Buying or Selling NFL's 50 Best Players as Eventual Hall of Fame Inductees

Nick Kostos@@thekostosContributor IJuly 30, 2014

Buying or Selling NFL's 50 Best Players as Eventual Hall of Fame Inductees

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    This Sunday, the NFL will induct seven new players into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

    And there are a number of players currently playing who will one day join them in football immortality.

    Using Bleacher Report's NFL 1000 rankings for the league's top 50 playersas compiled by Bleacher Report's Matt Miller—I ascertained whether each player would one day be enshrined in Canton, Ohio.

    A number of factors went into each decision. While some players (think: Tom Brady and Peyton Manning) are no-brainers, others present a complex conundrum.

    There are bona fide stars who have only authored one or two Hall of Fame-caliber seasons; is it safe to project them to make the hall? And how about players who possess Hall of Fame talent but can't avoid the injury bug?

    Past inductions at each player's position also went into the decisions, as resumes can be compared to each other.

    It's time to buy or sell the NFL's best 50 players as eventual Hall of Fame inductees.

No. 50: Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Credentials

    • Six NFL seasons
    • 2008 Offensive Rookie of the Year
    • Two-time Pro Bowler (2010, 2012)
    • 63.7% completion, 23,472 passing yards, 153 passing touchdowns, 77 interceptions

     

    Analysis

    Through six seasons, Matt Ryan is already arguably the best quarterback in the history of Atlanta Falcons. He's led the club to four playoff appearances and brought the team to the cusp of Super Bowl XLVII.

    He's only thrown for over 30 touchdowns in a single season once (2012, with 32), and only has one playoff win on his resume. He's thrown for nine touchdown passes and seven interceptions in five playoff starts.

    Ryan is only 29 years old, and if he plays for another seven to eight seasons, he could potentially end up authoring statistics worthy of the Hall of Fame. However, right now, it's difficult to imagine Ryan ascending to football immortality; he just hasn't kicked his game into that extra gear.

    Verdict: SELL

No. 49: Cleveland Browns WR Josh Gordon

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    Credentials

    • Two NFL seasons
    • One-time Pro Bowler (2013)
    • One-time First Team All-Pro (2013)
    • 137 catches, 2,451 yards, 14 touchdowns

     

    Analysis

    The Hall of Fame case for Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon is a curious one.

    Based on pure talent alone, Gordon is ticketed for Canton. He dominated the NFL in his second season, leading the league in receiving yards (1,646) despite only playing in 14 games.

    But it's unclear whether Gordon can be counted on to stay out of trouble long enough to put together a career worthy of the Hall of Fame.

    Gordon, who is reportedly facing a one-year suspension for multiple violations of the league's substance-abuse policy, is set to appeal, per John Breech of CBSSports.com. If there were a Hall of Fame for knuckleheads, Gordon would be elected on the first ballot.

    If not for the off-field problems, I would have zero issue projecting Gordon as a Hall of Famer. But with his future playing prospects appearing nebulous at best, there's no way I can do it.

    Verdict: SELL

No. 48: Chicago Bears WR Alshon Jeffery

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Credentials

    • Two NFL seasons
    • One-time Pro Bowler (2013)
    • 113 catches, 1,788 yards, 10 touchdowns

     

    Analysis

    Chicago Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery had a sensational sophomore campaign, hauling in 89 receptions and seven touchdown grabs. 

    He's a physical specimen (6'4", 230 lbs) and projects to dominate in coach Marc Trestman's offense with quarterback Jay Cutler lobbing him the football.

    One factor that could work against Jeffery is the amount of talent on Chicago's offense, as Cutler also has receiver Brandon Marshall, running back Matt Forte and tight end Martellus Bennett to target in the passing attack. But there's no doubt Jeffery is an ascending player.

    He's just not yet a Hall of Famer.

    Verdict: SELL

No. 47: Chicago Bears WR Brandon Marshall

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Credentials

    • Eight NFL Seasons
    • Five-time Pro Bowler (2008-2009, 2011-2013)
    • One-time First-Team All-Pro (2012)
    • 712 receptions, 9,050 yards, 57 touchdowns

     

    Analysis

    While I'm not ready to induct Jeffery into the Hall of Fame, I'm comfortable placing his batterymate, Chicago Bears receiver Brandon Marshall, into the hallowed halls of Canton.

    Marshall has been an absolute stud throughout his career and has entered the rarefied air of true greatness over the past two seasons in the Windy City.

    His rapport with Cutler is superb, and a third consecutive season with 100-plus receptions is likely. At age 30 and still in tremendous physical condition, Marshall has the potential to end up with truly eye-popping statistics.

    Plus, he's completely flipped the narrative on his career. Once thought of as a troublemaker, Marshall has evolved into a leader in Chicago, both on the field and in the community. 

    If his career continues along this arc, he'll be a Hall of Famer.

    Verdict: BUY

No. 46: New England Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Credentials 

    • Four NFL seasons
    • Two-time Pro Bowler (2011-2012)
    • One-time First-Team All-Pro (2011)
    • 226 receptions, 3,255 yards, 42 receiving touchdowns 

     

    Analysis

    As it concerns the Hall of Fame candidacy of New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, health is the largest obstacle standing in his way.

    Gronkowski is coming off a torn ACL and has missed 14 games over the past two seasons. But when fully healthy and performing at the height of his powers, the man known as Gronk is a transcendent talent.

    With 42 touchdown catches in only 44 games, Gronkowski is the ultimate red-zone weapon. If he can stay on the field and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady plays for a few more seasons, Gronkowski's touchdown totals could end up trespassing into the theater of the absurd.

    But unfortunately for Gronkowski, it seems as if he cannot avoid the injury bug. I want to pull the trigger and say he'll make the Hall of Fame, but his myriad physical maladies mean I just can't do it.

