The ultimate goal of most NFL players is to one day make the Hall of Fame. It seems like once a veteran plays at an elite level for a large period of time, he gets recognition for his high level of play on a yearly basis, and/or appears in Super Bowls or multiple playoff games they are deemed to be ‘future Hall of Famers. Is there an exact science to what makes a player qualify as a Hall of Famer? Can someone be deemed a Hall of Famer or are their levels to how likely a player is to end up in Canton?
Here are the four levels that could define a player that could be considered one day for the Hall of Fame:
Definite Hall of Fame- This player is guaranteed to wear the golden jacket and get a bust in Canton. He might even get voted in on the first ballot.
Looking like it- The player isn’t a lock for the Hall of Fame, but has been successful enough to be in the conversation. He could very well be a Hall of Famer, but it could be debated that the player shouldn’t be. This player has an impressive resume and is one or two additions to their resume away ensuring their spot in Canton.
Just missed the cut- Some veteran players just aren’t Hall of Famers. A player could play at a high level for an extended player of time, they could even be one of the best in franchise history at their position. But if they are not one of the best of all time or even one of the best in the league at their position they are not Hall of Fame players. Depending on the age of the player this isn’t set in stone, the player might not be Hall of Fame material yet.
Give it time- There are a lot of young players in the league that could have a future in Canton, but it is too early to say. A lot of the league’s top talent are young players. It might too soon to label these players as the best who have ever played the game, but if they keep it up at the rate they currently are, they will enter the Hall of Fame conversation.
Here is how the careers of current players in the NFC South can be defined:
” * ” are players who have retired this offseason
Definite Hall of Fame: Julio Jones
Looking like it: Matt Ryan, Alex Mack
Just missed the cut: Todd Gurley, Matt Schaub
Give it time: Grady Jarrett
The Atlanta Falcons are at a point where they have to win now or could be facing a rebuild. The Falcons tried to load up on veteran and young talent because head coach Dan Quinn’s job could be on the line this offseason. The team still can’t seem to get over its Super Bowl hangover from 2016-17. Some of the major players from that Super Bowl team are still on the roster and could be Hall of Famers when they decide to retire.
The only player on the roster that is a definite Hall of Fame is Julio Jones. There is a case for Julio Jones as the best wide receiver in football and there has been for a long time now. The Falcons traded everything but the kitchen sink in 2011 to draft Julio Jones and it has been entirely worth it. Jones has been voted to the Pro Bowl seven times, is a five-time All-Pro and a member of the 2010s All-Decade Team. He led the league in receptions in 2015 and receiving yards in both 2015 and 2016. Jones has seemingly every Falcons franchise record in receiving and has a lot left in the tank. In a few more years Jones will move his way up the all-time receivers list and give more reason to why he will one day be in Canton.
Matt Ryan has been one of the best quarterbacks in the league for some time now. Matt Ryan was rookie of the year and a four-time Pro Bowler. In 2016 Ryan was a First Team All-Pro and league MVP. However, the one thing that eludes him and keeps him out of the definite category is what he failed to achieve in 2016, a Super Bowl Championship. Ryan was on the wrong side of the largest Super Bowl comeback in NFL History. It is hard for a quarterback to make it into the Hall of Fame without a Super Bowl title. If Ryan wins another MVP, makes a few more Pro Bowls and/or gets named an All-Pro a few more times it will go a long way to ensure his place in the Hall of Fame.
For a long period of time, Alex Mack was the best center in football. Mack was been to six Pro Bowls and has been a second-team All-Pro All-Pro three times. His play throughout the years earned him a spot on the 2010s All-Pro team. If Mack continues to make Pro Bowls for a few more years he could end up in the Hall of Fame sometime down the road.
Up until last season, Todd Gurley was viewed as one of the elite running backs in football. He played extremely well as soon as he entered the league in 2015 winning Offensive Rookie of the Year, going to the Pro Bowl and being a Second Team All-Pro. Gurley is a three-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro (two-time First Team All-Pro). In 2017 Gurley was the Offensive Player of the year and led the league in rushing touchdowns. He also led the league in rushing touchdowns in 2018. Unfortunately for Gurley and most running backs, running backs have short shelf lives in the NFL and Gurley seems to have reached his peak already and is on the way down. The injuries don’t help either, they have given Gurley less time to show how good of a player he is. He just hasn’t done enough to make him a Hall of Famer. If he has a resurgence in Atlanta that lasts a couple of years it’ll help his case, but for right now it’s a no.
