Analysis

Ranking the Active NFL Hall of Fame Candidates

Ranking the Active NFL Hall of Fame Candidates

Every year, the Pro Football Hall of Fame welcomes four to eight new members into its hallowed grounds to be forever enshrined as a bust among the best to have ever played the game. Players, coaches, and contributors are all eligible for enshrinement in Canton, and a class usually consists of some combination of the three categories.

It can be easy to forget about in the moment, but the games we watch today showcase Hall of Fame players in their prime every week. With four to eight members being inducted every year and 362 Pro Football Hall of Fame members in total, it’s safe to say there are probably more than 40 Hall of Fame worthy players in the league active in the league right now.

Some may be sure-fire invites on the back end of their career, while others may be in year two or three and just now solidifying their place among the league’s best.

Here we take a look at some of the active players, coaches, and contributors that could be wearing gold jackets in the future.

Editor’s Note: For the purpose of this article, we are considering players who played in the 2021 season who have not yet retired as active, regardless of their current roster status.
Read More: Explaining the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Process

Tier 1 – Hall of Fame Locks

Let’s get some of the obvious ones out of the way early. If this group retired today and never stepped onto another sideline, one would be hard pressed to pick who would be left off in the Class of 2027. These players are absolute locks to be inducted into Canton based on their career accomplishments.

(Candidates listed alphabetically)

Aaron Donald – DT

Aaron Rodgers – QB

Adrian Peterson – RB

Bill Belichick – Head Coach, General Manager

Bobby Wagner – LB

Jason Peters – OT

JJ Watt – DE

Patrick Peterson – CB

Richard Sherman – CB

Tom Brady – QB

Travis Kelce – TE

Tyron Smith – OT

Von Miller – DE

Obviously, having the most accomplished football player and coach of all time still active in this group makes it as impressive as any group in NFL history. Every candidate has a long list of accolades, and most have won a Super Bowl in their career aside from Watt, Peterson, and Smith.

  • Watt has over 100 career sacks, three Defensive Player of the Year awards, and was the most dominant player in the league from 2012-2015
  • Peterson is an eight-time Pro Bowler, a three-time First Team All-Pro, and has as many interceptions as Darelle Revis
  • Tyron Smith is an eight-time Pro Bowl selection, two-time First Team All Pro, and was the cornerstone of one of the best offensive lines over the span of his career

All three are just as deserving of gold jackets as the rest of this tier and should be inducted in their first couple of years of eligibility, regardless of how the voters feel about their playoff successes.

Tier 2 – Borderline Hall of Fame Locks 

These individuals will almost certainly end up in Canton based on their trajectory, but most are putting the finishing touches on their HOF resumes. Others in this category may take a few years to get in due to stiff competition. Still, we strongly anticipate the members of this group to be giving speeches in Canton before it’s all said and done.

Andy Reid – Head Coach

Calais Campbell – DT

Cameron Jordan – DE

Chris Harris Jr – CB 

Fletcher Cox – DT

Jason Kelce – OG

Jimmy Graham – TE

Julio Jones – WR

Justin Tucker – K

Matt Ryan – QB

Matthew Stafford – QB 

Mickey Loomis – General Manager

Mike Evans – WR

Mike Tomlin – Head Coach

Ndamukong Suh – DT

Pete Carroll – Head Coach

Russell Wilson – QB

Trent Williams – OT

Tyrann Mathieu – S

Zack Martin – OG

Some may raise an eyebrow at Andy Reid’s listing as a borderline lock, but he should almost be considered a sure thing at this point. He has led three of his teams to the Super Bowl, won a Lombardi trophy, and has a higher winning percentage (over an additional eight years of coaching) than First Ballot Hall of Famer Bill Cowher. With his current roster, his resume may be even more impressive when he retires.

Matthew Stafford was a candidate that was always hotly debated in NFL circles while he was in Detroit, but last season’s Super Bowl run should cement his Hall of Fame candidacy. If he continues to have even a fraction of the success that he had last season for the rest of his career, he will be bumped up to a Tier 1 candidate in no time.

