Sports trivia and general discussion is laden with arguments regarding the best and worst of everything. In the NFL, arguments about the worst draft pick, the best linebacker and the most prolific passer of all-time are commonplace. What about all the players who are sandwiched between such recurring examinations? Somewhere in the middle there are a slew of players who were great but didn’t reach the Hall of Fame—or bust levels for that matter. And alas, even more debate is ignited! Players such as Terrell Davis, Kurt Warner, Ricky Waters, Cornelius Bennet and Steve Tasker are frequently mentioned as players deserving of Hall of Fame inclusion in Canton, Ohio.
There’s a myriad of reasons why one or more great players don’t reach the Hall of Fame. A player’s addition can hinge on health, yards, touchdowns, Pro Bowl selections or postseason appearances. The current NFL has morphed into an hemorrhaging of offense where gaudy numbers will need varying degrees of substance to back them up. Still, there will be several offensive and defensive players in today’s era who will be considered great but will not be great enough to wear the yellow jacket and have a bust placed in the Hall of Fame. The following list will highlight today’s great players who will not make the Hall of Fame.
21 Carson Palmer (QB)
Carson Palmer makes a compelling case based on his numbers. Even with two injury shortened seasons, the Arizona Cardinal is creeping towards the top-10 career leaders in passing yards, touchdowns and completions. The problem is that Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford are climbing the leader boards as well. Rodgers and Roethlisberger have three Super Bowl titles between them while Ryan and Stafford have potential for bigger numbers and reaching the big game before they retire. Some players have gotten in by just making the Super Bowl as in the case of Jim Kelly, who went four straight years. Carson Palmer won’t be making multiple Super Bowl trips let alone one at the current rate. Although his wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is a lock, Carson Palmer’s time is running very short.
20 Sebastian Janikowski
Scrutiny is inevitable with any player who is selected in the first round of the NFL draft—especially if that player is a kicker! That was Oakland Raider Sebastian Janikowski, who is one of the league’s most popular kickers. Janikowski is currently behind surefire Hall of Famer Adam Vinatieri for the most field goals made and career points scored amongst active leaders. He will crack the top-10 scorers in history sometime during the 2016 season. Unfortunately for Janikowski, all but two players in the top-50 all-time scorers are kickers. The other two players? They are Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith. Compounding matters further is there are only three placekickers in the Hall of Fame, with one being solely a kicker—John Stenerud. Janikowski will come up short of the uprights in Canton.
19 Tamba Hali (LB)
Starting out as a defensive end, Tamba Hali transitioned to linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009. From 2009 to 2015, he amassed 67.5 sacks and forced 23 fumbles. In addition, he was selected for five straight Pro Bowls. Having been one of the most durable players in the league, Hali’s currently within striking distance of 100 sacks—a stat that would place the veteran from Gbarnga, Liberia, within the top-40 all-time sack leaders. Moreover, a few more forced fumbles would place him top-20 of all-time. However, Hali’s 33-year old body has started to break down. He’s currently playing part-time with a bone-on-bone knee issue. That malady in conjunction with Kansas City’s Super Bowl absence during his career will make the road to Canton difficult for the former first round pick.
18 Joe Flacco (QB)
Joe Flacco’s quarterback numbers for the Baltimore Ravens may underwhelm when compared to several of the quarterbacks who have won Super Bowls since the 2000 season. His numbers are better than the last Baltimore Raven quarterback who won a Super Bowl, Trent Dilfer. Likewise, he edges out Brad Johnson who won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002. However, the cannon armed signal caller finds himself in direct comparison with Eli Manning, who has two Super Bowls to his credit. Manning also has the durability factor and the pedigree that nudge him toward Hall of Fame deliberation. Moreover, Manning will be firmly entrenched in the top-10 for passing yards, completions and touchdowns. Why the focus on Eli Manning? Because Flacco will need several seasons akin to Manning’s output and an additional Super Bowl ring for Canton consideration.
17 Greg Olsen (TE)
It’s only until recent that tight end Greg Olsen has been mentioned with the likes of Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Gates and Jason Witten. Olsen averaged 48 receptions, 495 receiving yards and five touchdowns over his first four seasons with the Chicago Bears and quarterback Jay Cutler. With his current team—the Carolina Panthers—he’s averaged 70 receptions, 862 yards and six touchdowns during five full seasons with Cam Newton as his quarterback. However, Olsen will be 32-years old soon and with only two Pro Bowls to his credit. Compared to Jason Witten and Antonio Gates, who have ten and eight Pro Bowl selections respectively, Olsen would need to string together five more years at the Witten-level to eclipse 10,000 career receiving yards to prompt a sniff from voters.
16 Jeremy Maclin (WR)
Simply put, Jeremy Maclin goes the way of his offense. When Maclin was with the high tempo offense of the Philadelphia Eagles, he shared ball distribution with both Desean Jackson and LeSean McCoy—and that was with sporadic at best quarterback play. He averaged 69 receptions, 954 yards and seven touchdowns during that time. In Kansas City, Maclin is the second or third option in a run-first offense. Maclin is the clear number one receiver in an offense that is not likely to change his offensive philosophy anytime soon. At the same time, the path to the Super Bowl in the AFC is getting tougher with the likes of New England, Pittsburgh, Denver and an Oakland team on the rise. Maclin will need to assert himself more in both the regular season and the playoffs for the next several years.
