Last summer, Pro Football Hall of Fame president David Baker decided to extend the 2020 Hall of Fame class to 20 members. Baker said that his reasoning behind the decision was to celebrate the NFL's centennial season while also allowing more openings for deserving players, coaches and contributors to earn their rightful place in Canton, Ohio.
While this year's expanded induction class (which will officially be enshrined in 2021) certainly helped, there are still a slew of deserving players who are waiting to earn their rightful place in the Hall of Fame. We're still several months away from beginning the process of determining next year's Hall of Fame class, but we decided to take a look at each NFL's team's best player who is currently not in Canton.
Here is the criteria for the list:
- The player must have played more than half of his career for the franchise
- The player must be currently eligible for induction into the Hall of Fame
So, who is your favorite team's best non-Hall of Fame player? Let's find out.
Arizona Cardinals - Ottis Anderson, RB
Anderson's success during his eight seasons with the Cardinals, along with his late-career resurgence with the Giants, should be enough to one day earn him a place in Canton. The 1979 offensive Rookie of the Year, Anderson earned All-Pro honors that season while rushing for a career-high 1,605 yards. In his first 86 games with the Cardinals, Anderson averaged 86 rushing yards and 111 all-purpose yards. He also scored 45 touchdowns while helping the Cardinals post three consecutive winning seasons from 1982-84.
In 1986, Anderson was traded to the Giants, where he served as Joe Morris' backup during New York's first Super Bowl run. Three years later, Anderson was back in the starting lineup, rushing for over 1,000 yards while helping the Giants post a 12-4 record. The following season, Anderson again led the Giants in rushing during the regular season while helping New York stun the two-time defending champion 49ers in the NFC title game. In Super Bowl XXV, Anderson rumbled for 102 yards and a touchdown to help the Giants topple the favored Bills. Anderson, 34 years old at the time, is still the oldest running back in league history to be named Super Bowl MVP.
Atlanta Falcons - Tommy Nobis, LB
Atlanta's first draft pick, Nobis played on just two winning teams during his 11-year tenure with the Falcons. Despite his team's lack of success, Nobis earned the recognition of his peers, earning five Pro Bowl selections and one All-Pro nod during his first seven seasons.
The NFL's Rookie of the Year in 1966, Nobis recorded a whopping 294 tackles that season. That total is not only a Falcons' franchise record, it is unofficially the the most tackles ever credited to a player in NFL history, according to the Falcons' team website. Nobis' early success earned him a place on the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1960s.
"I just remember how dominating a football player he was," former Cardinals Hall of Fame offensive lineman Dan Dierdorf once said of Nobis. "I remember his speed. For a big guy, I was startled that a guy could make that many plays on the sideline from a middle linebacker position."
Baltimore Ravens - Jamal Lewis, RB
Lewis' career is a little bizarre. The fifth overall pick in the 2000 draft, Lewis rushed for 1,364 yards as a rookie while helping the Ravens reach their first Super Bowl. In Super Bowl XXXV, Lewis rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown in Baltimore's 34-7 win over the Giants. Three years later, Lewis earned Offensive Player of the Year honors after rushing for 2,066 yards, the third-highest total in NFL history. Lewis, who played his final three seasons for the Browns (helping Cleveland post a 10-6 record in 2007), compiled four other 1,000-yard rushing seasons. His 10,607 career rushing yards are 25th in league history.
Despite his success, the only time Lewis earned All Pro/Pro Bowl honors was during his monster 2003 season. Lewis also did not have a terribly long career, as he hung up his cleats for good before his 31st birthday. He also missed the entire 2001 season after suffering a knee injury. But despite his lack of longevity and Pro Bowl nods, Lewis' body of work should render him future consideration for Canton.
Buffalo Bills - Steve Tasker, WR
One of the greatest special teams players in NFL history, Tasker earned seven Pro Bowl nods from 1987-95. During that span, Tasker helped the Bills become the first franchise appear in four consecutive Super Bowls. Tasker's brilliance was on display during the opening minutes of Super Bowl XXVII. With the Cowboys punting from their own 16 yard line, Tasker was lined up against linebacker Robert Jones, a rookie who filled in for an injured starter. Jones didn't have a chance against Tasker, who beat Jones on an inside move before blocking Mike Saxon's punt. Tasker's play set up the game's first touchdown.
