Getting into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is a monumental task.
It’s been estimated that at least 23,000 men have played professional football since it came into existence, yet less than 350 have been enshrined at that institution in Canton, Ohio, so far. That means about 1.5% of all players get the call, which means roughly 25 of the approximately 1,700 players in the league at any given time could be on their way to the Hall of Fame after they’ve hung up their cleats for good.
With that in mind, we’ve looked around the league and come up with our best bets as to which current NFL players will end up in the Hall of Fame. We’ve selected 30 of them, so a few may end up getting left out, but every one of these men has put himself on the path to getting a gold jacket.
Tom Brady (QB)
Alright, let’s get the most obvious one out of the way first. Tom Brady will unquestionably be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, barring some kind of unforeseen, reputation-wrecking disaster in the next few years. His six Super Bowl rings are the most earned by any individual player in history, and he’s in the all-time top three for a host of prestigious quarterback records, including pass completions, passing yards and passing touchdowns. Not only will he be in the Hall of Fame, but Brady also makes a strong case as the greatest individual player in NFL history.
Drew Brees (QB)
Another obvious future first-ballot Hall of Famer is the guy who sits just above Brady in many of the NFL’s all-time passing records, including career yards and touchdowns. Drew Brees has almost all the hardware that a player in this league can earn, including two offensive player of the year awards, a Bert Bell Award and the NFL’s most prestigious character honor, the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. The 13-time Pro Bowler would be a lock for Canton even if he hadn’t led the New Orleans Saints to their first Super Bowl victory ever, but that ring makes it a pointless question.
And we think he might be able to add another one to his collection this season.
Ben Roethlisberger (QB)
Like Brady and Brees, veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has done plenty on the field to earn himself a spot in Canton, which happens to be just a couple hours away from his hometown of Findlay, Ohio. The Pittsburgh Steelers have a rich tradition of sending more than 20 players to the Hall of Fame so far, and Roethlisberger will go down as the best quarterback in their history. “Big Ben” led the franchise to Super Bowl victories in 2005 and 2008 before ultimately having the best seasons of his career as he settled into his 30s. He currently sits inside the all-time top 10 for pass completions, passing yards and passing touchdowns.
Roethlisberger’s off-field legal and character issues, which included two accusations of sexual assault in the wake of his second championship, may give some voters pause on making him a first-ballot pick but it’s hard to imagine them keeping him out entirely.
Larry Fitzgerald (WR)
The only knock anyone will have against Larry Fitzgerald’s case for the Hall of Fame is that his teams have had very little playoff success — but his individual performance has been among the all-time great receivers. In 16 seasons so far, Fitzgerald has only played in nine playoff games and has no Super Bowl rings, but he’s done everything in his power to make the Arizona Cardinals winners. For starters, he’s missed only six games since 2004 and has finished in the top 10 for receptions in eight different seasons.
The 11-time Pro Bowler and former Walter Payton Man of the Year is behind only Jerry Rice on the NFL’s all-time rankings for receptions and receiving yards, making his enshrinement a sure thing even without a championship on his resume.
Terrell Suggs (LB)
It’s unclear if Terrell Suggs is returning for the 2020-21 NFL season but we’re including him on this list because he has yet to announce his retirement. The seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker was already headed for enshrinement before he added a second Super Bowl ring to his collection last season, when he joined the Kansas City Chiefs late in the year. His career is most closely tied with the Baltimore Ravens, however, where he was a constant presence on their defense from 2003-2018. Suggs is the NFL’s all-time leader in tackles for a loss — a stat that’s only been kept since 1999 — ranks eighth in career sacks and 11th in fumbles forced.
Frank Gore (RB)
Veteran rusher Frank Gore is another player who has built a Hall-of-Fame-level career despite being part of very few great teams. At a position that is known for breaking players down quickly, Gore has been an NFL starter for 15 seasons, posting nine 1,000-yard rushing seasons in that span, plus two more that were darn close. A true iron man, he’s missed only 14 games since 2005 and only two since 2011, despite playing arguably the most physically demanding position in football.
Gore has never led the league in rushing for a season, but he has chipped away at the record books, currently ranking third all-time for rushing attempts and rushing yards, which is enough to get him a gold jacket.
Julio Jones (WR)
In nine seasons of a stellar NFL career so far, Julio Jones has been elected to the Pro Bowl seven times, including in every season since 2014. His partnership with longtime Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has been one of the most prolific in history, giving them both strong cases for enshrinement — but we’re giving the nod to the receiver.
