8 Most Underrated NFL Hall of Fame Candidates Still Playing

Clay DefayetteCorrespondent IIIOctober 5, 2011

8 Most Underrated NFL Hall of Fame Candidates Still Playing

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    Football fans are caught up in what players are great as of now. That's all well, but it's very easy to forget about who was great and is still playing.

    Statistics cannot completely be the main factor in discussing the Hall of Fame, as Kerry Collins is top 10 in league history with more than 40,000 passing yards.

    Playing on bad teams or in "minimal" roles has shadowed the spotlight on these players' performances while others have outplayed their greatness.

    Early campaigning for each players' candidacy as a Hall of Famer is the last thing on each stud's mind, but the case should be presented for them. These eight guys need to be looked at in-depth.

8. Derrick Mason

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    Derrick Mason is now a marginal player for the New York Jets, but he put together seasons of 1,000 yards receiving in eight out of nine seasons. With 64 more receptions, Mason joins the 1,000-catch club.

    The clear negatives for the former Titan and Raven are obvious. He's never had double-digit touchdowns in any season while having just one campaign of 100-plus catches.

    Mason won't make the Hall of Fame with the current logjam of receivers like Cris Carter and Andre Reed waiting to get in, but his career deserves recognition.

7. Devin Hester

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    It may seem difficult to believe that a largely underachieving wide receiver should find his way to Canton when he hangs up his cleats, but Devin Hester has been so good at his one trick that he could be a one-man circus.

    Hester now officially has the all-time record for punts returned for scores with 11 as he burned the Carolina Panthers. He also has four kickoff returns cashed in for seven points.

    It's not Hester's fault that Mike Martz and the rest of the Bears staff is unsuccessfully trying to make the best-ever return man something he's not. Martz should actually use Hester in the backfield on some downs.

    There is no way that the Chicago Bears make the 2006 Super Bowl without Hester. The former Miami Hurricane housed the first play of that game against the Colts as well.

    The biggest negative Hester has given the Bears is 23 fumbles. Don't you think Chicago is alright living with the six lost fumbles in five-plus seasons?

    Hester is a very odd inclusion on this list, as he's a 28-year-old return man. Nonetheless, Hester has many more games ahead of him to improve on his already record return totals.

6. Steve Hutchinson

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    Offensive linemen are sometimes hard to pick out, especially one who is surrounded by poor players. However, Steve Hutchinson has accomplished enough over his career to be placed on this list.

    Before being signed by Minnesota, Hutchinson blocked for Shaun Alexander's 27-touchdown season in 2005. While Walter Jones was the best player on the offensive line in Seattle, Hutchinson meant more to the ground game as Alexander was more of an inside runner.

    The year after Hutchinson left the Seahawks, Alexander's rushing average dropped to 3.6 after being 5.1. Hutchinson made seven straight All-Pro teams from 2003 to 2009 and for that he was named to the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team.

    Adrian Peterson may be the league's top runner, but it's not a coincidence Hutchinson has played with Peterson since his rookie season.

    The league is getting away from smash-mouth football and Hutchinson had his impact on a few of the last great rushing performances.

5. Brian Urlacher

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    Amongst all-time great Chicago Bears, Brian Urlacher may be ahead of every defensive player the organization has ever had. It won't be this fact that gets Urlacher into Canton one day, though.

    Urlacher has been both Defensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. His tackling numbers are great but the category won't get anyone elected into the Hall of Fame.

    Watching Urlacher roam the middle of the field for the Bears should. There has been no better middle linebacker that has ever played in the Tampa-2 system. It could be argued that he is better than Derrick Brooks because Urlacher has never played with as good a defensive line.

    Urlacher has been injured in his career and he's missed significant time, but he led a Rex Grossman-quarterbacked team to the Super Bowl. The defense in 2006 for Chicago was the best seen since obvious Hall of Famer Ray Lewis' squad in 2000.

    A Super Bowl would really help Urlacher's candidacy even though he's accomplished enough already.

4. Brian Dawkins

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    Brian Dawkins is still going strong for the Denver Broncos even as he's close to 40 years old, but his prime years were spent in Philadelphia leading the team's defense.

    The versatility Dawkins provided late, great defensive coordinator Jim Johnson was invaluable. Dawkins is part of the "20-20" club, recording 23 sacks and 37 interceptions in his phenomenal career. Among the nine players in the elite company, Dawkins is just one of four defensive backs.

    Dawkins' 35 forced fumbles is the eleventh most in NFL history. He even has more than 1,100 tackles as a safety playing his career in a league that has evolved into more coverage for the back end of defenses.

    Eight Pro Bowls and six All-Pro selections are meaningless when Dawkins is shown in games and on highlights. He may not be on the level of Ed Reed or Troy Polamalu, but he's been on the field more than both players and he's led some underrated Philadelphia defenses.

3. Jason Taylor

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    Jason Taylor hasn't consistently played on great teams throughout his career, but he's racked up stats while being the lone focal point on defense for many teams.

    The 2006 NFL Defensive Player of the Year has been named All-Pro six times while also making the same number of Pro Bowls, and 134.5 sacks ranks Taylor eighth all time in the category, ahead of Lawrence Taylor. The Miami Dolphins standout has a realistic chance to move up to fifth on the list with a few more seasons.

    Taylor isn't a huge sleeper but he's experienced more success than many would realize.

2. Dwight Freeney

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    In a league where getting to the quarterback is key to defense, Dwight Freeney has done it as well as anyone in the past decade.

    In seven out of his full nine seasons, Freeney has recorded double-digit sacks. For how the Colts' offense has been built around Peyton Manning, Freeney's 43 forced fumbles helped the offense eat up more of the clock against helpless opponents.

    Freeney is no run stuffer, but that's not his problem. Indianapolis should have surrounded Freeney and Robert Mathis with two massive humans in the middle of the defensive line.

    When thinking of the spin move, Freeney's name comes up. When thinking of the bull rush, Freeney is the image that comes to mind. Dwight Freeney leads current defensive ends in all technical knockouts on quarterbacks. By the way, the Colts' best player is more talented than many believe (see 4.5 40-yard dash).

    For what Freeney is, the Hall of Fame should be in reach if the defensive end puts together a few more seasons like he's had. Three more sacks and the Syracuse man has 100 for his career.

1. Champ Bailey

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    Before Nnamdi Asomugha and Darrelle Revis just two seasons ago, Champ Bailey was the prototypical cover guy for the entire decade.

    Bailey is still a good player but he's obviously not what he once was. Nevertheless, his consistency in a city where the ball floats a little longer with the high altitude has been nothing short of remarkable.

    While he's had just two seasons of six or more interceptions, Bailey has locked down his side of the field so opponents have one less option. The Georgia Bulldog still has accumulated 48 picks since being drafted by the Washington Redskins.

    Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu will receive more praise because they've both played on much better teams, but Bailey shouldn't be overlooked by anyone. The Denver Bronco would be noticed more if he currently was in his prime because of the way offenses are chucking the ball down field.

    Bailey doesn't talk like "Prime Time," but his game sure speaks as loud.