Headed to the Hall: Ten Players Under 30 Who May Be Canton Bound [Offensive Edition]

In light of the recent voting for the Hall of Fame, which included Curtis Martin, Willie Roaf, and four others booking flights to Canton for August, the creative juices started flowing, and I began to wonder which players that are still playing on Sunday have the best shot of making the Hall of Fame after their illustrious careers come to an end.

To make it more interesting, I wanted players to be under the age of thirty, which made it much more fun digging for young, but talented gems. After I make my case, I will present a stat, or fact, which is only something to further the argument. With their careers as is, and with so much time to add to the resume, these are the ten players that I think will have a bust in Canton, Ohio.

10. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots, 22 years old

Brady will continue to find Gronk, and chances are, Gronk will continue to find the endzone

Gronkowski is easily the youngest player on our list, but also the only tight end. The position is changing, and Gronkowski, with teammate Aaron Hernandez, are responsible for the shift. In only his second season in the league, Gronkowski broke almost every major tight end record, setting new marks for most TD’s in a season (17), and also for most yards (1,327). As long as Tom Brady and Gronkowski continue to grow a budding receiver-quarterback relationship, the sky is the limit for this monster.

Just Something To Think About…

Player A’s Best Season: 89 receptions, 1,290 yards, 9 TD’s
Player B’s Best Season: 90 reception, 1,370 yards, 17 TD’s

Player A? Kellen Winslow [HoF Class of 1995], often regarded as one of the best TE’s of all time. Player B is of course, Gronkowski. Interestingly enough, both of those seasons came in each players first full season as a starter.

9. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens, 25 years old

Ray Rice is one of the most complete players in the game today, and can often change the game rather quickly, whether it be on a long run, or one of his signature swing passes that he should surely trademark. Although he only stands as 5′ 8”, Rice plays like a man who’s 6′ 4”. He runs north and south, and has a tremendous center of gravity. A quarterback’s best friend, Rice is hands down the best checkdown back in the game today. After putting together three straight seasons of over 1200 yards, Rice is well on his way to making himself a big name for himself.

Just Something To Think About…

Player A’s 1-3rd Season’s: 5,885 total yards
Player B’s 1-3rd Season’s: 5,816 total yards

Ray Rice is Player A, and I used his first three season as a starter, meaning his 2nd, 3rd, and 4th seasons. Player B began his career as a starter right from the get go. I mean, who would be stupid enough to bench Eric Dickerson? [HoF Class of 1999]

8. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions, 24 years old

If healthy seasons are over the horizon, Stafford has the chance to do incredible things

Matthew Stafford, plagued with injuries since he came into the league, taken with the 1st overall pick in the 2009 draft, finally completed all 16 games in 2011, and did so in electrifying fashion. He put up over 5000 yards, and connected with Calvin Johnson for what seemed like a touchdown almost every other play. The NFC will be loaded with QB’s next season, with names like Brees, Rodgers, and Manning. It would be foolish for anyone to forget the baby faced gun slinger.

Just Something To Think About…

Player A’s Best Season: 5,038 yards, 41 TD’s, 16 INT, 63.5 Comp %
Player B’s Best Season: 4,030 yards, 25 TD’s, 10 INT, 63.2 Comp %
Player C’s Best Season: 5,084 yards, 46 TD’s, 17 INT, 64.2 Comp %

When you’ve only played one full season in the NFL, and you can be grouped with John Elway and Dan Marino, does it really matter which stat line is yours? Didn’t think so.

7. Arian Foster, Houston Texans, 25 years old

I may have spoke a little too soon when I was praising Rice, because the only player who could take his crown for sure-handedness would be Arian Foster. Seemingly coming out of no where, Foster has been nothing short of incredible. After dominating during his junior season at Tennessee, Foster was persuaded by coaches to stay for his senior season. He would later regret it, after becoming part of a running back rotation, and not being able to work out at the combine due to a pulled hamstring. The result? One of the best RB’s in the game today never heard his name called.

It clearly didn’t bother Foster too much, after taking over the full time job in 2009, he has put together seasons of 2220, and 1840 yards from scrimmage. If Foster can keep the injury bug at bay, and continue to be a reliable member of the passing game, there’s no telling what he might accomplish.