    Verdict: SELL

No. 45: Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Credentials

    • Three NFL seasons
    • 2011 Offensive Rookie of the Year
    • Two-time Pro Bowler (2011, 2013)
    • 59.8% completion, 11,299 passing yards, 64 passing touchdowns, 42 interceptions, 28 rushing touchdowns

     

    Analysis

    Since being selected with the No. 1 overall pick of the 2011 draft, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has taken the league by storm.

    And last year, he finally married his unbelievable physical talent with winning football, as he led the Panthers to a 12-4 record, NFC South title and a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs. However, Newton's Panthers fell to the 49ers, leaving him without a postseason victory.

    The Panthers' lack of receiving talent will probably hurt Newton's passing numbers this year, but his extraordinary rushing talent could make up for it. 

    If Newton continues to evolve and can lead the Panthers on a few deep postseason runs, he could potentially be a Hall of Famer. But right now, it's too early to make that call.

    Verdict: SELL

No. 44: Denver Broncos G Louis Vasquez

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Credentials

    • Five NFL seasons
    • One-time Pro Bowler (2013)
    • One-time First-Team All-Pro (2013)

     

    Analysis

    In the modern era, only eight pure guards have been elected to the Hall of Fame.

    That means Denver Broncos guard Louis Vasquez is facing an uphill climb, especially when considering he's only authored one season worthy of Canton (2013).

    Vasquez was magnificent last year, as he finished as Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) third-ranked guard.

    But unless he plays at an All-Pro level for another decade, it's unlikely Vasquez will be enshrined.

    Verdict: SELL

No. 43: Philadelphia Eagles OT Jason Peters

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Credentials

    • 10 NFL seasons
    • Six-time Pro Bowler (2007-2011, 2013)
    • Two-time First-Team All-Pro (2011, 2013)

     

    Analysis

    Philadelphia Eagles tackle Jason Peters has come a long way since being signed as an undrafted free agent by the Bills in 2004.

    Peters skyrocketed to stardom in Western New York before joining the Eagles prior to the 2010 season, and he's continued to play like a superstar in the City of Brotherly Love.

    If Peters can stay healthy, he's going to keep racking up Pro Bowl appearances and spots on the All-Pro team, whether first or second string. And given that he's the key cog in the blocking machine of coach Chip Kelly's explosive offense, he'll only continue to gain positive notoriety.

    Don't be shocked when Peters is inducted into the Hall of Fame. He's that good.

    Verdict: BUY

No. 42: Cleveland Browns LT Joe Thomas

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Credentials 

    • Seven NFL seasons
    • Seven-time Pro Bowler (2007-2013)
    • Four-time First-Team All-Pro (2009-2001, 2013) 

     

    Analysis

    Cleveland Browns tackle Joe Thomas has been in the NFL for seven seasons.

    In those seven seasons, he has been voted to the Pro Bowl seven times. He's also been named to the All-Pro first team four times. 

    If that isn't a Hall of Fame arc, I don't know what is.

    Thomas is perhaps the best pass-blocker in the NFL, and his durability is off the charts, as he's never missed a start (112 consecutive).

    If he continues to stay healthy, he's a lock for the Hall of Fame.

    Verdict: BUY

No. 41: Miami Dolphins DT Randy Starks

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    Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

    Credentials

    • 10 NFL seasons
    • Two-time Pro Bowler (2010, 2012)
    • 36.5 career sacks

     

    Analysis

    Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Randy Starks has authored a nice NFL career, accruing 36.5 sacks over the course of 10 seasons to go along with two Pro Bowl nods.

    But is he a Hall of Fame talent? Most certainly not. 

    That's not a knock on Starks, who is a very good player. But not once have I (or any other competent football analyst) ever thought of him as an all-time great. 

    Unless he suddenly morphs into an amalgamation of Cortez Kennedy and Bob Lilly and plays another 10 seasons, Starks has a zero percent chance of making the hall.

    Verdict: SELL

No. 40: Detroit Lions DT Ndamukong Suh

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Credentials

    • Four NFL seasons
    • 2010 Defensive Rookie of the Year 
    • Three-time Pro Bowler (2010, 2012-2013)
    • Two-time First-Team All-Pro (2010, 2013)
    • 27.5 career sacks

     

    Analysis

    Since being selected with the No. 2 overall pick of the 2010 draft, Ndamukong Suh has been a dominant force in the middle of the Detroit Lions defensive line.

    Now 27, the 2010 Defensive Rookie of the Year has gotten better with age, as he finished 2013 ranked as Pro Football Focus' second-best defensive tackle, his finest placement to date.

    Suh has been prone to hot-headed behavior on the field, but he wouldn't be the first Hall of Famer to carry that distinction.

    He's is on a Hall of Fame pace, but with his contract set to expire after the season, there's a good chance Suh will have to build on his resume with another team. That shouldn't stop him, though.

    Verdict: BUY

No. 39: New England Patriots S Devin McCourty

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Credentials

    • Four NFL seasons
    • One-time Pro Bowler (2010)
    • 15 career interceptions

     

    Analysis

    New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty has had an interesting NFL career.

    After being drafted as a cornerback, McCourty played very well as a greenhorn but then fell off, precipitating a move to safety, where he has dazzled for coach Bill Belichick. Last season, he ranked as Pro Football Focus' No. 1 player at the position.

    McCourty has a chance, and the fact that he plays on a perennial playoff team certainly helps matters. But he'll need another decade of spectacular play, and it's unreasonable to forecast something of that magnitude.

    Verdict: SELL

No. 38: Philadelphia Eagles G Evan Mathis

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Credentials

    • Nine NFL seasons
    • One-time Pro Bowler (2013)
    • One-time First-Team All-Pro (2013)

     

    Analysis

    Much like Denver's Vasquez, history is working against Philadelphia Eagles guard Evan Mathis making the Hall of Fame.