Tier 3 – Strong Hall of Fame Possibilities

Candidates in Tier 3 are typically those that are not given their fair share of attention from major media outlets but have had very strong runs of success in their NFL careers and can make strong arguments for themselves to be considered by the Hall of Fame. Others have had excellent careers to this point but may be a few years away from establishing themselves as locks.

Cameron Heyward – DT

Chandler Jones – DE

Davante Adams – WR

David Bakhtiari – OT

Deandre Hopkins – WR

Duane Brown – OT

Harrison Smith – S

Jason Pierre-Paul – OLB

John Harbaugh – Head Coach

Lavonte David – LB 

Stephone Gilmore – CB

Players such as Chandler Jones and Lavonte David have been criminally underrated by the media for most of their careers but could be considered Hall of Fame locks if they finish their football careers with any similar level of success that they have showcased to this point. Short of an unexpected fall-off, one would expect both to finish their careers in a position to be strongly considered for Canton.

Tier 4 – Plausible Nominees

This tier is where the debates get more interesting. One can make cases for these players based on the teams they played for or career statistics, but their candidacy will ultimately come down to how the voters perceive each candidate.

AJ Green – WR

CJ Mosley – LB

Desean Jackson – WR

Dont’a Hightower – LB

Jason Licht – General Manager

Joel Bitonio – OG 

Justin Houston – OLB

Lane Johnson – OT 

Mark Ingram – RB

T.Y. Hilton – WR

Zach Ertz – TE

AJ Green is a particularly interesting case considering he spent the prime of his career with a team that struggled to find consistent offensive success. While he never led the league in any statistical category, he was a two-time Second Team All-Pro and made seven consecutive Pro Bowls to begin his career. He has more career TDs than Michael Irvin and wasn’t playing with Hall of Fame quarterbacks like Irvin was, making his case stronger than most give him credit for.

Additionally, a name that deserves some real consideration is Tampa Bay General Manager Jason Licht. He drafted several of the players who have landed on this list, signed the greatest football player of all time in free agency, and won a championship in his home stadium because of it. Licht has two Super Bowl rings and built a contender from a team that had not won a playoff game in a decade when he took over. It seems that he will be in Tampa Bay for the long haul and has plenty of time to continue building his resume.

Tier 5 – Promising But Early

Admittedly, Tier 5 covers a lot of ground as far as experience goes. Several players in this group have nearly a decade of football left in the tank, which could solidify their status among the game’s best. We specifically tried to focus on candidates that have at least a few years of NFL experience under their belt, which is why we left some of the young gun quarterbacks that are making noise off this list.

Alvin Kamara – RB

Brandon Scherff – OG

Dak Prescott – QB

Derrick Henry – RB

Ezekiel Elliott – RB

George Kittle – TE

Jalen Ramsey – CB

Joey Bosa – DE

Justin Jefferson – WR

Lamar Jackson – QB

Myles Garrett – DE 

Nick Bosa – DE

Odell Beckham Jr. – WR

Patrick Mahomes – QB

Quenton Nelson – OG

Sean McVay – Head Coach

Shaq Barrett – OLB

TJ Watt – OLB

Tyreek Hill – WR 

Vita Vea – DT

This group is tough to nail down considering how much room for error there is for players with so much time left in their careers. Each member of this list has shown the ability of a Hall of Famer but must show lasting longevity to be considered for Canton.

Take Derrick Henry, for example. Henry is one of the most impressive and powerful runners in the history of pro football. He is one of only eight players to have ever rushed for more than 2,000 yards in a season. However, he is currently 71st all-time in career rushing yards with 6,797 yards. To have a realistic shot at the Hall of Fame, he would need at least another 4,000 yards for real consideration.

Regardless, this tier certainly makes up much of the NFL’s future star power as older players finish off their Hall of Fame careers. As we move forward, this next generation of NFL players steps up into the spotlight that Tom Brady, Aaron Donald, and Aaron Rodgers will eventually vacate (well, maybe Brady will retire eventually). In the meantime, let’s sit back and enjoy the greatness of these players while they are still playing.

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