Careers that achieve Hall of Fame endings in the NFL isn’t something to take lightly in the grand scheme of things. There are 53 players on each individual roster every regular season and 32 teams. Added all together, that is equivalent to 1696 players. There are only six players inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame each offseason, which wouldn’t create an even balance to one individual NFL roster until nearly a decade passed.
The point of saying this is to establish how incredibly difficult it really is for a player to make his way to the Hall of Fame. Injuries, legal issues, team management, relationships, motivation, longevity, talent, having a good connection with all of these factors is vital to solidifying one’s name in Canton. Guys like Larry Fitzgerald, Drew Brees, Julius Peppers, and Tom Brady (just to name a couple), have all been able to understand what it takes to be great, and are surely bound for Hall of Fame spots in the future.
With those older players on their way out the door within the next couple of years, a lot of the attention moves to the potential the public sees in young talent. We all want to see the next Peyton Manning, Ed Reed, Randy Moss and Deion Sanders, guys who were simply transcendent athletes that altered the way the game was played and were beloved by millions of fans. Often times, we make unfair comparisons between the newly drafted players and the legends of old, but it all stems from our inner desire to see greatness erupt.
Without further ado, TheSportster brings you Looking WAY Ahead: 15 NFL Players Under 25 Who Are Hall Of Fame Bound
15. Marcus Peters (CB)
Marcus Peters has set the league on fire with his very young two-year NFL career. In his two seasons, Peters has recorded 14 interceptions, placing in the top-2 defensive players in 2015 and 2016. Along with his interception numbers, Peters has emerged as a rising cornerback in the league, attaining both Pro Bowl and All Pro honors this past season.
The former Washington Husky looks to continue to assert himself as an elite cornerback in the 2017 season, assisted by other All Pro defenders in Kansas City that take the names of Justin Houston and Eric Berry. Given what we have seen out of Peters, there’s no reason to rule out his quest for a place in the Hall of Fame at the end of his career. After all, even legendary cornerback Deion Sanders only combined for eight interceptions in his first two NFL seasons.
14. Ezekiel Elliott (RB)
This one seems like maybe the most obvious choice on the entire list. You could make the argument that there really isn’t a player under 25 with a more clear-cut path to the Hall of Fame than Ezekiel Elliott. He has the media’s attention with his place in Dallas, he put up top tier rushing numbers in 2016, he has all the talent a running back could ask for, and he has maybe the best run blocking offensive line the league has to offer(not to mention they’re one of the youngest).
As of right now, it’s almost hard to see Ezekiel Elliott falling short of this colossal yet attainable goal. Of course, injuries do indeed exist in the NFL, and that is really what worries all of us as sports fans. When greatness is on the rise, there are occasions where injuries choose to halt it and cut it off before we see it all. For the sake of the fans of the NFL(in particular, those located in Dallas) it would be best if Ezekiel could remain mostly healthy during his career.
13. Shane Ray (OLB)
The young Denver Broncos linebacker out of Missouri has had the great pleasure of learning under quite possibly two Hall of Fame pass rushers: Von Miller, and Demarcus Ware. Though his time with Ware was only two seasons, Shane Ray still can play side by side with Miller in 2017 (barring any more wrist injury set backs) and play to the eight sack level he showcased last year. The Broncos still have one of the most talented defensive units in the league, and that will continue to help Ray execute on Sundays.
This pick may appear to be a shot in the dark, given that Ray hasn’t received a ton of notoriety, but he already has a Super Bowl ring under his belt and knows what it takes to win. Combine that with his youth, rising pass rushing ability, and perennial team playoff aspirations, he could make a run at the Hall of Fame that shocks the world.
12. Joey Bosa (DE)
There was quite the uproar about Joey Bosa before he even began his career as Charger, given his contract dispute in 2016. However, he quickly changed all that when he finally got on the field and showed how much he deserved to be picked a#3 in the NFL Draft. 10.5 sacks in 12 games aren’t stats you see every year from a rookie, and with a skillful teammate pass rusher like Melvin Ingram by his side, his upside gets only greater.
Injuries will always be a concern for a player’s career longevity, but aside from that, Bosa’s journey to the Hall of Fame is very much a possibility. Physically, he has proven he can already dominate offensive lineman at the highest level (so much so that he has begun to force double teams). That shows a lot when we talk about the all-time greats, and Bosa is well on his way.
11. Amari Cooper (WR)
During his career at the University of Alabama, we all saw a lot of incredible production out of Amari Cooper. Sometimes we are fooled by how well these players play in Alabama’s system (more so on offense), and they end up just not panning out in the NFL (Trent Richardson). However, Alabama has historically had a phenomenal track record with players making the transition to the NFL, and boy was Amari Cooper no different.
