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Yardbarker's Ultimate Hall of Fame tiers: Active stars on path to enshrinement

Yardbarker logo Yardbarker 7/15/2019 Yardbarker Staff
Ryan Braun, Mike Trout, Ben Roethlisberger, Connor McDavid, Odell Beckham Jr., Klay Thompson, Christian Yelich, Diana Taurasi, Frank Gore, Felix Hernandez, Patrick Kane, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Wilson, Derrick Rose, Corey Perry, Bryce Harper, Sue Bird are posing for a picture © Illustration: Steve Pelenero

About our tiers

What active athletes in the NFL, NBA, WNBA, Major League Baseball and NHL are Hall of Fame worthy? That's the question we posed to Yardbarker editors and writers, and boy did we have some spirited debates. (No blood was shed, however.) So we put together a list. The criteria was simple:

  • To be considered, an athlete's resume must be impressive. Our definition of impressive? Hey, we know it when we see it.
  • An athlete must have played at least four seasons in his/her league. (Sorry, Ezekiel Elliott, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Auston Matthews.) 
  • Recently retired athletes — we're looking at you, Ichiro Suzuki, Dirk Nowitzki, Gronk and Roberto Luongo — were not considered.

Some may argue that our standards are more stringent than, say, the Hockey Hall of Fame's. (If you can lace up a pair of skates, you're almost in!) Athletes were slotted in tiers:

TIER 1: HALL, YES! A no-brainer Hall of Famer

TIER 2: YES, BUT ... A Hall of Famer but not on first ballot

TIER 3: POLARIZING BUT ULTIMATELY IN

TIER 4: ON PACE FOR GREATNESS

TIER 5: HALL, NO! Mostly undeserving but not all hopeless cases

Further explanations of tiers are below. Let the debates — and claims of  #fakenews — begin!

a group of baseball players standing on top of a field: From left: Mike Trout (LA Angels), Sue Bird (Seattle Storm), J.J. Watt (Houston Texans) and Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins). © USA Today Sports:Rick Osentoski | Brad Mills | Troy Taormina | Brad Penner From left: Mike Trout (LA Angels), Sue Bird (Seattle Storm), J.J. Watt (Houston Texans) and Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins).

TIER 1: HALL, YES! 

We don’t need a nano-second to consider these athletes' Hall of Fame worthiness. They’re in on the first ballot — even if their careers ended today. (All MLB stats through July 11.)

MLB (6)

MIGUEL CABRERA, Detroit Tigers: Four batting titles. Two-time AL MVP. Triple Crown in 2012, the first hitter in 45 years to accomplish the feat (.330, 44 HRs, 139 RBI). Eleven consecutive seasons of 100 RBI. Has tailed off last three seasons, but HOF place secured.  

CLAYTON KERSHAW, Los Angeles Dodgers: His 6.8 hits against per nine innings average is third lowest in MLB history, behind Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax. In 2015, he became one of four pitchers in the past 50 years to post a season of 300 strikeouts with an ERA of 2.20 or lower and 230 innings pitched.

ALBERT PUJOLS, Los Angeles Angels: One of two players in history (along with Hank Aaron) with a .300 career batting average, 600 home runs, 600 doubles and 3,000 hits. The preeminent hitter of his generation, he is the active leader in nearly every significant hitting statistic, including home runs, RBI, hits, doubles and runs. 

MAX SCHERZER, Washington Nationals: Preeminent strikeout pitcher of his era, reaching 2,500 strikeouts in the third-fewest games in history and tied for the MLB record for most consecutive 250-strikeout seasons (five). Mad Max is one of four pitchers in history with at least three Cy Young Awards. Oh yeah: He has two no-hitters.

MIKE TROUT, Los Angeles Angels: He's two years shy of 10-year minimum for HOF induction. Meh. Go to Cooperstown, young man. (He's 27.) Never finished lower than second in MVP voting in a non-injury-interrupted season. Led AL in at least three statistical categories in every season of his career. 

JUSTIN VERLANDER, Houston Astros: Only pitcher to win Rookie of the Year (2006), MVP (2011), Cy Young (2011) and a postseason MVP (2017 ALCS). Has second-most career strikeouts of any active pitcher and third-lowest average against (.228) of any pitcher with 2,000 or more innings pitched. Six top fives in Cy Young voting. 

(MLB text by Matt Whitener)

NBA (7)

STEPHEN CURRY, Golden State Warriors: Won three NBA titles and two MVP Awards, the second of which was the only unanimous selection ever. Greatest three-point shooter of all time; best free-throw percentage in history (90.5 percent). Plus, he's the first NBA star to host his own miniature golf game show.

KEVIN DURANT, Brooklyn Nets: Won consecutive Finals MVPs with the Warriors and one of only four players to average more than 30 points per game in their Finals careers (minimum 10 games). Ten-time All-Star, a four-time scoring champion...and as a knockdown shooter who stands 7-foot-0 in shoes. Achilles injury or not, he's in. 

JAMES HARDEN, Houston Rockets: Since trade that sent him to Houston from OKC in 2012, he is averaging 29 PPG, which would be third-highest scoring average of all time. In past five years won his first MVP trophy, two scoring titles, assist title and led league in free throws every season. Beard is NBA's all-time most famous facial hair.

