On Wednesday — noting that this is the time of year when we’d normally be talking a lot about the NFL Hall of Fame — ESPN’s Bill Barnwell composed a list of players for each NFL team with a shot to someday make it to Canton.
Barnwell identified 10 current players as locks for the Hall: Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller, Las Vegas Raiders tight end Jason Witten, Washington running back Adrian Peterson (yes, he’s still playing), Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
And oh, yeah... one other guy from the Kansas City Chiefs.
Lock (100%): QB Patrick Mahomes. I addressed this in my MVP column in July. Mahomes’ résumé — a league MVP and Super Bowl MVP — is usually enough to get a player into the Hall of Fame, let alone doing it over two seasons as a starter.
You can’t really argue against this. Even if Mahomes’ career follows the pattern of Kurt Warner’s — red-hot at the beginning and at a Super Bowl appearance at the end — people will still be talking about it long after it’s over. It was enough for Warner to make the Hall of Fame — and it will be enough for Mahomes, too. But Mahomes started his NFL career at 22 — not 27 — and there’s every reason to think his career will far surpass Warner’s.
In Barnwell’s view, three other Chiefs players have a shot at the Hall.
Likely (70% to 99%): WR Tyreek Hill, TE Travis Kelce. It might seem surprising to put Hill this high, but he has made it to four Pro Bowls and been a first-team All-Pro twice across his first four seasons. All seven players who did that and who are eligible for the Hall of Fame are in, and the list of ineligible guys includes Hill, Patrick Willis, Joe Thomas, Adrian Peterson, Patrick Peterson, Zack Martin and Aaron Donald. Everyone but Hill is either a lock or extremely likely to make it to the Hall of Fame. Hill’s game still relies on speed, so he could be more susceptible to a career shortened by injuries than most other candidates, but if he gets three more seasons with Mahomes, he’s probably in.
Kelce is difficult to judge because tight ends aren’t well represented in the Hall. Just nine tight ends are enshrined, and Kelce’s game leans more toward receiving than any of them. At the same time, no tight end in history has more than four 1,000-yard seasons over their respective careers, and Kelce has just run off four consecutive 1,000-yard campaigns. Like Hill, if Kelce gets three more seasons with Mahomes, I think he’s a Hall of Famer.
Here, Barnwell has these Chiefs in the right range, but I’d put both of them — particularly Kelce — right at the top. There may not be many tight ends in the Hall, but if four consecutive 1,000 yard-seasons doesn’t get you in, nothing does. One more in 2020 — which seems likely — should make Kelce a lock.
Barnwell’s point about Hill’s speed is reasonable, but he’s forgetting that Hill has also become a superb route runner. That won’t stop just because he loses a step or two. Like anybody else, he’ll need to stay pretty injury-free, but if he can do that — and stay with Mahomes through his career — he has an excellent shot.
Work to do (10% to 39%): S Tyrann Mathieu. The Defensive Player of the Year candidate was named a first-team All-Pro for the second time in his career, but he hasn’t received any other nominations across his other five pro seasons. Mathieu is a great player and only just turned 28, so he still has plenty of time, but he probably needs four or five more Pro Bowl seasons or a DPOY victory to really get in the discussion.
This seems pretty fair to me — and that’s no knock on “The Landlord.” I think it’s just hard for a writer like Barnwell (with his national viewpoint) to appreciate the intangibles Mathieu brought to the Chiefs upon his arrival; counting up his All-Pro seasons just tells part of his story.
In Kansas City, Mathieu has been given the opportunity to be a leader — to set the tone for the defense. Over the next few seasons, that should become more obvious. Right now, Mathieu probably deserves a little more credit — perhaps in Barnwell’s “In the running (40% to 69%)” range — but I have confidence he’ll eventually be seen for what he is.
I have no explanation for why Barnwell didn’t consider right tackle Mitchell Schwartz for this list.