The backup quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons was an above-average starting quarterback for the Houston Texans for a couple of years, that player is Matt Schaub. Schaub is a 2x Pro Bowler and led the league in passing yards in 2009. He also holds a lot of Houston Texans franchise passing records. But he is not Hall of Fame material. Schaub was never considered one of the elite quarterbacks in the league. He might one day become a member of the Texans ring of honor, but that’s it.
One of the leagues best young interior defensive lineman in Grady Jarrett. This past year Jarrett played in his first Pro Bowl and was voted a Second Team All-Pro. He also tied the record for most sacks during the Super Bowl (3). Every year Jarrett’s sack numbers have gone up and he is on the cusp of being considered one of the leagues best and seems to only be getting better at age 27. If Jarrett strings together a few more Pro Bowls, All-Pro, and a few seven-sack seasons he could one day be considered for the Hall of Fame.
Definite Hall of Fame: Luke Keuchly*
Looking like it:
Just missed the cut: Russell Okung, Kawaan Short
Give it time: Christian McCaffrey
The Carolina Panthers are in the middle of a rebuild so they do not have many veterans on their roster. Matt Rhule is trying to rebuild the Panthers into a younger faster team. It will be a few years before some of the players develop into stars. Until the players reach that point they will not be in the Hall of Fame category.
If Luke Keuchly was still playing for the Carolina Panthers he would be the only player on the roster who would even be considered for the Hall of Fame. Keuchly was one of two of the best linebackers in football for a couple of years now (Bobby Wagner). He was a Pro Bowler for seven straight out of eight seasons. The only year he wasn’t was his rookie year, but he did win Defensive Rookie of the Year. During his rookie season, he led the league in tackles and he did again in 2014. He was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. His play earned him on a spot on the 2010s All-Decade team. Now Keuchly is a scout with the Panthers and when it is his time will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Russell Okung is entering his 11th season in the league. During his career, he has been to the Pro Bowl twice and won a Super Bowl during his time with the Seattle Seahawks. But he is not a Hall of Famer. Okung has been slightly above average for most of his career but has failed to stay healthy in recent years. Now he is an overpriced average option at the left tackle position.
Kawann Short has been one of the best interior defensive lineman in the league for a couple of years. He reached his peak in 2015 when he had 11 sacks that got him to his first Pro Bowl and was a Second Team All-Pro. But Short has not done much since. He did reach the Pro Bowl again in 2018, but he missed most this past season. Short could go down as a really good defensive player for the Panthers, but not a Hall of Famer.
One of the best young players in the entire league is Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey. Early in his career, McCaffrey was a Pro Bowler in 2019, Second Team All-Pro in 2018 and a two time First Team All-Pro in 2019. McCaffrey was named an All-Pro at running back and as a flex in 2019. He has already broken many receiving records and scrimmage yards records among running backs. McCaffrey is one of three running backs in NFL history to have 1,000 yards receiving and rushing in the same season. His playstyle is unlike many other running backs and could extend his prime and his career longer than most modern-day running backs. At this point, McCaffrey is on the right track to one day be in the Hall of Fame.
New Orleans Saints
Definite Hall of Fame: Drew Brees
Looking like it: Cameron Jordan, Michael Thomas, Malcolm Jenkins, Sean Payton
Just missed the cut: Alvin Kamara, Emmanuel Sanders, Janoris Jenkins, Jared Cook, Terron Armstead
Give it time: Ryan Ramczyk
The New Orleans Saints arguably have the most talented roster in all of football. So a couple of players on their roster could one day make the Hall of Fame. They are going for it this year trying to get Drew Brees a second Super Bowl before he retires within the next to years.
