Forecasting the Hall's Class of 2025: Is Kuechly the only first-ballot possibility?
With the retirement of Travis Frederick, the pool of luminaries eligible for the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s Class of 2025 just got deeper. But tell me: How many at or near the top of that list do you consider legitimate first-ballot candidates?
I count one. Luke Kuechly.
Granted, you can make an argument for guard Marshal Yanda, and I’ve heard a couple of Hall-of-Fame selectors voice support for Eli Manning as a first-ballot choice. But I don’t see either happening, and I’ll get to that. First, however, let’s look at who’s eligible in 2025 (and, yes, I took the liberty of including Wake):
-- LB Lorenzo Alexander (2005-19). Two Pro Bowler. Second-team All-Pro.
-- TE Vernon Davis (2006-19). Two-time Pro Bowler. Second-team All-Pro. Super Bowl champion.
-- C Travis Frederick (2013-19). Five-time Pro Bowler. First-team All-Pro. Two-time second-team All-Pro.
-- LB Luke Kuechly (2012-19). Seven-time Pro Bowler. Five-time first-team All-Pro. Two-time second-team All-Pro. NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year (2012). NFL Defensive Player of the Year (2013).
-- QB Eli Manning (2004-19). Four-time Pro Bowler. Two-time Super Bowl champion. Two-time Super Bowl MVP.
-- S Eric Weddle (2007-19). Six-time Pro Bowler. Two-time first-team All-Pro. Three-time second-team All-Pro.
-- G Marshal Yanda (2007-19). Eight-time Pro Bowler. Two-time first-team All-Pro. Five-time second-team All-Pro. Super Bowl champion.
It’s an impressive list, with Kuechly the standout. Named an All-Pro in all but one of his eight NFL seasons – including five first-team inclusions -- he was also the league’s Defensive Rookie of the Year and its Defensive Player of the Year. The only item missing? A Lombardi Trophy ... but he came close.
The Panthers lost to Denver in Super Bowl 50.
If there’s a knock on his career it’s longevity, but enough already. That won’t cut it anymore – not after the 2017 elections of Terrell Davis and Kenny Easley. Kuechly played in 125 games, including the playoffs, and started all of them. By contrast, Davis played in 86 games (playoffs included) and Easley in 95.
The next most eligible is Yanda, and his resume is almost as imposing. The only line missing is a spot on the 2010-19 all-decade team, but stay tuned. Ballots were collected this week, and I’d be shocked if Yanda isn’t named to the first team.
An announcement from the Hall is expected next month.
Now for the one hangup: The position he plays. Guards typically wait for enshrinement, and you can look it up. The only pure guard to be elected to the Hall on a first ballot was former Patriots’ star John Hannah in 1991.
As I pointed out in an earlier post, Yanda’s resume reads much like that of guard Alan Faneca (nine Pro Bowls, eight All-Pro selections, all-decade first-team and Super Bowl champion), yet he’s been eligible for Canton for five years and still isn’t in.
At almost any other position, he'd already have been enshrined.
Then there’s Manning, and he’s the most intriguing figure of this group. People either are on board with him, or they’re not. There’s no in between. Not only was he a two-time Super Bowl champion; he was a two-time Super Bowl MVP. Plus, he’s a Manning, was 8-4 in the playoffs and played his entire career in the media capital of the universe.
So he has that going for him.
But he also has this: A .500 career record, one playoff appearance his last eight seasons and no All-Pro nominations. I know, the two Super Bowl wins count for something, especially when one was vs. an undefeated Patriots’ team and Tom Brady. But Jim Plunkett won two Super Bowls, too, and he’s not only not in Canton; he’s never been a finalist or semifinalist.
Weddle is next in line, and I’ll be honest: While he could/should be a finalist, I’m not sure he breaks through … and I mean ever. I know, Weddle’s resume is outstanding, but is it more outstanding than, say, former safety John Lynch? Lynch has been a seven-time semifinalist for Canton, and he’s still not in.
And he was a Super Bowl champion.
Then, of course, we have Dallas center Travis Frederick, who announced his retirement this week. As a three-time All-Pro, he should gain Hall-of-Fame consideration. But let's be real: If there's one position voters like less than guard it's center. Two have been enshrined in the past 22 years.
Selectors are more partial to, oh, say, edge rushers, and earlier this week I thought the Class of 2025 would have one in Cameron Wake. But then his agent denied a report the former Miami star was retiring, saying that Wake "is playing this season, and we are actively engaged in conversations with teams."
Wake’s 100-1/2 career sacks are notable when you consider that he spent the first two years of his pro career in the CFL. All he did there was produce 39 sacks (in two 18-game seasons) and get named the league’s Outstanding Rookie in 2007 and Outstanding Defensive Player one year later.
If his CFL career is included, that takes him to 139-1/2 sacks -- or as many as former Dolphins’ standout Jason Taylor, a first-ballot choice in 2017. And, in all fairness, maybe they should be included. After all, it’s the Pro Football Hall of Fame, not the NFL Hall of Fame.
But tell that to Herschel Walker or Doug Flutie.
Walker was a USFL star, winning the league rushing titles in 1983 and ’85, averaging 4.87 yards per carry and producing over 7,000 yards in three seasons. Flutie was one of the CFL’s greatest quarterbacks ever, throwing for a league-record 6,619 yards in one season, winning three Grey Cups and leading the league in passing five of his eight years there.
Neither has been a Hall-of-Fame semifinalist.
Bottom line: The Class of 2025 is deep and getting deeper. But if you're looking for first-ballot possibilities, start with Luke Kuechly. And then stop.
Follow on Twitter @ClarkJudgeTOF