By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
Who will be the next former Patriots player to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
For a while, cornerback Ty Law was the obvious answer. A finalist for four years before his induction in 2019, Law was the consensus snub out of New England for half a decade.
In targeting the next former Patriots to be enshrined, some names certainly stand out more than others, but overall, fans have a sizable pool of players to pick from. With 23 former Patriots nominated this year, including four first-timers, there was a lot of nostalgia flowing Wednesday afternoon. Let’s take a look at who does and doesn’t have a real chance at getting a gold jacket, going by position.
Drew Bledsoe, QB
He’ll always be thought of as “the guy before Tom Brady,” but Bledsoe had an impressive career in his own right. When he retired after the 2006 season, he was top-10 in most major passing categories, including seventh in yards (44,611). Still, he was always a step below the elite passers of his era, such as Troy Aikman, Brett Favre, and Dan Marino.
Bledsoe was the prototypical ‘gunslinger’ teams wanted at quarterback during that time. He was like the Philip Rivers of the 1990s. It’s probably not enough to get him in, but he’ll go down as one of the best players not enshrined in Canton.
Steven Jackson, RB
Jackson is 18th all-time in NFL career rushing yards with 11,438. He somehow lived up to filling the shoes of the legendary Marshall Faulk in St. Louis. I expect him to get in, if not on his first ballot, shortly after.
But that’s probably not what Patriots fans want to hear given his short yet infamous stint with the team. He was a central part of an overly conservative game plan that cost the Patriots a Week 17 game in Miami in 2015, and with it, home field advantage in the playoffs. New England would go on to lose a close AFC Championship Game to the Broncos in Denver, in what was Jackson’s final time on an NFL field.
Corey Dillon, RB
Dillon has been eligible for the Hall since 2011, yet has never reached the finalist stage. He’s 20th all-time in rushing yards with 11,241. That’s almost 4,000 more than Terrell Davis, who played during a similar time period and is enshrined in Canton. He’s also 17th all-time in touchdowns, with his 82 a sizable advantage to Davis’ 60.
Despite his numbers, Dillon hasn’t even gotten to the doorstep of the Hall for a decade, and there’s no reason to believe this year will be any different.
Fred Taylor, RB
Taylor sits just ahead of Jackson and Dillon on the NFL’s all-time rushing yards list with 11,695. He was one of the first stars of the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars, where he ran for over 100 yards a game in 2000. Still, he only made one All-Pro team and one Pro Bowl, both in 2007. He’s never been a finalist in his five previous years on the ballot.
Larry Centers, FB
Back in January, I wrote at length about why Centers should be put in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. You can find a more complete explanation there, but the general idea is Centers changed the way backs are used in the passing game, and offensive philosophy as a whole. He won’t get in, but he should.
Wes Welker, WR
One of the four ex-Patriots in their first year on the ballot, Welker’s Hall of Fame case has been one of the most anticipated in recent memory. Like the case with Centers, the committee has historically ignored players who were used in a unique or niche role, and didn’t fit the standard NFL superstar prototype.
With many slot receivers, third-down backs, and special teams aces nearing eligibility, Welker will be a good barometer for how that group will be handled. He certainly left his mark on the league, but will the voters reward him even though he wasn’t a traditional deep-threat wideout?
Chad Ochocinco, WR
While he doesn’t have the monster numbers of some other nominees (Calvin Johnson, Wes Welker), there may have been nobody more technically sound at the position than Ochocinco when he was at his peak. He was also a perfect face for the NFL at the beginning of the internet and social media age.
He’s never been a finalist since becoming eligible in 2017, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him fulfill his destiny and get in at some point down the road.
Torry Holt, WR
Holt spent half of a training camp with the Patriots in 2012 before a knee injury lead to his retirement. Before that, he was among the elite wide receivers in the league, and an integral part of the “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams teams, where he put up eight straight 1,000-plus yard seasons. His 117-catch, 1,696-yard, 12-touchdown 2003 campaign is among the best years ever by a wide receiver.
He’s been a finalist multiple times, and really does deserve to get in. If it’s not this year, it should be soon.
Reggie Wayne, WR
A similar case to Holt, Wayne had a long, successful career with the Colts before spending a week with the Patriots in August 2015. He’s been a finalist before, and his proximity to Peyton Manning will likely put him over the top. Getting the two of them in with the same class may be too much for the voters to resist.
Henry Ellard, WR/PR
Ellard was a star receiver and punt returner for the Los Angeles Rams in the 1980s, and upon leaving held the majority of their career receiving and returning records. After a strong first two years in Washington, his age began to catch up to him. He split his final season between D.C. and New England, where he caught five passes in five games.
Ben Coates, TE
During his playing career (1991-2000), Ben Coates had the second most receptions (499) and yards (5,555) by any NFL tight end, behind only Shannon Sharpe. No other tight end, including Sharpe, scored more touchdowns (50).
That feels like the definition of dominating an era, yet he’s never even been voted as far as a finalist. How is he not in? I’m not sure.
Logan Mankins, G
A first-round pick in 2005, Mankins was the picture of durability. He started 15 or 16 games in nine of his 11 years in the NFL, playing through a torn ACL for the entirety of the 2011 season. A six-time All-Pro, he was included as one of the starting guards on the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 2010s.
There’s no reason to think Mankins won’t eventually end up in Canton, but his 11-year career is a bit shorter than average for modern Hall of Fame offensive linemen. It may keep him from getting in on his first ballot, but shouldn’t hold him out forever.
Brian Waters, G
Like Welker, Waters is one of the best undrafted NFL players of all time. After a dominant decade with the Chiefs to start his career, he came to New England and gave the Patriots a Pro Bowl season as part of a Super Bowl bound team.