LeBRON JAMES, Los Angeles Lakers: Never been anyone who could combine scoring, distributing quite like LeBron, who is on pace to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in scoring, Magic Johnson in assists before his Lakers deal is up. Four MVPs, three Finals MVPs, 15 All-Star berths. Most unbelievable accomplishment? He won a title in Cleveland. 

KAWHI LEONARD, Los Angeles Clippers: Only player to win two Finals MVPs and two Defensive Player of the Year Awards. Career totals aren't overwhelming (17.7 PPG/6.3 RPG), since he’s only played seven full seasons, and they’ve been “load managed.” But he’s been dominant in the playoffs. 

CHRIS PAUL, Oklahoma City ThunderHas led NBA in steals a whopping six times, twice as many as the next closest thief, Allen Iverson. Also led the league in assists four times, proving he gives as much as he takes away. He might be in the absolute pantheon of Hall of Famers if he could just stay healthy in the playoffs.

RUSSELL WESTBROOK, Houston RocketsOnly player in history with two scoring titles and two assist titles, demonstrating what a force he is with ball in his hands. Eight-time All-Star and a fashion icon always. Only knock: inability to hit threes and his unwillingness to stop taking them.

(NBA text by Sean Keane)

NFL (7)

TOM BRADY, New England Patriots: This may be quickest HOF conversation among voters in history. The iconic Patriots QB holds every meaningful playoff passing and participation record, and while his record six Super Bowl rings are stunning, the soon-to-be 42-year-old's longevity may be a superior component of his greatest-ever case. 

DREW BREES, New Orleans Saints: Only player to eclipse 5,000 passing yards in season more than once. He's done it five times. In addition to his field-lapping season yardage totals, he holds four of the league's top five annual completion percentage marks (topping out at 2018's 74.4%). The SB XLIV MVP changed the Saints' trajectory.

LARRY FITZGERALD, Arizona Cardinals: The face of Arizona football, he has thrived with top- and bottom-tier QBs, as evidenced by the most recent of his four 1,400-plus-yard seasons (2011) coming with Kevin Kolb and John Skelton at controls. On track to retire second to Jerry Rice in career receptions, receiving yards. 11-time Pro Bowler.

ANTONIO GATES, free agent: His 116 receiving TDs rank sixth all-time, 48 more than any other undrafted free agent's total in the draft era (1936-present). He morphed quickly from Kent State basketball standout to NFL's best tight end, becoming a First-Team All-Pro in his second, third and fourth seasons. 

ADRIAN PETERSON, Washington Redskins: Won first rushing title in 2008, third in 2015; only he, Jim Brown and Barry Sanders have led league in rushing seven seasons apart. Peterson's teams never found consistent QB solutions, and his 1,042-yard 2018 showing on a Redskins team that used four starting QBs further cements greatness.

AARON RODGERS, Green Bay Packers: When Tom Brady threw his 300th TD pass, his 115 interceptions were the fewest for anyone hitting that milestone. When Rodgers got there in '17, he had thrown just 72 INTs. He's so talented to point that his career has become judged by the Packers' one Super Bowl appearance during his tenure. 

J.J. WATT, Houston Texans: This century’s top three tackles-for-loss seasons all belong to Watt; his 39 in 2012 are 11 more than any other player has totaled. The Texans' wrecking-machine DE joins only Lawrence Taylor as three-time Defensive Players of the Year and is the only player with multiple 20-sack seasons.

(NFL text by Sam Robinson)

NHL (6)

SIDNEY CROSBY, Pittsburgh Penguins: Since entering league, only player (minimum 500 games) to average more than 1.18 points per game (1.29). Most hyped prospect to enter NHL since Mario Lemieux yet still managed to exceed all expectations. Cornerstone of three-time Stanley Cup champ. 

ERIK KARLSSON, San Jose Sharks: One of only two defenders (Bobby Orr) to lead the NHL in assists in a season, finishing with 66 during the 2015-16 season. Most impactful defender since Orr, too. Smooth skater, great vision, makes plays with puck — he can do it all.

CONNOR McDAVID, Edmonton Oilers: Only 12 100-point performances since start of the 2012-13 season, and three belong to him. Has played only four seasons in the NHL but destined to be an all-time great. Already league's most dominant offensive player.

EVGENI MALKIN, Pittsburgh Penguins: His 36 points during 2009 playoffs were seventh most in single postseason. When at his best and fully healthy, he can be most physically dominant player in the league. Two-time scoring champion; a league MVP. 

ALEX OVECHKIN, Washington Capitals: His eight goal-scoring crowns are most of any player in NHL history. One of just four players to score 50 goals in a season past 33. Most dominant goal-scorer the NHL has ever seen — even more than Wayne Gretzky! — especially when you take into account the eras in which the two played. 

JOE THORNTON, San Jose Sharks: One of just five players in NHL history to have two 90-assist seasons and only one to do so after 1990. One of the best pure passers in NHL history, he makes every player around him better. 

(NHL text by Adam Gretz)

WNBA (3)

SUE BIRD, Seattle Storm:  What a career! Four Olympic gold medals, three WNBA titles, five EuroLeague titles, two NCAA titles. Her ability to get the ball in the hands of people who will immediately score has made her a beloved teammate on Storm and Team USA.

DIANA TAURASI, Phoenix Mercury: Amazing stat: In 59 postseason games, she has averaged 20.8 points. Her ability to take over games hasn’t changed since her college days at UConn. Three-time WNBA champion, five-time scoring champ, 10-time all-WNBA First Team and nine-time All-Star.

