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 AFC South can be defined:
” * ” are players who have retired this offseason
Definite Hall of Fame: J.J. Watt
Looking like it:
Just missed the cut: Randall Cobb, David Johnson, Whitney Mercilus, Brandin Cooks, Romeo Crennel
Give it time: Deshaun Watson, Laremy Tunsil, Benardrick McKinney
The Houston Texans have made the playoffs in four of the past five seasons. The only exception came in 2017-18 after Deshaun Watson tore his ACL. After making headlines with their recent trades the team is looking to appear in the playoffs once more. Last year, the Texans won their game in the wild card round against the Buffalo Bills but lost to the Kansas City Chiefs the following round.
The only without a doubt Hall of Fame player on the Houston Texans in J.J. Watt. Though he’s dealt with injuries the past couple of seasons he is still one of the best defensive players in the league when healthy. Watt is a five-time Pro Bowler and First-Team All-Pro. He is also tied with Lawerence Taylor for the most Defensive Player of the Year awards with three. Watt was just named to the 2010s All-Decade team this past offseason. There is no doubt whenever Watt retires he will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Even though he will be playing for his third team in three years, Randall Cobb was at the peak of his game during his time in Green Bay. Cobb was voted to the Pro Bowl, but was never seen as a number one receiver or one of the best receivers in football. That is why he will not be in the Hall of Fame once his career is done.
In his first two years in the league, David Johnson was arguably the best running back in football. He could hurt a defense is the running game, passing game and on special teams. There was very little teams could do to prevent Johnson from getting in the end zone. In 2016 he received an invite to the Pro Bowl and was named a First-Team All-Pro. However, since then he hasn’t looked the same because of injuries and playing in offenses that he just didn’t fit in. He is hoping to have a rejuvenation in Houston. It is hard and rare for a running back to return to the type of production they had earlier in their career once they reach a second contract. Johnson was great, but is not a Hall of Fame level player.
Whitney Mercilus has been a key player for the Houston Texans defense for a couple of seasons. However, he only reached double-digit sacks once in his career in 2015-16. That season he was also named a Second-Team All-Pro. He may go down as a Houston Texans legend but will not be a member of the Hall of Fame.
Brandin Cooks will go down in history as the first player in NFL History to have 1,000 yards in three straight seasons with three different teams. But he hasn’t earned any individual achievements in his career up to this point. He has not been to a Pro Bowl or been an All-Pro. If Cooks can get past his concussion history and continue racking up 1,000-yard seasons he could possibly be considered for the Hall of Fame but for right now he is not in that category.
Romeo Crennel is an associate or assistant coach for the Houston Texans. What makes him eligible for this list is the fact that he has won five Super Bowls as an assistant coach. However during his time as the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns he did not see much success. Most recently he was demoted from defensive coordinator for the Houston Texans. One day Crennel may be inducted into the Hall of Fame, but for right now he is not a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame.
One day very soon Deshaun Watson will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame for what he did at Clemson. But 10+ years down the road he could be in the conversation for Pro Football Hall of Fame. He has been to the Pro Bowl in both his second and third seasons and already is considered one of the best quarterbacks in the league. His talent matches up with Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, he just hasn’t put together the MVP caliber seasons that they have. If he does get his time to shine and shows how talented he is Watson could be a candidate for the Hall of Fame one day.
Laremy Tunsil may have had one of the most uncomfortable Draft Day experiences in NFL History. But since then he has shaken that off and become one of the best left tackles in the league. This past season he was voted to his first Pro Bowl and may go to many more. If the accolades continue to pile up for Tunsil he could join the Hall of Fame conversation.
One of the most underrated players in the NFL right now is Benardrick McKinney. He was named a Second Team All-Pro in 2016 and made the Pro Bowl in 2018. If McKinney can achieve both in the same season for a couple of seasons, he could be in the Hall of Fame discussion down the road.
Definite Hall of Fame:
Looking like it: Quenton Nelson, Justin Houston
Just missed the cut: T.Y. Hilton, Philip Rivers, Xavier Rhodes, Andrew Luck*
Give it time: DeForest Buckner, Darius Leonard
After a promising first season under new head coach Frank Reich, the Indianapolis Colts were blindsided by Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement and had to go into the season with Jacoby Brissett as their starter. They looked solid but after injuries plagued the team they fell well short of the playoffs. But after retooling with some young and veteran talent the Colts are in position to potentially make a playoff run.