15 Reggie Nelson (FS)
Starting one’s career as a Jacksonville Jaguar is not a catalyst to the Hall of Fame. Additionally, playing on a Cincinnati Bengals team that has underwhelmed for the team’s postseason opportunities has not helped defensive back Reggie Nelson either. The now Oakland Raider currently ranks in the top-10 for interceptions and interception yards amongst active players. Unfortunately for Nelson, who has actually played at a high level with age, he has not gone deep into the playoffs nor made a Super Bowl appearance. While not as seasoned and stat-stuffed as fellow defensive backs DeAngelo Hall and Terrance Newman, Nelson still has gas left in his tank. However, the only way Nelson gets a whiff of the Hall is if can get a Super Bowl ring during the last few years of his career.
13 LeSean McCoy (RB)
The Philadelphia Eagle offense rolled through LeSean McCoy from 2009 through 2014. He was—and still is—a threat running and catching the ball. But the abundance of touches—1996 touches through 2015—has started to take its toll on the talented back who is approaching 30-years of age. McCoy would have to put together a few years with numbers similar to his 2013 season—1,607 rushing yards, 539 receiving yards and 11 total touchdowns—as well as go deep into the playoffs during that time. Given his age, those numbers will be hard to come by. Additionally, McCoy plays for the Buffalo Bills, who although can be competitive at times, still have a few more years to deal with a perennial winner within their division—the New England Patriots.
12 Calais Campell (DE)
Ask Arizona Cardinal players who the most valuable player on the team is and defensive end Calais Campbell’s name will surely come up more than once. Once known only for his pass rush, Campbell has improved steadily on his run-stopping skills for the past few years. As a result, he’s earned two successive trips to the Pro Bowl in 2014 and 2015. However, at 30-years of age Campbell has not accrued enough stats at the defensive end position—namely sacks—to be considered one of the greatest defensive ends of all-time. Combined with his age, the overall age of his team as well as the challenging NFC West Division, Campbell future doesn’t project well for a Super Bowl run, much less a deep playoff run.
11 James Harrison (LB)
James Harrison’s path to playing for the Steelers has been a roller coaster ride. He’s experienced numerous releases from the Steelers and other teams, sporadic playing time and practice squad melt downs—all before 29-years of age! That’s the age that Harrison began starting full time, racking up 60 sacks from 2007 to 2012. During that time he was selected to five Pro Bowls and selected All Pro twice. Moreover, he would accomplish one of the most amazing plays in Super Bowl history with his 100-yard touchdown interception off Kurt Warner in 2009. Unfortunately, Harrison’s late career start and surge will not be enough as his current all-time sack totals are projected to be top-50 all-time at best. At 38-years old, Harrison is on the brink of retirement and would need a repeat performance during a deep postseason run.
10 Chris Johnson (RB)
Chris Johnson was undoubtedly dominant from 2008 to 2012. In 2009, “C2K” had one of the best seasons ever for a running back: 2006 rushing yards, 50 receptions, 503 receiving yards, 16 total touchdowns and 2509 yards from scrimmage—the latter an NFL record. His rushing totals for the Tennessee Titans by age 28 would put him on track for the illustrious 10,000 yard mark. However, injuries reared themselves upon his signing with the Jets in 2014. He signed with the Arizona Cardinals the following year and became their starter, attaining 814 yards in 11 games for 4.16 yards per carry—numbers in line with his later Titan years. Yet, Johnson lost his starting job after a season-ending injury. In 2016, he experienced another injury as the Cardinal’s number two back. At 31, Johnson has lost his chances at bolstering his path to Canton.
9 Cameron Wake (DE)
Cameron Wake is in the same predicament that James Harrison finds himself, only without Super Bowl titles. Like Harrison, Wake started his career on the practice squad—for the New York Giants—and was released in 2005. He then signed with the British Columbia (BC) Lions of the Canadian Football League in 2007. During the next two seasons Wake amassed 39 sacks in 36 games before signing with the Miami Dolphins in 2009. Having started in the NFL at 27-years of age, Wake averaged 10 sacks from 2009 to 2014 until a torn Achilles ended his 2015 season. Although he’s worked his way back to form, his late career start, current age and playing for a flailing Dolphins team has not helped Wake’s case for the Hall of Fame.
8 Desean Jackson (WR)
As Arizona Cardinal cornerback Patrick Peterson asserts, wide receiver Desean Jackson has “crackhead speed.” Interestingly, Jackson already has a spot in the Football Hall of Fame—a jersey highlighting his two 80-yard touchdown receptions: one for and against the same team. However, that’s where his Canton endeavors will stop. Jackson’s numbers are on the outside of the elite wide receiver class due to erratic quarterback play when he was with the Philadelphia Eagles and during his early tenure with Washington. Additionally, his counting stats have taken a hit with injuries during his prime years. Although he currently plays in pass-first offense with quarterback Kirk Cousins, he will be north of 30-years of age and without a Super Bowl ring. Even with Jackson’s projections of 12,000 receiving yards and 65 touchdowns he will be a hard sell for Hall of Fame voters.
