2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame Watch – The Top 50 Active Resumes

Surefire first-ballot players:

  1. QB Peyton Manning
  2. QB Tom Brady

These two stand far and away on top of the pack, and their lead has become a yawning chasm; not only are their names indelibly linked, they’re the only two remaining active players from NFL Network’s “100 Greatest Players” from 2010, and they’re still among the best in the game (even if retirement rumors are starting to swirl around Manning).

Borderline first-ballot players:

  1. QB Drew Brees
  2. DT Kevin Williams

The top three names in last year’s version of this category all retired, though I’m not sure if Ed Reed has acknowledged it yet (though he was certainly willing to spend the season on the Inside the NFL set as though he knew he wasn’t going to get another job with a team). That tells you a) how loaded this Hall of Fame class is going to be and b) how barren this category is now. Fortunately, the next category, and the rest of the list, suggests this year may mark a true passing of the torch.

Surefire Hall of Famers:

  1. TE Antonio Gates
  2. S Troy Polamalu
  3. CB Charles Woodson
  4. TE Jason Witten
  5. DE Julius Peppers
  6. DE Dwight Freeney
  7. LB DeMarcus Ware
  8. RB Adrian Peterson
  9. QB Aaron Rodgers
  10. CB Darrelle Revis
  11. WR Calvin Johnson
  12. WR Andre Johnson

I’ve held off on putting Aaron Rodgers, Calvin Johnson, and Darrelle Revis on the surefire list, when conventional wisdom would have them first-ballot guys, until they racked up the resume to warrant it, and for a while the possibility of them being flashes in the pan was very much alive, but Rodgers’ MVP-caliber season was more than enough to do the job, as was Revis’ return to All-Pro form, while Johnson’s return to the Pro Bowl gave me a reason to reassess his resume compared to the other WRs at the surefire/borderline line. Good thing too: Ware is the highest-ranked player from last year’s list not named Manning or Brady to improve his resume, and he didn’t budge relative to the others. Ouch. I’m leaving AP on the list for now, as he still has a shot to show contrition and become a Michael-Vick-esque comeback story, but if this marks the end of his career he’s not getting into the Hall of Fame, placement in this category aside, unless the memory of how his career ended eventually fades.

Borderline Hall of Famers:

  1. WR Larry Fitzgerald
  2. WR Steve Smith
  3. WR Wes Welker
  4. DE Jared Allen
  5. RB Jamaal Charles
  6. RB Arian Foster
  7. WR Reggie Wayne
  8. LB Patrick Willis
  9. RB LeSean McCoy
  10. OT Joe Thomas
  11. RB Marshawn Lynch
  12. DE Haloti Ngata
  13. DE John Abraham
  14. QB Ben Roethlisberger
  15. QB Eli Manning
  16. QB Michael Vick
  17. P Shane Lechler
  18. WR Brandon Marshall
  19. OT Jahri Evans
  20. DT Ndamukong Suh
  21. S Earl Thomas
  22. QB Philip Rivers
  23. KR Devin Hester
  24. K Adam Vinatieri
  25. RB Maurice Jones-Drew

With Rodgers, Revis, and Calvin Johnson leaving this category, I don’t have anyone obvious to serve as a demonstration of how players relatively early in their careers can have weaker resumes than you think, but I do have a couple of good reasons for Adrian Peterson to get back into the public’s good graces and continue his career: Jamaal Charles and Arian Foster don’t have resumes that are that much worse. If they had one or two more All-Pro seasons, would you see them as players on par with Peterson?

Vinatieri remains an interesting situation: very few non-quarterbacks have been propelled into the Hall of Fame on the strength of their Super Bowls… but Vinatieri could be one of them, despite being a kicker, a position with only one other representative in the Hall at all. [And while every quarterback with multiple Super Bowl wins is in the Hall of Fame except Jim Plunkett, all except Plunkett has at least three Pro Bowl selections, so while I have to put Russell Wilson on the list his single Pro Bowl keeps him pinned to the bottom for now.]

Need work:

  • RB Chris Johnson
  • DT Justin Smith
  • S Eric Weddle
  • T Jason Peters
  • LB Lance Briggs

Adrian Wilson may say he wants to play some more, but he hasn’t played a down in two seasons and had no scuttlebutt about being picked up by someone else once he was cut by the Bears. It’s over, and it won’t be ending with a bust in Canton. The same might be said for Justin Smith, who would seem to have a better chance of improving his resume, all things considered; he’s been thinking of retiring but the 49ers reportedly want him back.

Young stars (exclamation marks indicate players with resumes already strong enough to be among the top 50):

  • C Maurkice Pouncey (5th year)
  • TE Jimmy Graham (5th year)
  • LB Navarro Bowman (5th year)
  • TE Rob Gronkowski (5th year)!
  • LB Von Miller (4th year)
  • WR A.J. Green (4th year)
  • DE J.J. Watt (4th year)!
  • CB Patrick Peterson (4th year)!
  • CB Richard Sherman (4th year)!
  • RB DeMarco Murray (4th year)
  • DE Robert Quinn (4th year)
  • LB Justin Houston (4th year)
  • QB Andrew Luck (3rd year)
  • QB Russell Wilson (3rd year)
  • WR Josh Gordon (3rd year)
  • LB Luke Kuechly (3rd year)
  • RB Eddie Lacy (2nd year)
  • RB Le’Veon Bell (2nd year)
  • WR Odell Beckham Jr. (Rookie)
  • G Zack Martin (Rookie)
  • DT Aaron Donald (Rookie)
  • LB C.J. Mosley (Rookie)

I’ve renamed this section from “players to watch for the future”, but I’m not happy with this name. I had someone blast me last year for putting rookies on the list but not putting LeSean McCoy or Jamaal Charles in either this list or the Needs Work section before they burst onto the main list last year. The purpose of this section is to list players early in their careers that have shown indications of Hall of Fame talent, but just haven’t had long enough careers to rack up enough accolades to make the main list – people like Watt or Gronk that have every ounce of Hall of Fame aura about them and might be my new Rodgers/Megatron once they make the main list, a chance to explain how this list only reflects everyone’s career if they retired today.

This year’s biggest-name rookie didn’t make the Pro Bowl in his own right.

Players to watch for the Class of 2019:

  • TE Tony Gonzalez
  • S Ed Reed
  • CB Champ Bailey
  • FB Vonta Leach

As mentioned before, each of the first three could very easily go in first ballot, especially Gonzalez, for whom the only reason I hadn’t listed him as surefire is because he’d be the first tight end ever to go in on the first ballot. Leach is the only other candidate to get in at all, but he has as good a chance as any fullback.

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