There is no player on the Indianapolis Colts roster who could be handed a gold jacket right now, but Quenton Nelson is the closest thing they have to a surefire Hall of Famer. He has made the Pro Bowl and been named a First-Team All-Pro in both of his first two seasons. Nelson almost single-handedly changed the Colts offense into the elite offense they had just a year ago. It might be early to put Nelson in this category but there is little doubt that Nelson could be the all-time greats when it is all said and done.
During his time in Kansas City Justin Houston was considered one of the leagues elite edge rushers. He was a four-time Pro Bowler and a First-Team All-Pro in 2014. He was racked up double-digit sacks in four of his nine seasons in the league. In 2014 Houston was a sack away from breaking the all-time single-season sack record. If Houston has a few more double-digit sack seasons in Indianapolis he could very well be a Hall of Famer one day.
If it was not for injury this past season T.Y. Hilton would still be considered one of the league’s top 10 wide receivers. He has been a four-time Pro Bowler and led the league in receiving in 2016. Unless Hilton regains his status of one of the league’s best next season and beyond he will likely not be considered for the Hall of Fame-caliber player.
This is unfortunate to say but Philip Rivers will likely not be considered for the Hall of Fame. He has been to the Pro Bowl eight times and has led the league in multiple categories over seasons. But his Chargers teams have not come close to a Super Bowl victory. Unless Rivers plays phenomenal in Indianapolis or we wins a Super Bowl there he will not be in the Hall of Fame once he retires. He would need a Dan Marino like resume in order to make it to the Hall of Fame without a Super Bowl win.
In recent years there haven’t been many who have declined like Xavier Rhodes did this past year. He went from arguably the best cornerback in football to what many described as ‘burnt toast’. Many believe that Rhodes cannot run the way he used to. But in his prime, he went to three Pro Bowls and was named a First-Team All-Pro in 2017. Rhodes’ situation is similar to what happened to Richard Sherman a couple of years ago. However, Sherman regained his form in San Fransisco. If Rhodes can have the career rejuvenation like Sherman in Indianapolis than maybe he can be considered for the Hall of Fame. But for right now he is not a Hall of Famer.
Coming out of Stanford, Andrew Luck was believed to be the most talented quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning. Many still believe that besides the few who believe Joe Burrow is in that category. Luck did not disappoint bringing the Colts to the playoffs in his rookie season. He went to four Pro Bowls and won Comeback Player of the Year last season. However, Luck did retire during the preseason at age 29 cutting his career very short. Unfortunately due to his early retirement and the amount of time he lost due to injuries he will not be inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player.
The biggest move the Colts made this offseason was trading their first-round pick for defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. Buckner was a part of the San Fransisco 49ers dominant defensive front last season. Over the past few seasons, he has established himself as one of the best defensive tackles in the league. After racking up 12 sacks in 2018 Buckner was named to his first Pro Bowl and Second-Team All-Pro. If this production continues in Indianapolis Buckner will be in the Hall of Fame conversation.
One of Colts General Manager Chris Ballard’s pleasant draft surprises was Darius Leonard. Leonard immediately became one of the best linebackers in football his rookie season. He was a First-Team All-Pro and Defensive Rookie of the Year in the same season. This past year he went to his first Pro Bowl and was a Second Team All-Pro. Leonard is considered the best outside linebacker in football (barring edge rushers). If his play only gets better from here on out he will be in the Hall of Fame.
Definite Hall of Fame:
Looking like it:
Just missed the cut: Leonard Fournette, Andrew Norwell, Tyler Eifert
Give it time: Yannick Ngakoue
After signing Nick Foles to a massive contract last offseason the Jaguars thought they had the pieces to at least be competitive in 2019. But after Foles missed most of the season with a broken collarbone Gardner Minshew became the team’s starter and tried his best to keep the Jaguars afloat. They finished at the bottom of the division last year and are expected to finish there again this year.
Since the Jaguars seem to be in the middle of a rebuild there aren’t any players who are Hall of Fame-bound on their roster. But their best player is running back Leonard Fournette. When Jacksonville had the #Sacksonville defense Fournette almost carried the offense to a Super Bowl his rookie season. However, a nagging ankle injury has nagged him since his time at LSU and has cost him time. He is at the peak of his career and still has not had any individual achievements. It is fair to say at this point Fournette is not a Hall of Fame player.
Andrew Norwell was a part of the 15-1 Carolina Panthers in 2015. His best season came in 2017 where he was named a First-Team All-Pro. Since then he has not ben more than a very good offensive guard. He won’t be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
There is still a solid case that Tyler Eifert is a top 10 tight end when healthy. Eifert has missed just over 47 percent of his career games. But he peaked in 2015 catching 13 touchdowns in 13 games. Eifert made his only Pro Bowl that season as well. Barring anything ridiculous Eifert will not be a Hall of Fame player.
