Earning a bronze bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame is the highest honor an NFL player can receive. In August, we saw eight new members immortalized during the Class of 2016 Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony. And we have a pretty good idea as to who the NFL Hall of Fame will honor in 2017.
We saw a handful of players retire last offseason. And all of them have a place waiting for them in Canton, Ohio. (The Hall of Fame Class of 2021 may be the best ever, by the way.) But given the rules of the Selection Committee, each of them must wait a minimum of five years before becoming eligible for induction. This made us think about which current players are already locks to join the Pro Football Hall of Fame. After they hang up their cleats, these 20 current players will become NFL Hall of Fame players.
Note: We removed Steve Smith Sr. and Andre Johnson from consideration following their respective retirements. Both players are destined for the Hall of Fame.
1. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Ben Roethlisberger’s NFL career resume is already Hall of Fame-worthy. It will only continue to improve until the Pittsburgh Steelers signal caller hangs up his cleats and retires. At 34 years old, Big Ben may still have four or five Pro Bowl-caliber seasons ahead of him. With the team around him, Roethlisberger wouldn’t shock us if he wins another Super Bowl title (he has two already) before it’s all said and done.
Roethlisberger has a current career stat line that reads:
- 123 wins
- 64.1% completion percentage
- 46,814 passing yards
- 301 touchdown passes
- 94.1 quarterback rating
- 16 rushing touchdowns
- 11 postseason wins
- 2 Super Bowl titles
Given that Pittsburgh has arguably the best offense in the league, we fully expect those numbers to grow substantially over the next couple of years. When Roethlisberger eventually retires he should have a strong case to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
2. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
In reality, this one needs no explanation. Tom Brady will likely go down as the greatest quarterback in NFL history when it’s all said and done. By the time he retires, he will probably hold almost every major passing record. Not to mention he is already the most successful postseason quarterback of all time. For the record, we are among those who believe Deflategate shouldn’t taint his career.
3. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees is already one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in NFL history. His 465 career touchdown passes are good for the third most of all time; his 66,111 passing yards are good for fourth most of all time; and his 131 career wins are good for the sixth most of all time. More importantly, Brees led the Saints to the Super Bowl XLIV title. During his 10-plus years in New Orleans he’s helped transform a laughingstock franchise into a perennial contender in the NFC.
4. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
Bottom line, Aaron Rodgers is the best offensive player in the NFL today. His statistical resume grows every year. And our guess is that the 33-year-old has enough gas left in his tank to play at least six more seasons at an All-Pro level. Rodgers already has a Super Bowl title to his name. He’s won two NFL MVP awards. He also already holds multiple NFL records, including the highest career quarterback rating in league history (104.1).
5. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
“All Day” already proves to be one of the best pure runners in NFL history. Despite being 31 years old, Adrian Peterson shows few signs of slowing down — when he is healthy. The 2012 NFL MVP led the league in rushing yards in 2015, but missed the bulk of 2016 with a meniscus injury.
The former Oklahoma Sooner is currently No. 16 on the NFL’s all-time rushing yards list and No. 10 on the league’s career rushing touchdowns list. If Peterson has another strong season in him (he is on track to be 100% healthy for the 2017 season), he will move past several players on each list.
6. Brandon Marshall, WR, New York Jets
Brandon Marshall may have caused his teammates, coaches, and general managers plenty of headaches throughout the years. However, this doesn’t change the fact that he has experienced a Hall of Fame-caliber NFL career. Marshall has already accumulated 941 receptions for 12,061 yards and 82 touchdowns.
Marshall had a down year (by his standards) in 2016, but given that he struggled to stay healthy and had to deal with the Jets’ disastrous quarterback situation, we believe that he likely still has at least two or three more Pro Bowl seasons ahead of him. When the dust settles on six-time Pro Bowler’s career, Marshall wouldn’t surprise us if he ends up in the top 10 in career receiving yards, career receptions, and career touchdown receptions.
7. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals
Larry Fitzgerald is a bit of an ageless wonder. At the ripe age of 33-years-old, Fitzgerald led the NFL in receptions in 2016. And with his current resume, the 10-time Pro Bowler is well on his way to being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Fitzgerald has already hauled in 1,125 receptions for 14,389 yards and 104 touchdowns — and will continue to add to those totals until he retires. What’s even more remarkable about his production is that he played with mediocre quarterbacks for the majority of his career.
8. Terrell Suggs, OLB, Baltimore Ravens
Terrell Suggs has been causing opposing NFL offensive coordinators headaches for 14 years. The 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year has spent his entire career with the Baltimore Ravens, where he played a key role in the franchise’s Super Bowl XLVII triumph over the San Francisco 49ers. In total, Suggs has been selected to six Pro Bowl rosters and two All-Pro teams, and has 114.5 career sacks.
9. Frank Gore, RB, Indianapolis Colts
Frank Gore may not be the flashiest running back in NFL history, but his consistency and production are both factors that cannot be ignored by the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.
In an era where NFL running backs rarely have decade-long careers, Gore has excelled for most of 12 seasons. The former Miami Hurricane has nine 1,000-yard seasons in his career, and has rushed for a total of 13,065 yards (eighth all time) and 80 touchdowns, and caught 414 passes for 3,427 yards and 16 touchdowns.