CANDACE PARKER, Los Angeles Sparks: Was first woman to dunk in an NCAA tournament game, second to dunk in a WNBA game. Two Olympic medals, two WNBA MVPs and titles at every level of basketball she’s played. What's not to love about her game?

(WNBA text by Maggie Hendricks)

Robinson Cano, Blake Griffin, Patrick Kane are posing for a picture: From left: Robinson Cano (NY Mets), Blake Griffin (Detroit Pistons), Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks). © USA Today Sports: Wendell Cruz | Kevin Jairaj | Philip G. Pavely | Kyle Terada From left: Robinson Cano (NY Mets), Blake Griffin (Detroit Pistons), Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks).

TIER 2: YES, BUT ... 

Definitely Hall of Famers, but they aren’t first-ballot selections (yet). Some failed to reach their full potential or slipped at the end of their careers. Others must tack on two or three seasons at their current pace to jump to Tier 1. (All MLB stats through July 11)

MLB (2)

ROBINSON CANO, New York Mets: Has put together one of  greatest hitting careers by a second baseman in history, placing in top 10 all-time at position in hits, doubles, home runs, slugging percentage and runs. Eight All-Star selections, World Series title. A Tier 1 guy were it not for cloud of 80-game PEDs suspension in 2018.

ZACK GREINKE, Arizona Diamondbacks: 1.66 ERA in 2015 was seventh lowest of any pitcher who worked 200 innings since 1900. One of most consistent starters in the game, posting 12 consecutive double-digit win totals. Closing in on 200 wins.

NBA (4)

CARMELO ANTHONY, free agent: Only man to win three Olympic gold medals in hoops. Ten-time All-Star, top-four scorer six different times. Knock on Melo: Where's playoff success? Abrupt decline at end of career and lackluster performance in MVP voting, where his best finishes are third and sixth in 2013 and 2010, respectively. 

VINCE CARTER, free agent: Has played 1,481 games, fifth most in NBA history. Dominated 2000 All-Star dunk contest, posterized Frederic Weis so badly in Olympics it scared Weis off from NBA. Threw down 15 dunks last year at 42! Knock? Forced way out of Toronto in an ugly way; only once made it as far as conference finals.

BLAKE GRIFFIN, Detroit Pistons: Dunked 608 times in first three NBA seasons, not counting one over the Kia. Has become a well-rounded player as he’s aged, going from just a dunker and stellar rebounder to a top-20 assist man, three-point shooter. Six-time All-Star. Heading to Hall if he’s not distracted by his comedy career.

PAU GASOL, Milwaukee Bucks: Beginning of his prime was spent excelling in relative anonymity in Memphis. Gasol joined Lakers and immediately reached three straight Finals. Made six All-Star teams, and it would have been more if media remembered Grizzlies existed while he was putting up 20 and 10 nearly every night.

NFL (15)

ANTONIO BROWN, Oakland Raiders: No one in NFL history totaled more receptions (733) or receiving yards (9,910) before age 30. Arguably best WR of this era, one of most productive ever. His 2019 antics left him in a worse situation to produce, but thriving in Oakland will move him toward first-ballot consideration.

AARON DONALD, Los Angeles Rams: Much younger than his Tier 2 peers at 28, the Rams interior defender is on a fast track toward first-ballot induction. Probably the NFL’s best active player and has been for a bit now; Pro Football Focus has graded him as league's No. 1 player in three of past four seasons. 

A.J. GREEN, Cincinnati Bengals: Playing for a low-profile franchise and aligned with middling QB throughout career, he flies under radars. Not as dominant as Antonio Brown or Julio Jones, Green (No. 4 in receiving yards since '11, with 8,907) would likely have better numbers were he partnered with Ben Roethlisberger or Matt Ryan.

LUKE KUECHLY, Carolina Panthers: Among players whose careers began in 21st century, he is only one with more than one 160-tackle season. He has three. Not yet 30, he is on track to join select peers from his era as first-ballot inductees. Do-everything MLB broke up J.J. Watt’s Defensive Player of the Year run by winning the award in 2013.

JULIO JONES, Atlanta Falcons: Since 2014, he has 7,994 receiving yards — the most of any pass-catcher in NFL history in a five-season span. If Brown isn’t the 2010s’ top wideout, Jones is. Despite playing in just two NFC championship games, he is only player to post multiple 180-yard receiving days in that round.

VON MILLER, Denver Broncos: Has eight seasons with elite (90.0-plus) pass-rushing grades from Pro Football Focus. No other active edge defender has more than five. Although he does not have a Defensive Player of Year Award, he has 98 sacks (No. 4 all-time through eight seasons). Miller's 2½ sacks on Tom Brady aided Broncos to SB 50.

JASON PETERS, Philadelphia Eagles: A starting tackle for so long, the QB he began his career protecting (Drew Bledsoe) and one he now guards (Carson Wentz) were born 20 years apart. During Pro Football Focus' 13-season run, the advanced metrics site has given only Joe Thomas grades of 80.0 or higher in more seasons than his eight. 

BEN ROETHLISBERGER, Pittsburgh Steelers: A HOF lock, but Big Ben has not been as consistent as top peers. He entered eighth season with just one Pro Bowl and threw for 20 TD passes just twice in that span. Elite defenses anchored his SB seasons. However, the two-time Super Bowl champ has the most complete legacy of the class of '04 QBs.

