a gold jacket one day, considering he’s on the shortlist for best lineman of the 2010’s.
Ndamukong Suh, DT Miami
With five Pro Bowls already to his credit, Suh should continue to pile up the accolades. After all, he hasn’t missed a game in five seasons.
Odell Beckham Jr, WR NY Giants
With over 10 touchdowns and 1,300 yards in each of his first three seasons, few players in NFL history have had a faster start to their career than Beckham. If he can reign his wild behavior just a little bit, he’ll avoid becoming the next Terrell Owens and get into the Hall based on his unbelievable production.
Patrick Peterson, CB Arizona
Like the aforementioned A.J. Green, Peterson also has made the Pro Bowl in each of his first six seasons. Combined with his ability to return punts (he had four return TD’s in his rookie season), Peterson will get into the Hall because of his consistency and versatility.
Richard Sherman, CB Seattle
Sherman’s been an instrumental part of the dominant Seahawks defenses from the 2010’s. He’ll rightfully represent the Legion of Boom in Canton, alongside his teammate Earl Thomas, when it’s all said and done.
Tyron Smith, OT Dallas
If Smith continues his streak of consecutive Pro Bowls–he’s made the last four–then he’ll have a convincing case to be enshrined. It should help that he’ll be paving the way for Ezekiel Elliott for the foreseeable future, too.
The following guys will likely be on the borderline by the end of their careers, but I think they’ll get in
Adam Vinatieri, K New England/Indianapolis
The only reason I say Vinatieri is borderline is because he is a kicker. All kickers are borderline. But since Morten Anderson just got in, Vinatieri is very likely to get the call as well. He’s responsible for three of the most famous field goals in NFL history.
Clay Matthews, OLB Green Bay
Matthews has been to six Pro Bowl’s in his eight pro seasons, which helps his case because the Pro Bowl rate for Hall of Famers is around 70%. He’s on the downside of his career, however, so it would help if he had another excellent season or two.
Jason Peters, OT Philadelphia
Eight Pro Bowl selections should be enough for Peters, arguably this generation’s second best offensive tackle after Joe Thomas.
Marshawn Lynch, RB Seattle/Oakland
Despite having fewer total rushing yards and touchdowns than nearly all other Hall of Fame running backs, Lynch’s case for Canton was helped greatly by Terrell Davis’ induction. Lynch already has much better aggregate stats and he was arguably as dominant at his peak, particularly in the postseason, as Davis.
Matt Ryan, QB Atlanta
Ryan’s historic MVP-winning campaign last season helped set his Hall of Fame resume in motion, especially from a statistical standpoint. However, he definitely needs to win a Super Bowl, which is possible considering Atlanta’s window is still open.
Russell Wilson, QB Seattle
Wilson hasn’t necessarily joined the ranks of elite quarterbacks just yet. But his two Super Bowl appearances are a major selling point. If he takes the Seahawks to one more, then he should have a similar argument as Warner.
Terrell Suggs, OLB Baltimore
Ten seasons with at least eight sacks, plus a Defensive Player of the Year award in 2011, helps Suggs’ name enter the Canton conversation. It should help that he will be remembered for being the third most impactful player, after Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, on one of the NFL’s greatest defenses.
Who did I leave out of my Hall of Fame projections? In random order: Frank Gore, Eric Berry, Philip Rivers, Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson, Kam Chancellor. Some of these guys will just miss the cut despite having very good careers (i.e. Gore, Berry, Chancellor). Others, like Bell and Johnson, have simply had too small of a sample for me to make any definitive judgements. And as for Rivers, it would help if he wins a Super Bowl–or at least makes an appearance–before his career is over (that’s not likely to happen, though).
Speaking of Super Bowls, I know what you might be thinking. Where’s Manning? No, the other one!
Sorry. I wrote about it extensively last year. Eli Manning is not a Hall of Famer. And don’t just say I’m a bitter Pats fan. Read the article!
However, I suppose since Warner was able to get in despite being horrendous during the middle of his career, Manning, with two Super Bowl MVP’s to his name, will probably have a bust right beside his brother’s one day.