    While Mathis has been rated by Pro Football Focus as the NFL's top guard for the past three seasons, he only has one Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro appearance to his name (both in 2013). And he's a late bloomer, as he didn't truly hit his stride until his seventh season (2011).

    At age 32, Mathis would need to make the Pro Bowl for another six to seven seasons to merit serious consideration. That's not outside the realm of possibility, but it isn't likely, either.

    Verdict: SELL

No. 37: San Francisco 49ers TE Vernon Davis

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Credentials

    • Eight NFL seasons
    • Two-time Pro Bowler (2009, 2013)
    • 397 receptions, 5,201 receiving yards, 53 receiving touchdowns

     

    Analysis

    Once considered to be immature and a potential waste of unbridled talent, San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis has emerged as one of the finest tight ends of the last 25 years.

    In fact, an argument can easily be constructed that if he had been the recipient of better quarterback play early in his career, Davis would have more than two Pro Bowl berths. 

    Davis has been a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, and he's been superb since 2009. And in three postseason trips (2011-2013), Davis has seven receiving touchdowns, tying him with Hall of Famer Dave Casper for most playoff touchdown receptions by a tight end.

    But as of right now, Davis doesn't pass the Hall of Fame test. Only eight tight ends have made the Hall of Fame in the modern era, and at this point, it's more likely that New Orleans' Jimmy Graham or New England's Gronkowski will make it.

    The 30-year old Davis would need another few dominant seasons to go along with more playoff heroics to solidify his place in Canton.

    Verdict: SELL

No. 36: Cleveland Browns C Alex Mack

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Credentials

    • Five NFL seasons
    • Two-time Pro Bowler (2010, 2013)

     

    Analysis

    Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack has established himself as one of the league's best at the position, finishing 2013 as Pro Football Focus' fourth-ranked center.

    But as far as the Hall of Fame goes, Mack is squarely behind the eight ball.

    The last center to make the Hall of Fame, Dermontti Dawson, qualified for seven Pro Bowls and was named first-team All-Pro six times. Compare that with Mack, who has two Pro Bowl berths and zero appointments to first-team All-Pro.

    Mack looks to be a first-ballot member of the Hall of Very Good. The Hall of Fame is likely out of his reach.

    Verdict: SELL

No. 35: San Francisco 49ers LB Aldon Smith

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    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    Credentials 

    • Three NFL seasons
    • One-time Pro Bowler (2012)
    • One-time First-Team All-Pro (2012)
    • 42 career sacks

     

    Analysis

    If we were only taking the on-field product into account, San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith would be earmarked for the Hall of Fame.

    But alas, this is real life, and other factors must be considered. As a result, Smith's Hall of Fame chances are nebulous at best.

    Smith has battled substance-abuse problems and seemingly can't stay out of trouble, casting doubt on his likelihood of achieving football immortality. 

    But when healthy, Smith is as good a pass-rusher as the NFL boasts, with 42 career sacks in 43 games. If he can stay on the straight-and-narrow, he will be a Hall of Famer. But that's a major "if," and one that prevents me from placing Smith in Canton.

    VERDICT: SELL

No. 34: Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Credentials

    • Two NFL seasons
    • Two-time Pro Bowler (2012-2013)
    • 57% completion, 8,196 passing yards, 46 passing touchdowns, 27 interceptions

     

    Analysis

    This just in: Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is good.

    Really, really, REALLY good.

    Whether it's via crunching the numbers or the eyeball test, Luck jumps off the page as one of the finest young signal-callers in the game. He projects to be a perennial Pro Bowler, and it's likely only a matter of time before he ascends to the stratosphere currently occupied by living legends like Manning and Brady.

    It's difficult to envision a scenario where Luck doesn't contend for at least one Super Bowl over the rest of his career, and he already has a playoff win under his belt. 

    With apologies to Seattle's Russell Wilson, Luck is the young passer with the best chance to make the Hall of Fame.

    Verdict: BUY

No. 33: New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Credentials

    • 13 NFL seasons
    • 2004 Comeback Player of the Year
    • 2008 and 2011 Offensive Player of the Year
    • Super Bowl XLIV MVP
    • Eight-time Pro Bowler (2004, 2006, 2008-2013)
    • One-time First-Team All-Pro (2006)
    • Surpassed 5,000 passing yards in a single season three times (2008, 2011-2012)
    • 65.9% completion, 51,081 passing yards, 363 passing touchdowns, 177 interceptions

     

    Analysis

    Before he joined the New Orleans Saints prior to the 2006 season, Drew Brees was on the fast track to the Hall of Very Good.

    But he's earned himself a Hall of Fame bust with his performance in the bayou.

    Brees has been spectacular in black and gold, leading the Saints to a Super Bowl championship and surpassing 5,000 passing yards in a single season three times (no quarterback has done it more than once). He serves as the trigger man for New Orleans' explosive passing attack and has been virtually unstoppable over the past eight seasons.

    There is no doubt that Brees is a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

    Verdict: BUY

No. 32: New England Patriots QB Tom Brady

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Credentials

    • 14 NFL seasons
    • Nine-time Pro Bowler (2001, 2004-2005, 2007, 2009-2013)
    • Two-time First-Team All-Pro (2007, 2010)
    • Super Bowl XXXVI and XXXVIII MVP
    • 2007 and 2010 NFL MVP
    • 2007 and 2010 Offensive Player of the Year
    • 63.4% completion, 49,149 passing yards, 359 touchdown passes, 134 interceptions

     

    Analysis

    Even if it weren't for his on-field credentials, Brady is a first-ballot Hall of Famer because he's married to Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen.