10. Anquan Boldin, WR, Detroit Lions
Surprised to see Anquan Boldin’s name on this list? You shouldn’t be when you consider the body of work he’s produced over the course of his 14-year NFL career. In fact, a close look at his resume makes it unmistakably clear that the three-time Pro Bowler deserves a bronze bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The former Florida State Seminole has caught 1,076 passes (which is the ninth most in NFL history) for 13,779 yards (14th most in NFL history) and 82 touchdowns. While he may not have the accolades of some, Boldin does have the stats, as well as a Super Bowl ring to his name.
11. Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots
Gronk has only been in the NFL for seven seasons, but we believe the 6-foot-6, 265-pound tight end has already done enough to lock up a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame when he decides to walk away from the game of football. Rob Gronkowski is a dominating blocker, but what truly sets him apart from his peers is his ability as a receiver.
To date, Gronkowski has caught 405 passes for 6,095 yards and 68 touchdowns. He is a four-time first-team All-Pro and was a key player in the Patriots’ run to the Super Bowl XLIX title. In fact, we think so highly of Gronkowski that we are fairly confident in saying he will go down as the best tight end in NFL history.
12. Jason Witten, TE, Dallas Cowboys
In 2014, quarterback Tony Romo suggested that Jason Witten may be the best player in Dallas Cowboys franchise history. While that statement is wildly farfetched, Witten is a lock to join the Pro Football Hall of Fame when his NFL career concludes. He already joined the 1,000-catch club (1,089 to be exact). Witten has also posted 11,888 receiving yards and 63 touchdown receptions. The 34-year-old is an excellent blocker, and will go down as one of the best all-around tight ends in NFL history.
13. Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego Chargers
Simply put, Antonio Gates has revolutionized the tight end position in the NFL. The eight-time Pro Bowler entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent who never played a down of college football. For those who don’t know, he was a standout basketball player for Kent State (he earned All-America honors and had his college jersey retired after helping the Golden Flash reach the Elite Eight in the 2002 NCAA Tournament).
For as good of a basketball player as he was in college, Gates, who measures in at 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds, didn’t exactly fit the mold of an NBA power forward, so he decided to try his hand at football. The move paid off in a big way. He has caught 897 passes for 11,192 yards and 111 touchdowns, which are Hall of Fame numbers. More importantly, Gates has opened the door to the NFL for former basketball players such as Julius Thomas and Jimmy Graham.
14. Joe Thomas, OT, Cleveland Browns
It’s unfortunate that Joe Thomas has spent his entire career playing for the Browns. If he played for a competent organization that could put together a playoff-caliber team on a regular basis, more people would understand exactly how good the former Wisconsin Badger has been since entering the league in 2007.
In his 10 NFL seasons, Thomas has earned All-Pro honors eight times (with a ninth selection likely coming this year) and Pro Bowl honors 10 times, and has never missed a snap. At 31 years old, he is showing no signs of slowing down.
15. Jason Peters, OT, Philadelphia Eagles
Jason Peters entered the league as an undrafted free agent after serving as an oversized tight end during his college career at the University of Arkansas. And while it took some time, he eventually found a home at left tackle.
Since landing his first full-time starting job in 2006, Peters has earned All-Pro honors six times and has been selected to nine Pro Bowls. He may be on the tail end of his career, but the 6-foot-4, 328-pounder continues to play at an extremely high level and shouldn’t have to wait very long after his retirement to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
16. J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans
J.J. Watt was the best overall player in the National Football League from 2012-2015. He may have missed most of the 2016 season, but we are confident that we haven’t seen the last of Watt dominating opposing NFL offenses.
In his five NFL seasons, the former Wisconsin Badger has won three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards, earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors four times, and led the league in sacks twice. He already has accumulated 76.0 career sacks, and if he plays long enough, he could legitimately challenge Bruce Smith’s all-time NFL sacks record.
17. Julius Peppers, DE/OLB, Green Bay Packers
At 6-foot-7 and 287 pounds with 4.65-second speed in the 40-yard dash, Julius Peppers is one of the most physically gifted athletes the NFL has ever seen. The former University of North Carolina two-sport (basketball and football) standout has been one of the most dominant defensive players in the NFL since he entered the league in 2002. He has earned Pro Bowl honors nine times and All-Pro honors six times, he won the 2004 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, and he has the ninth-most career sacks (143.5) in league history.
18. DeMarcus Ware, OLB, Denver Broncos
DeMarcus Ware finally got a Super Bowl ring, which was the only thing missing from his impressive resume, with the Broncos in 2015. Since entering the league with the Dallas Cowboys in 2005, Ware has earned All-Pro honors seven times and Pro Bowl honors nine times, and he led the league in sacks twice. His 138.5 career sacks are good for the eighth-most of all time. If Ware hadn’t announced his retirement in March 2017, he would’ve jumped into the top five all time.
19. Darrelle Revis, CB, New York Jets
When it comes down to it, Darrelle Revis was arguably the best cover cornerback the NFL has ever seen when he was in his prime. For most of his career, he has taken his half of the field away from opposing offenses, while also completely shutting down some of the best wide receivers in the game. In total, Revis has seven Pro Bowl selections, five first-team All-Pro selections, one Super Bowl title, and 29 career interceptions to his name.
20. Adam Vinatieri, K, Indianapolis Colts
We know it’s extremely rare for kickers and punters to get serious Hall of Fame consideration, but Adam Vinatieri is fully deserving of the honor. He may be the greatest kicker in the history of the National Football League and he will forever be remembered for making clutch postseason kicks. While he won’t be a first-ballot selecton, Vinatieri will eventually have a bronze bust in Canton, Ohio.
Statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.