It should not be shocking that the all-time leader in completions, completion percentage, passing yards, and passing touchdowns is considered to be a no-doubt Hall of Famer. Drew Brees will go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. There is no question about it. Brees’ resume is insane the highlights include being a Super Bowl winner and MVP, 13-time Pro Bowler, 5-time All-Pro and two-time Offensive Player of the Year. The only thing missing from his resume is a league MVP. But regardless if he gets that MVP award or not Brees will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
One player that is not talked about enough as one of the best in the league at his position is Cameron Jordan. Jordan is a five-time Pro Bowler, three-time All-Pro and a member of the 2010s All-Decade team. At age 30, Jordan seems to be peaking putting together three 12+ sack seasons in a row. If he keeps this up he will be very likely to be in the Hall of Fame one day.
This might be kind of a stretch considering his age, but Michael Thomas is already on his way to a Hall of Fame career. Since getting drafted in 2016 Thomas has been to three Pro Bowls and been a two-time First Team All-Pro. He has led the league in receptions the past two years and this past season Thomas won Offensive Player of the Year leading the league in receptions and receiving yards. He actually broke the record for receptions in a single season. He already has multiple NFL and New Orleans Saints records. Many consider him to be the best wide receiver in football. If he keeps this up for a few more seasons Thomas could be a Hall of Fame player.
He might not be a first-ballot player, but Malcolm Jenkins makes an interesting case for the Hall of Fame. Jenkins is a three-time Pro Bowler, was a Second Team All-Pro in 2010 and a two-time Super Bowl Champion. What should get Jenkins into the Hall of Fame is the fact that he has been a leader and a presence in the locker room on not one but two Super Bowl teams. If Jenkins gets a third ring, he will no doubt he a Hall of Famer.
Head Coach Sean Payton will be considered one day for the Hall of Fame. Payton has a Super Bowl on his resume and won Coach of the Year in 2006. That alone and the fact that he has been as successful as he has been for so long in New Orleans will get him into Canton. He is considered one of the most creative offensive minds in the history of the game. However, the reason he will not be a first-ballot player is because of his involvement in the Bountygate scandal.
It might be unpopular to completely remove Alvin Kamara’s name from consideration for the Hall of Fame, but after looking at his stats instead of his talent it makes sense. Kamara has been a Pro Bowler every year since getting drafted in 2017. However, he has only been an All-Pro once in 2017. He has also never rushed for more than 900 yards in a single season. His touchdown production is great but the truth of the matter is that it is near impossible for a modern-day running back to make the Hall of Fame considering shelf life and the standard set by the all-time greats. At this point, Kamara is a great fantasy player, but not a Hall of Famer.
Emmanuel Sanders has been a part of a lot of great teams. There are not many players who can say they have been large contributors for three different Super Bowl teams. But Sanders has only won one of those Super Bowls, been a two-time Pro Bowler and never been an All-Pro. He will likely be remembered as one of the all-time best contributors and veterans on Super Bowl teams.
Not many people realize that Janoris Jenkins plays for the New Orleans Saints. After getting waived by the Giants, the Saints picked him up to bolster their secondary. Jenkins made his only Pro Bowl and was named a Second Team All-Pro in his first season with the New York Giants in 2016. He is a quality veteran, but not one of the all-time greats.
Many people might not know that Jared Cook has the 15th most receiving yards for tight ends in NFL History. Even if his two Pro Bowls are added to that, he is not a Hall of Fame player and likely will never become one.
Quietly Terron Armstead has become one of the best left tackles in football. Armstead has been to the Pro Bowl the past two seasons and was a Second Team All-Pro in 2018. He seems to be peaking now, but it might be too late for him to become a Hall of Fame-caliber left tackle.
In three seasons Ryan Ramczyk is already one of if not the best right tackle in football. He was a Second Team All-Pro in 2018 and First Team All-Pro this past year. Surprisingly Ramczyk has never been to a Pro Bowl, but that will change soon. At the rate he is going at, Ramczyk could very well be a Hall of Famer down the road.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Definite Hall of Fame: Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski
Looking like it: Mike Evans, Ndamukong Suh
Just missed the cut: Jason Pierre Paul, Lavonte David
Give it time: Bruce Arians
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have floated around average and mediocracy over the past few seasons, but they decided to make some bold moves this offseason. They moved off of Jameis Winston for Tom Brady and even managed to get Rob Gronkowski out of retirement. The Bucs are trying to assert themselves into the playoff picture and trying to become a threat in the NFC.
