I tried to include as many AFC South players worthy of consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame as possible. Because of the sheer number of players in the NFL, you won’t see all of the young players who could register a percentage. If you don’t see a veteran appear on this list, chances are it’s because I don’t believe they are worthy of consideration for the Hall of Fame. I took most players with any kind of accolades, so there won’t be many cases of veterans being left out and I don’t think any of them will be controversial.
Players are ranked by the percent chances they have of making the Hall of Fame as of right now, the percentages do not reflect potential future progress. This is based on production, accolades, and how players are viewed by the NFL community in relation to their peers. I also factored in individual statistical accomplishments. So, a sixth-year player might have a low percentage, but that could just be because they haven’t had the time to build up a full resume yet. This is subjective and the percentages have been generated from the categories I listed above. I have tried to remain consistent throughout my judgments. To clear things up a little, I have also included a “YES” or “NO” next to every listed percentage. If the player has a “YES”, then I believe they will be enshrined in Canton one day. “NO” obviously means I don’t see the player making the Hall of Fame.
To help you get a better grasp of what the percentages mean, there’s a key down below. There will be a few interesting cases where a player will bend the rules of the key and have a low percentage but receive a “YES”. These are exceptional cases usually with high production but few accolades or low production but many accolades. Essentially, they are underrated or overrated players. There are also some instances where a player is too young to be a valid candidate for the Hall of Fame, but I expect they will get there with future success.
All players are listed on the teams they will be a part of in 2019, and I am including players who have retired since the end of the season. This section, along with a one including current free agents, will appear in every article of this series. No rookies will appear on this list since they haven’t fully established baselines for production and only have one season officially completed. Second-year players like Saquon Barkley, Darius Leonard, Derwin James, Baker Mayfield, and Bradley Chubb would register some percentage, but that number would be so unstable that I don’t want to even include it. Therefore, the youngest players that will appear have at least two seasons under their belts.
90-100% = Guaranteed Hall of Famer
85-89% = Should be in the Hall of Fame
80-84% = Long wait but should get in
70-79% = Tossups, cases need a little more work
65-69% = Best players who won’t make the Hall/ Players with rare talent still building cases
50-64% = Great players, not enough stats or accolades for serious consideration
40-49% = A few Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections
30-39% = Some sustained success at a Pro Bowl level
20-29% = Rare Pro Bowl or All-Pro selections
0-19% = High peak for short time/ Long career with minor accolades/ Young players
J.J. Watt DE- 100% YES
How many players have won three Defensive Player of the Year awards? Just two: Watt and Lawrence Taylor, the greatest defensive player of all-time. Watt is in rare air despite injuries basically derailing his career for two seasons. Even if the career totals aren’t there at the end of the day, I think Watt is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. In eight seasons (104 games), he has 92 sacks, 455 combined tackles, 51 passes defensed, 22 forced fumbles, five Pro Bowl selections, and five First Team All-Pro selections. No other player in NFL history has multiple 20 sack seasons.
Hopkins is right up there with the best wide receivers in the league. The arrival of Deshaun Watson really helped Hopkins reach his full potential. He’s about two or three years’ worth of production and accolades behind Antonio Brown and Julio Jones, but he’s going to get there. The Clemson product has 528 receptions, 7,437 receiving yards, and 47 receiving touchdowns in six seasons. He’s been to three Pro Bowls and is a two-time First Team All-Pro. I know guys like Larry Fitzgerald and Odell Beckham are known for their hands, and I think that Hopkins is that good. I’ve never seen him drop the ball.
Clowney had a slow start to his career. He barely played in his first season and wasn’t anything special in his second. Since then though he’s turned it on. Clowney has been to the last three Pro Bowls thanks to his freakish athleticism and power. His numbers don’t really jump off of the page, he only has 205 combined tackles and 29 sacks in five seasons, but he makes a huge impact on the field. Pairing him with Watt was a great decision by the Texans.
Adam Vinatieri K- 100% YES
Vinatieri is an obvious write in here. He may have to wait a few years to get into Canton, but he’ll be there. Vinatieri is the NFL’s all-time points leader and was made famous for his clutch postseason kicks during his time with the New England Patriots. He’s won four Super Bowls and made three First All-Pro Teams during his career.
