Canton or Bust: 15 Current NFL Players Destined for Pro Football Hall of Fame

Gene StrotherCorrespondent IIIApril 9, 2011

Canton or Bust: 15 Current NFL Players Destined for Pro Football Hall of Fame

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    For these current NFL players, there really is no "Canton or bust." That is a misnomer. For these shining stars, it is simply a bust in Canton. A gold jacket. Membership in the ultimate football brotherhood.

    These men are game-changers. They are achievers. They have played the game of football at its highest level. Rating these players in the order of absolute certainty, let us begin at the bottom and work our way to the top, shall we?

    Hang on. Here we go... 

A Cool Brees Will Blow into Canton

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    Hard to believe, but Drew Brees is already a 10-year veteran. The last five of them have been spent in New Orleans. Each of those five years, Brees has exceeded 4,000 yards passing. In 2008, he threw for 5,069 yards. Each of the past three years, Brees has thrown for more than 30 touchdowns.

    Brees was the 2009 Player of the Year. He has made five Pro Bowl teams and has been named first-team All-Pro once.

    Oh, and he has that one thing a quarterback so desperately needs on his Canton resume: a Super Bowl ring.

    Drew Brees is No.15 on our list.

Ballhawk Ed Reed Snags One More

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    How does 54 interceptions in nine years strike you? How about recording 22 interceptions as a strong safety and then moving to free safety and recording 32 more? How about the 2004 Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year award? Seven Pro Bowls in nine years?

    Still not convinced? OK. How about this? In 2010, Ed Reed only played in 10 games due to hip surgery. He still managed to collect eight interceptions, which led the league.

    Ed Reed is big time—and in big-time games, he plays even bigger. In the 2009 AFC wildcard game against the Miami Dolphins, Reed intercepted Chad Pennington twice, returning one for a touchdown. In nine postseason games, he has hauled in seven interceptions.

    Go ahead and cast the die, Mr. Bust Maker. Ed Reed is a lock.

    He is also No.14 on our list.

The Iceman Cometh: Adam Vinatieri Has Kicked the Canton Door Down

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    Adam Vinatieri, kicker for the Indianapolis Colts is No.13.

    Yes. A kicker. But not just any kicker. Vinatieri is simply the best clutch kicker of his generation. Remember the "Tuck Rule" game? Remember that blizzard? Remember that clutch kick to tie the game and then the one to win it?

    That was the Iceman. 

    There was also that kick in the last minutes of Super Bowl XXXVI, to lift the New England Patriots to victory over the St. Louis Rams. Two years later, it was the Patriots over the Carolina Panthers. Same scenario. Same kicker. Same result.

    Vinatieri has participated in six Super Bowls: four with the Patriots and two with the Indianapolis Colts. He has been on the winning team four times.

    I know—kickers don't make it. But this one will. Move over, Jan Stenerud. You will no longer be the only pure kicker in the Hall.

Adrian Peterson Will Break Tackles All the Way to Canton

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    Adrian Peterson is nicknamed "A.D."

    I know. Those are not even his initials, right? But that is not what A.D. stands for. It stands for "All Day." Because this cat can run all day long.

    Peterson was NFL Rookie of the Year in 2007 and the NFL Player of the Year in 2008. He has run his way onto the short list of just about every fantasy league there is because he produces.

    A.D. has only been in the NFL for four seasons. He has also been to four Pro Bowls and rushed for 1,298 yards or more every year. Toss in 52 rushing touchdowns and you have a man well on his way.

    Peterson has a ways to run before he runs into the Hall of Fame, but are you going to bet against him?

    Me neither.

    He is No.12 on the Can't Miss Canton list.

Troy Polamalu: His HoF Bust Is Going to Look Crazy with All That Hair

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    No.11 on our list is number 43 in the black and gold.

    Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers is one of the best to ever play safety in the NFL. Drafted 16th overall in the 2003 draft, the seven-year veteran has already been to six Pro Bowls. He has recorded 394 tackles, 27 interceptions and scored three touchdowns so far in his stellar career.

