With the 2023 Pro Football Hall of Fame class officially enshrined, it’s time to look ahead to the next group of NFL legends who could join the most prestigious club in the sport.
First-time eligible players must be at least five years removed from retirement. So recently retired players like Tom Brady and J.J. Watt will have to wait until 2028 — if neither come back to the league — before they can be voted for enshrinement.
With that being said, here are top candidates who’ll be on the ballot for the first time for next year’s class:
DE Julius Peppers
Peppers played 17 years in the league, most notably for 10 seasons with the Carolina Panthers to start and end his career. He won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2002 as the No. 2 draft pick with 12 sacks and five forced fumbles. Peppers went on to make nine Pro Bowl teams, three first-team All-Pro teams and the Hall of Fame’s All-Decade team for the 2000s and 2010s.
He finished his career with 159.5 sacks, 186 quarterback hits, 52 forced fumbles and 719 combined tackles. Peppers’ 97 sacks and 34 forced fumbles with the Panthers are still all-time records for the franchise. His 52 career forced fumbles also rank second all-time in NFL history behind only Indianapolis Colts defensive end Robert Mathis. Peppers also played for the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers.
TE Antonio Gates
Gates became one of the greatest tight ends in NFL history during his 16-season career with the Los Angeles Chargers. He made eight consecutive Pro Bowls from 2004 to 2011 and three consecutive All-Pro teams from 2004 to 2006.
Gates ranks first all-time among tight ends with 116 career touchdown receptions. He also ranks third all-time among tight ends with 955 receptions for 11,841 receiving yards. Those totals rank seventh, 17th and 30th, respectively, among all pass-catchers in NFL history.
QB Andrew Luck
Luck may not have the greatest case to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but he’s still on the list of eligible players after he suddenly retired in 2019. He only played in six seasons for the Indianapolis Colts after he was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2012. Luck made four Pro Bowls during his career.
He had a very prosperous career during his first three years — all of which included 11-win seasons and playoff berths for the Colts. Luck suffered a lacerated kidney and a partially torn abdominal muscle that prematurely ended his 2015 season, though, and he missed the entire 2017 while he recovered from a shoulder injury. Luck played one more season in 2018 before he announced his retirement during the 2019 preseason.
He finished with 23,671 passing yards and 171 passing touchdowns in 86 games during his career.
RB Jamaal Charles
Charles was one of the most electric running backs in the NFL throughout his 11-year career. He rushed for 7,563 yards and 91 touchdowns on 1,407 rushes, mostly for the Kansas City Chiefs. He averaged 5.4 yards per rush, which ranks fifth in NFL history among all players and first among all players with at least 1,000 career carries.
Charles also caught 310 passes for 2,593 yards and 20 touchdowns. He made four Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams during the first seven years of his career.
WR Brandon Marshall
Marshall played for six teams during his 13-year career but had success mostly everywhere he went. He began his journey with the Denver Broncos, where Marshall tied the NFL record for most receptions in a game with 18 in 2008. He became the first receiver in NFL history to catch 55 balls in a five-game span and the first to catch at least 10 balls in four out of five games.
He was traded three times over the next six season: First from the Broncos to the Miami Dolphins, then to the Chicago Bears and finally to the New York Jets. Marshall went seven consecutive seasons with at least 1,000 receiving yards from 2007 to 2013, a span that traversed three different teams.
Marshall finished his career with 970 receptions, 12,351 receiving yards and 83 receiving touchdowns. Those rank 16th, 23rd and 25th all-time. He finished his career with one-year stints with the New York Giants and Seattle Seahawks.
DT Haloti Ngata
Ngata was one of the most-feared defensive tackles in the NFL during his 13-year career in the league. He played nine years for the Baltimore Ravens, during which he went to five Pro Bowls and earned two All-Pro nods. Ngata wracked up 32.5 career sacks, 329 solo tackles and 63 tackles for a loss.
S Eric Berry
Berry quickly turned into a marquee safety for the Kansas City Chiefs after he was drafted No. 5 overall in 2010. Berry went to the Pro Bowl five times and made the All-Pro team three times during his nine-year career.
However, Berry battled injuries and health issues throughout his time in the NFL. He tore his ACL in the Chiefs’ 2011 season-opener and missed the rest of the year. In 2014, Berry was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma after he complained of chest pains following a game. He returned in 2015 and was named Comeback Player of the Year. Berry sustained an Achilles tear in Week 1 of the 2017 season and was later diagnosed with Haglund’s deformity — a painful bone spur in the heel — that forced him to miss 13 games of the 2018 season.
Berry isn’t technically retired, though, and insinuated in 2021 he could play again.
K Sebastian Janikowski
Janikowski could be the third player to enter the Hall of Fame as an exclusive kicker after his 18-year career. The only other full-time kickers to be enshrined are Morten Andersen and Jan Stenerud. George Blanda and Lou Groza are also in the Hall as part-time kickers, though Blanda is far better known as a quarterback and Groza also played offensive tackle. Janikowski made 436 field goals during his time in the NFL, mostly for the Oakland Raiders, and made the Pro Bowl in 2011.
The biggest issue for Janikowski is the high bar to clear for kickers for make the Hall. Janikowski’s made field goals are tied for 10th in NFL history, and the only kicker ahead of him to make the Hall of Fame is Andersen, who has 129 more made field goals. The all-time field goal leader is Adam Vinatieri, who won’t be eligible until 2025.
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