Although the NFL is still considered a parity-driven league, a look at the Hall of Fame talent on the various rosters gives a very clear idea of the haves and have nots in the National Football League. While some teams have a handful of stars who appear headed directly for Canton after they hang up the cleats, other franchises require a little creativity to find that hidden Hall of Famer lurking on a roster. Never has that been more the case than in the fantasy football era, a chapter in league history when some of the icons of the league get marginalized to embrace the unproven young guns with upside – a syndrome that regularly tosses aside the value of any position that doesn’t score touchdowns.
But while some teams offer slim pickings when it comes to finding a Hall of Famer, there are also many players in the league who are quietly putting together Hall of Fame careers in anonymity, often on teams that are well below the national radar. Looking forward to the possible commencement speeches of the next generation, here is a look at the Hall of Fame locks, toss-ups and longshots spread out around the 32 teams in the NFL.
32 Arizona Cardinals - Larry Fitzgerald (WR)
Fitz has been one of the gold standards at wide receiver since he was picked third overall in 2004, making him a legend in Arizona while racking up nine Pro Bowls and seven 1,000-yard seasons. Maybe most impressive was his resurgent 2015 season, as Fitzgerald set his career high in receptions and broke 1,000 yards for the first time since 2011. More than just a long-time producer, Fitzgerald has also had his fair share of monster seasons that are beacons to Hall of Fame voters, including breaking 1,400 yards four times in his career and leading the league in touchdowns twice. The consummate pro, Fitzgerald has been on his way to the Hall of Fame for a while and continues to tack onto his already impressive resume.
31 Atlanta Falcons - Matt Ryan (QB)
Julio Jones champions might get a little heated given the wideout’s own chances of reaching Canton, yet Matty Ice also has a decent opportunity to get there now that it looks like his career is back on track. Much like Drew Brees during his San Diego days, Ryan showed some signs early in his career but also has been the subject of plenty of impatience from fans. Still, the three-time Pro Bowler made it through some tough years on a few fairly atrocious Atlanta rosters and once again is establishing himself as one of the NFL’s best signal callers. Although the age of 31 is past the prime years for many positions in the league, quarterback is often one of the exceptions and Ryan’s 2016 season suggests that he’s just now finally getting into a groove.
30 Baltimore Ravens - Marshal Yanda (OG)
After initially having a tenuous grasp on a starting position early in his career, third-rounder Marshal Yanda finally got the starting gig in 2010 and swiftly became a bedrock of the Baltimore offensive line. In the years since becoming a starter, Yanda has already earned five trips to the Pro Bowl and was a First Team All-Pro in both 2014 and 2015, setting him up as one of the best guards in the entire league at this point. The former Iowa Hawkeye was also instrumental in helping keep Joe Flacco upright on the Super Bowl run following the 2012 regular season, even if his contributions largely fell under the radar. You can go an entire Ravens game without even hearing his name, yet Yanda is simply as good as it gets at his position and continues to lock down Pro Bowl appearances on an annual basis.
29 Buffalo Bills - LeSean McCoy (RB)
If it wasn’t for McCoy, you would probably have to search pretty hard to find a Buffalo Bill headed to Canton, and a whole lot of statistical finagling might even be required. Maybe four-time Pro Bowler Kyle Williams is really just entering his prime at the age of 33, but it seems a bit of a Hail Mary at this point for the well-respected defensive lineman. Instead, Shady mostly fits the qualifications even though his best days were definitely in Philly, where he became one of the game’s premier dual threats on some explosive offenses. Still, after a series of monster seasons with the Eagles, McCoy made the Pro Bowl in his first season as a Bill in 2015 and has been productive in 2016, putting him right within hailing distance of the Hall if he can stay healthy for a few more seasons.
28 Carolina Panthers - Cam Newton/Luke Kuechly (QB, LB)
Painting in broad strokes, the success of the Panthers in recent seasons can be boiled down to Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly, who have both emerged as superstars in a short period of time. Newton is clearly the face of the franchise and earned his MVP in 2015 and three overall Pro Bowls, giving him the type of resume that certainly warrants Hall of Fame speculation. The better bet, however, might even be Luke Kuechly, who is the only player besides J.J. Watt to win a Defensive Player of the Year Award since 2012 and continues to be the rock at the heart of the Carolina defense. Kuechly has also earned First Team All-Pro distinction each season since the start of 2013 and is just entering his prime at the age of 25.