Two other Bills from the '90s that I considered were linebackers Darryl Talley and Cornelius Bennett. The duo played a considerable role in helping the Bills' defense allow an average of just 17.3 points per game during their four-year run atop the AFC.
Carolina Panthers - Sam Mills, LB
Few players have had a bigger impact on a franchise than Mills. While he initially made his mark in New Orleans, Mills brought an immediate spark to the expansion Panthers. After racking up 110 tackles during his first season in Carolina, Mills earned All-Pro honors in 1996 while helping the Panthers reach the NFC Championship Game in just their second year of existence. Mills enjoyed a productive third season with the Panthers before calling it a career after the 1997 season.
A five-time Pro Bowler, Mills is a member of the Saints Hall of Fame as well as the Panthers Ring of Honor. A former Panthers assistant coach, Mills, who continued to coach despite receiving a cancer diagnosis, was the inspirational force behind the Panthers' run to Super Bowl XXXVII. His "keep pounding" mantra continues to serve as the team's rallying cry. Mills, who died in April of 2005, had his number 51 retired by the Panthers before the start of the '05 season. A statue of Mills in his Panthers jersey currently sits outside Bank of America Stadium.
Cincinnati Bengals - Ken Riley, CB
Riley, who died earlier this year, retired with 65 interceptions, which is tied for the fifth highest total in NFL history. The player Riley is compared to is Charles Woodson, who will likely receive a gold jacket in 2021, his first year of eligibility. An incredibly consistent player throughout his career, Riley picked off at least four passes nine different times, tallying a career-high nine interceptions in 1976. A key member of the Bengals' 1981 AFC championship team, Riley returned a league high three interceptions for touchdowns during his final two seasons. In 1983, his final NFL season, the 36-year-old Riley recorded eight interceptions (returning two for scores) while earning his first career All-Pro selection.
Chicago Bears - Steve McMichael, DT
One of best players on the Bears' vaunted 46 defense, McMichael earned his first of three consecutive Pro Bowl honors in 1985 while helping Chicago capture its only Lombardi Trophy. A two-time All-Pro, McMichael had 92.5 career sacks for Chicago, second in franchise history. McMichael and Dan Hampton (a 2002 Hall of Fame inductee) formed one of the greatest defensive duos in NFL history, a unit that totaled 41.5 sacks from 1984-88.
"Those two guys at the point of attack were as good as anything I've ever been around coaching or playing," former teammate and current Washington coach Ron Rivera recently told The Athletic.
Cleveland Browns - Clay Matthews, LB
A four-time Pro Bowler, Matthews spent 16 of his 19 NFL seasons with the Browns, helping Cleveland win five AFC Central division titles during the 1980s. Matthews retired with 69.5 career sacks, 27 forced fumbles and 14 fumble recoveries. He also led the NFL in tackles on four different occasions. One of Matthews' best seasons did not result in a Pro Bowl selection. In 1984, Matthews led the league with 126 tackles while also posting 12 sacks and three forced fumbles. Matthews' play was a major reason why the Browns appeared in three AFC Championship Games from 1986-89.
While he has yet to receive the call to Canton, Matthews was inducted into the Browns' Ring of Honor in 2019.
Dallas Cowboys - Drew Pearson, WR
Darren Woodson, Harvey Martin, Ed "Too Tall" Jones and Jay Novacek are among the Cowboys' greatest players who are still waiting for their calls to Canton. But the best Cowboy who is still not a member of the Hall of Fame is Pearson, the only player from the NFL's 1970s All-Decade team who is still waiting to receive his gold jacket. Pearson was brought to tears after he was again passed over during last year's Hall of Fame induction announcement.
A three-time All-Pro, Pearson led the NFL in receiving yards in 1977 while helping the Cowboys win their second Super Bowl. Two years earlier, his Hail Mary catch propelled the Cowboys past the Vikings in the 1975 playoffs. Nicknamed "Clutch" for his knock for making big plays in big games, Pearson caught 68 passes for 1,131 yards and eight touchdowns in postseason competition.