That might seem like a high percentage for Luck considering I only gave Cam Newton a 68% chance. You’re right, it’s a high number and maybe a little presumptuous, but I think Luck has earned it. I mean, Philip Rivers is going to be a Hall of Famer and he’s only made eight Pro Bowls. Ben Roethlisberger has only made six. Luck has already made four and when he’s healthy he can easily throw for over 4,000 years every year. Some people think Luck is overrated, but I say he’s on a great trajectory.
Houston, if not for the injuries that have plagued him since 2015, would be in the 70-80% range. There was a three-year span where he recorded 43 sacks, which is just ridiculous. Those were the only three years where Houston had ten sacks or more, but he has come back in the last two seasons. In 2017 he posted 9.5 sacks and added another nine last season. With the Colts, where he’ll be more of a featured pass rusher, Houston will have a chance to reassert his dominance. The former third-round pick has been to four Pro Bowls and was named a First Team All-Pro in 2014.
Hilton is a very good wide receiver, but there’s a reason why he has never made an All-Pro team. The 29-year old is just buried under other receivers like A.J. Green, Brown, Hopkins Jones, Michael Thomas, Beckham, etc. Now that Luck is back though, Hilton could make a late-career push if he throws together five high-quality seasons. Through his first seven seasons, Hilton has made four Pro Bowls and recorded 507 receptions, 8,097 receiving yards, and 40 receiving touchdowns.
Calais Campbell DE- 56% NO
It looks like it will be too little too late for Campbell. The towering 6-8 defensive end has turned it on in the last five or six seasons and is finally being recognized by fans as one of the best players at this position. Campbell is a solid pass rusher, but he shines against the run. The eleven-year veteran has 640 combined tackles and 81.5 sacks. Those numbers don’t really convey the impact he has on the field though. Unfortunately, his four Pro Bowls, one First Team All-Pro selection, and three Second Team All-Pro selections don’t really stand a chance against Hall of Fame competitors.
I’m breaking my formula for this one. I do this sometimes when I really think a player has been robbed by the media or the fans. Smith and Lavonte David are two of those guys who get the short end of the stick because they play outside linebacker but don’t get sacks. Instead, these guys are tackling machines who put up stats on par with middle linebackers.
In five seasons, Smith only has 7.5 sacks and one Pro Bowl, but he has 586 combined tackles and nine interceptions. He was a Second Team All-Pro in 2017. In reality, Smith has three Pro Bowl caliber seasons, which is my justification for his high percentage. Smith has said he will not play football in 2019, which is disappointing because he’s a very underrated player who is fun to watch.
I don’t want to crown Ramsey too soon, especially after what happened with Marcus Peters this year, but he looks primed to be the next Patrick Peterson. I’ll admit, his 2018 season is overrated, and I don’t really like his mouth, but he was a beast in 2017. For his effort, he was named to the First All-Pro Team. Keep in mind he’ll only be turning 25 in 2019. We’ll check in with Ramsey in a decade and see if his case has built up or fallen flat.
Cameron Wake DE- 70% NO
Wake has a strong case for the Hall of Fame, but I think he’ll come up short. He had the second worst season of his career in 2018, only beating out his rookie year. It doesn’t help his chances that he’s already 37, the same age Julius Peppers was in 2017 when he had his final good season. In ten seasons, Wake has been to five Pro Bowls, was a First Team All-Pro in 2012, has made three Second All-Pro Teams, and has 98 sacks. It’s a shame that Wake only saw action in his first game at the age of 27. The late start really shortened his career.
Casey was extremely overlooked early on in his career as other defensive tackles like Atkins, McCoy, and Suh dominated the game. A 10.5 sack season in 2013 was rewarded with a Second Team All-Pro selection, but the league largely ignored Casey until 2015 when the big man made the first of four straight Pro Bowl appearances. After eight years, Casey has 449 combined tackles and 46 sacks. While I like Casey, it will be hard for him to make the Hall of Fame considering all of the other great defensive tackles who played during his era.
