It’s every NFL player’s dream to don the iconic gold jacket, but very few get to live it.
It takes elite and consistent production, standout moments, personal accolades, and a championship or two (more so for quarterbacks); a compelling narrative doesn’t hurt either, with Kurt Warner being the latest example.
However, there are a number of young NFLers – which we will define as players with no more than four years of experience – who’ve carved out the beginning of Hall of Fame careers:
Here are seven of them:
Odell Beckham Jr.
All Beckham has done since entering the NFL is shatter expectations and break records. He’s already considered among the top tier of players at his position – a must for the Hall – and is all but certain to be one of the faces of the NFL for the next decade.
Beckham already arguably has a better signature moment than a lot of HOFers; every one-handed catch from now until the end of time will be graded in comparison to the New York Giants star’s amazing grab from 2014.
Though Beckham has already become the fastest player to reach 3,500 career receiving yards and is tied for most catches through three years, you get the sense that he’s only scratched the surface of his potential.
If legendary left tackle Joe Thomas – who might as well have his bust for Canton made now – believes Mack has the makings of a Hall of Famer, who are we to disagree?
Entering his fourth year, Mack may have wrestled the title of the NFL’s best defender from J.J. Watt following a dominant 2016 in which he won the Defensive Player of the Year award.
While Von Miller may be the league’s best pure pass-rusher, Mack is right there with him, totaling 30 sacks over three seasons. And unlike Miller, Mack’s ability to defend the run is just as impressive as his pass-rush game.
As one of the stars of the resurgent Raiders, Mack is well-placed to build a storied career.
Trufant doesn’t get the national recognition some of the others on this list do, and he missed the chance to shine in the spotlight when a season-ending pectoral injury forced him to sit out the Falcons’ Super Bowl run last season.
But make no mistake, Trufant has had a spectacular start to his career and is arguably the league’s best cornerback. Quarterbacks rarely look his way, and when they do, he makes them pay with a rare combination of man-coverage skills and athleticism.
The Falcons’ young defense has top-five potential, and if Atlanta remains among the NFL’s elite teams, Trufant will get his due.
Donald is currently holding out from training camp in order to leverage a new contract extension from the Rams, and no one should bat an eyelid if Los Angeles makes him the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player.
The undersized defensive tackle has made fools out of his doubters, constantly wreaking havoc in opponents’ backfields despite a less-than-stellar supporting cast. Amazingly, though he’s played 3-technique defensive tackle in the Rams’ 4-3 defense, he has 28 sacks over three years – two fewer than Mack, who rushes from the edge.
And, as ridiculous as it might sound, Donald might still have room to improve. The Rams hired Wade Phillips as their new defensive coordinator this season, and he’s made a career out of creating dominant defensive linemen. L.A. will switch to a 3-4 scheme for 2017, meaning Donald should get more chances to rush the passer and set new standards for production from defensive tackles.
The Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line has been widely recognized as the NFL’s premier unit over the past several years, and Martin is a huge reason for its success.
The former first-rounder is one of the best guards in football, and thanks to his stellar play – plus the notoriety that comes with playing for “America’s Team” – he has three Pro Bowl appearances, two first-team All-Pro nods, and one second-team All-Pro award on his resume in just three years.
Offensive linemen struggle to garner the plaudits they deserve, but Martin is in the perfect place and has the ideal teammates – his fellow dominant linemen, as well as star running back Ezekiel Elliott – to be one of the few who are rewarded with a gold jacket.
As the NFL becomes more and more of a pass-first league, running backs are becoming expendable and split backfields more common, so it’s likely we’ll see the stream of Hall of Famers at the position ease off.
But if Bell can stay healthy and avoid further off-field issues, he can be the exception to the new rule.
The Pittsburgh Steelers running back is both a throwback and the leader of a new wave. He’s a rare breed of runner who handles the vast majority of his team’s carries, but he also plays with a style made for the modern NFL, where his vision can trump the stellar athletes on the other side of the ball and his pass-catching skills allow him to act as a No. 2 receiver.
If not for a three-game ban, Bell may have broken records in 2016. He recorded 157 scrimmage yards per game, just ahead of Chris Johnson’s average when he posted an all-time best mark of 2,509 yards from scrimmage in 2009.
The heir apparent to Rob Gronkowski, Kelce highlighted his limitless potential with the first 1,000-yard campaign of his career in 2016, essentially acting as the Kansas City Chiefs’ No. 1 option in the passing game.
Since an injury-abbreviated rookie season in 2013, Kelce has established himself as one of the biggest mismatches in the league. He’s too nimble for safeties, too fast for linebackers, and too strong for cornerbacks.
The tight end could do with a quarterback who’s more aggressive, and while Patrick Mahomes will likely sit for a year or two behind Alex Smith, he’s the type of gunslinger who could propel Kelce into Canton.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)
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