7 Elvis Dumervil (DE)
Two-time All Pro Elvis “Kool” Dumervil was brought to the Baltimore Ravens to provide a fearsome tandem with linebacker Terrell Suggs. Before his Ravens tour, Dumervil averaged 11 sacks per year with the Denver Broncos from 2006 to 2012, playing both defensive end and linebacker. He quickly lived up to his signing with 17 sacks in 2014 but would regress the following year with six sacks. At 32-years of age, Dumervil is on the downward side of his career and does not have consistent deep runs into the playoffs to bolster his case. Elvis, who is on the cusp of 100 sacks, has been derailed by a foot injury. Cracking the top-20 all-time sacks leaders and Hall of Fame consideration will require two to three years of totals that he averaged while in Denver.
6 Robert Mathis (DE/OLB)
The Hall of Fame surely won’t omit the current leader in forced fumbles and a top-20 career leader in sacks, would it? Given that current Indianapolis Colt Robert Mathis played on a loaded Colts squad that included future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, Jeff Saturday, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and defensive end mate Dwight Freeney, Canton will sadly turn its nose up to Mathis. First, Mathis was overshadowed by Freeney’s seven Pro Bowls and three All Pro selections. In addition, he will contend with today’s sack happy defensive ends and linebackers on the rise such as Robert Quinn, Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, Clay Matthews and Lavonte David. Lastly, injuries have slowed Mathis and his climb up the all-time sack leaderboards, thus hurting his chances for enshrinement.
5 Jamaal Charles (RB)
Jamaal Charles’ 5.5 yards per carry over nine seasons puts the Kansas City Chief running back in elite company. Unfortunately for Charles, four of those seasons were either as a back-up running back or shortened due to injury. When healthy, he has the potential to blister the league at a clip of 1,300 rushing yards and eight touchdowns per season. The four time Pro Bowler and two-time All Pro is also underrated catching out of the backfield. Although there is precedent for running backs with less than 10,000 rushing yards being inducted into the Hall of Fame, players like Larry Csonka, Jim Taylor and Earl Campbell were part of great Super Bowl teams or were league MVPs. Coming off two major injuries at 30-years old, Jamaal Charles doesn’t fit in those categories.
4 Philip Rivers (QB)
Philip Rivers brings up a sizable debate: Could he have won a Super Bowl with the Giants? Could Eli Manning have won a Super Bowl with the Chargers? If Rivers won two Super Bowl rings his inclusion in the Hall would be a no brainer. Could we say the same for Eli Manning had he been a Charger and experienced the same success? Why the debate? It’s because both were swapped during the 2004 NFL draft, changing the course of history for both teams. Although Rivers has similar numbers to Manning’s, his trip to the Hall is contingent on whether he wins a Super Bowl with the Chargers before he retires. With names like Brady, Roethlisberger, Luck and Carr still in the way, River’s chances for Hall of Fame enshrinement is closing fast.
3 Anquan Boldin (WR)
There will undoubtedly be a logjam at the wide receiver position for the next several years. As a result, Detroit Lion wide receiver Anquan Boldin will be lost in the shuffle with names like Moss, Harrison, Wayne, Owens, Brown, Smith and a few Johnsons to name some. Although Boldin has a Super Bowl ring with the Baltimore Ravens, and he will place in the top-10, top-15 and top-20 for receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns, respectively, his numbers will be passed quickly by current up and coming receiving stars who play in pass-heavy offenses. Boldin, a former Offensive Rookie of the Year and Walter Payton Man of the Year, will need a significant postseason presence to change the minds’ of voters who will remember his later, less productive years.
2 Vince Wilfork (NT)
Nose tackle Vince Wilfork is the most decorated member of this listing. He’s got two Super Bowl rings, five Pro Bowl selections and one All Pro selection. He consistently draws double-teams along the defensive line while stuffing the run. However, the Hall of Fame likes its big men with big sack totals. Splitting time between defensive tackle and nose tackle, the New England Patriot veteran and current Houston Texan has not even reached 20 total sacks for his 13 year career. At age 35, Wilfork is still doing a great job plugging up running lanes but is not primed for an increase in sack totals. With names like Greene, Page, Randle and White highlighting the defensive tackle position in the Hall of Fame, Wilfork will have a difficult time convincing voters, even with his impressive resume of hardware.
1 Tony Romo (QB)
Tony Romo is one of the most prolific passers in Dallas Cowboy history—more than Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach. The difference is that both Aikman and Staubach have five Super Bowl wins between. Romo has yet to get to the big game much less a Conference Championship game. With injuries taking their toll, his age creeping up on him and youngsters nipping at his heels, the only chance he may have at a ring is as a backup. One ring will still not be enough as he’s a few healthy seasons away from 40,000 yards and 300 touchdowns. What’s for sure is that not having a ring while quarterbacks Matt Ryan, Matt Stafford and Andy Dalton are on the road to similar numbers and one or more Super Bowl appearances will not help Romo’s case.