    But when you consider all of his accomplishments on the gridiron...yeah, that's grounds for immediate election, too.

    Quite simply, Brady is one of the finest quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL. He's won three Super Bowl titles (and been named the Super Bowl MVP twice), two NFL MVP awards and has been selected to nine Pro Bowls.

    When it's all said and done, he'll eclipse 400 touchdown passes, and it shouldn't surprise anyone if he adds a fourth Super Bowl title to his resume, which would tie him with Hall of Fame passers Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw for most Lombardi Trophies won by a quarterback.

    There's a better chance of Billy Ray Cyrus being named father of the year than there is of Brady not making the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

    Verdict: BUY

No. 31: Seattle Seahawks DT Brandon Mebane

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Credentials

    • Seven NFL seasons
    • 13 career sacks

     

    Analysis

    Last year, in his seventh NFL season, Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Brandon Mebane broke out.

    He finished the year ranked as Pro Football Focus' third-best defensive tackle, had his best campaign since 2008, and was a key member of the league's top-ranked defense that eventually claimed Super Bowl glory.

    But Mebane is not a Hall of Famer. Even the mere suggestion would be registered as folly. He's not even the best defensive tackle in the NFC (both Detroit's Suh and Tampa Bay's Gerald McCoy are superior players), so he's got no chance at Canton.

    Verdict: SELL

No. 30: Denver Broncos DT Terrance Knighton

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Credentials

    • Five NFL seasons
    • 10.5 career sacks

     

    Analysis

    Denver Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton rejuvenated his career in 2013, finishing the year ranked as Pro Football Focus' ninth-best player at the position. As a basis of comparison, Knighton finished 44th in 2012.

    In addition, he possesses a nickname worthy of Hall of Fame induction: "pork chop." If there were ever a perfect nickname for a gregarious defensive tackle, pork chop would certainly be it.

    But Knighton is not a Hall of Fame player. At age 28, it's within the realm of possibility that he could go on a dominant run, but it's not likely, especially with zero Pro Bowl berths on his resume.

    Knighton's ceiling is probably the Hall of Very Good.

    Verdict: SELL

No. 29: Buffalo Bills DT Marcell Dareus

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Credentials

    • Three NFL seasons
    • One-time Pro Bowler (2013)
    • 18.5 career sacks

     

    Analysis

    Since being selected with the third overall pick of the 2011 draft, Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus has lived up to the hype.

    He's provided pass-rushing oomph from the interior and notched a career-high 7.5 sacks in 2013. And per Pro Football Focus, he grades out as an above-average run defender.

    But he's had his share of off-field issues that could potentially hamstring a promising career. Plus, he only has one Pro Bowl berth through his first three seasons, so if the Hall of Fame is going to be an option, he needs to start stacking postseason accolades. 

    As of right now, Dareus appears ticketed for the Hall of Very Good. 

    Verdict: SELL

No. 28: Seattle Seahawks DE Michael Bennett

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Credentials

    • Five NFL seasons
    • 23.5 career sacks

     

    Analysis

    Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett was outstanding in 2013, garnering 8.5 sacks in the regular season and another 1.5 in the postseason to help Seattle claim its first Super Bowl championship.

    Bennett was tremendous in the playoffs, and that effort helped earn him a new contract with the Seahawks, for whom he'll surely continue to find success rushing the passer.

    But the bottom line is that Bennett hasn't been good or consistent enough throughout his career to merit serious Hall of Fame consideration. He's never made a Pro Bowl and doesn't stack up with the elite options at the position.

    Unless Bennett fashions together a monumental second career act, the Hall of Fame should finish outside his reach.

    Verdict: SELL

No. 27: Seattle Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch

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    Credentials

    • Seven NFL seasons
    • Four-time Pro Bowler (2008, 2011-2013)
    • One-time First-Team All-Pro (2012)
    • 4.2 yards per carry, 7,389 rushing yards, 58 rushing touchdowns

     

    Analysis

    Since being traded to the Pacific Northwest in 2010, Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has been all about that action, boss.

    Lynch, known affectionately as Beast Mode, tramples opposing defenders with sheer brutality. He's been a money performer in Seattle, earning three consecutive Pro Bowl nods to go along with a Super Bowl ring.

    At age 28, Lynch needs to continue his recent run of form, though it's tough to imagine him playing at this level into his 30s. Lynch's chance at making the Hall of Fame is another two to three sterling campaigns wherein he rushes for 1,200-1,400 yards and double-digit touchdowns. 

    While he's got a shot, I'm going to project him as falling just short of football immortality.

    Verdict: SELL

No. 26: Kansas City Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles

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    Credentials

    • Six NFL seasons
    • Three-time Pro Bowler (2010, 2012-2013)
    • Two-time First-Team All-Pro (2010, 2013)
    • 5.6 yards per carry, 5,823 rushing yards, 29 rushing touchdowns, 14 receiving touchdowns

     

    Analysis

    Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles was unstoppable in 2013, averaging 5.0 yards per carry and scoring 19 total touchdowns (12 rushing, seven receiving).

    It was enough to earn his third Pro Bowl trip and second first-team All-Pro appearance, lending serious credence to his future Hall of Fame candidacy.

    At age 27, Charles has the opportunity to author a few more dominant seasons, and he needs that to potentially gain enshrinement. But right now, as far as the Hall of Fame is concerned, he's behind Seattle's Lynch, Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy and Minnesota's Adrian Peterson at the running back position.

    Verdict: SELL

No. 25: Kansas City Chiefs LB Justin Houston

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Credentials

    • Three NFL seasons
    • Two-time Pro Bowler (2012-2013)
    • 26.5 career sacks

     

    Analysis

    Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston has emerged as one of the game's finest young pass-rushers, having notched 26.5 sacks in his three seasons.