27 Chicago Bears - Kyle Long (OG)
The Bears may not be in the middle of one of the greatest streaks in team history, yet guard Kyle Long stands out as a building block for the franchise who has more than lived up to expectations. Picked up in the first round in 2013 out of Oregon, Long apparently learned quite a bit from his Hall of Fame father Howie and brother Chris, leading to him earning a spot in the Pro Bowl each of his first three seasons in the league. Long needs to keep it up for a while yet if he actually wants to make it to the Hall, yet he definitely has the talent and strong start to his career to make it happen despite a woefully inconsistent Bears offense.
26 Cincinnati Bengals - A.J. Green (WR)
There are very few receivers in league history to post a better first five seasons in the NFL than A.J. Green, who has topped 1,000 yards each year so far and is actually having his best season as a pro in 2016. Bringing the diva talent without the attitude, Green has proven that he can dominate even the best cover corners in the game and might be the best in the NFL at making catches in traffic, which is why Andy Dalton occasionally just closes his eyes and throws it in the general direction of number 18. Picked fourth overall in 2011 out of Georgia, Green is also on the verge of making his sixth straight Pro Bowl to start his career. With the raw physical ability, elite hands and the right demeanor, Green is clearly on his way to the Hall.
25 Cleveland Browns - Joe Thomas (OT)
Also known as the pinprick in a vast world of impenetrable darkness, left tackle Joe Thomas is already well on his way to the Hall of Fame despite playing for a franchise that has a nearly unparalleled talent for losing. Ever since he skipped attending the 2007 NFL Draft to go fishing with family, Thomas has simply been as good as they come at a crucial position, earning Pro Bowl appearances in each of his first nine seasons in the league – an NFL record for a lineman. Although the Browns have frequently been a dumpster fire inconsistency and questionable front office decisions, it would be hard to imagine what that offense would look like if the Browns didn’t pick Thomas with the third overall pick in 2007.
24 Dallas Cowboys - Zack Martin (OG)
Although Cowboys fans are already sizing up the Hall of Fame bust of Dak Prescott, offensive guard Zack Martin looks like he has the inside track following a terrific first couple of seasons in the league. After picking up Martin in the middle of the first round in 2014, the Cowboys plugged Martin into the starting line and all he did his rookie season was earn First Team All-Pro distinction on his way to the Pro Bowl. The Cowboys have a terrific overall o-line, including another Hall hopeful in Travis Frederick, yet Martin is often the standout thanks to his versatility in both the passing and running games. If Martin stays healthy and continues to rack up annual recognition as one of the best at his position, his Hall of Fame case will continue to strengthen.
23 Denver Broncos - Von Miller (LB)
Miller has been an absolute freak since the moment he came into the NFL, which has allowed him to rack up a Pro Bowl appearance each year except for his suspension-riddled season of 2013. Perhaps most impressive is that the Broncos picked him second overall in 2011 even though they were switching from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 defense, which made Miller learn a completely new style of defense as an NFL rookie. Miller responded by winning the Defensive Rookie of the Year. Since a torn ACL late in 2013, Miller has also returned to full speed and won the Super Bowl 50 MVP by hitting Cam Newton until he brought the Carolina superstar to the verge of tears. As one of the premier linebackers in the game and plenty of accolades already under his belt, Miller looks pretty close to a lock at this point in his career.
22 Detroit Lions - Anquan Boldin (WR)
Short of Mathew Stafford finally fully capitalizing on his talent late in his career, the most likely current Lion to make the Hall of Fame is probably 14-year pro Anquan Boldin. After getting scooped up in the second round by Arizona in 2003, Boldin immediately proved that he had pro game by setting an NFL record by notching 217 yards in his very first game as a pro. Boldin had his best years with the Cardinals and 49ers while notching seven 1,000-yard seasons, although he also settled in as a red zone target with the Lions and continues to be a contributor at the age of 36. With more than 13,000 yards in his career and a period of dominance early on, Boldin has the body of work to get him there.
21 Green Bay Packers - Aaron Rodgers (QB)
When Aaron Rodgers is good instead of spectacular under center, there tends to be a laughable flood of whispers and speculation about something being wrong. But that’s just the life one of the most gifted quarterbacks in league history, a signal caller who openly said he was the best player in the draft in 2005 despite falling all the way to the Packers at 24th overall. Rodgers even boasts arguably the best overall season in NFL history in 2011, as he set a record with a ridiculous 122.5 quarterback rating on his way to winning both the regular season and Super Bowl MVPs. Combining gaudy stats with two regular season MVPs and a Super Bowl MVP, Rodgers is already in position to surpass Brett Favre’s legacy with the potential for plenty of good seasons left to go.