Denver Broncos - Randy Gradishar, LB
While Tom Jackson and Rod Smith received consideration, Gradishar remains the greatest Bronco who is still waiting for his place in Canton. The 14th overall pick in the 1974 draft, Gradishar earned All-Pro honors in 1977 while leading Denver's "Orange Crush" defense, a unit that helped spearhead the Broncos' first Super Bowl appearance. Gradishar earned five more Pro Bowl selections (as well as another All-Pro nod) during his final six seasons with the Broncos. A member of the Broncos Ring of Fame, Gradishar is credited with over 2,000 tackles during his 10-year career.
"We didn't see Denver that often," Dan Hampton told Sports Illustrated back in 2014, "but it was fun watching game films of Gradishar. We'd kid Mike Singletary and say, 'Look at that -- Gradishar takes on a block, he doesn't dance around it, Mike.'
"One time I asked Walter Payton who gave him the hardest shot in his career. He told me one name -- Gradishar. He was well-respected in Chicago."
Detroit Lions - Herman Moore, WR
A three-time All-Pro, Moore caught a then NFL record 123 passes in 1995. He also recorded 1,686 yards (third behind Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Isaac Bruce) and 14 touchdowns. Two years later, Moore again led the NFL in receptions while eclipsing the 1,200-yard barrier for a fourth straight year. During a seven-year span, Moore averaged 85 receptions for 1,190 yards and 8 touchdowns a season. Not bad for a receiver who never played with a Pro Bowl quarterback.
Moore's former teammate, defensive end Robert Porcher (95.5 career sacks) also received consideration.
Green Bay Packers - LeRoy Butler, SS
Butler is one of the two first-team safeties on the NFL's All-Decade team for the 1990s. The other is Steve Atwater, who was part of this year's Hall of Fame induction class. A four-time All-Pro (that included three straight seasons from 1996-98), the versatile Butler racked up 38 interceptions, 889 tackles, 20.5 sacks, 13 forced fumbles and 10 fumble recoveries over his career. He also recorded the first Lambeau Leap, which should definitely count for something. Butler's success helped the Packers win one Super Bowl and two NFC titles during the '90s.
Houston Texans - Andre Johnson, WR
We're bending the rules here as it relates to players only being on this list who are eligible for enshrinement. I'm making an exception in this case because the Texans, created in 2002, don't have any great former players who are currently eligible for enshrinement. That brings us to Johnson, who will be eligible for enshrinement in 2022. Johnson, a seven-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro, led the league in receptions and receiving yards on two different occasions. A key member of the Texans' first four AFC South championship teams, Johnson is 11th all time in career receptions (1,062) and receiving yards (14,185).
Indianapolis Colts - Reggie Wayne, WR
Wayne (who did not receive enough votes this past year to get inducted during his first year of eligibility) was often overshadowed by more flamboyant receivers. Wayne also spent more than half of his career playing alongside Marvin Harrison, who received his gold jacket in 2016.
While his career may have not received the attention it deserved, Wayne's career numbers speak for themselves. Wayne, a six-time Pro Bowler, led the NFL in receiving yards 2007. Two years later (after Harrison retired during the 2008 offseason), Wayne helped lead the Colts to their second Super Bowl in four years. And while his career marks (he's 10th all-time in receptions and receiving yards) are impressive, Wayne's postseason numbers -- he caught 93 passes for 1,254 yards and nine touchdowns -- truly set him apart from his peers.
Kansas City Chiefs - Otis Taylor, WR
We're continuing our run of receivers with Taylor, whose game went through a seamless transition after the Chiefs moved from the AFL to the NFL following the 1970 league merger. Fittingly, in the final game played before the merger, Taylor made the game-breaking play, as his 46-yard touchdown reception sealed the Chiefs' victory over the Vikings in Super Bowl IV.
Taylor made an even greater play against the Raiders in that year's AFL Championship Game. With the score tied in the third quarter, and with the Chiefs facing a third and long just outside their own end zone, Kansas City quarterback Len Dawson found Taylor for a 41-yard gain. The play helped set up the Chiefs' go-ahead touchdown. Simply put, Chiefs fans grew accustomed to seeing those type of exploits from Taylor, a multiple All-Pro who led the NFL in receiving yards in 1971.
