Congratulations to Darrelle Revis, Joe Thomas, DeMarcus Ware, Zach Thomas (finally!), Ronde Barber, Don Coryell, and the three senior candidates on their induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Now it’s time to look at how this year’s selection process affects who the players most likely to get in next year are, and with the 2022 season fully at a close, what active and recently-retired players have most built their resumes for eventual induction into Canton.
Non-Inducted Finalists and Key First-Ballot Candidates for the Class of 2024
These are the finalists that failed to be inducted into Canton this year (not including Albert Lewis who moves into the senior pool), plus the first-ballot candidates in next year’s class with the highest Monitor numbers – in other words, the top candidates to be inducted next year. Note that I’ve made a change in policy on this chart: going forward, the calculated Monitor numbers for modern-era players will not include the bonuses Pro Football Reference gives players for making the finalist and semifinalist stages of the Hall of Fame voting process, because those bonuses only apply to players that haven’t yet been inducted, which makes sense (otherwise first-ballot players would be at a disadvantage) but means that once they’re inducted their Monitor number goes down and they look less deserving of being inducted. The way I carry out these posts already gives primacy to past performance in the voting process, while the other numbers I include are intended to measure the strength of their resume only, so factoring in that past performance into the Monitor feels like double-counting. Finalist bonuses will continue to be applied to senior candidates. Names in bold are the modern-era players I predict to be inducted, and for those using screen readers, those players will be listed off in the alt text.
The development that sticks out the most would seem to be Devin Hester falling from the final 10 last year to not making the first cut this year. That’s not as rare as you might think – I have this as the ninth different player this has happened to since the advent of the intermediate cut system, and Richard Dent even fell all the way out of the finalists after making the first cut – but John Lynch was the only other player it had happened to since Cris Carter in 2010, so it may be a sign of another shift in the voters’ priorities. What surprised me more, and may be more important going forward, was that the voters failed to induct a wide receiver, suggesting the development of another logjam like that in the early 2010s when Carter, Andre Reed, and Tim Brown cancelled each other out. What’s surprising about this is that the voters have been more willing in recent years to induct multiple players at a single position – just this year they inducted two modern-era linebackers, though DeMarcus Ware was an outside linebacker while Zach Thomas played on the interior – so they didn’t need to try and settle on a single wide receiver, and I wonder if they would have inducted two wideouts if they didn’t have all three make the final ten. At this point they may need to induct two wideouts at some point: most of the wide receivers coming down the line in the next few years aren’t serious threats to take away a spot right away, but Larry Fitzgerald is looming in 2026, the equivalent of what Marvin Harrison was to the Reed/Carter/Brown group.
In my view, Reggie Wayne should clearly be the odd man out behind Andre Johnson, who has the most postseason honors, and at minimum Torry Holt, who has the same postseason resume with one more Pro Bowl, is the only one of the three on an All-Decade Team, has now used up half of his eligibility, and is a glaring enough omission as to almost completely shift my benchmarks for who qualifies as a “surefire” Hall of Famer. Wayne’s fans will point to his superlative counting stats such as yards and touchdowns, which is why he has the highest Monitor of the three, but I would argue that those stats are the creation of a) how much more pass-happy the league has continued to get (in large part because of the Rams teams Holt played for) and b) being Peyton Manning’s #1 target for his most productive years (which also helped propel Harrison into the Hall). Granted a) doesn’t apply to the comparison to Johnson, and b) didn’t hurt Harrison too much, but Johnson was the only one of the three to make the final ten last year so you’d expect him to have a leg up on Wayne anyway. However, with regards to the Reed/Carter/Brown logjam, it’s worth noting that Carter was the only one of the three to make the final ten in 2008 and 2009, then Reed was the only final-ten member in 2010 and 2011, but then Carter ended up being the first to go in in 2013 – and Hester’s slippage suggests this year’s voters aren’t necessarily thinking the same way as last year, so it’s possible you’ll see someone other than Johnson go in first, or even Wayne and Holt together as the two that have spent the most time on the ballot. Certainly Carter’s induction was presaged by all three wideouts making the final ten in 2012.