TERRELL SUGGS, Arizona Cardinals: His 132.5 sacks lead all active NFLers by 34. Suggs going five full seasons in his 20s without double-digit-sack season may hurt him. 2011 Defensive Player of the Year honor and returning from torn Achilles to help ’12 Ravens to a title helps him. 

EARL THOMAS, Baltimore Ravens: With him as driving force, Seattle led the NFL in scoring defense four straight years (2012-15). This era’s premier safety was the centerpiece of perhaps the 21st century's top secondary. His Ravens stay will be critical in determining how long he will wait for HOF knock.   

ADAM VINATIERI, Indianapolis Colts: Needed 345 games to break all-time scoring record, doing it in 37 fewer contests than HOFer Morten Andersen required to set the previous standard. Owns four SB rings, two of which required OT-preventing game-winners. The three-time All-Pro has not shown a desire to call it quits entering Year 24.

BOBBY WAGNER, Seattle Seahawks: Over past 30 years, no NFLer has recorded more tackles in his first seven seasons than his 981. He did this despite missing nine games. Legion of Boom is usually the first identifiable component of  Seattle's 2010s defenses, but Wagner remains as unit's centerpiece and at 29, has a first-ballot ceiling. 

RUSSELL WILSON, Seattle Seahawks: One of greatest draft gems in modern NFL history, 2012's No. 75 overall pick has grown from supporting-caster to one of league's premier QBs. In different seasons, the five-time Pro Bowler has led NFL in TD passes (34 in 2017), passer rating (110.1 in 2015) and QB rushing yards (849 in 2014). 

JASON WITTEN, Dallas Cowboys: 12 700-yard receiving seasons, trailing only Tony Gonzalez's 14 among TEs. None of them included double-digit TDs. He will return in 2019 with the fourth-most receptions (1,152) in NFL history. Has 68 touchdowns — more than 40 behind Gonzalez and Antonio Gates. 

MARSHAL YANDA, Baltimore Ravens: Was last beaten for sack in Week 7 of 2015. Forty games and 1,767 snaps have transpired since. With 16 games this season, Yanda can pass Jonathan Ogden (177 games) for most games played by Ravens OL. It took Pro Bowl voters a bit to notice the stalwart guard's work; didn't get invite until 2011.

 NHL (9) 

PATRICE BERGERON, Boston Bruins: His four Selke Trophies (best defensive forward) are tied for most all-time. Ideal two-way player — great offensively and defensively. More offensive production would have bumped him up a tier.  

ZDENO CHARA, Boston Bruins: Plus-262 rating tops among all active defenders. At 6-foot-9, tallest player in NHL history and one of best defenders ever. Has slowed a bit at end of career. 

DREW DOUGHTY, Los Angeles Kings: Will never be a player who puts up a lot of points, but he had a five- or six-year stretch where he was best defensive defenseman of his era.  

MARC-ANDRE FLEURY, Vegas Golden Knights: His 15 postseason shutouts are the fourth most all time and five more than any other player. Played for teams that went to five Stanley Cup Finals, winning three.   

PATRICK KANE, Chicago Blackhawks: First American-born player to win NHL MVP and Art Ross Trophy (league-leading scorer), winning both during the 2015-16 season. Off-ice past includes sexual assault investigation (case was dismissed) and an incident in which he allegedly punched a taxi driver.     

DUNCAN KEITH, Chicago Blackhawks: One of just three defensemen to win two Norris Trophies (best defenseman), a Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP) and three Stanley Cups. Never the flashiest player on defense, but No. 1 blue-liner on first dynasty of salary-cap era.       

ILYA KOVALCHUK, Los Angeles Kings: In first seven years in the league, he scored 40 more goals than any other player. Before Alex Ovechkin arrived in the NHL, Kovalchuk was the league's best goal-scorer.      

HENRIK LUNDQVIST, New York Rangers: In eight career Game 7s, he has 1.11 goals-against average, .961 save percentage. Single biggest reason Rangers have been as competitive as they have during his career.        

STEVEN STAMKOS, Tampa Bay Lightning: One of only two active players (Alex Ovechkin) to score 60 goals in a season. Lost significant portion of career because of injury. What if ...        

WNBA (2) 

MAYA MOORE, Minnesota Lynx: Four WNBA titles, five all-WNBA teams, two Olympic gold medals. Has helped her Lynx become class of the league. Has taken season off and told New York Times she doesn't know if she's coming back to finish off impressive career.        

SEIMONE AUGUSTUS, Minnesota Lynx: Key cog in all four Lynx titles. Four-time Olympic gold medalist always seems to take her game up a level in playoffs. Thirteen seasons in, she is starting to slow down and hasn’t played this season because of knee surgery. 

a group of baseball players standing on top of a field: From left: CC Sabathia (NY Yankees), Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors), Eli Manning (NY Giants) and Jonathan Toews (Chicago Blackhawks). © USA Today Sports: Kim Klement | Jaime Valdez | Brad Penner | Kamil Krzaczynski From left: CC Sabathia (NY Yankees), Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors), Eli Manning (NY Giants) and Jonathan Toews (Chicago Blackhawks).

TIER 3: POLARIZING BUT ULTIMATELY IN 

Athletes with flaws who will get in because of their accolades or statistical achievements. Bottom line: They must buy a ticket for several years until they're voted in to their sport's Hall of Fame. (All MLB stats through July 11.)

