Ready for some big assumptions? It’s a dangerous business.
Yes, presuming a still-active player will get a Gold Jacket and a bust in Canton, Ohio, can make prognosticators look foolish. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is for legends, for the best of the elite. Sometimes, regardless of the reasons, it takes longer than expected for someone to be enshrined.
But if he is worthy, he gets elected. Here are current NFL players with the credentials to be HOF entrants once their careers conclude or those who could reach that summit with more production. They are listed alphabetically in three categories — Locks, Likely, Potentially — with comments from longtime Hall of Fame voters and current The 33rd Team contributors Vic Carucci, Paul Domowitch, Clark Judge and Barry Wilner.
Players had to have played at some point last season to be eligible for this list.
>> READ: Active Coaches Headed for Canton
Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams
Not only is Aaron Donald the top defensive lineman of his generation, but he might also be the best defensive player. Some even take it further.
“Aaron Donald is the surest guy on this list,” Judge said. “A three-time Defensive Player of the Year, seven-time first-team All-Pro, nine-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion, there are no holes in his resume. He’s the platinum bar against whom all others are compared.”
No discussion is needed.
Julio Jones, WR, Unsigned
Although injuries slowed Julio Jones at various points in his career, he has been among the main game-breaking receivers in the NFL since starting his career with the Atlanta Falcons in 2011. Jones is a seven-time Pro Bowler who led the league in yards receiving per game three times.
“Ask any defensive coordinator of the last dozen years about game-planning schemes against Jones, and they’ll tell you shutting him down just wasn’t going to happen,” Wilner said. “Tall, smooth, with great hands and feet, Jones is the consummate wideout of his generation.”
Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs
Power, intelligence, shiftiness and persistence — that’s Travis Kelce.
“Eight Pro Bowls and four first-team All-Pro selections,” Domowitch said. “He made the 2010s All-Decade team, had five straight 90-catch seasons and caught 55 touchdowns in the last six years. He goes in the first year he’s eligible.’’
No discussion is needed.
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
Let’s see how many championships Patrick Mahomes collects; he’s only now entering his prime years.
“There hasn’t been a quarterback who can match his uncanniness for making plays as a passer and runner,” Carucci said about the two-time MVP and Super Bowl winner. “He not only sees the field better than most who have ever played the position but can make the necessary throws from any angle.”
A trailblazer in some ways. No discussion is needed.
Zack Martin, OG, Dallas Cowboys
Zack Martin is another player with eight Pro Bowls and a spot on the 2010s All-Decade Team. Plus, he’s got six first-team All-Pro selections.
“Martin has missed just nine starts in nine seasons, six of them from a calf injury in 2020,” Domowitch said. “He’s one of the two or three best interior offensive linemen in the last 25 years. Position bias may force him to wait a couple of years, but he’s a no-brainer.’’
Von Miller, LB/Edge, Buffalo Bills
Von Miller has been a decisive factor with all three teams that employed him (Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Rams, Buffalo Bills). Linebacker has not been highly regarded in the last decade, but Miller stands out.
“An extremely talented and dynamic player who helped two teams win Super Bowls,” Carucci says, “he should have a first-ballot entry to the Hall.”
No discussion is needed.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, New York Jets
Yeah, yeah, we hear the criticisms, which have exponentially exploded since Aaron Rodgers moved to the New York Jets. Four MVP awards alone make him a Canton cinch, regardless of the alleged underachieving of his Packers teams with only one Super Bowl title.
Consider that, besides Davante Adams, Rodgers never played with a potential Hall of Fame target at a skill position.
“In the age of quarterbacks, Rodgers won four MVPs when the likes of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees were starring,” Wilner said. “Case closed.”
No discussion is needed.
Justin Tucker, K, Baltimore Ravens
HOF voters don’t move mountains to get kickers in – Jan Stenerud and Morten Andersen are the only pure placekickers enshrined. Here’s an exception.
“Justin Tucker will follow Adam Vinatieri into Canton as one of a handful of specialists with Gold Jackets,” Judge said. “And he should. He has been the game’s most accurate and dominant kicker for years. Plus, he set an NFL record by hitting a 66-yard field goal. The only question is: When he’s elected, will he sing at his induction? Tucker is a classically trained bass-baritone who can sing opera in seven languages.”
Bobby Wagner, LB, Seattle Seahawks
We’re putting Bobby Wagner in this category because he was the heart and soul of the Seattle Seahawks’ often brilliant and supremely physical defense for a decade. A six-time All-Pro and eight-time Pro Bowler who twice led the NFL in tackles and always is around the ball.
“Linebackers aren’t valued today the way they once were,” Wilner said. “But guys like Wagner are so much a factor all over the field that they transcend any bias.”
Trent Williams, OT, San Francisco 49ers
“Williams is as elite a blocker in the run game and pass game as anyone this century,” Wilner said. “He’s in the class of Hall of Famers like Walter Jones and Orlando Pace.”
Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans
Derrick Henry has been an anomaly in a passing era when quarterbacks ruled. He is the Tennessee Titans’ offense, led the league three times in carries, twice in yards rushing and twice in touchdowns rushing.
“Oh, yeah,” Judge said. “He once ran for over 2,000 yards, and that was in a 16-game season. It’s hard to push running backs to Canton in today’s pass-happy game. It’s not hard to push King Henry.”
Tyreek Hill, WR, Miami Dolphins
“Hill made his fourth All-Pro team and first not catching passes from Mahomes,” Wilner points out. “He had 119 catches for 1,710 yards and, at times, saw triple-team defenses. He needs another year or so of production to be a slam dunk for Canton.”
Lane Johnson, RT, Philadelphia Eagles
He has been as good as any right tackle during his career and irreplaceable for the Philadelphia Eagles, but right tackles often line up behind left tackles in HOF voting.
“This guy has faced the best edge rushers in the game over his career and beaten every one of them,” Domowitch said. “Ask Micah Parsons about Johnson. Ask Von Miller and Myles Garrett about him. He hasn’t given up a sack in the last two seasons.”
Cameron Jordan, DE, New Orleans Saints
With 115.5 career sacks and at least 7.5 a season since his 2011 rookie year, Cameron Jordan made the 2010s All-Decade team.
The New Orleans Saints rarely have been a defense-first club, particularly when Sean Payton was coaching, and Drew Brees was behind center.
“It’s unusual for just one defensive player to stand out on a contending team built around its offense,” Wilner notes. “Jordan would be that guy in New Orleans. He’s been as much a difference-making defender as most of his peers.”
Jason Kelce, Center, Philadelphia Eagles
The No. 1 center of his time and a five-time All-Pro, Jason Kelce might have to wait a bit when eligible like Kevin Mawae did. Another championship would add to his support.
“His ability to get outside on screens and get to the next level versus linebackers and his intelligence when it came to handling the blocking calls are unparalleled,” Domowitch said. “He could run downfield as a blocker and stay step for step with the likes of Darren Sproles, LeSean McCoy and Miles Sanders.”
Quenton Nelson, OG, Indianapolis Colts
He’s not quite in Martin’s class yet, but Quenton Nelson also has played for inferior teams and still excelled.
“Some interior offensive linemen are unsung heroes,” Wilner said. “Not Nelson. He’s a three-time All-Pro in just five pro seasons, making the Pro Bowl each year. He even finished third for Offensive Rookie of the Year – which linemen do that?”
Jason Peters, OT, Unsigned
Durability and versatility are the trademarks of Jason Peters, a nine-time Pro Bowler who made the 2010s All-Decade Team.
“To watch a 340-plus-pound man move side to side like this former tight end could never cease to amaze me,” Domowitch said. “The fact that an offensive tackle still is playing into his 40s is even more remarkable than Brady’s longevity. Before he died, Howard Mudd, one of the best offensive line coaches I’ve ever covered, said Peters was every bit as good as another left tackle he coached, Walter Jones.”
Russell Wilson, QB, Denver Broncos
Wilner wonders if Russell Wilson needs to erase vivid memories of his first season in Denver to ever get to Canton.
“Wilson’s numbers in Seattle were Hall of Fame worthy,” Wilner said. “Then, 2022 was such an utter flop. Let’s see what he can do with Sean Payton in charge. If it isn’t much, then maybe it was Pete Carroll and the Seahawks’ offensive schemes behind Wilson’s earlier success.”
Davante Adams, WR, Las Vegas Raiders
He is a game-breaking receiver who proved last season he didn’t need Rodgers throwing the ball to be impactful.
Joel Bitonio, OG, Cleveland Browns
Offensive linemen often need longevity as standouts to get to Canton. Joel Bitonio is approaching that level.
Fletcher Cox, DT, Philadelphia Eagles
Versatility and leadership should help Fletcher Cox’s candidacy.
Myles Garrett, Edge, Cleveland Browns
At times, Myles Garrett is a dominant pass rusher. If only his team could be a consistent contender.
Khalil Mack, LB/Edge, Los Angeles Chargers
Khalil Mack has been a spectacular performer for parts, but not all of his career, and his star might be fading.
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR/RB/KR, Atlanta Falcons
Special teamers rarely get the consideration they deserve, but Cordarrelle Patterson is much more.
Jalen Ramsey, CB, Miami Dolphins
Jalen Ramsey is an elite cover cornerback who has worn out his welcome with two teams. He’s not exactly on the Deion Sanders level.
Matt Ryan, QB, Unsigned
Quarterbacks often get the benefit of the doubt for the Hall, and Matt Ryan has longevity going for him. But his work has been dwarfed by his peers.
Matthew Stafford, QB, Los Angeles Rams
Ditto for Matthew Stafford, although he has a Super Bowl ring.
Ndamukong Suh, DT, Unsigned
He has been a contributor everywhere he has played, who nonetheless never reached the predicted heights.