Today, I decided to use the Keltner List, which baseball statistician Bill James used to help determine if a baseball player is worth of a spot in the Hall of Fame, and applied it to the current NFL in order to see how many locks for the HoF are currently still playing. Of course, I had to modify it slightly since it’s much more difficult to evaluate between positions in football than it is in baseball or basketball, but the list was still pretty helpful. I decided that since I’m only considering current players rather than as of yet ineligible retirees, I’ll be basing my analysis on whether or not the players listed below would be Hall worthy if they retired today. This generally means that most of these players won’t even be the best at their positions right now, since I’m taking their whole career into account.
Here are the current players who I think are HoF locks, categorized by division:
NFC North: Adrian Peterson, Julius Peppers, Jared Allen, Aaron Rodgers, Calvin Johnson
AFC North: Troy Polamalu, Ben Roethlisberger
AFC West: Peyton Manning, DeMarcus Ware, Antonio Gates, Charles Woodson, Dwight Freeney
NFC West: Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, Larry Fitzgerald, John Abraham, Kevin Williams
AFC South: Andre Johnson, Robert Mathis, Reggie Wayne
NFC South: Drew Brees, Champ Bailey
NFC East: Eli Manning
AFC East: Tom Brady, Ed Reed
That’s 24 players out of a league featuring just under 1,700 players on any given week. There are a number of players on this list who are certainly past their primes — Reed, Bailey, Polamalu, Woodson, Williams, and Freeney all come to mind. I want to stress here that we’re not considering the status of these players today, but the status of their careers as a whole. Heck, the fact that they are all good enough to play past their prime counts for extra points on the Keltner list.
I’ll note a couple of interesting players left off the list below.
Philip Rivers: Rivers is statistically an excellent quarterback. In fact, he’s easily best quarterback statistically from the 2004 draft class. Yet he’s the only one without multiple Superbowl wins. Heck, Rivers doesn’t even have an appearance to his credit yet, and he played on some loaded teams early in his career. If he retired right now, he’d be in Ken Anderson territory as a statically great quarterback who didn’t win the big one (although Anderson did lead his team to a Superbowl!) Give Rivers another few years and he might make it in on statistics alone, but as of right now I don’t think he’s a lock.
Steven Jackson: Statistically, Steven Jackson should be a lock, especially considering the fact that put up excellent production on a whole lot of awful Rams teams. Hey, the Keltner list asks us to consider if a there’s any reason to believe that a player was better than his stats indicate, and since Jackson’s teams were so bad for so long the answer is a definite yes. Yet for some reason, I just don’t think that Jackson is a lock.
Steve Smith: I’m only 5’9″, so the diminutive ex-Panther has always been a favorite of mine. In the prime of his career, he played with a mediocre quarterback in Jake Delhomme and managed to put up frequently fantastic numbers, especially the season when he won the receiving triple crown (receptions, yards, and TDs). Still, I don’t think his numbers are quite HoF worthy, especially considering how they stack up against his peers.
James Harrison: There’s no doubt in my mind that James Harrison would be a lock if he had been a starter earlier in his career. Unfortunately, from a HoF consideration perspective, he simply didn’t start soon enough to have a serious shot. Harrison was extremely productive for the Steelers from 2007-2011, during which he won a Superbowl as a starter (and should have won MVP of that Superbowl) and notched a DPoY award, but four stellar years just isn’t long enough to get into the Hall, unless your name is Gale Sayers.
Wes Welker: I think there’s a plausible argument to be made the Wes Welker is the best receiver in football today. The crafty little route runner has led the league in catches an astounding three times and posted four 100+ catch seasons. He also has a special place in my heart as a fellow 5’9″er. But he hasn’t caught all that many touchdowns (48 as of 2014) and he’s 0-3 in Superbowls. He also gets hurt by the fact that he did it playing with the two greatest quarterbacks of his generation. Love ya Wes, but I don’t think you belong in the Hall just yet.