Every NFL team’s most likely future Hall of Famer: Tom Brady, Aaron Donald among 17 ‘locks’

There is no official criteria when determining who is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That being said, based on who has and who hasn’t been enshrined over the past 50 years, it’s safe to say that there are certain things the voters look at when determining who should get a bronze bust and a gold jacket. 

Using my interpretation of some of the unspoken criteria used when determining who gets into the Hall of Fame, I came up with a list of each NFL team‘s current player who has the best shot at being enshrined in Canton once their career is over. Here is the criteria I used when selecting the most likely players on each NFL team that could be considered a “lock” if their careers ended today. 

Using that criteria, I determined that 13 teams currently have at least one player whose career is already good enough for enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. Three teams have two deserving players, while one future Hall of Famer is currently a free agent, making 17 “locks”. 

Did your team’s best player make the cut? Let’s find out. 

Current Hall of Fame “lock”: Yes 

  • Fitzgerald is statistically the best receiver of his era  

Fitzgerald, who is second all-time in career receptions (1,432) and receiving yards (17,492) and sixth in touchdown receptions (121), will be fitted for his gold jacket six years after he decides to hang up his cleats for good. An 11-time Pro Bowler, Fitzgerald has led the NFL in receptions and touchdown receptions on two separate occasions. He put on a show in the 2008 playoffs, catching 30 passes for 546 yards and seven touchdowns while helping Arizona make its first Super Bowl appearance. 

Also receiving consideration was cornerback Patrick Peterson, an eight-time Pro Bowler and member of the NFL’s All-2010s Team. While a few more productive seasons should be enough to sew up Peterson’s future case for Canton, I feel that Peterson has already done enough to one day warrant a gold jacket. 

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Atlanta Falcons: Julio Jones, WR

Current Hall of Fame “lock”?  Yes

  • Jones is part of the NFL’s All-2010s Team 

Also considered was quarterback Matt Ryan, a former league MVP who is 10th all-time in career passing yards. But the nod went to Jones, a seven-time Pro Bowler who has led the league in receiving on two separate occasions. Jones is the 13th highest-rated receiver in NFL history based according to Pro Football Reference’s Hall of Fame monitor

Ryan is currently 14th on Pro Football Reference’s Hall of Fame monitor, which is better than Ben Roethlisberger and current Hall of Famers Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach, Dan Fouts, and Kurt Warner, among others. Like the Cardinals, the Falcons also possess two players who will likely end up in Canton. 

Current Hall of Fame “lock”? No, but close

  • Tucker has made 91% of his career field goal attempts 

Next year, this spot could belong to Lamar Jackson, who put together another solid season in 2020 following his MVP season of 2019. But for now, the Ravens’ player who is closest to Canton is Tucker, a four-time Pro Bowler who is a member of the NFL’s All-2010s Teams. Tucker is currently the seventh-ranked kicker on Pro Football Reference’s Hall of Fame monitor. Tucker’s Hall of Fame status is hurt by the fact that just one kicker has been inducted over the past 30 years. 

Current Hall of Fame “lock”? No

  •  White is still in the early stages of his career

Josh Allen’s 2020 season gave him consideration for this spot. But the nod ultimately went to White, who followed up his 2019 All-Pro season with a second consecutive Pro Bowl selection. White’s play last season helped the Bills reach their first AFC title game since 1993. 

More seasons like the one he just had may get Stefon Diggs into this conversation next offseason. In his first season with the Bills, Diggs led the NFL in receptions and receiving yards while earning his first All-Pro nod. 

Current Hall of Fame “lock”? No

  • Health is the main question surrounding McCaffrey 

Despite his injury-marred 2020 season, McCaffrey’s early promise and unique skillset still makes him a possible future Hall of Famer. An All-Pro in 2019, McCaffrey joined Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk as the only players in NFL history to amass 1,000 rushing and receiving yards in the same season. 