20 Houston Texans - J.J. Watt (DE)
Watt’s first five seasons in the NFL were straight up nuts, catapulting him to superstar status and national TV commercials while anchoring one of the better defensive units in the NFL. Thanks to an ability to rush the passer but also play the run, Watt is a consistent game-changing presence on a defense that has kept the Texans in the playoff hunt for most of his career. The scary thing for offenses around the league is that Watt appears to be getting even better, which is something he proved throughout his 2015 season while leading the league in sacks despite dealing with nagging groin and wrist injuries. Considering he’s already won more Defensive Player of the Year Awards than Reggie White, Bruce Smith or Mike Singletary, it’s safe to say that he’s a favorite for the Hall of Fame.
19 Indianapolis Colts - Andrew Luck (QB)
Even though Andrew Luck could be heading into a make-or-break part of his career, number 12 for the Colts isn’t someone to bet against. For starters, Luck was trusted enough to throw the ball 627 times in his rookie season in 2011 and tossed only 18 interceptions, which took the Colts from 2-14 straight into the playoffs. So far, Luck has made the Pro Bowl all three of his full seasons and smoked defenses for 40 touchdowns against 16 picks in 2014, setting the bar extremely high for one of the most talented players in the league. The Colts still have to prove they can surround him with enough talent, yet Luck’s rare combination of pre-snap IQ, arm strength and athleticism put him on a clear trajectory for Canton.
18 Jacksonville Jaguars - Allen Robinson (WR)
Assuming that the mascots are ineligible for the Hall of Fame, the Jaguars are somewhat limited on clear contenders for induction. Having said that, Allen Robinson is as good of a speculative choice as any, particularly after Robinson set the franchise record for receiving touchdowns in 2015 on his way to the Pro Bowl. Robinson’s 2015 season was also the first for the franchise since Jimmy Smith in 2005 to top the 1,000-yard mark, which was a big boon to the development of young quarterback Blake Bortles. More encouraging for his long-term outlook is that Robinson is also not strictly a burner, relying on superior hands and route-running to make him effective in all aspects of the passing game. Although Robinson has a ton to prove at this point, anyone ill-advisedly making Jacksonville Hall of Fame bets should take a look his way.
17 Kansas City Chiefs - Eric Berry (FS)
There was virtually no learning curve whatsoever for safety Eric Berry, who came into the league with enormous expectations as the fifth overall pick in 2010. All Berry did was become a premier ballhawk in his first season and has made the Pro Bowl every year but one, which also was the season that he dealt with an ankle injury and was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. As the league has continued to be very pass-dominant, Berry has also been the anchor on one of the most consistently strong defenses in the game, leading the Chiefs to the playoffs three times already in his career. After earning the Comeback Player of the Year Award in 2015 and returning to his spot as one of the best safeties in the game, Berry only needs to post a few more strong seasons to cement his reputation as a Hall of Famer.
16 Los Angeles Rams - Aaron Donald (DT)
The 2014 Defensive Rookie of the Year has quickly become one of the best tackles in the game, leading to him earning All-Pro First Team distinction in 2015 as the centerpiece of the Rams defensive line. After earning a starting spot halfway through his rookie season, Donald also quickly proved to be one of the best defensive tackles in the game in his first full season as a starter in 2015, a year in which he tallied 11 sacks while also being one of the premier run-stuffers in the game. Donald not only is a terrific dual threat on the line but he also attained elite status before his 25th birthday, setting him up to be a major star in Los Angeles after the team moved to the West Coast from St. Louis.
15 Miami Dolphins - Mike Pouncey (C)
There isn’t anything sexy about a center heading to the Hall of Fame, but that’s exactly where Mike Pouncey could be headed if he continues to be one of the top players at his position. While Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins offense has been inconsistent in recent years, to be polite, it certainly hasn’t been Pouncey’s fault while earning three straight Pro Bowl nods from 2013 to 2015. Pouncey also proved to be extremely resilient to injury when he bounced back from hip surgery before the 2014 season and didn’t miss a start on his way to the Pro Bowl. The 2011 first rounder has quite a way to go, yet the former Florida Gator has his career headed in the direction of Canton right now.
14 Minnesota Vikings - Adrian Peterson (RB)
Even if Peterson doesn’t come back strong from a 2016 injury like he has in the past, it’s not going to dent his Hall of Fame chances in the least. AP has a 2,000-yard season, an MVP, seven Pro Bowls and has led the league in rushing three different times throughout his career – more than enough for him to plow into the Hall of Fame as one of the greatest backs of his generation. What’s perhaps most impressive is that his career rushing average is nearly five yards a carry, with many of those touches happening on very weak Minnesota offenses that didn’t have anything going besides number 28. Given his career stats despite marginal surrounding talent for much of it, it’s easy to imagine what might have been had Peterson played elsewhere.