    The two Pro Bowl berths help, but Houston is currently in the beginning stages of authoring what he hopes is a Hall of Fame career. 

    At this point, it's unrealistic to consider Houston a Hall of Fame player. It doesn't mean he won't get there; it just means that he has too far to go to be considered a likely candidate.

    Verdict: SELL

No. 24: Cincinnati Bengals WR A.J. Green

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    Credentials

    • Three NFL seasons
    • Three-time Pro Bowler (2011-2013)
    • 260 receptions, 3,833 receiving yards, 29 receiving touchdowns

     

    Analysis

    It would be difficult for a receiver to achieve the kind of success that Cincinnati's A.J. Green has over his first three seasons.

    Green has earned three Pro Bowl nods and has averaged nearly 10 touchdown catches per campaign. He passes the eyeball test with flying colors, hauling in passes from all angles with defenders draped all over him.

    He's definitely on a Hall of Fame arc and shows no sign of slowing down. If he continues on this pace, he'll be enshrined in Canton.

    Verdict: BUY

No. 23: New England Patriots CB Darrelle Revis

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    Credentials

    • Seven NFL seasons
    • Five-time Pro Bowler (2008-2011, 2013)
    • Three-time First-Team All-Pro (2009-2011)
    • 21 career interceptions

     

    Analysis

    Once thought of as the best cornerback in football, Darrelle Revis' star lost a little luster while playing for the hapless Buccaneers in 2013, even though he finished the year ranked as Pro Football Focus' No. 1 corner.

    But make no mistake about it: Now a New England Patriot, Revis is set to reclaim his mantle as the finest cornerback in the league.

    Going to the Patriots was a fabulous decision by Revis. He'll be employed correctly by Belichick and should absolutely dazzle. Plus, he'll almost assuredly have an opportunity to ply his trade in the postseason, which always helps a Hall of Fame candidacy.

    If Revis can stay healthy and remains in Foxborough past his one-year contract, the Hall of Fame is a likely outcome.

    Verdict: BUY

No. 22: Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers

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    Credentials

    • Nine NFL seasons
    • Three-time Pro Bowler (2009, 2011-2012)
    • One-time First-Team All-Pro (2011)
    • Super Bowl XLV MVP
    • 2011 NFL MVP
    • 65.8% completion, 24,197 passing yards, 188 touchdown passes, 52 interceptions

     

    Analysis

    While Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers comes in at No. 22 on this list, make no mistake about it: He's the finest player in the NFL, regardless of position.

    And there's no doubt he'll enter the Hall of Fame.

    Rodgers has a league MVP (2011) and Super Bowl MVP (XLV) under his belt, and has surpassed 30 touchdown passes in a single season three separate times. He passes the eyeball test with flying colors, possessing one of the league's strongest and most accurate arms.

    The maestro of the Packers' offensive symphony, Rodgers, 30, should be dominant for at least five more seasons. The only variable that could keep Rodgers out of Canton is injury, and that cannot be assumed.

    Verdict: BUY

No. 21: Philadelphia Eagles RB LeSean McCoy

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    Credentials

    • Five NFL seasons
    • Two-time Pro Bowler (2011, 2013)
    • Two-time First-Team All-Pro (2011, 2013)
    • 4.8 yards per carry, 5,473 rushing yards, 39 rushing touchdowns, 10 receiving touchdowns

     

    Analysis

    Last season, Philadelphia's McCoy was perhaps the league's most exciting player. 

    He led the NFL in rushing (1,607 yards) and finished the year ranked as Pro Football Focus' No. 1 running back. McCoy profiles as a beast in Kelly's offense.

    Given the Eagles' outstanding offensive line and Kelly's innovative mind, the assumption has to be that McCoy continues to put forth outstanding seasons. He's only 26 and already has been named to first-team All-Pro twice. It should be three times after this season concludes, and he'll go from there.

    He'll need another four to five seasons of elite production to merit serious consideration, and he could absolutely get there. Right now, however, he doesn't make the cut.

    Verdict: SELL

No. 20: Green Bay Packers G Josh Sitton

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    Credentials

    • Six NFL seasons
    • One-time Pro Bowler (2012)

     

    Analysis

    Over the past few seasons, Green Bay Packers guard Josh Sitton has established himself as one of the best players at his position in the NFL.

    In fact, since cracking the Packers' starting lineup in 2009, Sitton has finished every campaign in the top 10 of Pro Football Focus' ratings at guard. He is absolutely one of the best offensive linemen in the game, interior or otherwise.

    But the fact that he's only earned one Pro Bowl berth works against him, as does never being named to an All-Pro team.

    If Sitton is going to one day be enshrined in Canton, he'll need to start garnering postseason accolades. He's only 28, so there's a chance, but it's more likely he'll fall short of the Hall of Fame.

    Verdict: SELL

No. 19: Washington Redskins OT Trent Williams

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    Credentials

    • Four NFL seasons
    • Two-time Pro Bowler (2012-2013)

     

    Analysis

    In 2013, Washington Redskins tackle Trent Williams established himself as one of the best offensive linemen in football.

    He finished the year ranked as Pro Football Focus' No. 1 offensive tackle and is accomplished at both pass and run blocking. He's also been durable over the last two seasons, starting all 32 games he was eligible for.

    With two consecutive Pro Bowl berths under his belt at the age of 26, Williams has a chance to author a Hall of Fame career. I'd like to go out on a limb here and say that Williams will indeed make the Hall of Fame. He's an ascending player, and if he can avoid serious injury, he'll be a perennial Pro Bowl player and should also start being named first-team All-Pro.

    But it's too early in his career for Williams to be considered a Hall of Fame lock.