Current Hall of Fame “lock”?: No

  • Atkins will likely be on a team new in 2021 

A.J. Green and defensive tackle Geno Atkins enjoyed considerable success during their first decade in Cincinnati. Atkins, an eight-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro, is the 14th ranked defensive tackle in Pro Football Reference’s Hall of Fame monitor. Atkins, who fell out of favor in Cincinnati last season, may get a chance to play for a contender in 2021. If Atkins and Green are elsewhere in 2021, Joe Burrow will ascend as the Bengals’ most likely future Hall of Famer. 

Current Hall of Fame “lock”? No, but is very close 

  • Mack is a Pro Bowl or two away from being a lock 

After three Pro Bowl and two All-Pro seasons with the Raiders, Mack has continued to enjoy success after being traded to the Bears in 2018. During his first 46 games with Chicago, Mack recorded 30 sacks and 14 forced fumbles. In the process, he picked up three more Pro Bowl selections, a third career All-Pro nod and was named to the NFL’s All-2010s Team. In Oakland, Mack was named the 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. 

Current Hall of Fame “lock”? No, but appears to be on his way

  • Garrett strengthened his case with his first All-Pro selection 

In 51 regular season games, Garrett has collected 42.5 sacks, 10 forced fumbles and 42 tackles for loss. An All-Pro last season, Garrett helped lead the Browns to their best season since 1994. Garrett is just 25, so he has plenty of time to strengthen his Hall of Fame resume. 

Current Hall of Fame “lock”? No 

  • Smith’s health may determine his future Hall of Fame status

The ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft, Smith was named to seven consecutive Pro Bowls from 2013-19. A member of the NFL’s All-2010s Team, Smith is the 14th ranked offensive tackle in Pro Football Reference’s Hall of Fame monitor. 

Another Cowboys lineman that received consideration is guard Zack Martin, a Pro Bowler in each of his first six NFL seasons. Over the last several years, the duo has helped open up holes for Ezekiel Elliott. Their blocking also helped Dak Prescott throw for nearly 5,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2019. How well both players receiver from last season’s injuries may determine their future Hall of Fame status. 

Speaking of Elliott, he also appears to be on his way towards a Hall of fame career. Through five seasons, Elliott has earned three Pro Bowl selections, two All-Pro nods, and two rushing titles. Assuming he can keep going at this pace for another 5-6 seasons, Elliott should be a shoo-in for Canton as soon as he is eligible for induction. The one concerning thing when looking at Elliott’s career is the fact that his best season remains his rookie campaign, when he rushed for a league-high 1,631 yards while averaging 5.1 yards per carry. How well the Cowboys are able to retool their aging offensive line will help determine Elliott’s effectiveness moving forward. 

Current Hall of Fame “lock”? Yes

  • Miller’s career has had the perfect mix of individual and team success 

Despite last year’s injury, Miller, in my opinion, has already done enough to be considered a future Hall of Fame player. An eight-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro, Miller has 106 career regular season sacks, 126 tackles for loss and 26 forced fumbles. The 2011 Defensive Rookie of the Year, Miller was at the peak of his powers in 2015, when he was the best player on a Super Bowl winning team. Miller’s 2.5 sack/two forced fumble performance in Super Bowl 50 earned him the game’s MVP award. A few more productive seasons should convince any remaining doubters about Miller’s eventual place in Canton. 

Current Hall of Fame “lock”? Yes

  • Peterson’s future in Canton is secure

A unanimous member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 2010s, Peterson is fifth all-time on the league’s career rushing list. He earned MVP honors in 2012 after rushing for 2,097 yards, the second-highest total in league history. Peterson, who will turn 36 next month, is slated to become a free agent on March 17. 

Current Hall of Fame “lock”? Yes

  • Rogers is only adding to his Hall of Fame resume at this point 

A Super Bowl champion, Super Bowl MVP and three-time league MVP, Rodgers will one day join his predecessor, Brett Favre, as a first-ballot inductee. Rodgers is currently fourth behind Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Favre on the Pro Football Reference Hall of Fame monitor. The 37-year-old is showing no signs of slowing down; he threw a career-high 48 touchdowns last season en route to another league MVP award. 

