With the 2018 NFL Hall of Fame ceremony set for Saturday, who are the top candidates to be enshrined in 2019?
Seven former players will be enshrined into the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, on Saturday, including three on the first ballot. Ray Lewis, Randy Moss and Brian Urlacher will enter the Hall without a wait, getting voted into the league's most prestigious club on their first year of eligibility.
With the 2018 class now settled, it's time to look forward to the class of 2019. So who is likely to join Lewis, Moss and Urlacher in their first year of eligibilty in 2019? Here are five candidates debuting on the ballot next year.
Ed Reed (safety):
The league's most fearsome safety in the aughts, Reed tallied nine Pro Bowls in his 12-year career, earning five All-Pro nods. The Miami product led the league in interceptions three times, ball-hawking in Baltimore for 11 seasons. Reed established himself as both an imposing presence in the run game as well as a consistent force in pass coverage, securing the back end of the Ravens' defense. Reed will be enshrined in Canton sooner rather than later.
Tony Gonzalez (tight end):
There is no more accomplished tight end in NFL history than Gonzalez, a 14-time Pro Bowler. In 17 seasons—included 12 with the Chiefs—Gonzalez ended his career ranked in the top 10 all-time in receiving touchdowns, receptions and receiving yards. The 6'5" tight end redefined the position, becoming one of the league's preeminent pass catchers by the start of the century. He's a near-lock to don a gold jacket next August.
Champ Bailey (cornerback):
Bailey split his career between two franchises, spending five years in Washington before a decade in Denver. The 6'0" corner thrived in both spots, earning four Pro Bowl selections with the Redskins and eight with the Broncos. Bailey's 52 career interceptions rank No. 26 on the all-time list, one shy of Deion Sanders. His counting stats don't lead cornerbacks on the all-time list, but Bailey was a top-end cover corner for a significant stretch in his career. While not guaranteed, he's a likely first ballot Hall of Famer.
Brian Waters (guard):
An undrafted free agent out of North Texas, Waters became the face of Kansas City's front line in the 2000's, paving the way for one of the league's most effective ground games. Waters earned six Pro Bowl and two All-Pro nods in his 13-year career, all coming in his time with the Chiefs. But despite the accolades, Waters faces an uphill climb for enshrinement. Of the 13 guards currently in the Hall, all have earned four or more All-Pro honors.
London Fletcher (linebacker):
Fletcher was an absolute iron man in his 16-year career, playing in 256 consecutive games from his rookie year to retirement. He retired in 2013 with 1380 career tackles along with 39 sacks, including three 100-plus tackle seasons. Fletcher stands at a longshot for Canton, though, only making four career Pro Bowls.