The Pro Football Hall of Fame is filled with busts of players who will never be forgotten by the fans who watched them do their job. In the history of the institution in Canton, Ohio, there have been some miscalculations, however. We’ve already looked at some of the most overrated players in football history, many of whom somehow made it into the Hall of Fame, but now it’s time to look at the other side of that issue.
For whatever reason, the following men have been snubbed by Hall of Fame voters despite having incredible careers that were actually better than some of the players who’ve been enshrined. Which of these players do you think deserves a gold jacket most?
Donovan McNabb — QB (1999-2011)
The greatest quarterback in the history of one of the NFL’s most storied franchises has been criminally underrated by football fans and the keepers of the Hall of Fame. Donovan McNabb was lights out during the 2000s, throwing for at least 3,000 yards in eight seasons from 2000-2010 and posting a career record of 98-62-1 as a starter. He’s one of only four quarterbacks in league history to amass 30,000 passing yards, 200 passing touchdowns, 3,000 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns — and the other three are in Canton. McNabb finished his career with a better passer rating than Jim Kelly, more passing yards than Kurt Warner and more game-winning drives than Terry Bradshaw.
Ken Anderson — QB (1971-1986)
The go-to answer for many football nerds when they’re asked about players who’ve been overlooked by Hall of Fame voters is Kenny Anderson. Maybe it’s because he spent his entire career playing in small-market Cincinnati or because he never won a ring, but regardless the reason he’s been left out, Anderson deserves to be there alongside the other enshrined passers. He led the league in passer rating four times during his 16-season career and posted a career completion percentage of 59.3, which is better than celebrated quarterbacks like Dan Fouts and John Elway. According to Pro Football Reference’s vaunted approximate value statistic, Anderson is the most valuable eligible player in NFL history not to be in the Hall of Fame.
Ronde Barber — CB (1997-2012)
No defensive back in NFL history has started as many consecutive games as Ronde Barber, as this iron man suited up for 215 straight games from 2000-2012. But it wasn’t just that Barber was virtually invincible, he was also a total beast. He and Charles Woodson are the only players in history to grab at least 40 interceptions and rack up at least 20 sacks. Once Barber grabbed a pick, he knew what to do with it as well, as his 14 career non-offensive touchdowns are the fourth-most in history and the most among eligible players who aren’t in the Hall of Fame.
The Super Bowl ring he earned as a major part of that fantastic 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense should’ve fast-tracked his spot in Canton but he’s still waiting to get in.
Corey Dillon — RB (1997-2006)
Corey Dillon was one of the most dependable rushers at the turn of the millennium and, frankly, it’s astounding that he’s not in the Hall of Fame. In his final of four Pro Bowl seasons, in 2004, he led the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl win by rushing for more than 1,600 yards, plus an additional 292 yards in three playoff games.
That was just a punctuation mark for Dillon, who’d amassed at least 1,100 rushing yards in every season from 1997-2002. More than a decade after his career ended, Dillon is still ranked in the top 20 for rushing yards and touchdowns and his average of 74.9 rushing yards per game is better than Gayle Sayers and Tony Dorsett.
Torry Holt — WR (1999-2009)
When you think of the St. Louis Rams “Greatest Show on Turf” teams of the early 2000s, you probably think of Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk and Torry Holt. The first two guys are in the Hall of Fame but Holt is still waiting on his invitation for some reason. He was a blast to watch, winning a Super Bowl and making seven Pro Bowls in an 11-season career and finishing his tenure as one of the most efficient wide receivers in history. His lifetime average of 77.4 receiving yards per game is the ninth best in history and the highest mark of any eligible receiver who’s not in Canton.
Holt is also in the top 20 for career receiving yards but outside the top 20 for career receptions, showing that he made the most of his opportunities.
Jeff Saturday — C (1999-2012)
It took a genius center to keep up with Peyton Manning’s constant audibles and no-huddle offense during his heyday in Indianapolis and that’s exactly what Jeff Saturday was. From 2000-2011, Saturday missed six total starts and landed himself in the Pro Bowl six times. During the Colts’ 2006 Super Bowl season, he anchored Manning’s offensive line for all 20 games the team played between the regular season and playoffs. Along with Kenny Anderson, Saturday is one of only two eligible players in the top 50 Pro Football Reference’s weighted approximate value ranking that isn’t in the Hall of Fame.
Zach Thomas — LB (1996-2008)
It’s one thing to be a Pro Bowl mainstay — Zach Thomas was picked for seven of them in his career — but quite another to be an All-Pro mainstay. Thomas was a first-team All-Pro pick an incredible five times at as competitive a position as linebacker. With that kind of long-term dominance, you’d think he’d be a lock for the Hall of Fame, but Thomas is still waiting to be voted in. His snub probably has to do with the fact that he played for some bad Dolphins teams for most of his career and never got to make a deep run in the playoffs — which, obviously, was not his fault.