That the three wideouts have repeated that feat this year is all the more a good sign because one of the other two players to be left behind at the cutdown to five, Albert Lewis, now falls into the senior pool, and the remaining player, Jared Allen, shares a position with the top first-year candidate on next year’s ballot, Julius Peppers, who has a clearly superior resume. That’s not only a good sign for the wideouts and Peppers, who already had a strong enough resume as to be one of, if not the, best non-first-ballot DEs if he didn’t get in, but for Antonio Gates, who was going to be one of the early test cases for how the voters looked at the tight end position in the modern NFL and how willing they’d be to give first-ballot inductions to TEs not named Tony Gonzalez (both Gates’ postseason honors and Monitor numbers are inferior to that of Shannon Sharpe who had to wait a year), but whose competition for a spot now boils down to Allen, a three-WR class, and a group of players left at the first cut whose biggest threats consist of Hester, Patrick Willis, and Darren Woodson (the last of which now has only five years of eligibility remaining; the count of “years left” above does not include the one about to commence). I’m giving the last spot to Willie Anderson as the only non-inducted OL finalist, as the Hall usually inducts an offensive lineman every year; had Jahri Evans made the finalists I’d be favoring him.
Top 54 Active Resumes
Bringing back one of my old post concepts, these are the 54 active players with the highest Monitor numbers, bumped up from 50 in its prior incarnation to reflect the number of players on an NFL roster, although the header on the chart still says top 50 because I allow up to four players outside the top 54, but with postseason honors strong enough to warrant at least borderline induction in my view, to bump out players that don’t have strong enough resumes for induction. (Technically the last “unlikely” player should be Harrison Smith and his 41.48 Monitor, but I felt it was more in keeping with the “roster” rationale for the size of the list to include the highest-rated punter.) Please note that this list includes all players that played in the most recently concluded season, as well as any players that missed the season to injury but with every expectation of playing again, including any players that have announced their retirement. This both allows me to hedge my bets against any unretirements, and is more fair to players who might announce their retirement later in the offseason or simply aren’t able to find another team to play for. The Projection column attempts to assess what the player’s chances of making the Hall would be if they retired today, in other words, it doesn’t attempt to predict the future course of their career. It is based only on All-Decade selections, All-Pro team selections, Pro Bowl selections, and (for quarterbacks only) Super Bowl wins (with some additional consideration given to career yards for wide receivers only), based on the established record of players at their position with similar resumes that played the significant majority of their careers after the AFL-NFL merger. An asterisk in the All-Decade column indicates that the player made the All-Decade team as a returner, not at their primary offensive or defensive position.
Assuming Brady doesn’t become Brett Favre 2.0, you can book a spot in the Class of 2028 already. Most people would expect J.J. Watt to join him, as he’s often called one of the greatest defensive players of all time, but a closer look reveals that his career had one of the weirder shapes we’ve ever seen: he had five of the greatest seasons a defensive player has ever had, but never made the Pro Bowl in a season he wasn’t named first-team All-Pro, and because of injuries in 2016 and 2017 those seasons weren’t even contiguous. At Watt’s position, Jack Youngblood had the same number of first-team All-Pros, two more Pro Bowls, made the 1970s All-Decade Team, retired in 1984, and didn’t get inducted until 2001. Heck, the only advantage Watt’s resume has over Allen is a single additional first-team All-Pro and All-Decade recognition. I’d be shocked if Watt had to wait as long as Youngblood, but don’t be surprised, or too outraged, if he’s left at the altar his first year on the ballot. (Working in his favor is that there aren’t any other significant DEs coming along after Peppers, Allen, and Dwight Freeney.) At least his brother is building a potential Hall of Fame resume of his own.