    Verdict: SELL

No. 18: Tampa Bay Buccaneers DT Gerald McCoy

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Credentials

    • Four NFL seasons
    • Two-time Pro Bowler (2012-2013)
    • One-time First-Team All-Pro (2013)
    • 18.5 career sacks

     

    Analysis

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy put it all together in his fourth campaign, notching 9.5 sacks to go along with his second Pro Bowl berth and first selection to first-team All-Pro.

    The effort was enough to claim him top status in Pro Football Focus' rankings for defensive tackles, and with defensive guru Lovie Smith installed as the Buccaneers' new coach, McCoy is poised for even greater things.

    But right now, McCoy has only put together one Hall of Fame-caliber season. It's definitely possible that the 26-year-old will continue along the arc he set forth last year, but it's too early to call him a Hall of Famer.

    Verdict: SELL

No. 17: Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald

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    Credentials 

    • 10 NFL seasons
    • Eight-time Pro Bowler (2005, 2007-2013)
    • One-time First-Team All-Pro (2008)
    • 846 receptions, 11,367 receiving yards, 87 receiving touchdowns

     

    Analysis

    Imagine, for a moment, if Ben Roethlisberger hadn't connected with Santonio Holmes for a touchdown in the waning moments of Super Bowl XLIII. 

    The Arizona Cardinals would have been Super Bowl champions. And the lasting memory of the game would have been receiver Larry Fitzgerald's go-ahead touchdown.

    If the game had ended with Fitzgerald as the hero, he'd already be bandied about as a Hall of Fame lock. But the truth is that even without that magical moment, Fitzgerald is still going to Canton.

    His numbers are eye-popping, especially considering that he's played with substandard quarterbacks for the majority of his career. He's been extremely consistent; his eight Pro Bowl berths speak to that. 

    The soon-to-be 31-year-old Fitzgerald might be slowing down a bit, but he's still an elite pass-catching option and will continue to pad his Hall of Fame credentials in 2014 and beyond.

    Verdict: BUY

No. 16: Indianapolis Colts LB Robert Mathis

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    Credentials 

    • 11 NFL seasons
    • Five-time Pro Bowler (2008-2010, 2012-2013)
    • One-time First-Team All-Pro (2013)
    • 111 career sacks

     

    Analysis

    Longtime Indianapolis Colts pass-rusher Robert Mathis is currently 20th on the all-time sack list with 111, and he contributed mightily to that cause with an NFL-leading 19.5 in 2013.

    In fact, Mathis now has more career sacks than longtime teammate Dwight Freeney (108), whom most consider to be the superior player.

    Mathis, 33, has put himself within striking distance of the Hall of Fame. What once seemed like a long shot is now within reach. 

    The fact that he'll miss the first four games of the 2014 season due to violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs hurts, but if Mathis can play for a few more seasons, he should end up cementing his Hall of Fame candidacy.

    Verdict: BUY

No. 15: Tampa Bay Buccaneers LB Lavonte David

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Credentials

    • Two NFL seasons
    • One-time First-Team All-Pro (2013)
    • 218 tackles, nine sacks, six interceptions

     

    Analysis

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David has been a revelation in his first two seasons, and the fact that he didn't make last year's Pro Bowl could be grounds for the event to never be played again.

    David was rightly named first-team All-Pro after a gargantuan campaign, and he's poised for bigger and better things as the middle linebacker in Smith's Tampa 2 defense. 

    If I were to place David in the Hall of Fame now, it would be a stretch; I can't and won't do it, especially after only one true Hall of Fame-caliber season. But it should surprise no one if David continues to sparkle and eventually is enshrined in Canton.

    Verdict: SELL

No. 14: Denver Broncos LB Von Miller

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    Credentials

    • Three NFL seasons
    • 2011 Defensive Rookie of the Year
    • Two-time Pro Bowler (2011-2012)
    • One-time First-Team All-Pro (2012)
    • 35 career sacks

     

    Analysis

    Through three seasons, Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller has established himself as one of the best pure pass-rushers in the game, garnering 35 sacks over that span.

    Miller, the 2011 Defensive Rookie of the Year, should continue to produce as long as he stays on the field. The problem with that is Miller has shown a propensity for boneheaded decisions off the field and is coming off a torn ACL. 

    Miller's level of play is of a Hall of Fame caliber. There's no reason to believe he won't continue to rack up sacks. At the end of the day, the only person who will prevent Miller from making the Hall of Fame is Miller. If he can stay out of his own way, Canton looms as a real possibility.

    But it's tough to bank on Miller keeping his nose clean and staying healthy over the remainder of his career. 

    Verdict: SELL

No. 13: San Francisco 49ers LB Patrick Willis

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    Credentials

    • Seven NFL seasons
    • 2007 Defensive Rookie of the Year
    • Seven-time Pro Bowler (2007-2013)
    • Five-time First-Team All-Pro (2007, 2009-2012)
    • 703 tackles, 20.5 sacks, seven interceptions

     

    Analysis

    San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis has enjoyed a fairly outstanding start to his NFL career: seven seasons and seven Pro Bowl berths to go along with five selections of first-team All-Pro.

    Those are Hall of Fame credentials. Period, end of story.

    Willis has also passed the eyeball test as one of the league's finest linebackers. He's a tackling machine and the fulcrum of the 49ers defense.

    While some may bemoan his lack of statistics, that won't keep Willis out of Canton. By the time his career is done, he'll have reached double-digit Pro Bowls and will probably have a Super Bowl title on his resume.

    Verdict: BUY

No. 12: Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Credentials 

    • Two NFL seasons
    • Two-time Pro Bowler (2012-2013)
    • 63.6% completion, 6,475 passing yards, 52 passing touchdowns, 19 interceptions, five rushing touchdowns

     

    Analysis

    Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has enjoyed a charmed first two seasons in the National Football League.