Jones has been historically great at his position, reeling in at least 1,000 receiving yards in seven of his nine seasons and having the second-best single season for a receiver in history, when he amassed 1,871 receiving yards in 2015. He’s already in the top 25 for career receiving yards, and he might only be halfway through his career.
Rob Gronkowski (TE)
Tight end is a notoriously difficult position at which to earn a Hall of Fame bid, with only nine of them being enshrined in Canton so far, but Rob Gronkowski is a lock to join the fraternity. His three Super Bowl victories with the New England Patriots are a huge part of his legacy, but he’s separated himself as one of the all-time great tight ends through his individual efforts. He’s posted four 1,000-yard receiving seasons and five 10-touchdown receiving seasons in his nine seasons in the league so far.
His career average of 68.4 receiving yards per game is the best in the history of the position, and he ranks third all-time among tight ends in touchdown catches, with more of those likely coming this year as he reunites with Tom Brady in Tampa Bay.
Aaron Rodgers (QB)
Being a two-time NFL most valuable player puts you on the fast track to a Hall of Fame bust, but Aaron Rodgers has done plenty more than that to bolster his case. For one thing, he led the Green Bay Packers, arguably the league’s most cherished franchise, to a Super Bowl win in 2010. On top of all that, the eight-time Pro Bowler has the statistical output that places him among the best to ever play the quarterback position. He ranks ahead of Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Dan Fouts for career passing yards and touchdown passes, and he’s got the best career passer rating in NFL history.
Rodgers should be a first-ballot selection for sure when he decides it’s time to retire.
Adrian Peterson (RB)
Former MVP and two-time Bert Bell Award winner Adrian Peterson will almost surely be adding a gold jacket to his collection of honors when he steps away from the field. He’s had eight 1,000-yard rushing seasons in 13 seasons so far, including the mind-blowing 2012-13 campaign with the Minnesota Vikings where he amassed 2,097 yards on the ground. That’s the second-best single season by any running back in history and it’s just one of many places where Peterson has left a lasting mark. He also ranks in the all-time top five for rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, but his most impressive figure might be the 97.3 rushing yards per game he averaged from 2007-2015.
The only thing that could hamper Peterson’s status as a likely first-ballot inductee is his 2014 indictment for child abuse, which stemmed from his use of a switch to discipline his 4-year-old son, leaving bruises on his body.
Russell Wilson (QB)
In just eight seasons in the league so far, Russell Wilson has already checked most of the boxes that lead to a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His outstanding play during the 2013-14 season led the Seattle Seahawks to their first Super Bowl win as a franchise, and he took them back again the next season, where they nearly won back-to-back crowns. His teams have been legitimate contenders every season he’s played, thanks to his steady leadership and prolific passing.
Wilson has never missed a game in his career so far and has the second-best career passer rating in NFL history, thanks to the fact that he’s averaged 28.4 touchdown passes to just 8.5 interceptions per season. He’ll only continue climbing the all-time record books in the many seasons he should have left.
Von Miller (LB)
There are only three active players with at least 100 career sacks, and Von Miller is the youngest of them by six years. The Denver Broncos linebacker has been a Pro Bowler in eight of the nine seasons he’s played so far, as well as a three-time All-Pro first-team selection. One of his crowning moments came during the 2015-16 season, when he bolstered the Denver defense en route to a Super Bowl win. He’s already in the top 25 for career sacks and the top 10 for tackles for loss and has already paved his way to join that proud tradition of legendary linebackers in Canton.
Jason Witten (TE)
If Jason Witten had stayed retired, he’d be just a few years away from that call telling him he’s made it into the Hall of Fame, but now he’ll have to wait a little longer. He stands as one of only two tight ends in history to have at least 1,000 catches in his career, with the other being first-ballot inductee Tony Gonzalez. The longtime Dallas Cowboys star also ranks just behind Gonzalez in career receiving yards at the position. Throw in his 11 Pro Bowl appearances and a Walter Payton Man of the Year Award and you’ve got a surefire gold jacket recipient.
Adam Vinatieri (K)
There are only two pure kickers currently in the Hall of Fame, and Adam Vinatieri will join their ranks as soon as he’s eligible. The veteran has done everything possible to make himself into a candidate for first-ballot induction. His rankings at the position in NFL history are nearly all unrivaled, as he ranks first all-time in points scored and field goals made and ranks second in extra points made and total games played. But it’s his four Super Bowl wins, including two that he won with clutch kicks in the final seconds, that will get him first-ballot treatment when the day comes.
