Kansas City Chiefs Who Could Be Future Hall of Famers (Part 2)
In this two-part series, we look at the Hall of Fame chances of the current Chiefs’ roster and coaching staff. In Part 1, we went over the Locks (Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid) and Good Bets (Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, and Chris Jones). Here, in Part 2, we look at Even Money and Outside Chances.
Tyrann Mathieu, Defensive Back
In Part 1, we tabbed one coach, three offensive players, and one defensive player as likely future Hall of Famers. In Part 2, you’re going to see more defensive players. It’s not that defensive players have a harder time making it into Canton — it’s just that their cases are a little bit more subjective, a little less concrete. You can’t simply compare a defensive back’s interception totals or a linebacker’s total tackles to another player at the same position and get a sense of which player is better. Unlike receiving yards, touchdowns or completion percentage, defensive statistics are less tangible. The best cornerback, for example, does his job so well that the opposing team never even gives him a chance to make a play on the ball. A tackle can be a positive play, but it can also result from a blown coverage or an initial miss.
Tyrann Mathieu’s Hall of Fame case isn’t going to be built on raw numbers. If he gets the call to Canton, it will be because of his reputation among sportswriters, fans, and fellow players. Everyone knows the Honey Badger — or, as he’s now known, “The Landlord.” Mathieu’s play speaks loudly, and his swagger speaks even louder. As a two-time All-Pro, he’s on his way to earning the accolades a defensive back needs to find his way into the Hall. Still just 28, Mathieu enjoyed his finest NFL season in 2019, and the connection with Steve Spagnuolo is real. There’s no better way for a defensive player like Mathieu to build a Hall of Fame resume than by serving as the defensive face and voice of a team that is poised to win a lot over the next few years.
So what might keep him out? Health. Mathieu has torn his ACL twice, and with his physical play style and relatively small stature, one wonders how long he’ll be able to maintain his elite level of play. Assuming he stays healthy, though, he’s got a chance.
Mitchell Schwartz, Right Tackle
Mitchell Schwartz, incredibly, has never made the Pro Bowl. In a different era, that fact alone might’ve cost him a shot at Canton. Prior to the emergence of outlets like Pro Football Focus and the increased use of player tracking data and analytics, the evaluation of offensive lineman was inherently more subjective than it is now. The traditional football box score, after all, does not even have statistics for offensive linemen. But it’s 2020, and anyone paying attention knows that Schwartz has been one of the best — if not the best — right tackles in the NFL for several years running.
Hall of Fame voters, typically, are older, more established members of the sports media. It’s possible that the voting bloc is still “old school” enough that Schwartz’s zero Pro Bowls and lone AP First-Team All-Pro selection will hurt him. Pro Football Reference’s HOF Monitor metric, which estimates a player’s chances for election, currently has Schwartz with a score of 41.43 — less than half the average score for a HOF tackle (93.69). Still, Schwartz likely has several seasons left in him, and, like every other player on this list, should benefit from sharing the spotlight with Patrick Mahomes. If he continues to keep his future Hall of Fame quarterback clean, he has a chance.
Frank Clark, Defensive End
If one could make the Hall of Fame on talk alone, Frank Clark would be elected on the first ballot. His legendary post-game interviews will be replayed for decades in Chiefs Kingdom. But while Canton is full of famous trash talkers, it takes more than verbal victories to get in. Clark is a somewhat polarizing player — Pro Football Focus gave him a grade of just 63.0 this season, for example — but while many Chiefs fans seem content with his current level of play, he’ll need to elevate his game to have a shot at immortality. A monster sack season or two, combined with consistent play for several more seasons, would likely get him there, but Clark’s current career-high of 13 sacks isn’t going to impress voters in an era where a star pass-rusher might hit 18-20 sacks in a season.
Clark will be 27 this season, so he still has plenty of time to make his mark. There’s no questioning his drive, and he’s hinted in interviews that he still has personal goals to accomplish in his career — election to the Hall perhaps among them. Considering that Clark played hurt for much of the early 2019 season, lost 20 pounds to a late-season illness, and then played his best football in the postseason, it’s not unreasonable to think that his best days are ahead of him.
