On Saturday, starting at noon ET on NFL Network, the Pro Football Hall of Fame will officially enshrine the eight members of the Class of 2022:
- Tony Boselli, offensive tackle
- Cliff Branch, wide receiver
- LeRoy Butler, safety
- Sam Mills, linebacker
- Richard Seymour, defensive lineman
- Bryant Young, defensive lineman
- Art McNally, official
- Dick Vermeil, coach
This got my crack editors at NFL.com thinking about a related question:
Which current NFL players are Hall of Fame LOCKS? In other words, which active stars would be destined for Canton even if they didn't play another down?
Fun assignment for a Schein Nine -- though in this case, I wish my last name rhymed with 15. This kind of exercise spawns some difficult omissions, so let me get ahead of the Twitter tough guys right off the bat ...
Meanwhile, Patrick Mahomes has been a starting quarterback in the NFL for four years. He's been simply brilliant, leading his team to Championship Sunday -- at least -- in each of those seasons. It's been such a special start to his career, in fact, that I won't argue with anybody who wants to make the case that he's Canton-bound even if he falls off the face of the Earth tomorrow. I'm just not ready to do that today -- not with my limited real estate here.
I still need a little more from Mahomes' teammate, Travis Kelce. He's definitely on an HOF path, though. And while we're on the tight end position, you won't find Rob Gronkowski below because he's retired (... at least for now). But yeah, Gronk is clearly getting a gold jacket.
Julio Jones has a heckuva résumé, and he's basically the prototype at the receiver position. He was the toughest player to leave off this list. Maybe he gets a ring with Brady in Tampa this season and that locks it up.
OK, enough about who didn't make it -- let's shift to those who did. Here are my active Hall of Fame locks, Schein Nine style.
Well, explaining this selection shouldn't take long. Brady, who just turned 45 years old, is the single greatest player in the history of the NFL. He's the single greatest quarterback ever. Ten Super Bowl starts! Seven rings! Five Super Bowl MVPs! Eighteen division titles! Fifteen Pro Bowls! Three MVPs!
OK, I think I'm preaching to the choir here. There's only one Tom Brady, and he's as Canton-bound as can be. Might as well start working on the bronze bust today.
Having said all that about Brady, I will always argue that Rodgers is the most talented quarterback in NFL history. The man has four MVP awards, after all -- trailing only Peyton Manning, who owns five. Sure, Rodgers only has one ring. That's a knock. And I get it. But I also contend that, in many seasons, Rodgers' surrounding talent and coaching has paled in comparison to many of his high-end peers. At the end of the day, he currently boasts the second-highest passer rating in NFL history -- 104.5, which only trails the 105.8 mark of the far less experienced Patrick Mahomes -- and a mind-bending touchdown-to-interception ratio of 449:93.
It's also the way this man goes about his work, making the game look so easy with superlative savvy and pinpoint precision. Watching Rodgers play quarterback is like watching Picasso paint. Or seeing Beethoven on the keys. And that cannon of an arm -- which can flick the ball all over the field from all different arm angles and throwing platforms -- doesn't hurt, either.
I've written/said it many times, including two weeks ago in this space: Aaron Donald is the greatest defensive football player ever. With all due respect to Lawrence Taylor and Reggie White, this guy is the D.G.O.A.T. Honestly, they should name the Defensive Player of the Year award after him. He's won it three times, but he might as well own it. What Donald does on a weekly basis, taking over games from the defensive tackle position, is unprecedented. Since entering the NFL in 2014, he leads the league in sacks (98) and QB pressures (713, per Pro Football Focus). That's just absurd for an interior defensive lineman who consistently has to work through the muck of double- and triple-teams.
He was already a Hall of Famer before the Super Bowl LVI win, but his performance on the sport's biggest stage fully underscored his Canton candidacy. According to PFF, Donald had seven pressures: four hurries, two sacks and one QB hit. Fittingly, he effectively ended the contest by rag-dolling Joe Burrow on the quarterback's last snap. Game: WRECKED.
If you disagree, you are entitled to your foolish opinion. Over the past eight years, Wagner has been first-team All-Pro six times and second-team All-Pro twice. He helped bring Seattle its first Lombardi Trophy -- in fact, he did more than help ...