San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers - Leslie O'Neal, OLB/DE
I'm not going to ignore the strange fact that our receiver streak ends with the Chargers, who were synonymous with high-flying offenses during their first 25 years of existence. Shout outs are in order for former Chargers receivers John Jefferson and Wes Chandler, who enjoyed tremendous stretches of success catching passes from Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts. Russ Washington, the team's best offensive linemen during the "Air Coryell" era, also received consideration.
The top spot here, however, goes to O'Neal, whose 132.5 career sacks is the same career total as Lawrence Taylor. Making O'Neal's career even more impressive is the fact that he was able to rebound from a severe knee injury that wiped out his entire second season. A six-time Pro Bowler, O'Neal tallied at least 10 sacks in a season eight times. His 12.5 sacks during the 1994 season helped the Chargers capture their first AFC championship. From 1989-95, O'Neal recorded 89 sacks that included a career-high 17 sacks during the 1992 season.
St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams - Torry Holt, WR
Now that Isaac Bruce is set to receive his gold jacket in 2021, that leaves the Rams' "other" receiver during their "Greatest Show on Turf" era as the franchise's best player who has yet to earn a place in Canton. A seven-time Pro Bowler, Holt helped St. Louis win the Super Bowl during his rookie season. In Super Bowl XXXIV, Holt's third quarter touchdown catch (as well as his 109 receiving yards) helped the Rams hold off the Titans in one of the greatest Super Bowls ever played.
Holt led the NFL in receiving yards on two separate occasions. In 2003, he paced the league in both receptions (117) and receiving yards (1,696). During an eight-year span, Holt averaged 94 receptions for 1,385 yards and eight touchdowns a season. His 13,382 career receiving yards is currently 16th on the all-time list.
Jacksonville Jaguars - Tony Boselli, LT
Injuries are the only reason why Boselli is not already in Canton. The Jaguars' first draft pick, Boselli was selected to five consecutive Pro Bowls from 1996-2000. He also earned three straight All-Pro nods while helping the Jaguars appear in two AFC Championship Games. Boselli's career was cut short in 2001, however, as he was forced to retire after 99 career games. In 2006, he became the first member of the Jaguars Hall of Fame.
Miami Dolphins - Zach Thomas, ILB
The Dolphins have a slew of Canton worthy players who still haven't gotten the call. Among those players are former offensive lineman Bob Kuechenberg, receivers Mark Duper and Mark Clayton and running back Ricky Williams. Thomas, a seven-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro, is at the top of that list. A former fifth-round pick, Thomas was one of the NFL's most productive players during his dozen seasons in Miami. Thomas, who led the NFL in tackles on two separate occasions, retired with 1,734 career tackles, 20.5 sacks, 17 interceptions, 48 passes defensed, 16 forced fumbles and eight fumble recoveries. His play helped the Dolphins make the playoffs each year from 1997-01.
Minnesota Vikings - Jim Marshall, DE
A valued member of Minnesota's "Purple People Eaters" defensive line, Marshall holds numerous NFL records that includes the most seasons played by a defensive player (20, along with Junior Seau and Darrell Green), most consecutive games by a defensive player (282), most consecutive starts by a defensive player (270), and most career fumble recoveries (30). Marshall, who was still a starter at age 42, helped the Vikings win three NFC titles along with the NFL championship in 1969.
Another Viking who played during Marshall's era, running back Chuck Foreman, was also considered. The 1973 Offensive Rookie of the Year, Foreman -- way ahead of his time in terms of his versatility -- led the NFL in receptions in 1975 while averaging 20 yards per catch.
New England Patriots - Richard Seymour, DE/DT
The sixth overall pick in the 2001 draft, Seymour helped the Patriots capture their first of six Super Bowls during his rookie season. Seven years later, Seymour left New England as a three-time champion, five-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro. Seymour wasn't done, however, adding two more Pro Bowl selections to his resume during his four years with the Raiders. Seymour, who was recently voted into the Patriots' Hall of Fame, received a letter on his behalf to the Hall of Fame voters by former coach Bill Belichick.
