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Who Are the Future Hall of Famers Playing in 2012?

Last night’s Hall of Fame ceremony featured Willie Roaf, Chris Doleman, Dermontti Dawson, Cortez Kennedy, Jack Butler, and Curtis Martin joining the stars of Canton. It was a solid class, without the star quarterback sizzle, but featuring several guys who were more than deserving of going in prior to 2012.

So, which players that are going to take the field in 2012 are most likely to be joining them in delivering speeches while wearing mustard-colored jackets some day? Probably more than you think. For example, if I look back at the 1990 season, 46 players who played that season are now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Others are still finalists (Cris Carter, Andre Reed, Charles Haley, to name a few) and could expand that. It is a fair estimate that we will have around 50 players from the current NFL season eventually get honored with selection for Canton.

That may sound like a lot, but it still only represents about the top 2-3% of all players. For those that want to limit it to the Jerry Rice and Reggie White types, how would you like it if your profession limited honors and career recognition to the top 3%?

So, I thought I would do just a quick thought exercise to list the players who might be in someday. Using that 1990 season as a guide, there were 14 players who had already played 10+ seasons by then, and were basically proven. Another 10 had played between 7 and 9 seasons, 8 of them between 4 to 6 years, and 12 had 3 or fewer years of experience (1989 was a really strong class). We can use those as guides as we go down the list. Here are my rough thoughts.

Let’s start with the “Sure Things”. These are guys I am fairly confident will get in without much difficulty, and I expect most to be first ballot types.

In the 10+ years of experience group, we’ve got Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ray Lewis, Drew Brees, Brian Urlacher, Tony Gonzalez, Champ Bailey, Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu. That’s nine. You may think I am missing some, and yes there are others that will get in. We’ll start there.

In the 7 to 9 years group, Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning are almost sure things now. Two titles each, and better careers than say, a Jim Plunkett, so there career accomplishments should be enough once they are done. Jared Allen, DeMarcus Ware, and Larry Fitzgerald are all pretty close to sure things even though they have less than 10 years in the league as well.

That gives us 14. We still have 36 to go. So let’s go to the guys likely to get in. All of these guys will have a good chance, though you never know how the winds of public opinion will change, or the end of their careers will go.

In the 4 to 6 year group, Patrick Willis and Darrelle Revis are among the best at their positions at a young age. Both should project as sure Hall of Famers with a few more seasons.

For those with 7 to 9 years of experience, Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers at the quarterback position will have strong cases with a few more seasons. Haloti Ngata and Vince Wilfork will need to be good for a few more years but will garner consideration. Jahri Evans is on pace early as a guard. Maurice Jones-Drew needs a couple more top seasons, and moves into the running back consideration.

The 10+ years group has plenty more names, and I tend to think will be overrepresented, probably topping more than 15 current players. We’ve already listed 9. Ronde Barber, Antonio Gates and Kevin Williams should be fairly easy choices as well. Several defensive linemen will get consideration, though some may cancel each other out. Julius Peppers, Richard Seymour and Dwight Freeney will all be among finalist discussions in years to come. That already has us at 15 among the older group. Add in Charles Woodson, Steve Hutchinson, Jason Witten, Nnamdi Asomugha, Andre Johnson, and James Harrison. I don’t think all of those get in, but I think over half do. Let’s say 4 more.

Now, we are up to 19 older players, and 32 total. We still have 18 to go.

We’ll go back to the draft classes of 2007 to 2009. Calvin Johnson looks like a beast. Joe Thomas is one of the best left tackles. Mario Williams isn’t there yet, but I think still has plenty of good years ahead of him. Adrian Peterson is close, probably just needs to come back with another top season at some point. Jake Long has a good chance as well.

Up to 37 spots taken. So let’s turn to the youngest crowd. There will probably be about 10-12 guys from the last four draft classes. Clay Matthews looks to be off to the best start, but there is plenty to go. Cam Newton had a great start. Arian Foster needs several more top seasons. Plenty of guys will emerge. Most Hall of Famers come from the top of the draft, but enough come from elsewhere. Between Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III and Trent Richardson, they each probably have less than a 10% chance. There will probably be 3-4 from this class, though.

So let’s set aside 10 spots for all those unproven players from the last three draft classes. That leaves us with 2 slots.

Nnamdi Asomugha, Roddy White, Ray Rice, Chris Johnson, Carl Nicks, Lance Briggs, and Devin Hester are names on the remaining short list. Maybe a QB like Matthew Stafford or Matt Ryan plays well in their late 20′s and moves into that group–you can never count out a QB from emerging. I mean, how differently would we view Tony Romo if Dallas went to a Super Bowl and he had an all pro year? It looks like I’ve gone over. I better stop there. It’s hard to find the dividing line once you start, but the lesson is this. There are a lot of Hall of Famers out there on the field. They just won’t be wearing mustard yellow just yet.

[photo via US Presswire]

 

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