The words Hall of Famer and Hall-of-Fame-caliber are thrown around a lot in the NFL.
But just what do they actually mean? What defines a Hall of Famer?
Well, as you might expect, a variety of things do. There isn't just one quality that makes a player worthy of the Hall of Fame.
In fact, there are four qualities. Peak, longevity, impact by position and total value.
Let's break down each of the four qualifications.
In short, how good was a player during his prime? Was he Calvin Johnson hauling in 96 catches for 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns or was he Anquan Boldin catching 102 passes for 1,402 yards and seven touchdowns?
This goes beyond stats, of course. Someone like Megatron is a focal point of his offense and demands constant attention from the defense. A guy like Wes Welker, on the other hand, is just one of many pieces in New England's offense and benefits from the players and scheme around him.
Numbers never show all there is to see.
The era the performance comes in is also key. In 2012, 86 receptions for 1,570 yards is a great season. In 1986, when Jerry Rice did it, it was truly incredible. It's nearly impossible to compare stats from different decades.
To put it in simple terms, a Hall of Fame player must have, at one time, been an elite player at his position. He had to have been someone teams feared.
This one is pretty simple.
In order for an NFL player to make a Hall-of-Fame impact, he has to play for a long time. There are no Hall-of-Famers who played five seasons in the NFL.
To be truly worthy of the Hall, a player has to play for at least a decade—though some leeway is given for position. Otherwise a player simply wouldn't have contributed enough over the course of his career.
Running backs are the most notable exception. If a running back had to play a decade to make the Hall of Fame, almost none would make it. That's an extraordinarily long career for a running back, even by Hall of Fame standards.
Impact by Position
If entrance to the Hall of Fame was based on a quarterback's impact, few non-quarterbacks would make it. That simply isn't fair for the other players.
A truly great safety—like Ed Reed—deserves to make the Hall of Fame despite not having an elite quarterback's influence. Reed may not have been as key to the Baltimore Ravens as Tom Brady has been to the Patriots, but that shouldn't bar the safety's entrance.
So Hall of Fame standards can't be completely independent of position. A player should be recognized for excelling at his job, whether it's rushing the passer or catching the football.
This is, to an extent, an accumulation of all the prior categories. Without peak and longevity, a player is never all that valuable. And, of course, an elite player at a priority position is more valuable than one at an insignificant position.
This category is what keeps a punter or longsnapper from making the Hall of Fame, even if they should according to impact by position. A player at those positions will never add enough value to be worthy of the Hall.
The two categories must be balanced.
This final category is what the Hall of Fame is all about. How much did this player help his team(s) throughout his career? How crucial was he?
A short, but peak-filled career won't offer as much total value, and the same applies to a long career that lacked a peak. A Hall of Fame player needs both.
There are no incomplete Hall of Famers. A Hall of Famer is someone who played a long time, had a high peak, was elite at his position and added a ton of value throughout his career.
One of the four isn't good enough. Two of the four isn't good enough. Even three of the four isn't good enough (though some leeway is granted for position). All four are required for entrance.
This is why we see so few players make the Hall of Fame. Even someone like Cris Carter—by all accounts an elite player—still hasn't made the Hall after being eligible for five years.
While other sports' Halls of Fames have become diluted, the NFL's has remained strong because of these criteria.
And it needs to stay that way.