With the Green Bay Packers participating in this weekend’s Hall of Fame Game and enshrining a legendary quarterback into the Hall on Saturday, now seems like a good time to think about which players on the current team could end up in Canton someday. While there is one in particular who should be a shoo-in when the time comes, a few other players could end up there when all is said and done.
Bill Barnwell of ABC Sports took a stab this week at projecting each NFL team’s potential Hall of Famers, and he identifies five Packers who should or could end up with bronze likenesses. Here’s a look at those players, and we’ll throw out a couple of other names who might have a shot someday as well.
First of all, Aaron Rodgers is a lock, according to Barnwell, and I have no idea what argument anyone could make to the contrary. Where things get interesting is in the next tier, and Barnwell puts both Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews at about an 80 percent chance of making the Hall of Fame. Here’s his discussion on Peppers:
Julius Peppers should be an open-and-shut candidate, especially after he retires and the (in my eyes, unfair and inaccurate) arguments that he took plays off in Carolina and Chicago fade into the annals of time. He has nine Pro Bowl appearances, three first-team All-Pro nods, a Defensive Player of the Year award, and 136 career sacks. The only thing he lacks is the sort of impactful postseason run that Ware just finished up for Denver, but it shouldn't be necessary.
As Barnwell indicates, the postseason impact is something that Peppers needs. If the Packers would be able to win Super Bowl LI this season and get Peppers a ring, that in and of itself should make him a lock; if he were to rack up several sacks along the way, that will really do the job.
As for Matthews, Barnwell’s comments are a bit puzzling. He mentions that Matthews’ move inside for a season and a half hurt his sack totals; however, Matthews actually struggled with 2.5 sacks through the first eight games of 2014, but racked up 15 in the next 24 games as an inside linebacker. Plus, if the sack totals are that big a deal, he should be back outside (at least for the most part) this season.
Here’s one interesting little anecdote, however:
Matthews has made six Pro Bowl appearances in seven seasons; the Hall of Fame rate for eligible guys who have done that is 72 percent, and the players who missed were mostly offensive linemen and (fullback Mike) Alstott, who play positions the voters don't value.
Based on his honors (add in a first-team All-Pro in 2010) and his postseason impact (remember the forced fumble in Super Bowl XLV) and you have a clear-cut Hall of Famer unless he were to metaphorically drop off a cliff.
The other two names that Barnwell mentions as being outside chances to make the Hall (between 1-10%) are wide receiver Jordy Nelson and guard Josh Sitton. Sitton’s odds are probably worse than Nelson’s - despite his constant exemplary play, he somehow has never made an All-Pro First-Team, and those honors are crucial for offensive linemen. Plus, there’s the fact that few guards get in at all.
Nelson’s position and impressive production over the past three seasons (not including his lost 2015) might have put him on a Hall of Fame trajectory, but he will need to pick up that sort of statistical dominance again right away this season if he wants a shot. Plus, Nelson has made just a single Pro Bowl and no All-Pro teams.
If you look farther down the roster, there are a couple other players who might develop into possible Hall of Fame candidates, though it’s obviously far too early in these players’ careers to truly speculate. The first name that comes to mind is safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Much like Nick Collins before him, Ha Ha has rapidly elevated his game over his first two seasons, and he already has three huge playoff interceptions. He also is a more frequent tackler than Collins (though part of that is due to his usage closer to the line of scrimmage). However, a breakout season this year and sustained success for a few more seasons could put him in the conversation down the road. After all, Collins had just ripped off three straight Pro Bowl seasons and recorded his pick-six in the Super Bowl before suffering his neck injury. A big year by Ha Ha could start a stretch like that for him.
There probably isn’t another player on the roster who has shown enough to even project out that far, but I’ll throw one more name out there for the sake of argument: center Corey Linsley. Like Clinton-Dix, he’s entering his third year and is gaining traction as far as his respect around the NFL. He even earned an All-Pro vote for his 2014 rookie campaign. If he stays healthy throughout his career and continues to elevate his play, who knows what could happen?
Did we miss anyone who has a shot at earning a bust in Canton someday?