J.J. Watt (DE)
When you’re dominant enough at your position to be named to the All-Pro first-team on five occasions, there’s a good chance you’re going to be a Hall of Famer, but J.J. Watt will undoubtedly be in Canton for other reasons. He and Lawrence Taylor — widely regarded as the greatest defensive player in football history — are the only two men to ever win NFL defensive player of the year honors three times, with Watt being the only one to ever win it unanimously. The fact that he’s extremely well-liked and has won the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award is just an added bonus to his stellar resume.
Antoine Bethea (S)
Veteran safety Antoine Bethea hasn’t been signed by anyone for the 2020-21 season, but he also hasn’t retired from the game, so we’re counting him as an active player. The longtime Indianapolis Colts star won a Super Bowl with the franchise in his rookie season in 2006-07, and he’s been a constant presence in NFL secondaries since then. Bethea ranks second among all active defensive players for career starts and is one of only 12 safeties in NFL history to have at least 200 starts. He also currently ranks 15th among all players for solo tackles with 995.
Bethea isn’t first-ballot material, but he’s done enough to merit a spot in the Hall of Fame at some point after he retires.
Richard Sherman (CB)
Another veteran defensive back who has singled himself out as one of the all-time greats is Richard Sherman. He was a cornerstone of that historically great Seahawks defense that helped the franchise win a Super Bowl in 2013-14 — and he’s played in the big game two other times since then, including last season with the 49ers. He’s a five-time Pro Bowler in nine seasons so far, as well as a three-time first-team All-Pro selection. He ranks ahead of Hall of Famers Ty Law and Troy Polamalu for career pass deflections and will continue to climb into the all-time top 20 for that statistic before he’s done.
Jason Peters (OL)
Jason Peters has been battering hopeful pass rushers for 16 years in the NFL, ever since breaking into the league with the Buffalo Bills in 2004. He’s been with the Philadelphia Eagles since 2009, where he’s been a mainstay at offensive tackle ever since. Despite a late-season injury forcing him to miss the biggest game of his life, Peters was a big part of the Eagles team that won the Super Bowl in 2017-18 and has long been seen as an off-the-field leader. His nine Pro Bowl appearances are especially impressive for a guy who was undrafted.
Ezekiel Elliott (RB)
He’s only been a professional football player for four years, but we think Ezekiel Elliott has already done enough to prove he’ll be worthy of a spot in Canton. He’s got more rushing yards in his first four seasons than contemporary Hall of Famers Curtis Martin, Edgerrin James and Thurman Thomas had at the same point in their careers. Elliott has led the league in rushing twice and has been named to the Pro Bowl three times already, all while playing in the most recognizable uniform in football.
The running back position is notorious for burning out its best stars, but if Elliott keeps up this kind of production for even just three or four more seasons, he’ll be a definite inductee.
Jimmy Graham (TE)
You could probably label Jimmy Graham a borderline Hall-of-Fame case, but we think he’s done enough to warrant serious consideration. In 10 seasons so far, he’s caught more touchdown passes than Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe and all-time great Jason Witten, all while playing in far fewer games than either of them so far. This five-time Pro Bowler is one of only six tight ends ever to have at least 1,000 career targets, and he’s already in the top 10 at the position for receiving yards.
Aaron Donald (DT)
Of all the young defensive players in the league today, Aaron Donald seems to be on the fastest track to the Hall of Fame. In six seasons in the NFL, he’s been named to six Pro Bowls and a remarkable five first-team All-Pro squads. He’s also been named NFL defensive player of the year twice already and he’s not even 30 yet. He’s simply been a pass-rushing monster for the Los Angeles Rams, missing only two games since they used a first-round pick on him in 2014 and averaging 12 sacks per season. Since 1982, only one defensive tackle has earned more sacks than Donald in his first six seasons, and it was the legendary Reggie White.
If that’s the company you’re keeping, you’ll be wearing a gold jacket one day.
Cameron Wake (LB/DE)
Cameron Wake is another decorated NFL veteran who is still awaiting a contract for the 2020-21 season, but he has yet to put in his retirement papers. The five-time Pro Bowler would be infinitely more celebrated if he hadn’t spent all but one of his 11 seasons so far with the Miami Dolphins during a truly dismal period for the franchise. He’s played in only a single playoff game in his career, but don’t hold that against him because he was averaging 12 sacks per 16 games with Miami from 2010-2017.
Wake is part of the 100-sack club and has earned more of them than Hall of Famers Andre Tippett and Warren Sapp, despite playing in fewer seasons so far.