13 New England Patriots - Rob Gronkowski (TE)
Assuming Tom Brady isn’t discovered to be a robot with a high-fashion boot fetish, everyone in North America (except maybe in Buffalo) understands that Brady is going to the Hall of Fame as soon as he’s eligible. Outside of Brady, though, there are several other Canton contenders on the New England roster, including the consistently explosive tight end Rob Gronkowski. Although you can definitely say that Brady helped to make his career, Gronk has also maxed out his talent and has fought through injury to post a string of ridiculous seasons. With three seasons over 1,000 yards and four years reaching at least 10 touchdowns already as a tight end, Gronkowski really only needs a couple of more big seasons to cement his Hall of Fame legacy.
12 New Orleans Saints - Drew Brees (QB)
Although defensive end Cameron Jordan might get himself into the running if he continues to be a premier pass-rusher, Drew Brees could hang up the cleats at any point and walk right into the Hall of Fame. Brees is also the prototypical example of what can happen with a quarterback and head coach who share the same talent and offensive vision. Since the moment that the Dolphins did Brees a favor by signing Daunte Culpepper instead, Brees and New Orleans head coach Sean Payton have been assaulting the offensive record books and leading the charge of a pass-happy NFL. With four different 5,000-yard seasons, an MVP, a Super Bowl MVP and eight Pro Bowl appearances for the Saints (nine total), all Brees needs to do is start rehearsing his speech.
11 New York Giants - Eli Manning (QB)
Eli will probably always play second or third fiddle in the Manning family at the Thanksgiving table, yet he has completely lived up to enormous hype after going first overall and demanding a trade on draft day in 2004. To be sure, Manning has had a few absolute clunkers – including an atrocious 2013 season in which he forgot how to throw a football – but he has also been at his best in the limelight and has locked down the starting job in New York for more than a decade. Along with David Tyree’s helmet, Manning is also responsible for toppling Tom Brady and the Patriots twice in the Super Bowl while winning the MVP both times, a clear launching pad for a player who has a strong Hall of Fame résumé.
10 New York Jets - Brandon Marshall (WR)
Amazingly, Brandon Marshall is probably underrated at this point in his career despite being a genuine superstar for a decade in the league. A fourth round pick out of Central Florida in 2006, Marshall has been an elite player on four different teams and the best quarterback he’s played with is Jay Cutler, which tells you pretty much everything you need to know about his level of dominance. In addition to being a leading force on four different teams, Marshall has also set a series of NFL records, including catches in a game (21), most seasons with 100 catches (six) and the first receiver to top 1,000 yards with four different teams. Thanks to surpassing 1,000 yards in eight total seasons, including a 1,500-yard season with Ryan Fitzpatrick, Marshall could retire tomorrow and head straight into the Hall.
9 Oakland Raiders - Amari Cooper (WR)
With Oakland’s roster built around young talent, any possible Hall of Famer is going to be extremely speculative, yet Cooper certainly has the make of a long-term superstar in the NFL. One of the premier players to come out of the 2015 NFL Draft, Cooper immediately started torching defenders with strong route-running and a prodigious ability to make tough catches in traffic, leading to a Pro Bowl appearance in his rookie year with first-time starter Derek Carr under center. While many receivers can go through a sophomore slump, Cooper is on pace to shatter his rookie season marks in 2016 and the sky seems to be the limit for the former Alabama superstar. Cooper is also compiling stats at the heart of the Oakland passing attack without relying solely on superior athleticism, which is a great formula for career-spanning success as an NFL wideout.
8 Philadelphia Eagles - Jason Peters (OT)
After the Bills helped to turn Jason Peters from an undrafted tight end into a Pro Bowl left tackle, they inexplicitly gave two other offensive linemen on the team big contracts and shipped Peters to Philly before the 2009 season. While the decision sort of backfired for Buffalo, Peters would soon prove to be every bit as good as the Bills coaching staff originally thought, helping him rack up six Pro Bowls with the Eagles to give him a grand total of eight in the last decade. A terrific run and pass blocker with freakish athleticism for a man of his size, Peters has been one of the premier left tackles in the game for most of his career and continues to play at an elite level.
