I set out to make a list of 20 active players headed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That list of 20 turned into a list of 40. From 40 it turned into 50.
Now I know not all 50 will make it to the Hall of Fame. At least ten of them are projections. I'd guess though, gun-to-my-head, that at least 40 of the 50 will make it into the Hall of Fame.
So please, debate. Am I way off? Am I spot on? Write back. Let me know.
Here's the list:
50 Active NFL Players Headed for the Hall of Fame
In No Particular Order
Peyton Manning, Quarterback - He's going to do damage to the NFL record books. He's been the fastest player to every major statistical record, he's likely to retire with the most MVP awards of all time, and he already has a Super Bowl ring and a Super Bowl MVP. He's a 9 time Pro Bowler in 11 professional season, and has 4 first team All Pro bids. He's 33 years old and will pass Warren Moon for 4th all time in passing yards at the end of this season. He'll pass Elway early in 2010. The question for Peyton isn't where his stats will be, it's will he win any more Super Bowls?
Brett Favre, Quarterback - He's going to retire the statistical leader in every major quarterbacking category in the NFL. Not to mention he won a Super Bowl and 3 MVP awards. Not only is Brett Favre going to be a first ballot Hall of Famer, but he's probably going to be on every major list of greatest players of all time.
Troy Polamalu, Safety - Players like Polamalu get into the Hall of Fame all the time. He's the face of a defense that has already won two Super Bowls. From 2004 to 2008 he went to five straight Pro Bowls, and like Ray Lewis and Jason Taylor, he's been one of the faces of the NFL this decade.
Junior Seau, Linebacker - The funny thing is that Seau should probably be getting inducted in the Hall of Fame this year. Needless to say, he's played in two Super Bowl's and was one of the most prolific linebackers of the 1990's (and 2000's I suppose). When he (finally) retires he'll get in first ballot.
Hines Ward, Wide Receiver - As far as Wide Receivers go, Hines Ward isn't exactly one of the greatest ever. To be fair, Ward couldn't shine Jerry Rice, Cris Carter, Tim Brown, Don Maynard, Steve Largeant, Randy Moss, Reggie Wayne, or Terrell Owens' shoes. What Ward does have is a lot of respect around the league (despite being deemed a "dirty" player) and two Super Bowl rings, including one Super Bowl MVP. Ward also has over 10,000 career receiving yards, four Pro Bowls, and will likely play his entire career in Pittsburgh; a franchise that has a nonstop shuttle from the playing field to Canton.
Ray Lewis, Linebacker - His criminal allegations should prevent him from getting in first ballot, but it won't. Ray Lewis will enter Canton five years after he retires, and will rightfully be considered one of the greatest players ever to play the game. He has two defensive player of the year awards (a rarity) and a Super Bowl MVP (an even greater rarity for a defensive player). He's an icon of 00's.
Tom Brady, Quarterback - A no brainer for the Hall of Fame. He has three Super Bowl rings, an MVP, the single season touchdown mark, and an incredible winning percentage. His career numbers will easily be Hall of Fame numbers, and who knows, he may even get another ring between now and his retirement.
Tony Gonzalez, Tight End - The most prolific TE of all time. He may not be the best tight end to ever play the game, but his numbers year in and year out, at a position where most players have short careers is astounding. He has over 11,000 yards receiving and is a 10 time Pro Bowler, 5 time first team All Pro. He'll get in first ballot.
LaDanian Tomlinson, Running Back - The defining tailback of the 00's, LT will go in first ballot. Whether he wins a ring or not doesn't matter; just ask Barry Sanders, O.J Simpson, etc. His numbers are great. He won't come close to Emmitt's record like he said he would, but he's going to join Emmitt in the Hall.
Terrell Owens, Wide Receiver - He's going to retire in the top 5 all time in receiving yards, and top three all time in receiving touchdowns. His reputation will prevent him from being first ballot, and maybe even second ballot, but the only question surrounding whether or not Owens is a Hall of Famer is what team does he go in as? I suppose the 49ers will claim him.
Kurt Warner, Quarterback - Super Bowl MVP, 2x NFL MVP, 3x NFC Champion QB, 2x first team All Pro, 4x Pro Bowler, career passer rating 93.6. It'll be hard to keep him out.
Edgerrin James, Running Back - He has the yardage, the touchdowns, the awards, two rushing titles, and he was part of one of the more visible teams of his era (that always helps). The only thing that hurts his chances of getting in is Joseph Addai, but odds are five years from now people will let that go.
Kevin Mawae, Center - The Seahawks wish they never let this guy go. Mawae is a seven time (and counting) Pro Bowler and three time All Pro. He's also the most identifiable center of his generation, and has started well over 200 games.