How high did Patrick Mahomes climb this year? His Monitor heading into the year was only 59.58, meaning it increased by nearly 45% in a single year, erasing any doubts about a potential first-ballot HoF candidacy in the process. Yet he’s not even the highest-rated player on his own team: Travis Kelce now becomes the third-highest rated TE not yet in the Hall, and he has the resume to make a case for first-ballot induction regardless of what happens with the two ahead of him, Gates and Rob Gronkowski (see below).
Players to watch
This list consists of all players not on the Top 50 Resumes list above with a weighted approximate value of at least 10 times their number of years in the league, or with Monitor numbers over 20, and whose AV for the most recently completed season is at least twice their number of years in the league. It is intended to provide a look at players on pace to at least potentially enter the Hall of Fame conversation, but without a long enough career to rack up enough of a resume to actually be in that conversation yet. Pro Football Reference only calculates Monitor numbers for players that have played at least 50 games, about three full seasons; for non-qualifying players with weighted career AVs over 30, I’ve attempted to calculate their Monitor number by hand (or at least in Excel), indicated by italics. (Because AV is displayed on the PFR site only as whole numbers, and each whole-number point of weighted AV is worth half a Monitor point, italicized Monitor calculations are neceessarily approximate.) Non-qualifying players with weighted AV too low to justify hand-calculating them are sorted by weighted AV.
If you’re wondering why I had to hand-calculate Nick Bosa’s Monitor despite his playing four seasons and having passed the 50-game mark (though only starting 49), Pro Football Reference officially lists his career position as “EDGE” despite listing him at DE for each individual season. That’s probably going to have to be fixed next year or I’m probably going to have to hand-calculate his Monitor to give him a spot on the main list. The QBs dotting this list are a good reminder that these lists are intended as a snapshot of players’ resumes if they retired today; as surprising as it may seem to see Josh Allen, Justin Herbert, Joe Burrow, and even Jalen Hurts not only off the main list but behind Jared Goff (and with only Allen ahead of Kyler Murray), if you asked yourself if any of them would be anywhere near the Hall if they were never worth a damn again, you’d probably have to admit they wouldn’t be. Lamar Jackson, who was the unanimous MVP one year but only has one other Pro Bowl to his name and only this year sneaked onto the top 50, is a good cautionary tale on that front.
Key players becoming eligible in 2027
This list consists of any players that (would have) made the top 54 list above last year that did not play this year and may not ever play again.
Lotta players with good resumes retiring (or at least not playing) this year. Adrian Peterson hasn’t announced his retirement yet, but maybe he should. He serves as the crown jewel of a run of stellar running backs coming along in the next few years; he, Frank Gore, LeSean McCoy, and Marshawn Lynch all have better Monitor numbers than any running back currently in the modern-era pool, and all except Lynch rate better than any RB not already in the Hall. But there aren’t any other RBs of that caliber, and probably not any that are HoF-caliber at all, coming along for a while; the new high Monitor number for an active running back is Alvin Kamara’s 37.30. (That’s not to say Kamara or any other active RB won’t make the Hall, only that they need to put in a lot more work to do so.) As for Gronk, he’s probably gotten more praise than any other target of Tom Brady and was named to the NFL 100 All-Time Team along with only four other TEs (and only one, Gonzalez, with a Monitor number over 100), but he has the same bizarre career arc as Watt (who he was also linked with the last time I did this post) with barely more Pro Bowls as All-Pros. If Antonio Gates gets in first-ballot I’d expect Gronk to do the same, but if not, Shannon Sharpe had the same number of (AP) All-Pros and three more Pro Bowls and had to wait a year. The good news is, if Gronk has the same fate he just might go in the same year as Brady. Antonio Brown is another player that hasn’t announced his retirement (that goes for a surprising number of the players on this list; I’m not actually convinced Cam Newton can’t still play) but it’s hard to imagine him playing in the NFL again, especially given how his career seems to have ended at the moment, and now the Hall voters will have to figure out what to do with someone who was indisputably one of the best receivers in the NFL for four years but became known more for his mercurial antics than his play.