    Polamalu once recorded three sacks in a game—from the safety position!

    One might call Polamalu's gridiron efforts Herculean, except for the hair. Maybe he is really the modern day Samson. I am sure his opponents are wondering, "Where is Delilah when you need her?"

The Lone Star: Houston Texans Wide Receiver Andre Johnson

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    So far, the Houston Texans franchise has not gotten many things right. They have gone from a perpetual patsy to a middle-of-the-pack also-ran.

    They did get it right, however, when they drafted Andre Johnson third overall in the 2003 NFL draft. Ordinarily, drafting a wide receiver that high is not advisable. Andre Johnson, my friend, is not ordinary.

    The five-time Pro Bowler and two-time first team All-Pro is in the argument when the argument is over the best NFL receiver going today.

    Johnson, as you know, has not always had the best quarterback tossing him the rock. Unlike the freakishly big, strong, fast wideout, David Carr, his QB for half of his eight seasons in the league, was a bust.

    Carr spent more time on his back, leading the civilized world in getting sacked, than chunking passes into the end zone. That fact has not stopped Johnson from reaching paydirt 50 times, often in spectacular fashion.

    Catching balls from a quarterback bust will not keep Andre Johnson's bust out of Canton, where he is sure to thank God for Matt Schaub.

    And we are thankful to have him at No.10 on our list of sure things. 

St. Louis Rams QB Always Felt Secure If Orlando Pace Had His Back

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    Seven Pro Bowls. Six times an All-Pro. Always mentioned, along with the retired Walter Jones, as the best in the business at perhaps the most important position on the field not throwing the football: left tackle.

    Nobody in today's NFL has handled bull- and speed- rushing defensive ends better than the Big O. He set a fast pace for his career early on and kept it up for 13 years.

    Yes. That was a pun, and you are welcome. Orlando Pace will be welcomed, also...into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and at No.9 on the list.

Donovan McNabb: Rings or No Rings, He Will Land in Canton Right on Schedule

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    The Philadelphia Eagles took plenty of grief when they made Syracuse QB Donovan McNabb the second pick in the first round of the 1999 NFL draft. Once in Philly, McNabb began taking his share of the grief, especially as the team kept knocking on the door of the Super Bowl, but could only manage to force it open once.

    The only thing missing in McNabb's stellar NFL career—besides the ability to throw a routine 10-yard pass without making it an adventure—is a Super Bowl championship. During McNabb's 11 years with the Eagles, they dominated the NFC East, winning five division titles. They were also the most consistent force in the NFC, reaching five title games and winning one of them.

    McNabb has thrown for 36,250 yards, which places him just outside the top 25 NFL QBs in league history. He has thrown 230 touchdowns against 115 interceptions, and has compiled a career QB rating of 85.7.

    No one will mistake McNabb for the best ever at his position. But make no mistake, our No.8 candidate will wear that gold jacket. 

Chicago Bears MLB Brian Urlacher: Just Another Monster on the Midway

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    Dick Butkus. Mike Singletary. Brian Urlacher.

    Yes, Urlacher belongs on that list, but in that order. He is no Butkus or Singletary. He is, however, a seven-time Pro Bowler and four-time first teamer on the All-Pro squad.

    In 11 years, Urlacher has recorded 913 tackles, 41.5 sacks and 18 interceptions. He has patrolled the middle of the field the way a Midway monster is supposed to—with reckless abandon, skill and fierce competitiveness.

    Next stop for our No.7 is a sure shot to Canton, Ohio.

Charles Woodson: Most Consistent Corner of His Generation

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    Coming in at No.6 is Charles Woodson, cornerback.

    Although he was in his 13th season in 2010, Woodson played at an incredibly high level for the Green Bay Packers and was a major reason they reached the Super Bowl.

    The Oakland Raiders drafted Woodson fourth overall in the 1998 NFL Draft. Woodson rewarded them by becoming one of the game's best lock-down cornerbacks. Seven times, Woodson has made the Pro Bowl team. Twice he has been named All-Pro.