The player on the Jacksonville Jaguars with the most potential to be great is Yannick Ngakoue. Though he has only reached double-digit sacks and been to the Pro Bowl once in his career he is one of the best edge players in football. In that same season, he led the league in forced fumbles with six. There are not many defensive ends with the speed the Ngakoue has coming off the edge. Though he will likely be leaving the Jaguars roster very soon Ngakoue has the most potential to be a Hall of Famer on the Jaguars roster.
Definite Hall of Fame:
Looking like it:
Just missed the cut: Taylor Lewan, Rodger Saffold, Vic Beasley, Malcolm Butler, Jonathan Joseph, Ryan Tannehill
Give it time: Derrick Henry, Kevin Byard, Mike Vrabel
The Tennessee Titans shocked the NFL world making it to the AFC Championship and almost upsetting the Kansas City Chiefs with Ryan Tannehill under center. They snuck into the playoffs at 9-7 and eliminated the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens. They were arguably the hottest team down the stretch that was not the Ravens. After losing some solid starter the Titans are expected to be competitive in the AFC and attempt to do more than they did last season.
It is very well likely that no players on the Titans make it into the Hall of Fame. But they do have a talented roster. Taylor Lewan is one of the best left tackles in football and has been for some time now. He was a Pro Bowler from 2016-18 and is a big reason why the could run the ball so effectively. Unless Lewan makes it to more Pro Bowls and makes it to a few All-Pro teams he will not be in the Hall of Fame.
One of the reasons why the Titans were effective running the ball so well last season is the addition of Rodger Saffold. Saffold emerged as one of the best run-blocking guards in 2017 when he was named a Second-Team All-Pro. He is a great contributor to an offense, but not a Hall of Fame player.
Vic Beasley needed a change of scenery from Atlanta. He went from leading the league in sacks, leading the league in forced fumbles, First Team All-Pro, Pro Bowler and leading a defense to a Super Bowl to a point where no team would trade a sixth-round selection for him at the deadline. Beasley seems to have lost his juice or mojo. Since his great season in 2016 he has only had 13 sacks and three forced fumbles. Maybe joining Tennessee will make him relevant again but those rough years take him out of the Hall of Fame conversation.
When someone hears the name Malcolm Butler the first thing that pops into people’s heads is the interception he made on the goal line in Super Bowl XLIX. But after that Butler emerged as one of the best cornerbacks in Football. He is a two time Super Bowl Champion, Pro Bowler in 2015 and Second-Team All-Pro in 2016. Though he is considered one of the better players at his position and his Super Bowl interception will go down in NFL History, he is not a Hall of Famer.
Jonathan Joseph is doing something that many defensive backs don’t which is play into his mid to late thirties. Not only that, but he is playing at a starting-caliber level as well. During his career, he has been a two-time Pro Bowler and a Second-Team All-Pro in 2011. But he is not a Hall of Fame player.
This goes without saying, Ryan Tannehill is not a Hall of Fame player. He did play fantastic last season leading the league in passer rating, winning comeback player of the year and being named to the Pro Bowl. But he is just a great game manager. The offense was not Tannehill’s, the passing game was secondary to running the ball. During his time in Miami he was average at best. He might be the perfect quarterback for the Tennessee Titans, but is not a Hall of Famer.
Over the past two seasons, Derrick Henry has been a monster. Especially later in the season. His combination of size and speed is at times impossible to stop. Henry was voted to his first Pro Bowl, Second Team All-Pro and led the league in rushing this past year. His running style means that his window to be at the peak of his game is very small, but if he could continue his production for a little longer and possibly carry the Titans to some playoff success, he could one day be recognized as a Hall of Fame player.
Kevin Byard is believed to be the best player on the Tennessee Titans defense and one of the best free safeties in football. Byard is a pure ballhawk and center fielder. Though he went to his only Pro Bowl and was only named a First-Team All-Pro once in 2017, he has been one of the best defensive backs in the league. In the past three seasons, he finished with eight, four and five interceptions. If this keeps up much longer Byard could enter the Hall of fame conversation.
Mike Vrabel might only be entering his third year as the Tennessee Titans head coach, but he was a very accomplished player in the league as well. He is a three-time Super Bowl Champion. Vrabel was also voted to the Pro Bowl and a First-team All-Pro in 2007. That alone might not get him into the Hall of Fame. But if he continues to be one of the better coaches in football that may be enough to get him into Canton one day.