The NFL will have some major players entering Hall of Fame conversations by the time 2023 rolls around. These players should have some first-ballot potential when those conversations are had.
Darrelle Revis was a dominant force for most of the ’00s and ’10s, locking up your favorite wide receivers and putting fear into any QB who dared throw his way. Over the course of Revis’s career, which spanned from ’07 to ’17, he earned four First-Team All-Pro selections, six Pro Bowl selections, a Super Bowl ring, and a spot on the 2010’s All-Decade team.
His 2009 season in particular is one that has gone down in history as one of the best single seasons of any DB ever. A season in which he held Andre Johnson, Randy Moss (twice), Terrell Owens (twice), Marques Colston, Steve Smith, Roddy White, Reggie Wayne, Torry Holt, and Chad Johnson to 35 yards or less. In fact, the most yards he allowed that season was 57 and with only three TDs total. Incredible. There may not be a player more deserving of first-ballot consideration on this list.
Known for his ball-hawking and lockdown abilities, Darrelle Revis possessed a rare combination of skills that allowed him to dominate receivers in man coverage. While his INT numbers were low, with just 29, it was all due to opposing QBs refusing to throw the ball in his direction. He was also a part of the New York Jets’ vaunted defense from ’08-’11 that made the AFC Championship games in back-to-back seasons. Revis also spent time in New England, where he won his ring, Tampa Bay, and Kansas City.
Joe Thomas was a true iron man and was a class act in every sense of the word. In 11 seasons, Thomas suited up for the Browns for 167 straight games, never missing so much as a snap. Sadly, his streak ended in 2017 when he tore his triceps and he never stepped on the field again. But his 11 seasons are the stuff of legend, especially when you consider the teams he was a part of.
Joe Thomas’s time in Cleveland was not easy, in those 11 years, he was not able to make a single playoff appearance and had just one winning season. In those seasons, he protected 19 different QBs, so the odds were never truly in his favor in that regard. Even with all of those QBs taking snaps, Joe Thomas only allowed 30 sacks in his career.
Not only was he one of the most durable offensive tackles to play the game, but he was one of the most effective and most loyal. In his career, he earned six All-Pro selections, 10 Pro Bowl selections, and made the 2010’s All-Decade Team. A bona fide first-ballot Hall of Famer for sure.
Finally, we have Dwight Freeney who spent the first 11 seasons of his 16-year career tormenting QBs with the Indianapolis Colts before finishing his career with the Chargers, Cardinals, Falcons, Lions, and Seahawks. His time with the Colts is clearly the most notable, teaming up with Robert Mathis to form one of the best pass-rushing duos of the 2000s.
In Indy, he became a Super Bowl Champion, accumulated 107.5 sacks, forced 44 fumbles, and recovered 23 more. While playing, he finished in the top three for DPOY voting twice, was a first-team All-Pro three times, a one-time second-team All-Pro, and went to the Pro Bowl seven times. He would end his career with 125.5 sacks, finishing near HOF players like Derrick Thomas, Claude Humphrey, Carl Eller, and Rickey Jackson. Freeney did not see the same production outside of Indy but was a respected veteran and solid locker room presence for the young defenses he played with and should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
First-Ballot Honorable Mentions
An absolute beast, James Harrison was one of the most feared edge rushers in the NFL. As an undrafted free agent in 2002, he took a minute to get going, but once he did he took off. From 2007-11, Harrison totaled 54 sacks, 27 forced fumbles, six recoveries, and numerous awards including a Defensive Player of the Year award in 2008 and a Super Bowl ring. Harrison doesn’t necessarily have all of the numbers, but that stretch in his career saw him make the Pro Bowl or an All-Pro team in each season. He will receive major consideration, but not quite first-ballot material.
Our second honorable mention is Seattle Seahawks safety, Kam Chancellor. A member of the Legion of Boom and Super Bowl Champion, Kam Chancellor was a wrecking ball. He had the size of an elite receiver and the hard-hitting ability of a linebacker. In eight seasons, he racked up a pair of second-team All-Pro nods, four Pro Bowls, a Super Bowl ring, and was a key member of one of the best defenses ever assembled. Longevity certainly will hurt his Hall of Fame chances, but he will be a name that is discussed.
Of course, there are only five modern-era finalists selected for enshrinement, so 2023’s class of first-time eligible players will have some existing competition for the five spots. The class of 2022 featured several players who had to wait decades to receive the call from Canton. Players like Tony Boselli, Bryant Young, and LeRoy Butler waited 15+ years for this honor.
The players who pose the biggest threat to the three potential first-ballot Hall of Famers are all deserving of the Hall. Players like Jared Allen, Andre Johnson, Torry Holt, Steve Smith, Reggie Wayne, Zach Thomas, DeMarcus Ware, and Ronde Barber have legitimate cases to leapfrog these guys. The selection committee holds all of the power in this one, but I like these guys’ chances.
Check out some of Dan’s other Stadium Rant content here. You can follow him on Twitter @dan_tf40 and check in with his podcast The Fastest 40 on Spotify, Anchor, Apple Podcasts, & anywhere you listen to podcasts!