10 Current NFL Players Headed for the Hall of Fame

  • Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions

    While the term “beast” has become completely overused — to the point where anybody who knocks out 20 push-ups at their LA Fitness is liable to post “Im a BEAST!!! #GymFlow” on Twitter — it has historically not been a popular term to describe NFL wide receivers. It wouldn’t have fit back in the days of Lynn Swann and Lance Alworth, and is still rare today as wideouts more often come in slender, sleek models.

    Calvin Johnson, though? He’s a beast. Standing 6-5, weighing 235, with track-star speed, dunk-contest hops and WWE muscles, “Megatron” is the most impressive physical specimen in the league. He owns the NFL’s single-season record for receiving yards, and he’s already tied with Alworth for the most 200-yard receiving games in a career. At 28 years old and showing no signs of slowing down, Johnson is putting up Hall of Fame numbers to match his Hall of Fame talent.

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  • Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints

    Before 2008, only one person in NFL history had thrown for at least 5,000 yards in a single season. Brees? He’s thrown for at least 5,000 yards four time since, including 5,476 last year. That’s insane. That’s more than insane. Brees also isn’t just a guy who slings it all over the field with no regard. In NFL history, only one quarterback has a higher completion percentage than the Saints’ leader, and if Brees keeps up his current pace, he’ll pass him this season.

    Since joining New Orleans in 2006, ironically after San Diego decided they were better off with Philip Rivers, the 6-0 signal-caller is averaging mind-boggling numbers: 4,842 yards a season and 35 touchdowns. Since he’s also won a Super Bowl (and the MVP) with the Saints, there’s no question the 35-year-old will one day be a Hall of Famer.

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  • Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos

    Wait … he’s not already in the Hall of Fame? If there is one active player for which HOF voters would be willing to waive the standard five-year waiting period, it’s Peyton. He might be the most beloved quarterback in an era when QBs are more popular than the President, and it’s easy to see why. Had Peyton retired after the Colts released him in 2012, he’d still be a sure-thing first-ballot Hall of Famer. What he’s done in Denver since leaving Indianapolis — leading the Broncos to a Super Bowl appearance while breaking Dan Marino’s records for single-season passing yards and touchdowns — is an exclamation point that wasn’t even needed.

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  • Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

    Even if they wanted to, Manning and Brady shouldn’t be allowed to retire in the same year. It’s just not safe. The hype surrounding Manning and Brady going into the Hall of Fame in the same year would be an out-of-control train, and people could get hurt. And then you’d have to face the tough question of which legendary QB gets to “main event” the Canton ceremony? Manning’s resume has been covered. Brady has three Super Bowl titles, two Super Bowl MVPs and two league MVPs, along with pop-culture fame unmatched by any player of this era.

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  • Charles Woodson, DB, Oakland Raiders

    As a former DB myself and a connoisseur of the fine arts of ball-hawking and bump-and-run, count me among those thankful that some ambitious coach along the way didn’t convert Woodson to a full-time offensive player. Had that happened, we would’ve missed one of the greatest players to ever call the defensive backfield home. Following his historic Heisman Trophy win at Michigan, Woodson has put together a pro career that includes 56 interceptions, 19 sacks, 27 forced fumbles, 13 touchdowns, an NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, eight Pro Bowl selections and a Super Bowl title.

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  • Joe Thomas, OT, Cleveland Browns

    The brightest in a pitifully limited number of bright spots for the post-relocation Browns has been the Dawg Pound getting the privilege to watch an all-time great offensive lineman at work. Thomas is a brick wall at left tackle. He’s been a Pro Bowler every year since his rookie year, joining Jim Brown as the only Cleveland player to make the Pro Bowl in each of his first seven seasons. Besides Thomas and Brown, only nine other players in NFL history have ever accomplished that feat, and all of them are Hall of Famers.

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  • Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings

    He is the one-man rebuttal to the theory that the NFL is no longer a place for workhorse, franchise running backs. When Peterson was named league MVP after the 2012 season, he broke a five-year streak of QBs winning the award. And the way things are going, he might be the last running back to win the award for another decade. One of two active members of the NFL’s 10,000-yard rushing club, Peterson has the record for most rushing yards in a single game (296) and has likely already secured his spot in the HOF.

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  • Earl Thomas, S, Seattle Seahawks

    Richard Sherman gets the commercial spots, video-game covers and interview requests, and Russell Wilson gets all the attention you’d expect from a championship-certified QB, but Thomas is probably the most valuable player on the reigning Super Bowl champs. He’s also the best safety in the league today. In his short career, Thomas has already been a three-time All-Pro and is the catalyst for a defense that could go down in history next to the ’70s Steelers and ‘80s Bears as history’s most dominant.

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  • Patrick Willis & NaVorro Bowman, LBs, San Francisco 49ers

    One of the few legit criticisms you could use against Ray Lewis is that he wasn’t a one-of-a-kind, once-in-a-generation linebacker like some of his predecessors. The reason you can say that is Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, two Lewis clones who somehow ended up on the same team and have helped restore the 49ers as one the league’s elite. Willis (seven Pro Bowls) and Bowman (two) are sideline-to-sideline tackling machines who are too smart, too strong, too fast and too determined for one blocking scheme to contain.

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  • Calvin Johnson
  • Drew Brees
  • Charles Woodson
  • Adrian Peterson
  • NaVorro Bowman

The Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2014 is one for the real fans. For those of us who can appreciate the underappreciated; who can see past today’s Madden-ized QB-worshipping, fantasy-means-more-than-reality football culture and still love the parts of the game that don’t show up on the highlight reel.

This year’s class of inductees — which was officially enshrined this weekend in Canton, Ohio — featured an offensive tackle (Walter Jones), an across-the-middle possession receiver (Andre Reed), a linebacker who was better at pass coverage than rushing the passer (Derrick Brooks), a cornerback who actually liked to hit people but was perpetually overshadowed in the era of Prime Time (Aeneas Williams), a defensive end who is so old-school they didn’t officially keep track of sacks during his career (Claude Humphrey), and, yes, even a punter (Ray Guy).

(Michael Strahan is part of the class, too. But he’s a Super Bowl champ who played in New York and has a stranglehold on every TV in America for like four hours each morning, so he doesn’t really fit into what I’m doing here.)

But don’t worry if this group leaves you feeling underwhelmed. After this, there will be plenty of Hall of Fame classes headlined by superstar quarterbacks and flashy playmakers and other mainstream household names. Some of those names you’ll find here, among the future HOFers getting ready to continue building their Canton resumes in the 2014 NFL season.

Follow Austin on Twitter at @UmmahSports