MLB (5)

AROLDIS CHAPMAN, New York Yankees: Holds MLB record for most strikeouts per nine innings by a pitcher in history (14.9). Chapman threw a fastball 105.1 mph fastball — fastest recorded in MLB history. No reliever who has retired in the past 30 years with fewer than 390 saves has been elected to Hall. He has 260.

YADIER MOLINA, St. Louis Cardinals: Two World Series titles, nine Gold Glove Awards and nine All-Star Game selections. Closing in on 2,000 hits. He has a defense-heavy resume in era where offensive numbers from all positions are expected among HOFers.

BUSTER POSEY, San Francisco Giants: Only catcher with an MVP Award, batting title and three World Series titles. Posey’s .336 average during his MVP season of 2012 is fifth highest by a catcher in past 50 years. No Hall of Fame catcher within the past 36 years has had fewer than 300 home runs and 2,000 hits. He's well short.

CC SABATHIA, New York Yankees: Winningest pitcher of past 20 years (251-157). He is 13th pitcher in history to reach 3,000 strikeouts and third left-hander to do so. One of the premier workhorses of his era. Lacks scintillating ERA (3.71). Numbers similar to Andy Pettite, who's not in HOF. 

JOEY VOTTO, Cincinnati Reds: Only Ted Williams, Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth and Rogers Hornsby led their leagues in on-base percentage more times than Votto’s seven. Raw power numbers not as impressive as those of many first basemen, but his .947 OPS ranks inside the top 20 of all time.

NBA (4)

DRAYMOND GREEN, Golden State Warriors: Mind-blowing stat: 32 career triple-doubles, 10 in playoffs. Although a power forward, he has finished in top 10 in assists in three different seasons. In playoffs his ability as a defensive stopper lets him guard players from centers to point guards, hopefully with minimum of kicking.

PAUL GEORGE, Los Angeles Clippers: In his eight healthy seasons has made six All-Star teams, won Most Improved Player Award and was named to five All-Defensive teams. At 29, he’s still getting better, finishing third in MVP vote last season, notching career highs in points, assists, three-pointers, rebounds. "Board Man" + PG = Whoa!

DWIGHT HOWARD, Memphis Grizzlies: Wow! Averaged 13.7 rebounds from 2007-08 to 2012-13. Won three straight Defensive Player of Year Awards, took the Magic to the Finals. Bleh! Forced way out of Orlando, endured disastrous season with Lakers (still led league in RPG), clashed with James Harden in Houston. Now a journeyman. 

ANDRE IGUODALA, Memphis Grizzlies: In 2015 Finals, he averaged 16.3 PPG, lowest total for Finals MVP. Stellar defensive player, an integral part of Warriors dynasty. But his resume is otherwise a little light: one All-Star Game and only two All-Defensive teams. Bobby Jones and Sidney Moncrief are in this year; Iggy's in someday, too.

NFL (14)

GENO ATKINS, Cincinnati Bengals: Only one other DT, HOFer John Randle, has more nine-sack seasons (seven) than Atkins’ five. The Bengals' all-time sack leader has quietly been top-caliber three-technique and at 31 has time to build on a resume that could well be Hall-worthy down the road.

ERIC BERRY, free agent: After the '16 season, he was on pace for short Hall wait. His three return TDs (including NFL’s first “pick-2”) propelled a good, not great 2016 Chiefs team to AFC’s No. 2 seed. Three First-Team All-Pro honors — two coming after he beat cancer. But currently unemployed safety has missed 29 of past 31 games. 

FRANK GORE, Buffalo Bills: The longevity the 36-year-old RB has displayed has lifted him to No. 4 on the career rushing list (14,748 yards), and the Bills giving him a chance at a 14th season will allow for more stat-stuffing. Is he more compiler than an eye-test star?

CHRIS HARRIS, Denver Broncos: He has been game’s top slot defender for so long (in an era featuring this position’s importance rise) the ninth-year Bronco can reasonably be called the all-time slot kingpin. Harris' lower profile may force a Hall wait. 

JASON KELCE, Philadelphia Eagles: Just the second center since the merger to post back-to-back First-Team All-Pro seasons after age 30, following Hall of Famer Dermontti Dawson. It took more decorated modern centers Kevin Mawae and Dawson five and seven tries to get Hall calls, and Kelce is running out of prime years. 

ELI MANNING, New York Giants: Maybe the most polarizing player here, he will see his mediocre regular-season resume (three 20-plus-interception slates, a rough recent road) cause many to call for HOF exclusion. But the QB's postseason log — toppling unbeaten Pats, leading road conquests of four NFC Nos. 1-2 seeds  — is impressive. 

CAM NEWTON, Carolina Panthers: The NFL has seen few players like Newton, who in eight seasons has rushed for 15 more TDs (58) than any other QB. He has largely failed to disprove his stratospheric 2015 MVP slate was a fluke, having ranked outside top 20 in QBR in each of past three seasons. 

PATRICK PETERSON, Arizona Cardinals: More Pro Bowls this decade than any other CB and was on track to be lock for one of First-Team All-Decade 2010s team's slots — until his '19 PEDs suspension. Covers lots of No. 1 WRs, but Pro Football Focus does not view him in the same light as Richard Sherman or Chris Harris. 

MAURKICE POUNCEY, Pittsburgh Steelers: No center since AFL-NFL merger has received more Pro Bowl invites than his seven during the first nine seasons of his career. Others are often cited as reasons for the Steelers' offensive emergence over past six years, but the team has featured top-flight offensive lines for years. 