Harrison Butker, Kicker
There is currently one kicker in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: former Chief Morten Andersen, who played an astonishing 25 years in the NFL, retiring in 2007 at the age of 47. Andersen was a seven-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro, but it’s clear his election was something of a lifetime achievement award. He’ll likely be joined by current Colt and former Patriot Adam Vinatieri, and perhaps Ravens’ kicker Justin Tucker, but it’s a long shot for any kicker to get into Canton.
Butker, after three seasons, stands as the second-most accurate kicker of all time, making 89.72% of his field goal attempts (Tucker is first at 90.75%). This is a little bit misleading, because the overall quality of field goal kicking in the NFL has dramatically improved over time — the top nine most accurate kickers in league history are currently active, and every single kicker in the top 30 has played the majority of his career after the turn of the millennium. (Andersen, who debuted in 1982, is 62nd, just ahead of another former Chief, Pete Stoyanovich.)
Postseason heroics are not a requirement for a kicker to get into Canton — Andersen appeared in just 11 playoff games in 25 seasons and never won a Super Bowl — but they certainly never hurt, as Vinatieri’s seemingly inevitable induction shows. Butker has already kicked in six playoff games, but has attempted just five field goals, making four. His only miss came in the only game decided by three or fewer points, a 22-21 loss to the Tennessee Titans in 2017. As long as his fortunes are tied to Patrick Mahomes, Butker will continue to get opportunities to kick in big moments (although the majority may be extra-point attempts, not field goals), and if he plays another 20 years, he could get the call to Canton someday.
Eric Fisher, Left Tackle
Eric Fisher has had a fascinating career. He was the No. 1 overall pick in the historically mediocre 2013 Draft — Fisher has arguably had the second-best NFL career of any first-round pick from his year, behind DeAndre Hopkins — and was a perennial easy target for Chiefs fans for years before emerging as a very solid, if never quite elite, left tackle. Fisher is 29 and has just one Pro Bowl selection, so his candidacy is certainly a longshot, but he has the honor of protecting Patrick Mahomes’ blindside, and if he were to continue to do that at a high level for another 8-10 seasons, it’s possible.
Juan Thornhill, Safety; Mecole Hardman, Wide Receiver; Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Running Back
The Chiefs’ pair of second-round picks in the 2019 NFL Draft, Thornhill and Hardman, have already flashed potential. Both were named to PFF’s Top 25 Rookie list: Thornhill at 16, Hardman at 25. Thornhill was elite in pass coverage and Hardman was explosive in the pass game, but each has a long, long way to go for a bust in Canton. For Thornhill, the question isn’t ceiling so much as health. If he is able to recover from a torn ACL and continue to perform as well as, or better than, he did as a rookie, he’ll have a great career. For Hardman, questions remain about his ceiling. He’s obviously extremely fast and explosive, but hasn’t yet developed a full route tree or shown much ability to change direction and cut sharply. The Chiefs’ coaching staff turned the raw talent of Tyreek Hill into a possible future Hall of Famer, and perhaps they can do the same with Hardman.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire hasn’t played a snap in the NFL, but as the Chiefs’ first first-round pick since Patrick Mahomes in 2017, expectations are high. The Chiefs have enjoyed excellence at the running back position for decades now, from Christian Okoye to Priest Holmes to Larry Johnson to Jamaal Charles to (briefly) Kareem Hunt. None are currently enshrined in Canton, however, primarily because they lacked longevity. To carve out a long career at one of the most physical positions in the game of football, a running back needs not just skill in avoiding tackles, but luck in avoiding injuries. Edwards-Helaire seems poised for an extremely productive run with the Chiefs, but he’ll need to prove it on the field this fall, and maintain it for years to come before he’d seriously enter the Canton conversation.
Follow Austin on Twitter at @realbirdlawyer and check out the It’s Always Sunny In Chiefs Kingdom Podcast, co-hosted by @taylor_witt, here at Arrowhead Report, on our website, and wherever you get your podcasts.