Just Something To Think About…

In 2009, in his first full season, Foster dominated the competition to the tune of 2,220 yards from scrimmage. That is something Jim Brown, Walter Payton, and Barry Sanders did a combined ONE time.

6. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars, 26 years old

With such a low center of gravity, by the time linebackers spot MJD, they're often staring at the back of his jersey

MJD as he is often referred to, had to wait three excruciatingly long years before he was able to grasp the reigns and do some serious damage in the sunshine state. It was certainly worth the wait, as the little bowling ball has been making highlight after highlight. In his last, and only three seasons as the lead back, Jones-Drew has averaged 1,438 yards, and scored a total of 34 TD’s. If Jacksonville ever decides that they actually want to compete for a division title, and grab some free agents to stretch the field a bit, MJD could grow to be even more deadly than he is today.

Just Something To Think About…

The runningbacks drafted ahead of MJD in 2006? Reggie Bush, Laurence Maroney, DeAngelo Williams, Joseph Addai, and LenDale White. Well then. So much for “experts”.

5. Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns, 27 years old

I couldn’t possibly do this entire list without putting an offensive lineman on the list. In all honesty, many more of them will make the Hall than any other position. Currently enshrined, we have 37 “modern era” O-linemen, compared to only 23 quarterbacks, 21 wide receivers, and 29 halfbacks/fullbacks. But, it’s a league of glory, and a list full of big jacked up white guys might not be all that exciting to read, sorry Jeff Saturday.

Joe Thomas has done so much already, and in such a short career. After being drafted in 2008, Thomas has not missed a single game, playing in all 80 games for the Cleveland Browns. The Pro-Bowl has become a tradition for Thomas, since he has attended all five since his rookie season. Allowing only 20 sacks since he joined the league, or an average of one every four games, Thomas has also only been called for six holding penalties, something that credits his dedication to discipline.

Just Something To Think About…

Joe Thomas and Richmond Webb are the only lineman since 1970 to make the Pro-Bowl for their first five NFL seasons. Not the most exciting thing, but cut me some slack people, there’s only so much you can say about the guys in the trenches.

4. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions, 26 years old

Johnson remains one of the few wideouts in the league who can truly open up the game with a single catch

After the 2011 season, there should be no question around the NFL, or it’s fans, just who is the top dog when it comes to NFL receivers. Calvin “Megatron” Johnson has been a force to be reckoned with ever since his playing days as a Yellow Jacket at Georgia Tech University. After playing Russian roulette with a multitude of putrid quarterbacks in his early years, Johnson has finally found a formidable teammate with the aforementioned Matthew Stafford. Even while playing with less than desirable QB’s, Johnson still shined, putting up 1,331 yards, and 12 scores in 2008, all the while playing with the deadly trio of Dan Orlovsky, Daunte Culpepper, and Shaun Hill. Yikes.

Johnson runs some of the crispiest routes in the league, and can run plenty of them, ranging from hooks, slants, and of course, the post. Never one to shy away from the middle of the field, Johnson often does his best work in the middle of the field, where hard hitting safeties and linebackers lie. A Hall of Fame bust is imminent.

Just Something To Think About…

During his first five seasons in the NFL, Jerry Rice managed 6,364 yards, and a ridiculous 66 TD’s, although they shy in comparison, Johnson has added 5,872 yards of his own, and 49 scores. It’s a shame that Johnson hasn’t had more time with Stafford at the helm, because if 2011 was any indication, the results could be frighteningly good. Nobody will ever top Rice, especially for the time frame in which he played, but it won’t stop people like Calvin Johnson from making a run at his god-like numbers.

3. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals, 28 years old

Fitzgerald, like Johnson, has never been fortunate enough to play with one quarterback for an extended period of time. Although many will point to sure fire Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, Fitzgerald has played only a tick over 50% of his games with #13 throwing him the pigskin. And, like Johnson, it hasn’t mattered very much, or if it did, Fitzy didn’t let it show. With five seasons of 90+ catches, Fitzgerald is statistically the best wide receiver playing the game today.

If the Cardinals want to make a run at the Super bowl again, they would be wise to get into the Peyton Manning Sweepstakes if he becomes available this summer. Imagine what Fitzgerald could do if Manning was the one calling the shots? Actually, don’t. The numbers will make your head hurt.