Notice the players I have Wagner ranked ahead of on this list, including Russell Wilson. Wagner was the heartbeat of one of the most consistent and dominant defenses over a solid stretch of years -- a defense that excelled in an offensive era. Sure, the "Legion of Boom" secondary was loaded. Yes, Wilson's a stud. And Marshawn Lynch's "Beast Mode" was really something to behold. But Bobby Wagner is the best pure football player the Seahawks have featured during Pete Carroll's tenure.
It's going to be weird seeing Wagner in a Rams uniform this season. That said, watching him play on the same defense as Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey will be quite the treat.
Yes, injuries have marred the back end of Watt's career, but don't forget how absurdly dominant this guy was in his prime. In the four-season span from 2012 through 2015, Watt racked up 69 sacks, 190 QB hits, 15 forced fumbles, 10 fumble recoveries and three Defensive Player of the Year awards. Then, after a pair of injury-riddled seasons in 2016 and '17, he returned in 2018 to record 16 sacks and a league-high seven forced fumbles, earning his fifth first-team All-Pro nod.
Talk to Watt's NFL contemporaries: He's a flat-out all-timer. His competitiveness is contagious, his relentlessness unsurpassed. When Watt's firing on all cylinders, the carnage is breathtaking. Here's hoping for good health in his Age 33 season this fall.
If "edge bender" were in the dictionary, Von Miller's picture would be front and center. The certified sack artist defies physics with the way he explodes off the corner en route to the quarterback. And he gets home with alarming frequency, boasting 115.5 career sacks. Miller has logged seven seasons of double-digit sacks. He's not a garbage-time compiler, either -- this is a bona fide big-game player. Remember Super Bowl 50? Von nabbed MVP honors with 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. His first-quarter strip-sack produced the Broncos' first score of the game, while his fourth-quarter strip-sack essentially put the game away.
After getting traded to the Rams last November, Miller delivered nine sacks in 12 games, including four in Los Angeles' four postseason contests. That gave him a second Super Bowl ring, and now he's aiming for a third on the loaded Bills.
As an Associated Press voter, I constantly hear about the fact that Russ has never earned an MVP vote. And I constantly have to explain that the voting process doesn't feature a list -- we're only allowed to supply one name. If there were a list, Russ would have votes. Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.
Initially an overlooked third-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft headlined by top-two picks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, Wilson has been an NFL starter since Day 1. Boasting a 104-53-1 record and nine Pro Bowl bids over 10 seasons, this cat's a superstar. I don't really care about his individual statistics, though the career 101.8 passer rating isn't too shabby. Bottom line: Russ is a winner. He's a superstar. And his elusiveness and creativity when the play breaks down is worth the price of admission alone.
As I stated in the intro to this piece, there's no future-casting allowed. This is about where the players stand today. And yes, I absolutely believe Russ has the Canton chops right now. That said, I think Wilson, who's still just 33, is going to enjoy a stellar second act with the Broncos. So eventually, all you haters out there will be forced to acknowledge he's a lock.
I know how tough it is for special teamers to get into the Hall. Heck, I'm still waiting for Steve Tasker to get a bust. But I know a true Hall of Famer when I see one. And Justin Tucker is unquestionably that. The clutch kicks, the bombs, the sparkling statistics -- it's all there. The most accurate kicker in NFL history (91.1 percent) is also the best kicker in NFL history. And if the best player ever at a position isn't a Hall of Famer, what's the point?
Also, in an era of competitive balance and NFL parity, you can't overlook how big a luxury it is to basically be able to bank three points when you cross midfield. Shoot, with the extra point lengthened, that's no longer automatic -- except for Tucker. Baltimore has a major advantage in this weapon of a leg.
As mentioned above, Tony Boselli is getting his gold jacket this weekend. Long time coming for the blind-side blocker, and well deserved. But I'll make the case that Trent Williams has been just as dominant of a left tackle (if not more so) over a longer period of time. He's the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history, and rightfully so: The man they call "Silverback" is the best in the business, an absolute rock. The tape munchers over at Pro Football Focus had him as the No. 1 player in the entire league last season, handing him the highest PFF grade ever for an offensive tackle.
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