Not only has Amari Cooper already shined with consecutive 1000 yard receiving seasons, but he has done it on an Oakland Raiders team that really has begun to develop itself into something that could very easily be Super Bowl contenders. Hall of Fame chances can be greatly improved by postseason success, and Amari has an excellent opportunity to capitalize on that with the young QB-WR duo of him and Derek Carr.
10. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S)
Another product of Alabama’s college football dominance, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has been lucky enough to feature in two of Green Bay’s recent NFC Championship bouts, only to lose in both of them. That said, his postseason experience hasn’t been without positives, as Clinton-Dix has elevated his game to that of a Pro Bowl caliber player. His 2016 campaign finished with a career high in interceptions (5) and perhaps more importantly, his development into a player that Green Bay can count on in the secondary.
The best thing for Clinton-Dix’s career would be to stay put in Green Bay if at all possible. As talented as a player as Clinton-Dix is, Green Bay has a history of letting go players that have played integral roles in previous seasons. Taking that into consideration, it would still be a shocker if we saw Clinton-Dix anywhere but Green Bay for the next couple of years.
9. Jadeveon Clowney (DE)
Jadeveon Clowney is very likely the most athletically gifted young player on this list. At 6’6″, and over 260 pounds, Clowney ran a 4.53 40 yard dash at the 2014 NFL Draft combine. That was not a typo, and neither is this: Clowney finally began to portray his explosive defensive nature during the 2016 season (and postseason). Though he only recorded 6 sacks in 2016, Clowney did so without the assistance of his pass rushing partner in crime, JJ Watt (well out of 11 of his 14 games) and became more than enough trouble for offensive line units to handle.
As a result, Texan fans have begun to long for the days when both JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney can healthily torture offensive line units. Until then, Houston will be quietly awaiting their opportunity to legitimately make a run at a Super Bowl title. Of course, a title would make things much easier on Clowney if he were to ever make it into the Hall of Fame, that and the fact that JJ Watt will make his life just a bit easier.
8. Mike Evans (WR)
Speaking of athletically gifted young players, we now have Mike Evans. Evans turned on the jets in 2016, to say the least, snagging 96 catches for over 1300 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. I’d like to mention that he did this with very little help from other wide receivers, namely Vincent Jackson, who only played five games. Mike Evans was the #1 most targeted player in terms of targets per game last season, and even if that drew more attention to himself as the season went on, his production certainly didn’t drop.
A lot of Mike Evans’ chances of making the Hall of Fame, hinges on how well Jameis Winston can develop as a QB. As of right now, things are looking up, because Tampa Bay added Desean Jackson to the WR corp, and Adam Humphries has emerged as a reliable slot man (not to mention the new TE draft pick O.J Howard from Alabama…). The pressure looks to be lifted a bit off of Evans’ shoulders as he is poised for another standout season.
7. Landon Collins (S)
Big Blue nation has longed for a defensive leader following the departures of long-time veterans Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck on the defensive line. With Jason Pierre-Paul hurting over the past couple of seasons, Landon Collins has arrived as a new safety sensation that could be that new leader. His hard-hitting ability and range of play making through the air and ground earned him a Pro Bowl spot in his second year of play.
As a player who could quite possibly the next face of the Giants defense, Collins has an excellent opportunity to form a lasting legacy in New York. He has the defensive pieces around him to succeed for the long run and has already proven he can force turnovers and change the course of the game by himself with five interceptions last year (the third best in the league).
6. Leonard Williams (DT)
Not all is well for the other NFL team in New York, as the Jets struggle to even make it out of the offseason without appearing to be in even worse condition than before the offseason began. Their wide receiving corp is an absolute mess, and to be completely honest, who really knows where they will find points. In opposition to the offensive side of the ball, Leonard Williams has proven that there is some hope for Jets fans down the road (assuming they get things together offensively).
Williams alongside Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson put up a great trio on paper, but it really hasn’t translated like many Jets fans had hoped. Fortunately, Williams hasn’t slowed his progression down, reaching the Pro Bowl last year and recording seven sacks as a DT. Williams’ Hall of Fame ambitions is still very much in play, given the fact that the Pro Football Hall of Fame doesn’t care how bad of a team you played on, and his versatility as a defensive lineman makes him all the harder to stop.