Current Hall of Fame “lock”? No

  • Watson’s next stop will likely determine his Hall of Fame future 

While he has probably played his last down in Houston, Watson is still on the Texans’ roster. After an injury cut his rookie season short, Watson has bounced back to become one of the NFL’s premier quarterbacks. A three-time Pro Bowler, Watson won his first passing title in 2020 while completing over 70% of his passes. Watson’s uncertain future has been the NFL’s top offseason storyline. 

Current Hall of Fame “lock”? No 

  • While the Pro Bowls have dried up, Houston continues to produce  

While Darius Leonard may one day pass him, Houston is the Colts’ current player who has the best shot at ending up in Canton. One of the NFL’s top pass rushers during the early 2010s, Houston earned four consecutive Pro Bowl nods while leading the NFL with 22 sacks in 2014. And while he has not been named to a Pro Bowl since 2015, Houston has continued to produce in Indianapolis after starting his career with the Chiefs. Houston tallied 19 sacks during his first two years in Indianapolis, and is just 2.5 sacks away from 100 career sacks.  

Current Hall of Fame “lock”? No 

  • An injury hindered Allen during the 2020 season  

After a stellar rookie season, a knee injury hindered Allen for most of the 2020 season. The seventh overall pick in the 2019 draft, Allen was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2019 despite starting a quarter of the Jaguars’ games. That season, Allen racked up 10.5 sacks, 11 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. Allen’s career should be one NFL fans keep an eye on over the next several years. 

Current Hall of Fame “lock”? No, but he’s closer than you think 

  • Mahomes is already knocking on Canton’s doors

While he was unable to repeat as a Super Bowl champion, Mahomes went 16-2 as a starter in 2020 while leading the Chiefs back to the big game. Already considered the best player in football today, another MVP/Super Bowl season may be all Mahomes needs to earn early consideration as a future Hall of Fame player. Gale Sayers and Terrell Davis only needed four healthy seasons to earn their place in Canton. Mahomes, whose early career success rivals both legendary players, just finished his third season as the Chiefs’ starting quarterback. 

Las Vegas Raiders: Derek Carr, QB

Current Hall of Fame “lock”? No

  • A Super Bowl would dramatically alter the view of Carr’s career  

Darren Waller was considered, but given Carr’s body of work, he was given the nod over the Raiders’ Pro Bowl tight end. A three-time Pro Bowler, Carr has enjoyed a successful partnership with Jon Gruden. During his first three seasons with Gruden, Carr has thrown 67 touchdowns against 27 interceptions. In 2019, Carr completed a career-high 70.4% of his passes. Carr and Gruden will have to start making the playoffs, however, for Carr to have a legitimate Hall of Fame argument. 

Current Hall of Fame “lock”? No 

  • The talented pass rusher needs more seasons played, production, and accolades 

Like most of the other twenty-somethings on this list, Bosa still needs more time to build up a body of work that’s worthy of Canton. That being said, Bosa did enough in his first five seasons to give him the nod over receiver Keenan Allen and quarterback Justin Herbert. The 2016 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Bosa has 47.5 career sacks, 68 tackles for loss and three Pro Bowl selections heading into the 2021 season. 

Current Hall of Fame “lock?” Yes 

  • Three Defensive Player of the Years should be good enough for Canton

Donald has already done enough to be considered a future Hall of Fame player. His resume includes three Defensive Player of the Year awards, a Defensive Rookie of the Year Award, seven Pro Bowl selections and six All-Pro nods. Donald was also the best player on a Rams team that won the NFC title before holding the Patriots to just 13 points in Super Bowl LIII. Donald, who will turn 30 in May, should have several more seasons to pad his Hall of Fame credentials. 