7 Pittsburgh Steelers - Ben Roethlisberger (QB)
After going an insane 22-3 in his first 25 starts in the NFL, Roethlisberger hit a snag in 2006 and looked like he might actually have just overachieved his first couple of seasons in the league. Originally more of a game-manager than a deep threat, Roethlisberger embraced a league becoming all about the vertical passing game and would soon become an elite passer despite some limitations he showed early in his career. His pump fake has also regularly fooled both cameramen and safeties throughout his career, regularly leading to big plays on an offense that has completely transitioned to the modern era. Even with injury issues over the last couple of seasons, Roethlisberger led the league in yards per game in both 2014 and 2015 and has helped turn the Steelers offense into a juggernaut when he’s in rhythm.
6 San Diego Chargers - Philip Rivers (QB)
There are many reasons that the Chargers are frequently a grease fire of disappointment and underachievement, a combination that has plagued the franchise over the last decade. None of those reasons have much to do with star quarterback Philip Rivers, however. Even without any premier weapons outside of Antonio Gates and briefly LaDainian Tomlinson, Rivers has been consistently a top 10 quarterback throughout his entire career after sitting for two seasons behind Drew Brees. Even in his worst statistical season in 2007, Rivers’ second as a starter, he still led the team to an 11-5 record and very few San Diego fans have found much to complain about out of their signal caller – even with subpar receiving talent for a decade on an inconsistent franchise.
5 San Francisco 49ers - Joe Staley (OT)
Offensive tackle Joe Staley is the clear choice on a team that has pretty much gone straight down the tubes over the last couple of seasons. After finding his niche on the o-line early in his career, Staley has been an absolute stud while becoming a Pro Bowler each year since 2011, and all despite a woefully inconsistent team that has gone from the Super Bowl to the bottom of the NFC West. What’s also impressive is that Staley was able to move from right to left tackle once he got a grasp on the pro game, which has made him an absolute steal after he was picked 28th overall in 2007. Although tackles never get the credit that they deserve, Staley has been one of the few bright points recently for the 49ers and should have a few seasons left as an elite player at a crucial position.
4 Seattle Seahawks - Earl Thomas (FS)
By the time that he turned 27, free safety Earl Thomas had already earned five Pro Bowl appearances and was voted a First Time All-Pro four times, locking him in as one of the best defensive backs in the league. More than just a cover guy, Thomas has also been one of the better safeties in the game at defending the run, which led to him topping 100 tackles in the 2013 regular season on the way to the franchise’s first Super Bowl victory. Of course, having Richard Sherman covering some of the best receivers in the league only makes Thomas’ job easier, but the hard-hitting safety has been a crucial part of Seattle’s success since he was picked in the first round in 2010.
3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Gerald McCoy (DT)
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has been a straight home run for the Bucs since they made him the third overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, as the explosive defensive tackle has been one of the bright spots on the team despite a tough last handful of seasons. Always a good run-stuffer in both college and in the NFL, McCoy has also really come on as a major threat to get to the quarterback, leading to four consecutive Pro Bowl appearances since 2012 and three times earning the exclusive First Team All-Pro distinction. Thanks to premier talent as well as an ability to make consistent improvements throughout his career, McCoy appears locked in as one of the NFL’s best defensive tackles at the age of just 28.
2 Tennessee Titans - Jurrell Casey (DE)
Unless you live in Nashville, there probably isn’t much of a reason to know who Jurrell Casey even is, although that hasn’t stopped him from becoming one of the best defensive ends in the league despite the anonymity. Casey has put together a nice career dominating as a pass-rusher and has steadily improved throughout his career, leading to his first official Pro Bowl selection in 2015 after declining invites in 2013 and 2014 to be an alternate. With the Titans firmly in rebuilding mode and young quarterback Marcus Mariota a long way from even being close to the Canton discussion, Casey has at least an outside track for a trip to the Hall of Fame if he can prove 2015 wasn’t a fluke over the longer term.
1 Washington Redskins - Trent Williams (OT)
Offensive tackle Trent Williams has simply been a beast since he was picked fourth overall out of Oklahoma in 2010, giving the Redskins a much-needed anchor while aiding in the development of young quarterback Kirk Cousins. Williams has been a strong starter from his rookie season onward and made the Pro Bowl each year since 2011, which has given him a reputation for being one of the elite tackles in the game just as he’s entering his prime. A recent four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy won’t exactly help his Hall of Fame prospects, although it also should prove to be a blip on the radar for one of the best offensive linemen in football. If Williams can bounce back and also stay healthy, a trip to Canton is likely for the 28-year-old Pro Bowler.
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