Jimmy Smith — WR (1992-2005)
As a franchise, the Jacksonville Jaguars still don’t have a former player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Jimmy Smith would be the logical first choice for that honor. The stud wide receiver joined the club during its inaugural season in 1995 and stayed with them until his retirement in 2005, making five consecutive Pro Bowls from 1997-2001. From 1996-2005, he caught for at least 1,000 yards in all but one season — and it was the one where he missed four games. Smith’s career average of 69 receiving yards per game ranks him in the top 25 in NFL history, where he also ranks for career receptions and total receiving yards.
Jessie Tuggle — LB (1987-2000)
If I asked you to name the NFL’s all-time leader in tackles, you’d probably guess Hall of Famers like Ray Lewis or Junior Seau but it’s actually Jessie Tuggle. His 1,640 career solo tackles are the most ever and are nearly 100 more than Lewis, who is second, and his career was three seasons shorter. Not bad for a guy who was undrafted out of tiny Valdosta State College. Tuggle also sits at second in history for fumble return touchdowns and is in the top 30 for fumble return yards. He’s a Falcons legend, spending his entire career in Atlanta, and he should be celebrated in the Hall of Fame.
Isaac Bruce — WR (1994-2009)
Like Torry Holt, another dynamic receiver who shined during the reign of the St. Louis Rams was Isaac Bruce. This irreplaceable member of “The Greatest Show on Turf” had eight 1,000-yard receiving seasons between 1995 and 2006. His career total of 15,208 receiving yards puts him at fifth all time — the most of any eligible player not in the Hall of Fame — and is higher than Hall of Famers like Tim Brown and Cris Carter, neither of whom won a Super Bowl. During the Rams 1999 championship season, Bruce was a beast, catching for more than 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns in the regular season and averaging 105.7 receiving yards per game during the playoffs.
Steve McNair — QB (1995-2007)
Steve “Air” McNair wasn’t once named the NFL’s MVP for no reason. He stunned football fans during his 13-season career, averaging more than 194 passing yards per game, plus he averaged more than 30 rushing yards per game from 1996-2002. He ranks in the NFL’s all-time top 50 for career passing yards and passer rating, while sitting at 90th for career interceptions, showing he took better care of the ball than many of the guys in the Hall of Fame.
In fact, he only threw 119 picks compared to the 211 combined touchdowns he contributed to his teams, including the 1999 Titans team that ended up being one yard shy of tying the Super Bowl after McNair led a heroic, 88-yard march down the field.
Hines Ward — WR (1998-2011)
It was either the flashy smile, the bald head or his reputation as a dirty player — but Hines Ward rubbed a lot of people the wrong way during his brilliant NFL career. He spent his entire 14-season career in Pittsburgh, winning two Super Bowls and being named to four consecutive Pro Bowls from 2001-2004. Ward was Ben Roethlisberger’s go-to target for many years, averaging more than 1,000 receiving yards per season from 2001-2009, while never leading the league in any of the major stat categories for wide outs.
Drew Bledsoe — QB (1993-2006)
It’s unfair that Drew Bledsoe’s legacy will always be linked to his former backup Tom Brady’s because the elder passer put together a fantastic career. In 14 seasons as an NFL quarterback, Bledsoe racked up more total passing yards than guys like Joe Montana and Dan Fouts and more passing yards per game than Montana and John Elway. Speaking of Fouts, who is himself a Hall of Famer, it could easily be argued that Bledsoe had a better career in every way from a statistical standpoint. He certainly did enough on the field to earn a place in Canton and his place in football lore is legendary because of his role in helping launch the Patriots dynasty.
Sterling Sharpe — WR (1988-1994)
Packers great Sterling Sharpe only spent seven seasons in the NFL before a neck injury forced him to retire, but they were electrifying. He didn’t miss a single start in that span and led the league in receptions three times, showing he was one of the sport’s great workhorse wide outs. He was elected to five Pro Bowls and was chosen as a first-team All-Pro three times during a career that overlapped with legends like Jerry Rice, Cris Carter and Michael Irvin. Sharpe was every bit as good as those guys and he proved it by averaging 72.6 receiving yards per game for his career, which is 18th-best in history.
Alan Faneca — G (1998-2010)
From 2000-2010, Alan Faneca missed just one start and his blocking capabilities on the left side of the Pittsburgh Steelers line were instrumental in making Ben Roethlisberger a surefire Hall of Famer. Faneca deserves a gold jacket as well, if only for the fact that he was a six-time first-team All-Pro Pick and that he made nine straight Pro Bowls from 2001-2009. Faneca was also a big part of that 2005 Pittsburgh Super Bowl team, giving his case an extra boost. Perhaps the most incredible stat of his career, however, is that he was only called for holding four times in 206 games played, according to Pro Football Reference.
Edgerrin James — RB (1999-2009)
The career of Edgerrin James took off like a rocket as he gained more than 3,200 rushing yards in his first two seasons. While he didn’t keep up that insane pace, he continued to carve through defenses for much of his 11 seasons in the NFL. From 1999-2007, James averaged more than 1,600 total yards from scrimmage per season. He was somehow an All-Pro pick just once and a four-time Pro Bowler but “Edge” still ranks in the top 20 for rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, while his average of 82.7 rushing yards per game is better than Hall of Famers like Emmitt Smith, Earl Campbell and LaDainian Tomlinson.