Current Hall of Fame “lock”? No

  • Howard emphatically rebounded from his 2019 knee injury

After injuries wiped out most of his 2019 season, Howard put together his best season to date in 2020. Last year, Howard led the league in interceptions (10) and passes defensed (20). An All-Pro for the first time last season, Howard and Byron Jones make up arguably the best cornerback duo in the NFL. 

Current Hall of Fame “lock”? No 

  • Smith needs to continue his current string of success 

Smith’s career is following a similar trajectory to that of Eric Weddle, a 14-year veteran who retired last offseason. Weddle’s career, which included six Pro Bowl and two All-Pro selections, could be described as “on the fence” as it relates to his future Hall of Fame odds. That means that Smith, a five-time Pro Bowler and one-time All-Pro, will likely need to rack up more individual accolades if he wants to improve his future Hall of Fame odds. Given his age (he turned 32 earlier this month), Smith should have several more productive seasons ahead of him. On Smith’s heels is Dalvin Cook, who last season finished second behind Derrick Henry for the NFL rushing title. 

New England Patriots: Cam Newton

Current Hall of Fame “lock”? No, but this should be up for debate

  • Newton clearly has Hall of Fame talent, but his career may be a little short of Canton  

Newton’s talent is certainly worthy of Canton, but his career does not quite live up to that talent, which is the main reason why he is not considered a lock. 

Newton never had the offensive weapons other contemporaries had and yet he still won a league MVP while quarterbacking a team that went 15-1 in the regular season. Newton’s best target throughout his career was a tight end. He’s the only member of the 35-10 club (35 touchdown passes, 10 touchdown runs). His 70 touchdown runs is the most ever by a quarterback. He did all of this damage with defenses solely committed to stopping him. And he did it while taking a ton of punishment without getting the calls other premier quarterbacks get. 

Newton is 29th on Pro Football Reference’s Hall of Fame quarterback monitor, just ahead of Boomer Esiason and right behind Hall of Famers Len Dawson, Warren Moon, and Bob Griese. His ranking also towers over Troy Aikman, Jim Kelly, Tony Romo, and Michael Vick. Newton’s low career completion percentage, the fact he hasn’t won a Super Bowl, his lack of Pro Bowls (three) and his durability issues hurt his case. But his versatility, his team success in Carolina along with his under appreciated toughness makes Newton a Hall of Famer in my book. 

Current Hall of Fame “lock”? Yes

  • Brees’ legacy as an all-time great is secure 

When you are the NFL’s all-time leader in career passing yards and touchdown passes, it’s safe to say that your eventual spot in the Hall of Fame is pretty much set. That’s the current scenario for Brees, a 13-time Pro Bowler as well as the MVP of Super Bowl XLIV. If Brees does retire this offseason, running Alvin Kamara will replace him as the Saints’ most likely Hall of Fame player. 

Current Hall of Fame “lock”? No 

  • Last year’s injury temporarily hurt Barkley’s trajectory 

Barkley is looking to rebound after tearing his ACL two weeks into the 2020 season. During his first two seasons, Barkley rushed for 2,310 yards and 17 touchdowns while amassing 1,159 receiving yards and six touchdown receptions. Barkley’s sophomore totals, however, were not as impressive as his rookie numbers, as he certainly felt the sting of not having an experienced quarterback under center. If Daniel Jones can continue to develop into a quality starter, that should lead to good things for Barkley. 

Current Hall of Fame “lock”? Yes

  • Gore’s will undoubtedly have a bronze bust in Canton 

The third leading rusher in NFL history, Gore hit 16,000 career rushing yards in 2020. The soon-to-be 38-year-old is just 727 yards from passing Walter Payton for second on the all-time list. 

Current Hall of Fame “lock”? Yes

  • Peters has the perfect mix of individual accolades and team success

Nine Pro Bowls, two All-Pros, a Super Bowl win, and being a member of the NFL’s All-2010s Team should be enough to get Peters a gold jacket and a bronze bust. Peters’ Pro Football Reference Hall of Fame metric is higher than Hall of Fame tackles Orlando Pace, Dan Dierdorf, Jimbo Covert, Winston Hill and Jackie Slater.  