"Richard Seymour was unquestionably one of our key players," Belichick wrote, "and I do not believe we would have won three championships without him."
New Orleans Saints - Pat Swilling, LB/DE
A key member of the Saints' "Dome Patrol" defense of the late '80s/early '90s, Swilling earned five consecutive Pro Bowl selections from 1989-93. He also earned two consecutive All-Pro nods during that span while leading the NFL in sacks (with 17) during the 1991 season. His 107.5 sacks is the 24th highest total in league history.
While his best years were with the Saints, Swilling's final Pro Bowl selection came following his first season with the Lions in 1993. He recorded 13 sacks two years later as a member of the Raiders.
New York Giants - Tiki Barber, RB
After receiving just 11 starts during his first three seasons, Barber broke through in 2000, amassing over 1,700 all-purpose yards while helping the Giants reach the Super Bowl. He went on to enjoy six more highly productive seasons with the Giants that included three consecutive Pro Bowl seasons. Barber earned All-Pro honors in 2005, when he rushed for a career-high 1,860 yards (the 13th-highest single-season total in NFL history). During his final three seasons, Barber averaged 1,680 rushing yards (while averaging 5 yards per carry) and 2,204 all-purpose yards. In 2006, his final NFL season, Barber rushed for 1,662 yards while reaching 2,000 all-purpose yards for a third straight season.
New York Jets - Joe Klecko, DL
Mark Gastineau may have been the more celebrated member of the Jets' 1980s "New York Sack Exchange," but Klecko's mastery of three different positions made him an easy choice. A defensive end during the 1981 season, Klecko was named the AFC's Defensive Player of the Year after recording 20.5 sacks. But despite his success, Klecko was asked to move to defensive tackle, a position where he earned Pro Bowl distinction in 1983 and '84. In 1985, after moving position to nose tackle, Klecko received his second All-Pro selection while helping the Jets win 11 games for the first time since 1968. Had knee injuries not gotten in the way, Klecko would likely already have a bronze bust in Canton.
"Listen, to be elected into the Hall of Fame has to be the piece de resistance in your career," Klecko recently told The Athletic.
Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders - Cliff Branch, WR
Branch, one of the greatest deep threats in league history, may very well be the best former NFL player who is not currently a Hall of Famer. A three-time All-Pro, Branch led the NFL in receiving yards and touchdown receptions in 1974, his first season as a starter. Two years later, Branch led the NFL in touchdown receptions while helping the Raiders capture their first Lombardi Trophy. Branch continued to be a force well into the '80s, as he was a key member of the Raiders' Super Bowl championship teams in 1980 and '83. One of the greatest postseason receivers in NFL history, Branch caught three touchdowns in the Raiders' victories over Philadelphia and Washington in Super Bowls XV and XVIII.
While Branch (who died in 2019) was again passed over for induction in 2020, his family is holding out hope that No. 21 will finally earn enshrinement in 2021.
"It would mean the world to us," Elaine Anderson, Cliff's sister, told CBS Sports back in February. "It would mean everything to us, because we know that he's deserving. His records speak for itself."
Philadelphia Eagles - Donovan McNabb, QB
The No. 2 pick in the 1999 draft, McNabb quickly won over the City of Brotherly Love after leading the Eagles to the playoffs in 2000, his first season as a starter. Over the next four years, McNabb would lead Philadelphia to four consecutive NFC Championship Games and an NFC title at the end of the 2004 season. McNabb would lead the Eagles to a fifth NFC title game in 2008 before earning his final Pro Bowl berth as Philadelphia's quarterback in 2009. Including the playoffs, McNabb posted an impressive 101-56-1 record as the Eagles' starting quarterback. His 1-5 record in championship games is likely the reason why he has struggled to gain more Hall of Fame momentum.
San Francisco 49ers - Roger Craig, RB
A four-time Pro Bowler, Craig was a vital member of the 49ers' 1980s dynasty. In 1985, a year after becoming the first player to score three touchdowns in a Super Bowl game, Craig became the first player to surpass 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season. Three years later, Craig earned All-Pro honors after rushing for a career-high 1,502 yards. His success that season helped the 49ers capture their third Super Bowl win of the decade. The following year, Craig's three postseason touchdowns helped San Francisco become the second franchise to win four Super Bowls.