    Since wresting the starting job away from Matt Flynn (remember when Flynn was a Seahawk?), Wilson hasn't looked back, playing extremely well as a rookie and then leading the Seahawks to a Super Bowl championship in his sophomore season. The sky is the limit for one of the game's smartest and most engaging passers.

    With the Seahawks on the precipice of perennial greatness, Wilson has an opportunity to stack Super Bowl championships, which will obviously help his future candidacy. And given his sterling work ethic, it's easy to forecast Wilson continuing to improve, especially as Seattle improves its talent at the skill positions.

    If given the choice between betting on Wilson or betting against him, only a fool would take the latter option. The smart money is on Wilson winning at least one more Super Bowl and eventually being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

    Verdict: BUY

No. 11: San Diego Chargers QB Philip Rivers

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    Credentials

    • 10 NFL seasons
    • 2013 Comeback Player of the Year
    • Five-time Pro Bowler (2006, 2009-2011, 2013)
    • 64.4% completion, 32,369 passing yards, 221 touchdown passes, 104 interceptions

     

    Analysis

    San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers represents an interesting case. Upon first glance, he appears to be a charter member of the Hall of Very Good.

    He does have five Pro Bowl appearances and a measure of playoff success (four postseason victories), but he's lagged behind the greats of his era like Peyton Manning and Brady. Plus, the two quarterbacks he's most closely tied to by virtue of being in the same draft class, Eli Manning and Roethlisberger, each have two Super Bowl rings to their name, which hurts Rivers.

    But Rivers is most definitely on the up-and-up, having authored a tremendous 2013 season that earned him Comeback Player of the Year honors. He seems rejuvenated under the tutelage of coach Mike McCoy, and it's not outside the realm of possibility that Rivers could put up MVP-type numbers in 2014.

    Still, it's going to be difficult for Rivers to make the Hall when considering the other talented signal-callers of his era. Right now, he's on the outside looking in, but I acknowledge that could change, depending on the rest of his career. He's got a chance.

    Verdict: SELL

No. 10: San Francisco 49ers LB NaVorro Bowman

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Credentials

    • Four NFL seasons
    • Two-time Pro Bowler (2012-2013)
    • Three-time First-Team All-Pro (2011-2013)
    • 365 tackles, nine sacks, three interceptions

     

    Analysis

    While Willis receives the majority of the hype on the San Francisco 49ers defense, it was his batterymate, linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who was the better player in 2013.

    Bowman finished last year ranked as Pro Football Focus' top inside linebacker and earned first-team All-Pro honors. He was putting together a spectacular postseason before tearing his ACL in the NFC Championship Game against Seattle.

    That injury could end up costing Bowman time this season, but he should make a return to full strength. If he does and continues on his career arc, the Hall of Fame is a real possibility. But right now, Willis is a lock, while I can't yet include Bowman.

    Verdict: SELL

No. 9: Carolina Panthers DE Greg Hardy

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Credentials

    • Four NFL seasons
    • One-time Pro Bowler (2013)
    • 33 career sacks

     

    Analysis

    Much like St. Louis' Robert Quinn, Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy broke out in 2013, accumulating 15 sacks and earning his first-ever Pro Bowl berth. In fact, Hardy was 2013's second-rated defensive end by Pro Football Focus, with Quinn coming in first.

    But also like Quinn, Hardy has a long way to go before he can be considered a potential Hall of Fame player.

    In addition to needing more on-field production, Hardy has also gotten into some trouble off the field, as he was arrested for domestic assault this past May. That's not the type of behavior likely to endear Hardy to Hall of Fame voters.

    It's impossible to project Hardy as a Hall of Famer at this juncture of his career. He simply doesn't have a strong enough body of work.

    Verdict: SELL

No. 8: New Orleans Saints TE Jimmy Graham

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Credentials 

    • Four NFL seasons
    • Two-time Pro Bowler (2011, 2013)
    • One-time First-Team All-Pro (2013)
    • 301 receptions, 3,863 receiving yards, 41 touchdown receptions

     

    Analysis

    Whether he's considered a tight end or a receiver, New Orleans Saints' pass-catcher Jimmy Graham is a future Hall of Famer. 

    Graham is putting up preposterous numbers at the position, with 270 receptions and 36 touchdown catches over the past three seasons. And with Brees throwing him the ball, he shows no signs of slowing down.

    While Graham might have been upset about being ruled a tight end as he tried to seek wide receiver money, that decision will help Graham's Hall of Fame candidacy, as his numbers will look more impressive as a tight end.

    It would be an upset if Graham didn't reach Canton.

    Verdict: BUY

No. 7: Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson

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    Credentials 

    • Seven NFL seasons
    • 2007 Offensive Rookie of the Year
    • 2012 Offensive Player of the Year
    • 2012 NFL MVP
    • Six-time Pro Bowler (2007-2010, 2012-2013)
    • Three-time First-Team All-Pro (2008-2009, 2012)
    • 5.0 yards per carry, 10,115 rushing yards, 86 rushing touchdowns

     

    Analysis

    I've referenced the "eyeball test" several times over the course of this column, and one player who absolutely passes it is Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.

    Peterson marries electrifying speed with terrifying brutality and runs with a sheer physicality reminiscent of Hall of Fame back Earl Campbell.

    Peterson's 2012 season—in which he rushed for 2,097 yards coming off a torn ACL—will go down in history. He earned the NFL MVP award following that sparkling campaign.

    Peterson has shown no signs of slowing down, and only a career-shortening injury would prevent him from reaching the Hall of Fame.