Bobby Wagner (LB)
The linebacker position is one of the deepest in the Hall of Fame, and Bobby Wagner will make a great addition one day. In just eight seasons so far, he’s accomplished more than the vast majority of NFL defensive players will do in a career. He’s been a six-time consecutive Pro Bowler and five-time selection for the All-Pro first team. He was also a major part of the Seattle Seahawks defense that helped the franchise win its first Super Bowl.
If he keeps up his pace of averaging more than 80 solo tackles a season for just a few more years, he’ll easily break into the top 30 for that statistic, putting him alongside some real legends.
LeSean McCoy (RB)
Where other running backs have burned bright and faded out quickly, LeSean McCoy has been steadily grinding since 2009. Aside from leading the league in rushing touchdowns in 2011 and rushing yards in 2013, “Shady” has kept a lower profile than the other running backs we’ve highlighted on this list. He posted six 1,000-yard rushing seasons from 2010-17, averaging more than 106 yards from scrimmage per game for that stretch.
McCoy should pass Hall of Famers O.J. Simpson and John Riggins in career yardage by the time he retires, and the Super Bowl ring he added as a reserve player with the Kansas City Chiefs last season makes his case pretty tantalizing.
Zack Martin (OL)
At 29 years old, Zack Martin is another one of the younger guys we’re making a bet on, but he’s put himself on the path to Canton so far. The Cowboys right guard has been elected to the Pro Bowl in all six of his seasons in the NFL so far, which seems to justify the team using a first-round pick on him in 2014. What’s even more impressive is that he’s been selected as a first-team All-Pro four times in his first six seasons, putting him alongside Hall of Famers Anthony Munoz and Larry Allen as the only offensive linemen in history to be able to make that claim.
Geno Atkins (DT)
When you play for a small-market franchise that’s had as little postseason success as the Cincinnati Bengals, your career tends to get overlooked in the national conversation. Geno Atkins is a prime example of this, as he’s been remarkably steady ever since he was drafted in 2010. He’s an eight-time Pro Bowler who has only missed seven games in his entire career, and they were all during the 2013-14 season. All that time on the field has put him in the top 40 for tackles for loss, and he’s on pace to record 100 sacks if he keeps it up for at least three more years.
Of course, the Bengals have had their fair share of should-be Hall of Famers get snubbed, so Atkins could be in for a disappointment.
Calais Campbell (DE)
Another recipient of the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, Calais Campbell has built up quite the resume in 12 seasons of NFL service so far. He has seemed to get better with age, being named to five Pro Bowls in the past six seasons. Campbell has missed only six games since debuting in 2008-09 and has punished plenty of offensive players in that time. He’s put himself at sixth all-time in tackles for loss and is knocking on the door of the 100-sack club, which he should join in the next two seasons.
After spending his entire career with the Arizona Cardinals and Jacksonville Jaguars, he’s now playing for the Baltimore Ravens, and it represents his best chance so far to earn that elusive Super Bowl ring.
Marshawn Lynch (RB)
It remains to be seen if Marshawn Lynch will be signed by anyone this year or if he’ll retire yet again, but, for now at least, he’s an active NFL player. The master of “Beast Mode” was a lynchpin (pun intended) of the Seahawks teams that dominated in the 2010s, giving the team 101 rushing yards per game during back-to-back playoff runs to the Super Bowl in 2013-14 and 2014-15. Lynch is a five-time Pro Bowler and already ranks 26th for career rushing attempts and 16th for rushing touchdowns.
Plus, the 67-yard rush he broke off against the Saints during the 2011 playoffs might go down as the single greatest run of the century.
Duane Brown (LT)
Boy, this list is just loaded with Seattle Seahawks players. Duane Brown joined the franchise in 2017, after more than nine seasons anchoring the offensive line for the Houston Texans. Brown’s been elected to four Pro Bowls so far and has averaged just over four penalties per season, which has bolstered his reputation as one of the greats. Legendary Seahawks offensive tackle Walter Jones has said Brown is “on the path” to joining him in the Hall of Fame. We couldn’t agree more.
Patrick Mahomes (QB)
OK, we know he’s only been a starter for two seasons, but it doesn’t feel that bold to declare Patrick Mahomes as a future Hall of Famer. The first couple years of his career have been historically great, as he’s thrown 76 touchdowns and just 17 interceptions in his first two years under center. At the same point in their careers, Peyton Manning had thrown 52 touchdowns to 43 interceptions, Tom Brady had thrown 46 touchdowns to 26 interceptions, and Drew Brees had thrown 28 touchdowns to 31 interceptions. And none of those guys had already won a Super Bowl or been named NFL MVP by that point.
Mark our words, Mahomes will be a first-ballot selection after he retires in about 20 years.