A six-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro, it’s a bit surprising Waters has never even been a finalist since appearing on the ballot in 2018.
Richard Seymour, DL
Of the main Patriots contributors (excluding guys like Jackson and Holt), Seymour probably has the best shot of getting in this year. A two-time finalist, Bill Belichick has regularly campaigned for Seymour’s induction.
What’s holding him back is likely his numbers. His tackle, tackle for loss, and sack statistics aren’t mind blowing – he’s the kind of player who needed to be seen on tape to really appreciate his greatness. He could impact plays at the line of scrimmage even without being near the ball. The way the Patriots used him was revolutionary at the time, and opened the door for smaller, athletic defensive tackles such as Aaron Donald.
Willie McGinest, DE
McGinest’s case is in many ways similar to Seymour’s in that he has the tape of a Hall of Famer, but lacks the numbers and recognition. He made two Pro Bowls in 15 years and was never named an All-Pro. The biggest thing he has going for him is the career postseason sack record, with 16 QB takedowns in the playoffs. He’s never been a finalist.
Jerod Mayo, LB
The Patriots current inside linebackers coach, Mayo was the 2008 rookie of the year and a First-Team All-Pro in 2010. Only 10 players recorded more tackles than he did during his time in the league (2008-2015).
Injuries kept him off the field during the second half of his career, but for a stretch he was among the most dominant linebackers in the NFL. He’ll get his red jacket one day for sure, but a gold jacket seems a bit out of reach.
Tedy Bruschi, LB
Bruschi did so much to elevate the Patriots organization to where it is now, both on and off the field. His contributions can’t solely be measured in stats or league honors, which is part of what makes him special but also hurts his Hall of Fame case.
Playing in the same era as guys like Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher, Zack Thomas, and Derrick Brooks, he was never one of the ‘elite’ linebackers during his career. He’s an all-time Patriot, but didn’t have the league-wide impact he needed to get to Canton (as much as New England would love to see it).
Asante Samuel, CB
Samuel had his run as one of the better corners in football in the late 00’s. He was a two-time All-Pro, and twice led the league in interceptions. He had enough success in New England to sign a massive free agent deal with the Philadelphia Eagles. He made four straight Pro Bowls from 2007-2010.
Still, he never hit that ‘elite’ shutdown corner level others in his era had such as Champ Bailey (inducted in 2019) and Charles Woodson (entering his first year of eligibility). That combined with the lasting image of him dropping the pick in Super Bowl XLII make him a long shot.
Rodney Harrison, S
Rodney Harrison had a Hall of Fame career. Nobody who knows the game of football should be able to say otherwise without failing a lie detector test. He is a four-time All-Pro, and during his run with the Patriots he was considered by most to be the best strong safety in football. He holds the Super Bowl tackle record (33), the defensive back sack record (30.5). Perhaps most impressive of all, was the first ever player to record both 30 sacks and 30 interceptions in a career. Only Ray Lewis has since matched him.
So why has Harrison never even been a finalist, never mind selected? It’s likely a combination of his reputation as a “dirty” player, as well as the team he played for. Harrison has criticized the process before, claiming it has a “lazy” anti-Patriots bias (which isn’t necessarily incorrect, just looking at this list). That couldn’t have sat well with the selection committee.
There’s no reason to think anything will change Harrison’s case this year, or any time going forward. It’s a shame too, because he truly is one of the game’s all-time greats and deserves to be recognized as such.
John Lynch, S
Right up there with Harrison as one of the best safeties of the 90’s and early 2000’s, Lynch had a stellar, four-time All-Pro career split between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Denver Broncos. After being released by the Broncos at age 36 following the 2007 season, he signed with the Patriots in August of 2008.
Lynch’s time in New England was short, but it did give us one of the great human moments in Bill Belichick’s coaching career. As the story goes, Lynch realized during the final preseason game that year that he wasn’t going to make the team, and was done playing pro football. He asked Belichick to allow him to play out the second half of the game, so he could enjoy himself one last time. Belichick said yes, and the should-be future Hall of Famer played a final 30 minutes of football surrounded mostly by players who would be cut the next day.
Adrian Wilson, S
Wilson played 12 strong years in Arizona, and was named an All-Pro three times. He signed with the safety-needy Patriots in 2013 at the age of 34. It was a three-year contract, and people were excited to see what an intelligent player like Wilson could do working with Bill Belichick.
It never came to fruition however, as Wilson injured his Achilles at the end of training camp and was released the next spring. He had another training camp stop in Chicago before his career came to an end. He was a good player, but Canton may be a stretch.
Nick Lowery, K
Lowery broke into the league with the Patriots as UDFA from Dartmouth in 1978. He played just two games in New England, missing his lone field goal attempt (he was 7-for-7 on PATs). He didn’t play in the NFL again until 1980, when he began a 14-year career with the Chiefs, making three Pro Bowls. Impressive enough, but the line of kickers due in Canton before him is too long to expect anything this year.
Jeff Feagles, P
Feagles is another special teams player whose career began as a UDFA in New England. He played the first two of his 22 NFL seasons with the Patriots before stops with the Eagles, Cardinals, Seahawks, and Giants. By virtue of spending so much of his career on bad teams, he was able to set the NFL records for most career punts (1,713) and punt yards (71,211). If they start putting punters in with more regularity (as opposed to one every 50 years) he has a chance.
So who will be the next Patriots Hall of Famer? Somebody on this list? Or will we have to wait even longer? It shouldn’t be too long – Vince Wilfork will become eligible for the Class of 2022, and Darrelle Revis is on the ballot for the Class of 2023.