    Verdict: BUY

No. 6: Seattle Seahawks CB Richard Sherman

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    Credentials

    • Three NFL seasons
    • One-time Pro Bowler (2013)
    • Two-time First-Team All-Pro (2012-2013)
    • 20 career interceptions

     

    Analysis

    Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman made himself a household name with his rant following victory in this past January's NFC Championship Game, but the bottom line is that his play merits the attention.

    Sherman has been one of Pro Football Focus' top-rated cornerbacks over his three-year career and was named first-team All-Pro in each of the last two seasons. His 20 interceptions since 2011 are the most in the NFL.

    He's building a strong candidacy for the Hall of Fame, and staying in Seattle for the foreseeable future will help toward that goal. With the Seahawks set to compete for Super Bowls on a yearly basis, Sherman will enjoy more time in the national spotlight and surely continue to rack up Pro Bowl trips.

    As long as he avoids injury, Sherman has a very good chance at making the Hall of Fame. 

    Verdict: BUY

No. 5: St. Louis Rams DE Robert Quinn

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    Michael Thomas/Getty Images

    Credentials

    • Three NFL seasons
    • One-time Pro Bowler (2013)
    • One-time First-Team All-Pro (2013)
    • 34.5 career sacks

     

    Analysis

    Quinn put together a massive 2013 campaign, notching 19 sacks to go along with seven forced fumbles. The performance was enough to earn him his first Pro Bowl nod and first selection to the All-Pro team.

    2013 was Quinn's third season, and he had steadily improved up until that point, garnering five sacks as a rookie and 10.5 sacks as a sophomore. So there's reason to believe he'll be even better in 2014.

    In order to reach the Hall of Fame, Quinn will have to keep sacking the quarterback in bunches, and one variable that could work against him is the overall talent level of the Rams defensive line. His fellow defensive end, Chris Long, is a very good player, and the club boasts a pair of first-round picks at defensive tackle, Michael Brockers (2012) and Aaron Donald (2014).

    It feels too early to project Quinn as a Hall of Fame player, as he's only put together one season worthy of enshrinement. I'm not saying he won't get there, but he has a long way to go.

    Verdict: SELL

No. 4: Seattle Seahawks S Earl Thomas

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    Credentials

    • Four NFL seasons
    • Three-time Pro Bowler (2011-2013)
    • Two-time First-Team All-Pro (2012-2013)
    • 15 career interceptions

     

    Analysis

    With apologies to Sherman, safety Earl Thomas is the finest player in the Seattle Seahawks' ballyhooed Legion of Boom secondary.

    And if Thomas continues to evolve and improve, he'll be a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame.

    Thomas already has three Pro Bowl berths in four seasons and garnered consideration for Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. With Seattle poised to contend for Super Bowl championships on a yearly basis, Thomas' star will only shine brighter as his career grows older.

    At age 25, Thomas is already on his way. He should go down as one of the finest safeties in NFL history.

    Verdict: BUY

No. 3: Detroit Lions WR Calvin Johnson

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Credentials

    • Seven NFL seasons
    • Four-time Pro Bowler (2010-2013)
    • Three-time First-Team All-Pro (2011-2013)
    • 572 receptions, 9,328 receiving yards, 66 receiving touchdowns

     

    Analysis

    Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson has a Hall of Fame nickname (Megatron), and at some point in the future, he'll have a bust in Canton to go along with it.

    Johnson is the best receiver in football. Period. And at age 28, there's no reason to believe he won't put forth another six to seven outstanding campaigns.

    His stats are even more impressive when considering the putrid teams he began his career with, including the 2008 iteration of the Lions that went 0-16. If he had played in a competent offense for his entire career, his numbers would be even better.

    With that said, some players just pass the eyeball test. Johnson is one of them. He'll make the Hall of Fame.

    Verdict: BUY

No. 2: Houston Texans DE J.J. Watt

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    Credentials

    • Three NFL seasons
    • 2012 Defensive Player of the Year
    • Two-time Pro Bowler (2012-2013)
    • Two-time First-Team All-Pro (2012-2013)
    • 36.5 career sacks

     

    Analysis

    It's hard to imagine a defensive player making a larger impact than Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt has over his first three seasons.

    Watt, 2012's Defensive Player of the Year, is the best defender in football—and it isn't close.

    His 36.5 sacks would be noteworthy for any player, but given that he plays defensive end in the Texans' 3-4 alignment, it's all the more impressive. He's a once-in-a-generation player who is only getting better.

    For context, he finished 2013 ranked as Pro Football Focus' No. 1 3-4 defensive end and finished a startling 57 points ahead of the second-place player, the Jets' Muhammad Wilkerson.

    There's no reason to believe that Watt won't continue to dominate. Bet against him making the Hall of Fame at your own risk.

    Verdict: BUY

No. 1: Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning

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    Credentials

    • 16 NFL seasons
    • 13-time Pro Bowler (1999-2000, 2002-2010, 2012-2013)
    • Super Bowl XLI MVP
    • 2003, 2004, 2008, 2009 and 2013 NFL MVP
    • 2004 and 2013 Offensive Player of the Year
    • 2012 Comeback Player of the Year
    • Single-season record for passing touchdowns in a season (55, 2013)
    • Seven-time First Team All-Pro (2003-2005, 2008-2009, 2012-2013)
    • 65.5% completion, 64,964 passing yards, 491 touchdown passes, 219 interceptions

     

    Analysis

    In life, three things are certain.

    Death, taxes, and Peyton Williams Manning being inducted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

    There aren't enough superlatives in the dictionary to properly describe Manning's greatness. He is a true master of his craft, football's version of Bach: a genius beyond compare.

    He's been named NFL MVP a record five times. He owns the single-season record for touchdown passes (55, set last season). And he has a Super Bowl title on his resume.

    Manning is the epitome of a Hall of Fame player and is one of the best passers to ever lace up a pair of cleats.

    Verdict: BUY