The Titans selected Lewan early in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. While he only started six games his rookie season, Lewan has grown into one of the better left tackles in the league. He’s made the last three Pro Bowls and has become a vocal leader for the Titans. Still, Lewan has never made an All-Pro team and that will dampen anyone’s Hall of Fame chances.
Antonio Gates TE- 100% YES
Gates holds to record for the most receiving touchdowns by a tight end in NFL history. He also ranks third all-time in receptions and receiving yards at his position. Gates has ten seasons with 700 receiving yards or more, making him at least a top-five tight end of all-time and one of the most dominant players in NFL history. He has 955 receptions, 11,841 receiving yards, and 116 receiving touchdowns.
Eric Berry S- 83% YES
Berry has played just three regular-season games over the last two seasons. His recent injuries are just the latest in a long list that have plagued the Tennessee product throughout his career. The most famous ailment was when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma back in 2014. Berry beat cancer just in time to come back for the 2015 season, winning Comeback Player of the Year, and making a First All-Pro Team. Throughout his career, the long-time Chief has made five Pro Bowls and three First All-Pro Teams. Berry and Earl Thomas are the best safeties in the post-Ed Reed/Troy Polamalu era.
Brandon Marshall WR- 74% NO
Marshall hasn’t hung up his cleats yet, but the end must be near. He saw action in seven games in 2018 but averaged less than 20 yards per game. I hope that’s not how Marshall is remembered though. At one point, Marshall was one of the most elite wide receivers in the entire league. He has eight seasons with over 1,000 receiving yards and six seasons with 100 or more receptions, which statistically ranks among some of the game’s greats. However, his numbers are along the borderline of great and all-time great. He’s 16th all-time in receptions and 22nd in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. He also has six Pro Bowls, one First Team All-Pro selection, and one Second Team All-Pro selection. I don’t think Marshall will make the Hall of Fame. Consider how players like Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt are still waiting for induction, and Anquan Boldin, Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson, Steve Smith Sr., and Reggie Wayne are coming down the pipe. Marshall will be left on the outside looking in.
Kam Chancellor S- 60% NO
Chancellor still hasn’t technically retired even though he hasn’t played in a game since 2017. The former enforcer of the Legion of Boom suffered a career-ending neck injury in 2017 but remained on the Seahawks roster until recently. A four-time Pro Bowler and two-time Second Team All-Pro, Chancellor was one of the fiercest hitters in recent history. He really was like a linebacker playing safety. He’s a dark-horse Hall of Fame candidate. Being a part of the Legion of Boom could really help his case.
Brent Grimes CB- 27% NO
Even at age 35, Grimes still carries around the chip of being undrafted. Optimus Grimes has made four Pro Bowls in his career and racked up 33 interceptions, but he didn’t post an interception in 2018. The only other times he hasn’t recorded an interception in a season were in 2012 when he played just one game because of an injury, and 2007 when he appeared in just two games as a rookie. Grimes was a Second Team All-Pro in 2014.
Doug Baldwin WR- 18% NO
Speaking of having a chip on your shoulder, Baldwin, like Grimes, was an undrafted free agent determined to make the league acknowledge its’ mistake in not drafting him. Through eight seasons, Baldwin made two Pro Bowls, recorded 6,563 receiving yards, and led the league in receiving touchdowns once. Unfortunately, the Seahawks cut him after it was revealed he might never play again because of injuries.
Julius Peppers DE- 100% YES
Peppers has the fourth most sacks of all-time. He’s easily a first ballot Hall of Famer and no one will question it when he walks into Canton. It’s still hard to believe he recorded 11 sacks at 37 years old. Peppers finishes his career with 159.5 sacks, over 700 combined tackles, 51 forced fumbles, nine Pro Bowls, three First Team All-Pro selections, and three Second Team All-Pro selections. It’s sad to see one of the all-time greats walk away from the game.
Rob Gronkowski TE- 100% YES
Gronkowski, when healthy, was the most dominant tight end in the game since the unfathomable Tony Gonzalez. Gronkowski could have hit heights we’ve never seen before by a tight end if he wasn’t injured so often. His physical dominance makes him nearly unstoppable at points, but it’s also why he’s hurt so often. In his nine seasons, Gronk has made five Pro Bowls and made four First All-Pro Teams. He was also the 2014 Comeback Player of the Year. He finished his career with 521 receptions, 7,861 receiving yards, and 79 receiving touchdowns. He’s only set to turn 30 this year.