People who don’t know a thing about football know Tom Brady is the GOAT and a Hall of Famer. The guy is a six-time Super Bowl Champion, three-time MVP, 14-time Pro Bowler, five-time All-Pro and a two-time Offensive Player of the Year. He is also a member of the 2000s and 2010s All-Decade Teams along with the NFL’s 100th Anniversary Team. On top of that, Brady has held multiple single-season records in multiple categories. Brady is a first-ballot Hall of Famer no if, ands or buts about it.
Now that he is coming out of retirement it would be unfair to expect Rob Gronkowski to be the best tight end in the league again. There was a case that he wasn’t even that during his last year in New England. But there is a valid case for Gronkowski to be considered the greatest tight end of all time. He is a three-time Super Bowl Champion, four-time First Team All-Pr and five-time Pro Bowler. He is a member of the 2010s All-Decade Team and NFL’s 100th Anniversary team. Gronk would have been headed to Canton regardless of him coming out of retirement or not.
Originally Mike Evans was under the Give it time category. However, after further research it is clear that Evans has had a Hall of Fame career up to this point. Evans is a three-time Pro Bowler and was a Second Team All-Pro in 2016. But he has put up Randy Moss like numbers since entering the league. He has the records for the youngest player to reach 5,000 and 6,000 yards. Evans also is the youngest player in NFL history to reach 7,000 career yards. He is tied with Moss for the most 1,000 yard seasons to begin a career with six. Now with Brady under center Evans should start getting the recognition and could be considered an all-time great and a Hall of Famer very soon.
Early in his career in Detroit, Ndamukong Suh looked like he would no doubt end up in Canton one day. His dominance and pass rush ability from the interior was outstanding. But Suh started to regress in Miami and wasn’t a big of a pass rush threat in Los Angeles and Tampa Bay. Suh’s best quality now is the fact that he opens up great lanes for pass rushers to get through. He has played with the past two sack leaders the past two seasons (Aaron Donald, Shaquil Barrett). Suh makes a great case being a five-time Pro Bowler, five-time All-Pro, Defensive Rookie of the Year and a member of the 2010s All-Decade team. A Super Bowl ring, yearly award or another great season could guarantee him a spot in the Hall of Fame category. But for right now Suh is right on the edge, but all signs are showing that one day he will be in the Hall of Fame.
Early in his career, Jason Pierre-Paul looked like he was going to become one of the best pass rushers in the league. In his first three seasons, Pierre-Paul won a Super Bowl and has been to two Pro Bowls, but since then he has not done much. At best he was the best pass rusher on his team but has not received a single accolade since. If Pierre-Paul wins another Super Bowl he could possibly enter the discussion. But unfortunately, Pierre-Paul will likely peak at being known as an all-time great New York Giant, not a Hall of Famer.
Lavonte David deserves more respect than he gets. He is one of the best linebackers in football. The reason why he gets no love is that he plays in Tampa Bay who is never on primetime games and doesn’t put up huge numbers. However, David is a great cover linebacker and a tackling machine. It was hard to place David into a category because it would be nice for a player like him to be considered for the Hall of Fame. He was a Pro Bowler in 2015, First Team All-Pro in 2013 and Second Team All-Pro in 2016. He is lacking the yearly awards he would need to be considered for the Hall of Fame. Besides the offensive players, no one benefited more from Brady signing with the Buccaneers than David because now people will watch and realize how good of a player he really is. He doesn’t have a lot of time, but if he takes advantage of the primetime games he will participate in with Brady on the team, he could sneak into the Hall of Fame.
At age 67, there is still time for Bruce Arians to solidify his case as a Hall of Fame coach. Between Indianapolis (interim), Arizona and Tampa Bay he has only been a head coach for seven years, but he has been voted Coach of the Year twice in that span. Also, the guy has been coaching in some capacity for 45 years. If he wins another Coach of the Year award and/or wins a Super Bowl that will do him wonders and get him recognition as a future Hall of Fame head coach.