Brian Mitchell — KR (1990-2003)
No one is in the Hall of Fame solely for their work as a kick returner but Brian Mitchell easily could’ve been the first to earn that honor. In 14 seasons with the Redskins, Eagles and Giants, Mitchell racked up the most punt and kick returns in NFL history by a margin of more than 200. His total of 23,330 all-purpose yards ranks second in history, which could’ve also landed him in Canton. Add in the fact that he won a Super Bowl and you’ve got a solid case for enshrinement because of his dominance at his position.
Lemar Parrish — DB (1970-1982)
In 13 seasons as an NFL defensive back, Lemar Parrish was voted to the Pro Bowl eight times and selected as an All-Pro five times, three of which were as a first-team selection. It could be argued that he was the best cover corner of the 1970s and he was also a great punt returner. Parrish contributed 13 non-offensive touchdowns during his career, which is tied for the fifth-most in history and was the all-time mark for nearly 20 years.
He spent nearly his entire career with the Bengals and Redskins, however, which meant he only got to play in three playoff games and his exposure to the national audience was limited, but those are silly reasons for a player this great to not be in the Hall of Fame.
Herschel Walker — RB (1986-1997)
He’s more celebrated for his incredible college football career but Herschel Walker also had a pro football career that could easily land him in the Hall of Fame. In an NFL career that lasted 12 seasons, Walker racked up more than 18,000 all-purpose yards, which gives him the 12th most in history. He also ranks in the top 50 for career rushing yards and rushing touchdowns — and that’s after he spent the first three seasons of his professional football life playing in the failed USFL, where he rushed for more than 5,500 yards and 54 touchdowns.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame isn’t tied strictly to the NFL, so there’s no question Walker should be in it for what he did across those two leagues in a remarkable career.
Matt Stover — K (1990-2009)
There are only two pure kickers in the Hall of Fame and neither of them were as good as Matt Stover. The longtime Baltimore Ravens player finished his career having made more than 83% of his field goals and 99.5% of his extra point attempts across 19 seasons. That field goal percentage is in the top 25 all time and his extra point percentage is the fifth-best mark ever. The fact that Stover also won a Super Bowl with the Ravens in 2000 makes him an excellent candidate to get a gold jacket.
Henry Ellard — WR (1983-1998)
Los Angeles Rams great Henry Ellard was such an excellent athlete that he qualified for the Olympic trials in 1992 in track and field, right in the middle of his NFL career. On the football field, he was pure lightning, collecting nearly 16,000 total yards as a wide receiver and kick returner across 16 seasons. He’s near the top of all kinds of important all-time statistical categories, including 15th in receiving yards, 24th in all-purpose yards and 32nd in total catches. But the fact that he averaged 16.6 yards per touch for his career is mind-blowing and puts him at second all time on a list where everyone else in the top five is in the Hall of Fame.
Randall Cunningham — QB (1985-2001)
Another quarterback who was ahead of his time and as good as any of his Hall-of-Fame colleagues from the same era was Randall Cunningham. His passing numbers are right there with any of the best passers of the late 1980s and 1990s but he did things with his legs that few quarterbacks have been able to match. Cunningham broke pretty much every rushing record at the quarterback position during his career and averaged 30.6 rushing yards per game, which is third all time at the position among guys who played at least 10 seasons.
Jim Marshall — DE (1960-1979)
In Minnesota, Jim Marshall is treated as one of the all-time greats with a retired jersey and a place in the Vikings ring of honor, but he deserves a bust in Canton as well. The indefatigable defensive end did not miss a single game from 1961-1979, giving him 277 career starts, which are the most for any defensive player in NFL history. Everyone else in the top 10 of that category is either in the Hall of Fame or headed there with certainty, yet Marshall has remained unrecognized. He was also instrumental in helping the Vikings win an NFL championship in 1969 as part of the legendary “Purple People Eaters” defensive line.
London Fletcher — LB (1998-2013)
Four-time Pro Bowler London Fletcher has only been eligible for the Hall of Fame for one year so far but we’re calling him overlooked because he should’ve been a first-ballot pick. Like Jim Marshall, Fletcher proved he was basically made of steel at an incredibly physical position, missing just one start from 1999-2013 and retiring with the NFL’s all-time record for consecutive starts by a linebacker. Fletcher is also sixth all time in solo tackles and second in combined tackles. Toss in the fact that he won a Super Bowl with the St. Louis Rams in 1999 and you’ve got a very solid case for enshrinement.
Ken Riley — CB (1969-1983)
Yet another incredible player who has been denied a Hall of Fame bust likely for spending his entire career in small-market Cincinnati is Ken Riley. One of the premiere shutdown cornerbacks of his era, Riley played 15 seasons in the league and wasn’t selected a first-team All-Pro until his final year despite averaging five interceptions per 16 games for his entire career. Riley’s 65 career picks are the fifth-most in history and the highest total of anyone not in the Hall of Fame. It’s a crime that he’s not represented in Canton.