Adam Vinatieri, Kicker - The greatest kicker in league history. Though his leg strength is nowhere near elite, his kickoffs were always average, and he only went to two Pro Bowls, his four Super Bowls, and countless clutch kicks (Tuck rule game, SB XXXVI, SB XXXVIII, 2006 AFC Div Playoffs etc. etc. etc.) will send him into an exclusive group of kickers viewed as Canton worthy.
Randy Moss, Wide Receiver - It was obvious since his rookie season in 1998 that Randy Moss was Canton bound. Forget about his off the field issues, and the two years in Oakland, Moss has the numbers to retire today and easily find his way into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He has led the NFL in receiving touchdowns four times (including a single season record 23), and is a four time All Pro. He currently ranks second all time in receiving touchdowns.
Jason Taylor, Defensive End - The former defensive player of the year, six time Pro Bowler, and three time All Pro, leads all active players with 126 sacks. He's also been one of the most visible players of his generation and that will enhance his Hall of Fame odds. He won't need much enhancement though, he's getting in.
Ed Reed, Safety - He may not have been on the World Champion 2000 Ravens, but his addition to the Ravens in 2002 is what kept the defense elite for the remainder of the decade. He's a five time Pro Bowler, 4 time All Pro, and has also been a successful kick returner. He's got a lot of mileage left in his tank, and there's no doubt he's going to be one of many University of Miami players to enter the Hall of Fame from this generation.
Walter Jones, Tackle - Jones is a nine time Pro Bowler, four time All Pro, and was the best player on the 2005 NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks team. Chances are, whenever he retires, he'll be a first ballot Hall of Famer. He may not be the most well known player in the NFL, but he's absolutely regarded as one of the best.
Torry Holt, Wide Receiver - Holt was part of the "Greatest Show on Turf," and though Isaac Bruce, Marshall Faulk, Kurt Warner, and Orlando Pace may take some of the shine away from Holt, it's hard to deny that Holt wasn't equally as important as those four players. He's been to seven Pro Bowls, was selected to one All Pro team, and has already caught for over 13,000 yards. He's likely to finish his career top 5 in yards; and his Super Bowl ring certainly helps his chances.
Isaac Bruce, Wide Receiver - He only has four Pro Bowl selections, but that means nothing when it comes to Isaac Bruce. Not only did he play for the 1999 Rams, who arguably had the most explosive offense of all time, but he currently ranks as number two all time in receiving yards. He's going to the Hall of Fame.
Jeff Saturday, Center - The icon of Peyton Manning's offensive line, Saturday has become one of the most marketable and recognizable offensive lineman of all time. He will (likely) play the remainder of his career with Peyton, and chances are Peyton will be giving a speech in Canton 5 to 7 years after Saturday retires.
Brian Urlacher, Linebacker - Say what you will about Urlacher, he's far too much of an icon not to make it to the hall. He'll have the Pro Bowls, he has a defensive player of the year award, he'll have the All Pros, and he lead a defense to a Super Bowl. He's one of the most recognizable players of the decade, too. And that helps.
Ty Law, Cornerback - Ty Law was instrumental on helping the Patriots win three Super Bowls, and he played for them in four. Law has also been a part of five Pro Bowls, has two All Pro teams to his name, and has recorded over 50 interceptions in his career. The fact that he's been a journeyman since 2004 doesn't matter.
Dwight Freeney, Defensive End - Freeney is bound to retire with great sack numbers (likely over 120), not to mention at least one Super Bowl ring. He was one of the most visible defensive players of his generation, and the amount of double coverage he demanded his entire career will definitely be examined when his numbers are. He currently has four Pro Bowls and two All Pro selections, and those numbers are likely to grow.
Ben Roethlisberger, Quarterback - His game may not be the most beautiful in the history of the league, but Big Ben is Canton Bound. He already has two Super Bowl rings, and his career record as a starter is great. He won't shine in the Hall of Fame with beautiful numbers, but if he keeps up this pace, he may have his own section in the hall.
Jamal Lewis, Running Back - Despite having seven 1,000 yard seasons, Lewis only has one Pro Bowl and one All Pro appearance. In 2003 he rushed for over 2,000 yards, one of only five running backs in that club (OJ, Dickerson, Barry Sanders are in the Hall, Terrell Davis had too short of a career to make it, but should get in one day in my opinion). Help Lewis is the fact that he's going to enter Hall of Fame yardage status, he has a Super Bowl ring, he has an AP Offensive Player of the Year award, and he has the 2,000 yard season. Hurting Lewis? He spent 2001 in jail.
Reggie Wayne, Wide Receiver - Playing your entire career with Peyton Manning helps. Wayne is bound for his fourth Pro Bowl this season, already has one Super Bowl, has performed tremendously in big games, and will probably retire with numbers that will make Marvin Harrison envious.
