It is difficult enough to earn a spot on an NFL roster, but even more difficult to get inducted into the Hall of Fame. Every year a new ballot of players have the honor of getting the opportunity to get voted into the Hall. For some players, it can take years of disappointment before they finally garner enough attention from the voters to get inducted into the Hall.
For a select few players who etch their names in the NFL record books or make it to multiple Pro Bowl squads, induction into the Hall of Fame can be swift and just. These players are the stars of the stars, the best of the best and have all left their indelible marks on the game. These players often have changed the way the game is played and have spent their careers wreaking havoc on the opposition.
The following 20 players are game changers. Many of these players might be young but they are already big parts of the game plans of opposing coaches. These players have what it takes to eventually be inducted into the Hall of Fame the first time their names appear on the ballot.
20 LeSean McCoy (RB) - Philadelphia Eagles
LeSean "Shady" McCoy is much more than a regular plodding running back. He is shifty enough to make people miss and strong enough to gain extra yards after contact. What makes McCoy even more special is that he doesn't have to come out of the game on third and long situations. After a slow start as a backup in 2009, McCoy has since rushed for 5,626 yards with 40 touchdowns and has caught 282 passes for 2,191 yards with 10 touchdowns. In 2013, McCoy accounted for 2,146 yards in Chip Kelly's high octane Eagle offense. He is the perfect back for an offense that promises to pad his stats for his early inclusion into the Hall.
19 Brandon Marshall (WR) - Chicago Bears
There are many outstanding receivers in the NFL, but few as consistent as Brandon Marshall. In seven season as a starter, Marshall has caught over 100 passes five times while eclipsing 1,000 yards in each season. He already has 725 career receptions for 9,169 yards and 61 touchdowns. Part of a dynamic offense in Chicago, Marshall should continue to put up big numbers. He already has 13 receptions and 4 touchdowns in his first two games of 2014. Marshall is Jay Cutler's favorite target and has the size to keep up his production if he starts to lose some speed. At this pace, Marshall will be a lock for induction into the Hall.
18 Joe Thomas (T) - Cleveland Browns
Some NFL fans might not even know who Joe Thomas is, but his peers in the league know about him all too well. Thomas has been in the league for seven seasons and has been selected to the Pro Bowl each year. Thomas has a great blend of strength and terrific footwork that make him one of the best tackles to play the game. Thomas was voted as the 18th best player in the league for the NFL Network's Top 100 Players of 2014. He also joins a group of only 11 players who have been selected to seven Pro Bowls in their first seven seasons, including names like Dick Butkus, Franco Harris, Barry Sanders and Merlin Olsen, to name a few. If he stays healthy, Thomas will quickly join those four in the Hall.
17 Wes Welker (WR) - Denver Broncos
Wes Welker has only been a starter in the NFL for seven seasons, but still has 841 receptions for 9,358 yards. Amazingly, Welker has had 5 seasons with over 100 receptions. As Peyton Manning's favorite target, Welker should continue to add to his legacy despite missing time for his drug related suspension this year. Welker has made a living playing the slot receiver position where his skill at reading coverages makes him one of the most dangerous third down receivers in the game. Welker is far from the fastest or biggest receivers in the game, but he should have a speedy induction into the Hall.
16 Rob Gronkowski (TE) - New England Patriots
There are plenty of tight ends with better stats after four seasons in the NFL, but Gronkowski has had only one complete season of play as a starter. In 2011, Gronkowski had 90 receptions for 1,327 yards with 17 touchdowns and a 14.7 yard average per catch. What sets "Gronk" apart from most tight ends who can catch the ball is that he can be a nasty blocker in the running game as well. In the passing game, Gronkowski already has 3,327 yards receiving and an astounding 43 touchdowns in only 44 starts. If he can stay on the field, he is in a system with a great quarterback that can make it easier for him to get into the Hall.
15 Luke Kuechly (LB) - Carolina Panthers
Luke Kuechly is only in his third season, making him the youngest player on this list. In two NFL seasons, Kuechly has had over 150 tackles each season (164 in 2012, 156 in 2013) and also has 6 interceptions and 15 passes defensed. In one game this season, against Tampa Bay, Kuechly had 9 tackles, 1 sack and 1 forced fumble. Kuechly should only get better as he continues to make better reads and have a better understanding of what plays teams are looking to run. If Kuechly remains healthy, he should continue to make plays and at this current pace, he is a lock for getting his bust into Canton.