PHILIP RIVERS, Los Angeles Chargers: Long admired for his durability and production (sixth on all-time passing TD list with 374, ahead of Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning), he's still going strong at 37. Bolts' eight-year run of single-digit victories from 2010-17 has Rivers' profile lacking in prestige.

MATT RYAN, Atlanta Falcons: The QB has four Pro Bowls (in 11 seasons), two conference title game appearances (more than Philip Rivers, Cam Newton and as many as Russell Wilson, Eli Manning). Aside from 2016, has Ryan been viewed as one of the league's best? The 34-year-old still has work to do.

RICHARD SHERMAN, San Francisco 49ers: He surged onto scene with three First-Team All-Pro honors in his first three seasons as full-time starter (2012-14). Was probably that period's best corner and essential part of Seattle's perennially stout defense. Must prove he's recovered from 2017 Achilles tear. 

NDAMUKONG SUH, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The menacing DT has been one of the league's top run defenders and never missed a game due to injury. While his career has taken on journeyman feel, the polarizing 32-year-old lineman (56 sacks) is probably not that far from securing a gold jacket.

ANDREW WHITWORTH, Los Angeles Rams: Because the longtime Bengal blocker went six seasons without a notable accolade, his Hall of Fame case is complex. But his four post-age-30 Pro Bowls and three All-Pro honors, along with his role on the Sean McVay-era Rams, warrants strong consideration.

NHL (2)

P.K. SUBBAN, New Jersey Devils: A Norris Trophy winner, a three-time finalist for the award and one of most impactful defenders in NHL. One of most popular players of his era due to his off-ice personality, charity work in whatever community he is a part of and dynamic style of play on ice.

JONATHAN TOEWS, Chicago Blackhawks: Hall of Fame voters, hockey analysts will rate him highly because he captained three-time Stanley Cup-winning team. A winner, leader, great all-around player but probably never more than the second- or third-best player on his own team.

WNBA (3)

SYLVIA FOWLES, Minnesota Lynx: Has a WNBA MVP, a title and three Olympic gold medals on her resume. In 2015, she sat out with Chicago Sky until she was traded to Minnesota Lynx, where she has thrived. 

TINA CHARLES, New York Liberty: In her sixth season in New York, she became team's all-time leading scorer. Was 2010 Rookie of the Year with the Connecticut Sun. Career averages: 19.3 points per game, nearly 10 boards. 

ANGEL McCOUGHTRY, Atlanta Dream: Averages nearly 20 points a game and a seven-time member of the WNBA’s All-Defensive team, McCoughtry is the all-around player most coaches dream of having. Has played on weak teams.  

a group of football players on a field: From left: Bryce Harper (Philadelphia Phillies), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks), Jadaveon Clowney (Houston Texans) and Niklas Backstrom (Washington Capitals). © USA Today Sports: Eric Hartline | Jeff Hanisch | Matthew Emmons | Jerome Miron From left: Bryce Harper (Philadelphia Phillies), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks), Jadaveon Clowney (Houston Texans) and Niklas Backstrom (Washington Capitals).

TIER 4: ON PACE FOR GREATNESS 

Definitely have the look of Hall of Famers, but they still must accrue more seasons, statistics and accolades to climb the tiers. (All MLB stats through July 11.)

MLB (13) 

JOSE ALTUVE, Houston Astros: A three-time batting champion before his 30th birthday. At current pace — he's in his ninth season — he'll get 3,000 hits. Of 32 players in MLB history with 3,000 hits, 25 are in the Hall of Fame. (Not in: Rafael Palmeiro, Ichiro Suzuki, Albert Pujols, Ivan Rodriguez, Adrian Beltre, Derek Jeter, Pete Rose.) 

NOLAN ARENADO, Colorado Rockies Only infielder to win Gold Glove Award in each of his first six seasons. A stunningly complete two-way player, Arenado has established himself as one of greatest all-around third basemen in history by his age-28 season. 

MOOKIE BETTS, Boston Red Sox: Only player to win a batting title, World Series, Gold Glove and MVP in the same season (2018). Also the only player in history with four three-homer games before turning 26.

KRIS BRYANT, Chicago Cubs: First player to win Golden Spikes Award (top collegiate player), Minor League Player of the Year, MLB Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player Award in successive seasons. Also one of two players in history to record two games of five hits and five RBI in the same season. He's only in his fifth season.

MADISON BUMGARNER, San Francisco Giants: He won't turn 30 until August, but he already owns one of most impressive postseason resumes in history. His 0.29 ERA, 52.2 innings pitched and 32.2 consecutive scoreless innings are MLB all-time postseason records. His 0.25 career World Series ERA is also a record. 

PAUL GOLDSCHMIDT, St. Louis Cardinals: Leads all first basemen in runs, home runs, RBI, slugging percentage and stolen bases since his MLB debut in 2011. One of three first basemen in past 50 years with a season of hitting .290, 30 home runs, 100 runs and 20 stolen bases.

BRYCE HARPER, Philadelphia Phillies: Youngest player with 40 home runs and 120 walks in a season. Has rewritten book on early career success in many areas since debuting as 19-year-old and becoming the youngest positional player to appear in an All-Star Game. Was NL Rookie of the Year in 2012. 