Orlando Pace, Tackle - The NFL loves it when guys like Orlando Pace make it to the Hall of Fame. The #1 overall pick in the 1997 draft, Pace helped the Rams turnaround a franchise that once lay dead at the bottom of a ferocious NFC. With Pace blocking the blind side, Kurt Warner won two MVP awards, Marshall Faulk won one MVP award, and Steven Jackson and Marc Bulger became Pro Bowlers. There's no denying who the best player mentioned in this paragraph is; Orlando Pace.
Adrian Peterson, Running Back - He's only been in the NFL three seasons so naturally this is all projection. As a rookie, Peterson was a Pro Bowler and rushed for over 1,300 yards. In his second season Peterson won the league rushing title. In his third season, Peterson is again in the rushing title hunt. In a forthcoming era that will see fewer and fewer Running Backs see Canton enshrinement, Adrian Peterson looks to be the last of a dying breed. He only needs another three to four seasons like the ones he's had so far to get to Canton. Since 2007 he's been the best in the game. He'll probably be the best for a few more years.
Larry Fitzgerald, Wide Receiver - Again, this is totally a projection, but at age 26 he already has 7,000 receiving yards, three Pro Bowls, and a playoff run that would make even Jerry Rice envious. Fitzgerald is also the best receiver to play the game since Jerry Rice (sorry Randy, Andre, Reggie, TO) and the media loves him. It's important to note that his numbers with Kurt Warner are considerably better than his numbers without. Warner maybe has one more season left in the NFL.
Donovan McNabb, Quarterback - In a way, it's sort of sad the way we look at Donovan now. In fifteen years everyone reading this blog right now will remember McNabb as a player in a lot of great games. "The good old days" we'll call them. 4th and 26, the scramble on Monday Night vs Dallas, five NFC championship games in one decade. He also evolved the game, and was the only "athletic quarterback" of his generation to truly pan out. McNabb is also (along with Peyton Manning) the only quarterback to start and close a decade as the opening day starter for the same team. Longevity like that, especially at the quarterback position, usually translates into a Hall of Fame induction.
Charles Woodson, Cornerback - His Heisman Trophy won't mean anything towards getting into the Hall of Fame, but it definitely adds to his lure. The five Pro Bowls (and counting) only add more fuel to Woodson's Hall of Fame campaign. His numbers don't necessarily look great, but for a cornerback that's usually a sign of greatness. Opposing quarterbacks rarely ever threw Woodson's way, especially during his days with the Raiders. He also forced a fumble in a certain 2001 playoff game that changed the game forever.
Julius Peppers, Defensive End - Players like Julius Peppers don't come around every often.
Versatile, athletic, and explosive, Peppers is 29 years old and already has over 77 sacks in his career. Like Dwight Freeney, Peppers sees a lot of double and triple coverage, which makes that number even more impressive.
Matt Light, Tackle - He doesn't have a ton of Pro Bowls, he only has one All Pro, but Light was the Left Tackle for a team that went to 4 Super Bowls, and for the bulk of a Hall of Fame QB's career. That will be enough to get him to Canton. If he doesn't get it, it will be because of Super Bowl XLII.
Champ Bailey, Cornerback - 8 Pro Bowls, 3 All Pros, not much more you can say. He's only 31 years old so he still has another three to four years left in his tank. After that, he should find a home in Canton. Question is, is he a Bronco or Redskin? I say a Bronco.
Fred Taylor, Running Back - Taylor has the career stats and longevity to make it to the Hall of Fame. Taylor's problem may be that he's never been an elite Running Back. He may not get in first ballot, but he'll get in eventually, especially as the length of running back careers shrink further.
Chad Ochocinco, Wide Receiver - Remember when he wore that stupid jacket opening day 2007? He's probably going to hit the 10,000 yard receiving mark this season, he has five Pro Bowls, he gets a lot of touchdowns, and at 31 he's still relatively young. Two or three more 1,000 yard seasons after this one will guarantee Ochocinco a spot in the Hall of Fame.
Eli Manning, Quarterback - Even with as much critique to his name as Eli Manning has, it'll still be hard to keep him out of the Hall of Fame when his playing career is done. He's easily on pace to join the exclusive 40,000 yard club, and he's already begun to develop a great winning percentage. He'll have the numbers, and he already has a ring from a game that will become legendary. A few more Pro Bowl seasons and he'll get in. Another ring and it's a sure thing.