14 Jimmy Graham (TE) - New Orleans Saints
The biggest question facing Jimmy Graham lately is whether to be classified as a wide receiver or tight end. Graham has the size and strength to be considered a tight end, but when he lines up in the slot he is one of the most dangerous receivers in the game. In just over four incomplete seasons of play, Graham already has 319 receptions for 4,063 yards and 43 touchdowns. He had 16 touchdown catches in 2013 alone. Graham has great size (6'7", 265 lbs) and speed to wreck havoc on any linebacker, cornerback or safety who tries to cover him. If Graham remains healthy, he will enter the Hall with some of the best numbers ever for a tight end.
13 Patrick Peterson (CB) - Arizona Cardinals
It might be a surprise to many casual NFL fans that Patrick Peterson is the highest paid cornerback in the league (in terms of average salary). Peterson is in just his 4th season of NFL play, but has already established himself as one of the best cornerbacks in the league. His unique blend of size (6'1", 220 lbs), speed and quickness make him an imposing figure on the Cardinals defense. Proving how athletic he can be, in his rookie season Peterson became the only player in NFL history to have four punt return touchdowns of over 80 yards. For his four year career, Peterson already has 12 interceptions, 42 passes defensed and 166 tackles. Peterson is still young, but if he continues his dynamic play his induction into the Hall should be as quick as he is.
12 A.J. Green (WR) - Cincinnati Bengals
A.J. Green is already one of the top receivers currently playing in the NFL. Green is only entering his 4th season in the league, but has put up some big numbers that are often not expected for a receiver at this stage of a career. Green has 266 receptions for almost 4,000 yards, passing the 1,000 yard mark in each of his three seasons in the league. What puts him on this list is that he has shown improvement each year. Last season he recorded 98 receptions for 1,426 yards and 11 touchdowns. At his current pace, it will not take long before Green has the numbers that will eclipse many of the receivers already inducted into the Hall.
11 Patrick Willis (LB) - San Francisco 49ers
Patrick Willis is one of the rare breeds of middle linebackers who don't have to come off the field on third and long situations. Willis can cover running backs and tight ends with his great speed, while also using his strength to fill gaps and make tackles in the running game. In just over seven seasons of play, Willis already has 922 tackles, 20.5 quarterback sacks, 54 passes defensed and 16 forced fumbles. Except for an injury shortened 2011 season, Willis has recorded over 100 tackles every season he has been in the league. Although teammate NaVorro Bowman is competing for more attention, Willis is still a lock for making it into the Hall.
10 Reggie Wayne (WR) - Indianapolis Colts
Reggie Wayne entered the league as second fiddle to Marvin Harrison and is currently Andrew Luck's go to guy in Indianapolis. Following the footsteps of a great receiver like Harrison has not been easy, but Wayne already has 1,018 receptions for 13,692 yards and 80 touchdowns so far in his career. In his first game this year, Wayne hauled in 9 passes for 98 yards giving a strong indication that he is back from a torn ACL he suffered in 2013. In ten full seasons as a starter, Wayne has eight 1,000 yard seasons. If Wayne remains healthy, Luck is sure to do his best to make it even easier for him to quickly get into the Hall.
9 Charles Woodson (FS) - Oakland Raiders
Charles Woodson is in his 17th season in the league and has already come out of the gate in 2014 with 9 tackles and an interception. Quietly, Woodson has been one of the NFL's best all-around cornerbacks/safties of the current era. Woodson has amassed 1,027 tackles, 19 quarterback sacks, 57 interceptions and 139 passes defensed, thus far in his NFL career. In many ways Woodson has redefined the cornerback position, playing with physicality and quickness that has paved the way for other physical cornerbacks like Patrick Peterson and Richard Sherman who are now considered the best in the league. The former Heisman Trophy winner in college will earn a bust in Canton when he retires.
8 Richard Sherman (CB) - Seattle Seahawks
Richard Sherman might be better known in some circles for his big mouth, but he has the talent and heart to back up many of his claims. Ironically, Sherman might end up being a victim of his great success as many teams now choose to avoid throwing his way. Despite this, Sherman has 20 interceptions, 59 passes defensed and 171 tackles in his career so far. He is arguably one of the greatest cover cornerbacks since Deion Sanders. The Seahawks use Sherman to take away one whole side of the field, which was a tactic that 49ers and Cowboys used with Sanders. He is a great athlete who plays smart and if he remains healthy, he will not need to talk his way into Canton.