5. Brandin Cooks (WR)
Just when we all thought the New England Patriots couldn’t possibly improve after their miraculous fifth Super Bowl title, we were wrong. They decided to add one of the most dynamic young receivers the league has seen over the past couple of years, in the blazing Brandin Cooks. Cooks dominated in New Orleans, surpassing at least 1000 yards and eight touchdown grabs in two consecutive years. Sure, he played with some solid players in New Orleans (one very solid QB in future Hall of Famer Drew Brees) but who does he get to play with in New England?
Well, let’s start off with five-time Super Bowl Champion Tom Brady, followed by Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, and the Patriots consistently efficient and seemingly unstoppable offensive system. Given that, if Cooks can maintain his health, some believe he could put up Randy Moss like numbers in these next couple of seasons. While that is probably not going to happen, any time you are as talented a receiver as Brandin Cooks, and you can play as well as you have with two Hall of Fame QB’s, you have an excellent shot at making your way to Canton one day.
4. Dak Prescott (QB)
The Dallas Cowboys really hit the jackpot with their 2016 4th round selection, nabbing the once Heisman hopeful Dak Prescott out of Mississippi State. Many saw Prescott as simply a backup to Tony Romo (rightfully so), but a preseason injury paved the way to one incredible rookie season for Prescott and the Cowboys. Such an incredible season, in fact, that Prescott was at one point believed to be a legitimate MVP candidate. Like said, the Cowboys offensive line play has done a great job helping out Ezekiel Elliott, but the Cowboys offensive receiving and running weapons haven’t done too bad a job with Dak Prescott either.
From Dak’s perspective, you have a top offensive line in the league, one of the best running backs in Ezekiel Elliott, an elite, legitimate #1 WR in Dez Bryant, a solid #2 in Terrance Williams, and maybe the best slot receiver the league has to offer with Cole Beasley. With that weaponry at his disposal, it’s no wonder Prescott threw for 23 touchdowns and FOUR interceptions in a 12-4 season that resulted in the NFC’s #1 seed.
3. Todd Gurley (RB)
Last season, Todd Gurley hit us all with a bit of a sophomore slump, decreasing his Y/A average by 1.6, and failing to hit 1000 rushing yards. His numbers weren’t terrible, but they didn’t hit the lofty expectations he set for himself back in his Pro Bowl 2015 campaign. Critics of the Rams blamed Jeff Fisher for the entire offense’s vulnerability last season, so the addition of new Head Coach Sean McVay becomes all the more important to Gurley’s return to success.
What bodes extremely well for Gurley’s future (from a statistical standpoint) is the fact that he is 100% a workhorse for LA. They are going to run him into the ground if they have to, and given Jared Goff’s slow adaptation to the pace in the NFL, they will continue to do so. Don’t be surprised if Gurley’s numbers are among the league’s best for running backs for years to come(so much so that he could find his name in the Hall of Fame some day…)
2. Marcus Mariota (QB)
The former Heisman Trophy winner led the Tennesse Titans to an 8-7 record last season, that nearly gave Tennesse its first playoff berth since 2008. With a completion percentage of 61.2%, 26 touchdown passes and nine interceptions, Marcus Mariota has begun to surge into his college form of efficient passing and attaining wins. The AFC South is still open for the taking despite the Houston Texan’s recent success, and Mariota could quite possibly emerge as the best QB in the division (which often leads to a divisional title).
In terms of a run at the Hall of Fame, Mariota’s career is very young, and to be completely honest, I could see it going either of the two ways that quarterbacks reach the Hall of Fame. He could start putting up extraordinarily high passing numbers that rival the top quarterbacks in the league, or, he could go for the efficiency route, and look to grind out wins in order to make the playoffs. A combination of both is obviously most desired, but either way, Mariota definitely has the tools and the team to shine in this league.
1. Odell Beckham, Jr. (WR)
Odell Beckham Jr. has put up remarkable numbers in his first two years in the league. So much so, that many analysts have already placed him in the top-5 and even top-3 wide receivers in the NFL. He hits the check list in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns when it comes to being on track with all time greats. At least 90 receptions in both seasons? Yep. Over 1300 receiving yards both years? Yep. At least 10 touchdown grabs in both seasons? Correct again.
Odell has all the speed, quickness, route-running ability, and hands that you could ask for from a young receiver. Is maturity still an issue? Definitely possible, and that is one thing that will be kept track of as he continues to develop. One final concern for Odell in his future is how is production may be altered when Eli Manning is no longer throwing him the ball. Sure, he’s not the greatest QB in the world, but he’s a Hall of Fame QB who beat Tom Brady in two Super Bowls, so finding a replacement won’t exactly be a walk in the park.
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