    Charles Woodson has swiped 47 passes in his career as a football kleptomaniac. Even more impressive is he has returned 10 of those passes for touchdowns. The man is a game-changer. He has also recovered 10 fumbles, returning one of those for a TD.

    If Charles Woodson is not in Canton five years after he retires from the NFL, there will need to be an investigation.

I Love Me Some Me: See You in Canton, T.O.

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    Terrell "T.O." Owens is the guy people love to hate.

    He is the one with the Sharpie in his sock. He is the one dancing on the Cowboys' midfield star, right after dancing on their graves in the end zone.

    He is the one saying, "Getcha popcorn ready."

    But Terrell Owens is more than style. He is substance. Fifteen years in the NFL, 15,934 yards receiving and 153 touchdowns. What do these number tell us about T.O.? They tell us that you can count on 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns every year for a decade and a half. They tell us that the line of wide receivers ahead of Terrell Owens in terms of game impact is a very, very short one.

    They tell us to get our popcorn ready. The T.O. show will be rolling into Canton in a few years.

    T.O. is always number one in his own eyes. He is No.5 on this list. 

LaDainian Tomlinson: The Best of His Generation

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    LaDainian Tomlinson is number six on the NFL's all-time rushing list with 13,404 yards from scrimmage—and he isn't done yet. The 10-year veteran has made five Pro Bowls and been named first-team All-Pro three times.

    In 2006, Tomlinson was the Associated Press MVP of the NFL and received the Bert Bell Player of the Year award. He rushed for 1,815 yards and 28 touchdowns that year. In nine years with the San Diego Chargers, Tomlinson only failed to exceed 1100 yards one time.

    Yep. No.4 on our list is a Horned Frog, TCU's own "L.T." 

Baltimore Ravens Linebacker Ray Lewis: Among the Best—Ever!

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    Ladies and gentle footballers, Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens.

    Need I say more about No.3 on this list? Is there any need to mention 12 Pro Bowls in 15 years? Do I have to even bring up that he is a seven-time first-team All-Pro linebacker? Is there any need to remind you that he was the AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2000 or that he was the Super Bowl MVP that same year?

    Lewis has recorded 1,452 tackles in his career. Every single one of them left a mark.

    He has also left his mark on the game.

    Hello, Canton. 

Patriots QB Tom Brady: The Man Who Has Everything

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    New England quarterback Tom Brady has Hollywood good looks and a super model wife. The 6'4", 225-pounder has a prototypical NFL QB build, a high football IQ and three Super Bowl rings.

    Brady is the poster boy for the NFL Scouts Do not Know Everything Club. In the 2000 NFL Draft, he was passed over 198 times before the Patriots finally took a flier on him in the sixth round.

    Since then, he has carried his team to four Super Bowls, winning three of them. He was the MVP in two of those Super Bowl wins.

    Brady has been NFL Player of the Year three times. After suffering a devastating knee injury and missing the 2008 season, he earned comeback player of the year in 2009.

    Brady's 2007 Patriots became the first team to post a perfect regular season record in a 16-game schedule.

    He is No.2 on this list, which will cause some to experience apoplexy. 

    I will not be held responsible for your bleeding brain.

Peyton Manning Is the Man, Man

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    Tom Brady. Peyton Manning. You say po-tay-toe, I say, po-tah-toe. These guys are 1A and 1B. Swap them out, if you like when you make your own list.

    On my list, in my book, there is no man in today's game more representative of what a Hall of Fame career is all about than Peyton Manning. No.1.

    Forget about the 11 Pro Bowls and the five times he has been named All- Pro. Forget about 54,828 ridiculous yards passing. Forget about 399 touchdowns. Forget about a career QB rating of 94.9. Forget about the two Super Bowl appearances and the one Lombardi trophy.

    But remember this: there has been no greater field general in the NFL—and that include the other great Colts' QB, John Unitas. 

    The Pro Football Hall of fame was built for men like Peyton Manning—and Peyton Manning was built for the Hall of Fame.