7 Aaron Rodgers (QB) - Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers is one of the most prolific passers in the NFL and his ability to avoid mistakes is unparalleled in what has become a passing league. Rodgers is in his 10th season, but has only been a starter for six seasons after watching Brett Favre for his first three years in the league. The numbers that Rodgers has, a career quarterback rating of 104.7 and 192 touchdowns versus only 53 interceptions, set him apart from his peers. He has won a Super Bowl and has had a season (2011) where he passed for 4,643 yards, 45 touchdowns, a 68.3 completion percentage and only 6 interceptions. A couple more seasons like that will expedite his inclusion to the Hall.
6 J.J. Watt (DE) - Houston Texans
J.J. Watt is one of the younger members of this list, but his ability to excel against the run and pass has already invoked memories of Reggie White and Bruce Smith. Watt is far from one-dimensional with 220 tackles and 37.5 quarterback sacks in just over three seasons of play. In 2012, he had one of the best seasons ever for a defensive end, recording 20.5 sacks, 81 tackles and an incredible 16 passes defensed. He is the epitome of disruptive and can make plays even when he is getting blocked or double-teamed. Watt is young, has an incredible motor and should be able to pad his stats, add to his legacy and swat his way into the Hall, as long as he stays healthy.
5 Calvin Johnson (WR) - Detroit Lions
Calvin Johnson is clearly one of the most dominant receivers of this era. A big 6'5", 236 lb receiver with good hands and speed, Johnson has redefined the position with his athleticism and size. In 2012, Johnson had 122 receptions for a record-setting 1,964 yards. He has a career average of 16.4 yards per reception and has three seasons in a row with over 1,400 yards receiving. Johnson also has 68 touchdown receptions and already has 2 touchdowns and 247 yards receiving in 2014. Of course he would love to get to the Super Bowl, but if he doesn't, he will still get to Canton.
4 Drew Brees (QB) - New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees has statistics that are absolutely mind boggling. In his last six seasons, Brees has passed for over 5,000 yards four times with a 5,476 yard season in 2011. Amazingly, Brees is also one of the most accurate passers ever with two seasons of completing over 70% of his passes. Despite being only 6 feet tall, Brees can make all the throws and has elevated the New Orleans Saints to a perennial playoff contender. Brees does have one Super Bowl title and appears to keep getting better with age. He has passed for 15,000 yards in his last three seasons and should continue to provide more reasons to earn a quick entrance to the Hall.
3 Adrian Peterson (RB) - Minnesota Vikings
This may be an popular choice in light of his recent scandal, but we're only looking at statistics and nothing more. Adrian Peterson had a historic comeback season in 2012, following a torn ACL and MCL that he suffered in a Christmas Eve contest against the Washington Redskins. Since coming back, Peterson has been nothing short of spectacular. He rushed for 2,097 yards in 2012, in what has become a predominantly passing league, and followed that up with 1,266 yards in 2013 while playing in only 14 games. Peterson has also scored a total of 91 touchdowns in only seven seasons of play. He has averaged 5.0 yards per carry up to this point in his career and has 10,190 yards rushing as well. He is easily the best running back in the NFL right now and seems like a lock to get into the Hall.
2 Tom Brady (QB) - New England Patriots
Tom Brady has made 5 trips to the Super Bowl in his 14-year NFL career, coming up victorious three times. Brady has spent his entire career at the helm of the Patriot's potent offense. He has lost receivers, has received little help from a consistent running attack and has only had six 4,000 yard passing seasons, yet still finds a way to win. His leadership and grit have set an example for many Patriots to follow, setting an example for new overachievers year after year. Brady currently has a passer rating of 95.5, 361 touchdown passes and 49,547 yards passing for his career. His playoff and Super Bowl appearances alone, should catapult him into the Hall.
1 Peyton Manning (QB) - Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning did win a Super Bowl for the Indianapolis Colts (XLI) against the Chicago Bears, however, his greatness always seems to be in doubt due to the Super Bowl and playoff losses he has endured. Manning is still an extremely proficient quarterback with the innate ability to read the opposing defense, change plays at the line of scrimmage and locate the right receiver once the ball is snapped. His preparation and intelligence are legendary and shows as he has passed for over 4,000 yards in 13 seasons, has 497 touchdowns, a career completion percentage of 65.5 and a 97.4 career quarterback rating. His induction into the Hall should not require an audible.