Just Something To Think About…

‘He should, he’s at the top of the game right now. He’s an extremely, extremely impressive talent. To be around him, he’s a really down-to-Earth guy.’- Larry Fitzgerald, agreeing that Calvin Johnson should be the highest paid wideout in the league.

Fitzgerald is currently the NFL’s highest paid wideout with an eight-year, $120 million contract.

2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers, 28 years old

Rodgers, with Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson at his disposal, will surely make another championship run come 2012

Aaron Rodgers, fresh off his MVP award in 2011, is one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and given how he came into his situation, it could be argued one of the boldest and gutsiest. After Brett Favre’s departure from Green Bay in 2008, Rodgers has made fans in the Wisconsin area all but forget about the growing pains that many thought the team would have.

After winning the Lombardi Trophy last season, Rodgers has done nothing but convert the doubters to believers, and the believers into devout followers of the Church of Rodgers. With a deep bomb that rival quarterback’s drool over, there doesn’t seem to be a throw that Rodgers can’t make. With 41 victories since he took over the starting job, Rodgers is also tops in league history in terms of passer rating. And let’s not forget the rushing yards either, Rodgers has added 16 scores, and over 1100 yards on the ground.

Just Something To Think About…

There seems to be some sort of Anti-Rodgers that spills out of Patriot fans, as if there afraid that someone will take the crown from golden boy Tom Brady, and supplant him as the best QB in the league. Relax, Pats fans, Rodgers still needs to put together a more complete body of work, and add some rings before he even starts to knock on the door. With that being said…

Player A 2009-2011: 13,533 yards, 103 TD’s, 29 INT’s … 37-11 team record
Player B 2009-2011: 12,990 yards, 103 TD’s, 24 INT’s … 35-11 team record

Player A is Brady, and Player B is of course Rodgers. Of course, a lot closer than I’m sure anyone expected. If people try and tell you that Rodgers has only one good season, kindly let them know, that simply isn’t true. Factor in the 1200 rushing yards, and 16 TD’s that Rodgers adds, and it becomes clear that is far from a one way street. If Rodgers adds some more rings, we have ourselves an interesting debate in terms of history.

1. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings, 26 years old

I will never forget the day that Peterson was drafted, as Vikings fans sat on the edge of their seats, wondering if the Yellow and Purple would pull the trigger on Brady Quinn, the pretty boy with an accurate arm from Notre Dame, or Peterson, the beast from Oklahoma with a work ethic like nobody else.

Vikings fans, you can exhale now.

If the Vikings can grow Christian Ponder into a formidable quarterback, the Vikings can really use the play action to help both Ponder, and the best back in the game, Peterson

It was a close race between Aaron Rodgers and Peterson for the top spot, but I couldn’t imagine taking AD out of the top spot, especially with a consistency that is rivaled among running backs in today’s league. He took the league by storm in 2007 as a rookie, by shocking the sports world when he rushed for a record 296 yards against the San Diego Chargers in only his 8th career game. Peterson hasn’t slowed down, not by a long shot. With 64 touchdowns in six seasons, and more rushing yards than anyone in the league since draft day, Peterson is the best running back the league has seen in years.

Just Something To Think About…

Peterson, after only six seasons, is 36th all-time with 64 TD’s. Barring a full comeback from his torn knee ligaments, a top ten spot is almost inevitable, which would require only another 35 TD’s. If there is anyone that will bust his ass to return by September, it’s Peterson.

In Conclusion…

It was tough to hammer the list down to only ten, but there you have it. People like Jake Long, LeSean McCoy, Frank Gore, Wes Welker, and Eli Manning missed the list due to not enough time in the league, or for missing the cut in terms of age.

It will be interesting to see how the careers of those involved play out. And who was the won that said rings were the be-all-end-all? The men above have played a combined 51 season, and only one of them has a ring, Mr. Rodgers, of the 2010 Super bowl Champion Green Bay Packers. That being said, I’m sure some hardware would only vault some of the borderline players into serious consideration.

Hey, Canton, get the pencils sharpened, we have some busts to start sketching out.

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  1. […] case you missed yesterday’s article, I invite you to check it out here, to better understand how I came up with my lists, and they way I tackled this daunting question. […]



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