CRAIG KIMBREL, Chicago Cubs: Most efficient closer in MLB history, leading the National League in saves four times and converting 90.5 percent of his save opportunities during the stretch. In six of his eight full seasons, Kimbrel has finished in his league’s top four in saves, with four seasons of 40 or more.

FRANCISCO LINDOR, Cleveland Indians: Has second-best WAR (26.5) through his first five seasons of any shortstop since 1900. Game's top shortstop since his arrival in mid-2015, gaining an All-Star election every season in which he has been eligible. 

MANNY MACHADO, San Diego Padres: Whether it's with the bat or the glove, Machado has a flare for the big moment. The third baseman-shortstop is a .317 career hitter with runners in scoring position and has nine career grand slams.

CHRIS SALE, Boston Red Sox: A dominant strikeout pitcher as a reliever early in his career, he became a dominant starter in 2012. Has finished in American League’s top five in strikeouts six out of the past eight seasons, becoming the fastest player in history to 1,500 K’s in the process. 

GIANCARLO STANTON, New York Yankees: Has averaged a home run every 13.8 at-bats in his career, the fifth-best rate in MLB history. A string of injuries has drastically impacted his overall total, as he has played in as many as 140 games only four times in his career.

CHRISTIAN YELICH, Milwaukee Brewers: In 2018, he fell two home runs and one RBI shy of accomplishing the first Triple Crown in the National League in 81 years. Has 67 HRs in his past 229 games, giving him eight more home runs in 225 games as a Brewer than he had in five years — 643 games — as a Marlin.

NBA (7)

GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO, Milwaukee Bucks: 2018-19 MVP. Damn! Made 116 unassisted dunks last season, most by far since NBA started keeping track in 1996-97. In 2016-17, Greek Freak became first player to finish in top 20 of all of major statistical categories: points, assists, rebounds, blocks, steals. 

ANTHONY DAVIS, Los Angeles Lakers: All-Star six of his seven seasons and All-NBA First Team. Great shot-blocker, powerful inside scorer and superstar who should have highest profile and best teammate of his career in LeBron James in L.A. It's time to see how The Brow performs in deep playoff run.

KYRIE IRVING, Brooklyn Nets: Has strange theories about world, gets hurt a lot and sometimes alienates teammates, but there's no denying his scoring ability. Might be the best "closer" in the NBA; a guy who can get, and make, his own shot as well as anyone in crunch time. As long as his knee problems don't get worse, he'll be in Hall. 

KLAY THOMPSON, Golden State Warriors: Unreal stat: 374, number of three-pointers he's made in playoffs, third all-time. Oh, he shot them at 41.5 percent clip. Huge part of Warriors' three titles. In 2016 playoffs scored 41 points, hit 11 three-pointers to beat OKC in Game 6. Hall lock if he comes back from ACL injury close to old self. 

NIKOLA JOKIC, Denver Nuggets: Averaged 7.3 assists last season, most by center since Wilt Chamberlain in 1967-68. Crown him greatest passing center of all time. Does things even Bill Walton and Arvydas Sabonis never did in primes, with his array of no-look passes, lobs and ball fakes. Essentially a 7-foot point guard. And he's only 24! 

DAMIAN LILLARD, Portland Trail Blazers: Perhaps we should just put him in Hall for that 37-foot, series-winning shot over Paul George in the first round of playoffs. Always a top-11 scorer and good volume three-point shooter. Distributes ball well, too. But where he stands out is in his absolutely fearless clutch performances.

KARL ANTHONY-TOWNS, Minnesota Timberwolves: 7-footer made 142 threes last season (40 percent). Averaged 24 points, 12 boards. But still hasn't figured how to play D. Led league in fouls past two seasons. If he wants to be truly great — and stay on floor more than 33 minutes per game — he must stop biting on fakes, hacking in post.

NFL (16)

ODELL BECKHAM JR., Cleveland Browns: His mercurial tendencies and recent injury trouble aside, the sixth-year vet produced three straight 1,300-yard seasons (and three Pro Bowls entering the league) and played major part in helping a limited Giants offense to the 2016 playoffs. The 26-year-old star is on track for Canton.

Le’VEON BELL, New York JetsHis 129 yards from scrimmage per game are most in NFL history, bettering Jim Brown’s 50-plus-year-old standard of 125.5. A combination of games missed due to suspensions, injuries and a '18 holdout (34 total), and high-volume workload Steelers gave him when he was on field put Bell in tough spot. 

JADEVEON CLOWNEY, Houston Texans:  J.J. Watt's overqualified sidekick remains one of NFL's better all-around edge defenders. He overcame microfracture surgery, has made three Pro Bowls and is only 26. But with just 29 sacks in five seasons (163rd all-time for a player exiting Year 5), the Texans' standout has plenty of work to do.

FLETCHER COX, Philadelphia Eagles: Playing in same era as Aaron Donald may hurt Cox's standing, but eighth-year Eagle has HOF-caliber disruptive ability. Look no further than how Patriots blocked Cox on Brandon Graham's fateful Super Bowl LII sack-strip. Much bigger than Donald, the Eagles DT has similar QB-harassing gifts.

DAVID DeCASTRO, Pittsburgh Steelers: Must stack accolades to reach Canton, which is tough on guards, but he's the highest-ceiling offensive lineman the Steelers have deployed during their offensive surge of past five years. Former first-round pick has two first-team All-Pro appearances and four Pro Bowls. 