Current Hall of Fame “lock”? Yes

  • Big Ben has enjoyed both individual and team success

A six-time Pro Bowler as well as the 2004 Offensive Rookie of the Year, Roethlisberger is also one of just nine quarterbacks in league history to lead his team to three Super Bowls. Seven of those quarterbacks are members of the Hall of Fame, while Tom Brady, the only other active member of that elite club, will be inducted as soon as he is eligible. Big Big’s place among the league’s all-time leading passers (he’s seventh all-time in passing yards and eighth in touchdown passes) along with his gaudy win-loss record (his 169 wins is the fifth-highest total in league history) makes him a lock for future enshrinement. A MVP award is the only thing missing as far as individual achievements are concerned. 

Current Hall of Fame “lock”? Yes

  • Sherman’s 2019 season sealed the deal 

Sherman, in my opinion, locked up his Hall of Fame candidacy after earning Pro Bowl honors and helping lead the 49ers back to the Super Bowl in 2019. The leader of Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” defense, Sherman’s inclusion on the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 2010s all but solidified his case for Canton. A few more Pro Bowl nods would help further strengthen Sherman’s case, but to me, the hay is already in the barn. 

Current Hall of Fame “lock”? Yes

  • It’s close, but Wilson makes the cut 

Wilson did not get enough credit for his role in the Seahawks’ success during the early 2010s. That lack of credit, compounded by his interception on Seattle’s final offensive play of Super Bowl XLIX, led to Wilson not being looked at in the same light as some of this era’s other great quarterbacks for most of the previous decade. The national narrative regarding Wilson began to change in 2019, when Wilson turned in an MVP caliber season while leading the Seahawks to the divisional round of the playoffs. Continued success, as well as a league MVP award, should erase any doubt about Wilson’s eventual place in Canton. 

Current Hall of Fame “lock”? Yes 

  • Seven rings, five Super Bowl and three league MVPs says it all 

I almost wrote “Yes” seven times to pay homage to Brady’s Super Bowl wins as well as to drive the point home that, yes, Brady will be enshrined in Canton as soon as he is eligible. A seven-time Super Bowl champion, five-time Super Bowl MVP and three-time league MVP, Brady is only adding to his legacy in Tampa Bay. The same can be said of Brady’s “new” tight end, Rob Gronkowski, who will also be fitted for a gold jacket as soon as he is eligible. Tampa Bay is the only franchise that has two surefire future Hall of Fame players currently on its roster. They may have a third if Antonio Brown continues to make the most of his opportunity in Tampa. 

Current Hall of Fame “lock”? No, but he’s on his way 

  • Henry will need at least 4-5 more seasons at his current pace 

After a somewhat stow start, Henry’s career has exploded over the past two years. Henry won his first of two consecutive rushing titles in 2019 while carrying Tennessee to an AFC title game appearance. In 2020, Henry became the eighth player in history to rush for over 2,000 yards in a season. If he can stay healthy, Henry should be knocking on the doors of Canton by the time he hangs up his cleats for good. 

Current Hall of Fame “lock”? No 

  • Scherff will have to continue his current pace into his 30s 

Scherff was picked over receiver Terry McLaurin and Chase Young, last year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year.  The fifth overall pick in the 2015 draft, Scherff has been named to the Pro Bowler four times over the past five years. The 29-year-old earned his first All-Pro selection in 2020 while helping the Football Team win the NFC East. 

The top free agent candidate: J.J. Watt, DE 

Current Hall of Fame “lock?” Yes 

  • Watt’s next chapter will only add to his Hall of Fame career

While injuries have slowed him down in recent years, Watt’s career resume includes three Defensive Player of the Year awards, five All-Pro selections and a spot on the NFL’s All-2010s Team. Watt, who currently has 101 career sacks, will now look to win a championship with the team he signs with in free agency. 

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