Out of all the NFL players whom ever lived only the very best of them will ever make the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And within that well-deserving group an even smaller number of players will make it to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. That group is generally not selected just on the numbers they put up but also on the impact they made on the game when they played.
Here are the active NFL players that I believe, even if they never played another down, would be first ballot Hall of Famers.
Tom Brady has passed for just under 40,000 yards in his career, he has 300 passing touchdowns and he has three Super Bowl rings to his name. That's not even counting the two other Super Bowls he started and lost.
Interestingly enough, Brady might be the poster child for why Super Bowl wins for a quarterback can be overrated. As good as he was in 2001, 2003 and 2004 in leading his team to Super Bowl rings, I don't think anyone would argue that he wasn't better in 2007 and 2011 when he threw for 4,806 yards and a record-breaking 50 touchdowns and 5,235 yards and 39 touchdowns, respectively. He didn't bring home the hardware in those years, however.
No matter how the rest of Brady's career plays out he already has a bust waiting for him in Canton.
The ultimate sign of respect to me in the NFL is when every guy who plays your position is compared to you and every team is looking for the next you every year come draft day. That's the kind of respect that Ray Lewis has commanded from almost the very start of his NFL career.
Even though he has had impressive statistics over the course of the year, I don't think I have to quote any of them. The impact Ray Lewis has on a game can't be calculated by watching the stat sheet anyway. Since 1996 he has controlled the center of the field for the Baltimore Ravens. Whether it be a running or passing play, offensive coordinators had to game-plan for him and and opposing players worked really hard to avoid him.
Most of the time all of those efforts proved to be futile.
And it wasn't just that he tackled you, he tried to destroy you! His effort and enthusiasm were infectious and he helped to raise the level of play of those around him as well. If there is one guy who has been central to the Ravens consistently fielding one of the best defenses in the NFL it was Ray Lewis.
He also has a ring from back in 2000 when he helped direct one of the best defenses in NFL history in my opinion.
The search will go on for the next Ray Lewis long after he has retired. But the real Ray Lewis will only have to wait five years to put on that gold jacket.
Peyton Manning's career statistically is just off the charts. For his career he has thrown for almost 55,000 yards and he stands one touchdown pass shy of 400. The early part of his career was marked by doubts about his ability to "win the big one," but he finally got that monkey off of his back in 2006 when he led his team to a Super Bowl title.
As much as his stats blow you away, it has also been his ability to improvise at the line of scrimmage and consistently get the offense into the right play that has been the hallmark of his career. The no-huddle he ran in Indianapolis was so potent and explosive that defensive coordinators had to try to devise innovative ways to try to disguise what they were doing. Even with the subterfuge, Manning still often found ways to exploit those opposing defenses.
Coming off a year where he didn't start a game for the first time in his professional career, Peyton is eager to show everyone he still has something left in Denver. What he has done in his time in the league is already Hall of Fame worthy, though.
No matter what you think about Randy Moss' attitude, the guy put the fear of God in opposing teams' hearts every weekend. I'm old enough that I can remember a time when a receiver would catch a deep ball on a defender and we would say the defender got "burnt." Since Randy's rookie season people have started to referring to that situation as getting "Mossed."
I had the unfortunate honor of playing on some Buccaneers teams back in the late '90s that got "Mossed" back when we were still in the NFC Central.
Let me tell you, it wasn't any fun.
This is a guy who came back after a lot of people thought he had lost a step and didn't do anything except break Jerry Rice's single-season touchdown reception record, a record that many of those same people weren't sure would ever be broken.
Just under 15,000 yards receiving for his career and three of the best five touchdown reception performances for a season along with his impact on the game, forcing teams to double cover him every single play, make Moss a no-brainer first ballot Hall of Famer in my book.
Ed Reed is the NFL's active leader in career interceptions with 57. Only two men in NFL history have recorded more interceptions in their career and are not in the Hall of Fame, and one of them isn't eligible yet (Darren Sharper). I think it's safe to say he will be in Canton some day.
What makes him a first ballot Hall of Famer is his uncanny ability to know where the ball is going before it's thrown. Through a tremendous amount of film work Reed prepares himself every week to know the opposing quarterback's reads as well as he does. He has been so good at getting to the ball in his 10-year career that he appears to intimidate some quarterbacks into not even trying to throw deep balls against him.
He also doesn't waste many of his interceptions. His 1,463 yards on interception yards rank second only to Rod Woodson on the all-time list by 20 yards and his six career TD returns are the sixth-highest total in NFL history.
He has been the best safety of his era, and I don't think it's even close. He is definitely a first ballot Hall of Famer.
Anthony David Gonzalez is already No. 2 on the career receptions list with 1,149. He is second in NFL history only to Jerry Rice. Let that sink in for a minute. Your favorite receiver probably didn't catch as many balls as Gonzales has and he is still going at 35 years old. The next highest-ever career output for a tight end is Shannon Sharpe, with 815 receptions.
In fact, just last year he caught 80 balls to add to that tally. Let's not forget that Sharpe ended his career as the NFL career leader for tight ends in catches, yards and touchdowns. Gonzales has already eclipsed all of his numbers and doesn't appear to be slowing down at all.
It's almost certain that, barring injury, Gonzales will have the most career catches of any player in NFL history by the end of this season, but even if he doesn't accomplish that he has already punched his ticket to the Hall of Fame.
It took Shannon Sharpe until his third year of eligibility to get his gold jacket. I expect with how Gonzales has shattered all of his records, he can start getting fitted for his exactly five years after he turns in his retirement papers.
With 54 career interceptions, 11 of which were returned for touchdowns, and 15.5 career sacks Charles Woodson has been one of the most versatile and productive cornerbacks in NFL history.
More than just a cover corner, Woodson's ability to cover the tight end and blitzing off the edge has given his defensive coordinators a lot of latitude in being able to move him all over the field and give opposing quarterbacks headaches.
With the size of some NFL safeties at 6'1" and 200 pounds he also has brought a physicality to the game that many other so-called cover corners seemed to lack. His playmaking ability against the run as well as the pass was one of the major reasons the Green Bay Packers were able to bring home the Lombardi Trophy in 2010.
He is such a talented player that you rarely even hear other players compared to him.
He has just been that good.
I don't think there is any question that he should be a first ballot Hall of Famer