Marshawn Lynch RB- 100% YES
I thought Lynch had done enough to make the Hall of Fame when he retired after the 2015 season. He only solidified his candidacy by returning to the Gridiron and surpassing the 10,000-yard rushing mark. Lynch did miss most of 2018 with an injury, but he was averaging 62.7 rushing yards per game before going down. That would translate to just over 1,000 yards if he played in all 16 games. 2019 will be Lynch’s age 33 season, but I’d bet he still has some Beast Mode left in him.
Shane Lechler P- 77% NO
How does a punter finish with a 77% chance to make the Hall of Fame? Let me explain. While I don’t see Lechler making the Hall of Fame, he’ll be just the second full-time punter to garner serious consideration. The first was Ray Guy. In his 18-year career, Lechler made seven Pro Bowls (all with the Oakland Raiders), was a member of six First All-Pro Teams, and was on three Second All-Pro Teams as well. He was also selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame First Team All-2000s Team. He led the league in yards per punt five times and finished first in total punt yards four times. In comparison, Guy played 14 seasons, all with the Raiders, and he made three First All-Pro Teams and led the league in yards per punt three times. Guy is the best punter of all-time and is in the Hall of Fame. What does that say about Lechler?
Jamaal Charles RB- 72% NO
I think it’s too often overlooked that Charles was once challenging Adrian Peterson for Pro Bowl and All-Pro bids. He was on that level before injuries stole what looked like a blossoming Hall of Fame career. The star running back missed most of 2011, 2015, and 2016 with injuries. He was a seldom-used backup in 2017 and 2018. Before the fall though, Charles had five 1,000-yard rushing seasons. His yards per carry average was one of the best marks of all-time. He was also a strong pass catcher, recording seven receiving touchdowns in 2013. Even with the injuries and setbacks, Charles still managed to record 10,156 yards from scrimmage in his career. He made four Pro Bowls, was a two-time First Team All-Pro, and a one-time Second Team All-Pro. Among qualified players, Charles’ 5.4 rushing yards per carry trail only Randall Cunningham (6.4), Marion Motley (5.7), and Michael Vick (7.0) on the all-time list.
Haloti Ngata DT- 66% NO
Ngata played football with a style that is dying out in the modern game. While he was listed as a defensive tackle, Ngata ate up space like a nose tackle, which created room for Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs to operate in. The long-time Baltimore Raven finished his career with 515 combined tackles, 32.5 sacks, and 37 passes defensed. He won a Super Bowl with the Ravens, went to five Pro Bowls, was voted to two First All-Pro Teams, and also made three Second All-Pro Teams. Ngata’s numbers will never jump off of the page, it takes a deeper look to see the impact he made during his career.
Ryan Kalil C- 56% NO
Kalil has made five Pro Bowls and been named to two First All-Pro Teams. That’s praiseworthy, but I don’t believe it will be anywhere near enough. Just jump up to the Atlanta Falcons section and see what I had to say about Mack. Offensive linemen really do get the short end of the stick when it comes to the Hall of Fame.
Kyle Williams DT- 52% NO
Williams retired after the 2018 season. He had a great 13-year career with the Bills, racking up over 600 combined tackles and 48.5 sacks. He made the Pro Bowl in his final season, giving him six total. While he was consistent and frequently recognized for his skill, he only made one Second All-Pro Team (2010) and that doesn’t warrant Hall of Fame consideration.
Brian Orakpo LB- 31% NO
While he had a nice career, some of Orakpo’s prime years were sapped by injuries. He recorded seven sacks or more seven times in his career and finished with a grand total of 66. Unfortunately, Orakpo played just nine combined games in 2012 and 2014. He went to four Pro Bowls and never made an All-Pro team.
Max Unger C- 27% NO
Unger’s retirement was a surprise. He made the Pro Bowl in 2018 for the first time since 2013 and is a key reason for why the New Orleans Saints offensive line has improved so much recently. In total, Unger went to three Pro Bowls, was a First Team All-Pro in 2012, and won a Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks.
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