For most NFL players, winning Super Bowls is more important than any individual accolade. The one possible exception is a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Only the best of the best ever to play the game end up enshrined in Canton, and while some Hall of Famers might trade in their bust for a Lombardi Trophy, most would not. Dan Marino, arguably the best quarterback to never win a Super Bowl, is among the latter group.
Drew Brees, who retired this offseason, is likely to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Julio Jones and Aaron Donald probably will be as well. However, some of the game's biggest stars aren't there quite yet.
Here, we'll examine 10 current players who are on the cusp of being Hall of Fame-worthy but still have more left to prove. These are repeat Pro Bowlers and All-Pros, statistical league leaders and/or have the longevity and consistency needed to be considered among the best in NFL history.
We'll examine their resumes, their outlooks for the 2021 season and what they still need to accomplish to lock up spots in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Players are listed in alphabetical order.
A.J. Green, WR, Arizona Cardinals
Early in his career, A.J. Green appeared to be on a collision course with Canton. The No. 4 overall pick in 2011 made the Pro Bowl in each of his first seven NFL seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Unfortunately, injuries limited Green to only nine games between the 2018 and 2019 seasons, and he was a shell of his former self in 2020. He played in all 16 games but finished with a career-low 523 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
During Green's time with Cincinnati, playoff wins also eluded him. But with 9,430 career receiving yards and 65 receiving touchdowns on his resume, the Hall of Fame is still a realistic possibility for him.
To make it to Canton, Green will need to revitalize his career, beginning this season with the Arizona Cardinals. Notching a playoff win or two would help his case, as would getting back to the Pro Bowl.
Luckily, Green is in a fantastic situation. Quarterback Kyler Murray is an emerging star, and the presence of DeAndre Hopkins should provide the 32-year-old with plenty of one-on-one coverage opportunities.
Green stands a good chance of surpassing the coveted 10,000-yard career mark in 2021, which fewer than 50 NFL players have reached. That wouldn't guarantee him entry into the Hall of Fame, but it could set him back on the right path.
Should Green, who will turn 33 later this month, earn a few more Pro Bowl nods and finish in the top 20 in career receiving yards—Julio Jones is currently 20th with 12,896—he will have a great shot at earning a bust.
Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry is 27 years old and has been in the NFL for only five seasons. However, he's already one of the best pure runners ever to play.
In his five seasons, Henry has racked up 5,860 rushing yards and 55 rushing touchdowns. He's won back-to-back league rushing titles and topped the fabled 2,000-yard rushing mark in 2020.
Only four players have rushed for more yards in a season than Henry did last year, and two of them—Eric Dickerson and Barry Sanders—are already in the Hall of Fame. Adrian Peterson, who ran for 2,097 yards in 2012, will likely join them five years from his retirement date.
Henry possesses a rare blend of power and breakaway speed. He has produced runs of 74 or more yards in each of the past four seasons, including a record-tying 99-yard touchdown run in 2018. He's also one of the toughest runners in the NFL to bring down.