Craig, who led the NFL in receptions in 1985 and all-purpose yards in 1988, is a member of the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1980s, along with Hall of Famers Walter Payton, Eric Dickerson and John Riggins. Craig also had arguably the decade's best run, which should count for something.
Seattle Seahawks - Shaun Alexander, RB
While his prime was relatively short, Alexander enjoyed a highly productive five-year run that saw him win one rushing title while leading the NFL in rushing touchdowns twice. Alexander also earned three Pro Bowl selections during this span while being named the 2005 Offensive Player of the Year. Alexander's success that season helped Seattle reach its first Super Bowl.
Alexander's 100 rushing touchdowns is tied with Marshall Faulk for the eighth highest total in league history. From 2001-05, Alexander averaged 1,501 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns per season.
Pittsburgh Steelers - Alan Faneca, LG
L.C. Greenwood, Hines Ward and Andy Russell are the other three Steelers who received consideration as the Steelers' greatest non Hall of Fame player. As deserving as those players are, the top spot belongs to Faneca, a Hall of Fame finalist each of the last five years. A First Team member of the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 2000s, Faneca earned nine straight Pro Bowl selections from 2001-09. He also earned six All-Pro nods during that span while solidifying his place as arguably the greatest lineman of his era.
In Super Bowl XL, Faneca's crushing block opened a clear lane for teammate Willie Parker, whose 75-yard touchdown run (a Super Bowl record) helped propel Pittsburgh to a 21-10 victory. He continued to play at a Pro Bowl level during his two seasons with the Jets, helping New York reach the AFC title game in 2009.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - John Lynch, SS
A 2020 Hall of Fame finalist, Lynch, who is currently the general manager of the 49ers, was forced to wait at least another year before earning induction into Canton. A nine-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro, Lynch was a key member of a Buccaneers' defense that spearheaded Tampa Bay's 2002 Super Bowl run. Lynch continued to play at a high level after signing with the Broncos in 2004, as he earned Pro Bowl honors during each of his four seasons in Denver while helping his new team reach the AFC title game in 2005.
Also receiving consideration here was fullback Mike Alstott. A six-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro, Alstott rushed for 58 touchdowns during his 11-year career. He also caught 13 touchdown passes while compiling 7,372 all-purpose yards for his career. He also helped create running lanes for teammates Warrick Dunn (who should also receive more Hall of Fame consideration), Michael Pittman and Cadillac Williams.
Tennessee Titans: Eddie George, RB
A true battering ram, George helped carry the Titans to their first Super Bowl in 1999. A Pro Bowler each season from 1997-99 (as well as an All-Pro in 2000), George's 95 yards and two touchdowns on the ground in Super Bowl XXXIV helped the Titans overcome a 16-point deficit. George likely would have been named the game's MVP if the Titans would have been able to upset the Rams, who held on for a 23-16 victory. In four games during the '99 postseason, George rushed for 449 yards and three touchdowns that included his 162-yard effort in Tennessee's upset of Peyton Manning's Colts in the divisional round.
George, who also won Offensive Rookie of the Year honors during his career, had seven 1,000-yard seasons during his time with the franchise. He, along with quarterback Steve McNair, had a major impact in the integration of the franchise within the Nashville community after the franchise moved from Houston to Nashville in 1997.
Washington: Joe Theismann, QB
Theismann edges out receiver Gary Clark as the best Washington player who is currently not in Canton. A late bloomer (he didn't become Washington's full-time starter until age 29), Theismann helped lead Washington to its first Super Bowl victory in 1982. The following season, Theismann earned league MVP honors while leading Washington back to the big game. Theismann was still going strong when a gruesome leg injury prematurely ended his career 11 games into the 1985 season.
We'd be remiss not to mention the late Sean Taylor, whose career was off to a incredible start before he was tragically killed in the fall of 2007. While he was still in the early stages of his career, Taylor, a two-time Pro Bowler, left little doubt that he was likely on his way to the Hall of Fame. Taylor's greatness was on display during the 2005 playoffs, as his 51-yard fumble return for a score helped Washington defeat the Buccaneers in the wild-card round.