Patrick Willis, Linebacker - Like Adrian Peterson, this is a projection, and like Adrian Peterson, Patrick Willis has entered the NFL and immediately taken over as the best in the league at his position. He's a tackles machine, he makes the 49ers defense legitimate, and he'll probably be a Pro Bowl fixture for the next 7 years. He'll be a welcome addition to the Hall of Fame for a 49ers team that had a pretty bad 00's after dominating the 80's and 90's with Hall of Fame talent.
Steve Hutchinson, Guard - Ask Matt Hasselbeck how good this guy is. He's been to the Pro Bowl every year since 2003, and he's established himself as the best Left Guard in the NFL in that time span. With the Seahawks he helped make Shaun Alexander the leagues premiere rusher, with the Vikings he's helped make Adrian Peterson the leagues premiere rusher. Coincidences like that don't happen in professional football. Steve Hutchinson is a first ballot Hall of Famer.
Andre Johnson, Wide Receiver - Johnson is only 28 years old and already has over 7,000 career receiving yards. He's just beginning to hit his stride as an elite receiver, and already has been to 3 Pro Bowls and has 1 First Team All-Pro to his name. Those numbers should be 4 and 2 after this season.
Ronde Barber, Cornerback - His better known, twin brother Tiki Barber won't get into the Hall of Fame, but Ronde will. Perhaps because of the participation of the 2002 Bucs defense, one of the greatest units in NFL history, perhaps because of the 5 Pro Bowls, 3 All Pros, perhaps because of the 37 career interceptions (including a mesmerizing 10 in 2001), or perhaps because he plays defense and has scored 13 touchdowns thus far in his career. Ronde Barber is a Hall of Famer.
Olin Kreutz, Center - He hasn't been to the Pro Bowl since 2006, but the Bears offensive line has still been pretty good since then. From 2001 to 2006 he represented the Bears in the Pro Bowl every single season, and his presence of the offensive line is part of the reason that Shane Matthews, Jim Miller, Chris Chandler, Rex Grossman, and Kyle Orton were able to have success as Chicago's starting quarterback.
Brian Dawkins, Safety - When he retires, Brian Dawkins is going to go straight to Canton. seven Pro Bowls, 4 All Pros, the face of a defense that dominated the 00's in the NFC. Brian Dawkins deserves all the praise he gets as a professional football player, and despite what some believe (mostly NFC East fans) he was never overrated.
Tommie Harris, Defensive Tackle - He's only 26, but you can see where this career is headed. He has three Pro Bowls, that number is going to grow, and more importantly you can see the difference he makes when he's on the field. If he can play at this level for another six seasons, there's a good chance that Tommie Harris will be in the Hall of Fame.
Antonio Gates, Tight End - He may not be the best tight end of his generation, but he's definitely the second best. For a tight end, Gates is a yardage and scoring machine. He's changed the way the game is played at the TE position, and if he can put up good numbers for the next three seasons, he'll be a Hall of Famer.
Steven Jackson, Running Back - This is another projection, but Steven Jackson is only 26 years old and should be headed for his 2nd Pro Bowl on a team that asks him to do more than any one player should have to do. He's had five straight 1,000 yard seasons behind a banged up offensive line. He's going to finish 2009 near 6,700 to 7,000 yards and will have three seasons to get to 10,000 yards. If he does, then he'll be a Hall of Famer. He may have to leave St. Louis though.
Darren Sharper, Safety - It's hard to get into the Hall of Fame as a defensive player without a ton of accolades and media attention. Darren Sharper doesn't have any of that (although he may finally get it this season), but he leads all active players in interceptions, has been to four Pro Bowls, has one All Pro selection (will likely be two after this season) and ranks second all time in interceptions for touchdowns, and 9th all time in interceptions. If Sharper gets just five more interceptions it will be really difficult to keep him out of the Hall of Fame. He's 34 so he has maybe two more seasons to get there.
Jeff Feagles, Punter - It's really, really, hard to get into the Hall of Fame as a special teams player. Adam Vinatieri will get in because he had too many big kicks to ignore. It's even harder to get into the Hall of Fame when you're a punte, but Jeff Feagles career numbers are going to be hard to ignore. He currently has 70,000 punting yards, over 10,000 more than the person in second all time. He's a two time Pro Bowler, but I'm not sure how much going to the Pro Bowl matters for a Punter. I can't guarantee he's going to get a Hall of Fame look, but hopefully he does. He deserves a look.
Drew Brees, Quarterback - Doing a little projecting, it's hard to ignore the numbers that Brees is going to put up. He's only 30 years old, so he has at least another five seasons at this level of play, which should be good to easily put Brees over the 40,000 yard mark. Since 2005, Brees has played at a very high level, and his three Pro Bowls and one All Pro selection are likely to grow in the next five years as well. He will need to get his team to the playoffs, but he's very similar to Warren Moon in that his numbers are so good, that it's hard to blame him for any losses his team may have.