MIKE EVANS, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: He is one of just three players, along with Randy Moss and A.J. Green, to begin his career with five 1,000-yard receiving seasons. One of biggest WR to enter the NFL, at 6-foot-5 and 231 pounds, Evans has 6,103 receiving yards through five seasons.  

TRAVIS FREDERICK, Dallas Cowboys: Of the Cowboys' standout offensive line trio of Frederick, Zack Martin and Tyron Smith, their center has steepest climb toward HOF. Despite booking Pro Bowl invites in his previous four healthy seasons, his diagnosis with Guillain-Barre disease in 2018 hijacked his lofty career arc. 

TODD GURLEY, Los Angeles Rams: Eleven running backs earned multiple first-team All-Pro honors in their first four seasons since the 1970 merger; nine are Hall of Famers, another is Adrian Peterson. Gurley is most recent to do this. Knee trouble may mean we have already seen best of him.

JOHNNY HEKKER, Los Angeles Rams: Only pure punter with more first-team All-Pro designations than Hekker's four: Shane Lechler, who played 18 seasons. Hekker is entering Year 8. A punter infiltrates the list for good reason. 47-yard net average.

DeANDRE HOPKINS, Houston Texans: Besides his otherworldly jump-ball acumen, the distinguishing part of his career has been his production coming despite parade of QBs. Produced four 1,200-yard seasons and bumped both Julio Jones (in 2017) and Antonio Brown (in '18) off their first-team All-Pro perches. 

TRAVIS KELCE, Kansas City Chiefs: He has reeled off three straight 1,000-yard seasons, and in his one slate with Patrick Mahomes, he finished with 1,336 yards — second all-time in a season for a tight end. The two-time All-Pro took Rob Gronkowski's best-tight end-alive belt while his career was still going.  

ANDREW LUCK, Indianapolis Colts: Career veered off course after he led Colts to three playoff brackets and secured three Pro Bowl invites in his first three years. O-line issues, botched shoulder surgery moved him well off HOF radars. But 2018 return, which featured his best completion percentage (67.3), has him back on course. 

KHALIL MACK, Chicago Bears: After becoming one of league's best pass-rushers in Oakland, Mack turned Chicago's defense from good (ninth in 2017 points allowed) to great (first in '18). Joining Von Miller in terrorizing right tackles, Mack is the first edge defender to earn three First-Team All-Pros in his first five seasons since Reggie White. 

ZACK MARTIN, Dallas Cowboys: Since the right guard's 2014 arrival, Cowboys backs DeMarco Murray and Ezekiel Elliott have combined for three rushing titles. Since merger, only one other team has seen multiple backs lead the league in rushing in five-year span. 

TYRON SMITH, Dallas Cowboys: He has allowed just six sacks over the past three seasons. Although 2019 will be Cowboys left tackle's ninth season, he will not turn 30 until December 2020. Six Pro Bowls and two First-Team All-Pros in tow, the athletic blocker should have plenty of time to build strong Hall case. 

JUSTIN TUCKER, Baltimore Ravens: Buoyed by a staggering 2016 season that featured a 10-of-10 success rate on 50-plus-yard field goals, he has made an NFL-record 90.1% of his field goals. No one is within two percentage points of him. 

NHL (8)

NICKLAS BACKSTROM, Washington Capitals: Not as dominant as Alex Ovechkin and will not finish with similar numbers, but there is argument to be made he is more valuable because of position he plays (center) and two-way role he occupies. Underrated, underappreciated star.  

BRENT BURNS, San Jose Sharks: Over past four seasons has 41 more points than any other defender in the league. Has excelled as defender, forward. Bit of a late-bloomer in terms of superstardom.

PHIL KESSEL, Arizona Coyotes:  An ironman, he has not missed a game, regular season or playoffs, in 10 years, a streak of 774. One of best pure offensive players and one of best American-born players ever. Not good on defense — in fact, can be awful. Penguins fans know.

ANZE KOPITAR, Los Angeles Kings: Finished as leading scorer in playoffs twice, one of 16 players to accomplish feat. Two-time Stanley Cup champion. Had he played on a different team with a more dynamic system, may have put up even more impressive numbers offensively. 

NIKITA KUCHEROV, Tampa Bay Lightning: 128 points during 2018-19 season was highest point total in NHL in 23 years. Over past two years has become one of most dangerous offensive players in league.

NATHAN MacKINNON, Colorado Avalanche: Burst onto scene as an 18-year-old rookie and looked like an emerging superstar only to have his production plateau for a few years. Over past two years, however, he has skyrocketed to top of league and played at MVP level. 

CAREY PRICE, Montreal Canadiens: 2014-15 season was one of best ever for goalie, leading the league in save percentage (.933) and goals-against average (2.32) and winning MVP. When healthy and on top of game, he is game-changer.  

JOHN TAVARES, Toronto Maple Leafs: In his first season with the Maple Leafs, he set career-high with 47 goals. As far as No.1 overall picks go, Tavares isn't on same level as Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin or Connor McDavid. Consistent All-Star and top-tier offensive player. 

WNBA (1)

ELENA DELLE DONNE, Washington Mystics: Her trophy case includes a Rookie of the Year and an MVP. If she can maintain impressive numbers (20.2 PPG and 6.9 RPG) — and help Washington to its first WNBA title — she will be enshrined one day.

TIER 5: HALL, NO! (Go here)

To paraphrase former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy, “It’s called the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Good.” These 58 athletes may have had one or two truly great seasons but not enough consistent excellence. 

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