Every year a new stable of former players and coaches get voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  It’s a tradition that many football fans look forward to every summer as it’s always nice to see a career of hard work and great play get rewarded, and there’s no better achievement for a football player than to be enshrined into the hall of fame.

While some players have to endure years of waiting before finally getting the call that their turn has arrived, there are those who get the distinguished honor of being a first-ballot inductee.  The rule is that players and coaches must be retired for five years before they can be nominated.

Once those five years are up, the players are eligible to be nominated and considered by the Hall of Fame Selection Committee, along with every other past player that deserves consideration.  That committee is polled three times between March and October to narrow the list of nominated potentials down to 25 semifinalists.

That list is trimmed down to 15 in November, and then two additional players are added from the Seniors Committee which selects players for consideration that have been retired 25 years or longer.  Those 17 players make up the final ballot of nominees.  The Selection Committee meets again the day before the Super Bowl to elect a new class.

Nominees must receive at least 80 percent of the votes to be elected, but only between four and seven candidates can be enshrined each year.  If less than four candidates get 80 percent of the vote, or more than seven, the top vote getters will be inducted.  Keeping all that in mind, one can imagine how difficult it is for someone to be a first-ballot hall of famer.

There are currently only a handful of players who are in that five-year window between retirement and eligibility who could potentially be a first-ballot guy.  It’s a short list, but here are my possible first-ballot hall of famers over the next several years.

Ray Lewis (1996-2012)

If Ray Lewis isn’t a sure-fire lock to be a first-ballot hall of famer than there is something wrong with the selection process.  Lewis played his entire career with the Baltimore Ravens, drafted in 1996 before the team even had an official logo (the franchise left Cleveland after the 1995 season and didn’t unveil their new logo until June of 1996, almost two months after the ’96 NFL Draft).

Lewis was selected to 13 Pro Bowl’s during his 17-year career.  He received seven first-team All-Pro selections, was named the Defensive Player of the Year twice and won both Super Bowl’s he appeared in.  He was one of the most feared defensive players of his time and will forever be known as one of the best linebackers in NFL history.

Tony Gonzalez (1997-2013)

Another guy who shouldn’t even be questioned as a first-ballot hall of famer, Tony Gonzalez is probably the best tight end to ever play in the NFL and he has the stats to back that claim up.  Gonzalez is the all-time leading tight end in receptions (1,149), yards (13,338) and touchdowns (95).

The problem is, a few years back you could say similar things about Shannon Sharpe and he was passed over the first two years that he was eligible, though his playing career lasted three years less than Gonzalez’s. Since tight end is such a unique position, it seems the Selection Committee doesn’t give it the same level of consideration that it does for others.

Let’s look beyond tight-end numbers for a second and see why Gonzalez should get a little more consideration then Sharpe did.  The only player with more career receptions than Gonzalez is perhaps the best pass catcher the NFL ever saw, Jerry Rice.  There are only four players with more receiving yards than Gonzalez and just five players with more receiving touchdowns.

Randy Moss (1998-2012)

There was no more dangerous downfield threat during his era than Randy Moss.  He exploded onto the scene as a rookie in Minnesota and never looked back, always playing with a chip on his shoulder for being overlooked by 20 teams in the first round of the 1998 NFL Draft.

A touchdown machine for most of his career, the only player with more receiving touchdowns than Moss is, you guessed it, Jerry Rice.  Moss has 156 touchdowns to go with his 15,292 reception yards, good for third on the all-time list.  He also reeled in a record 23 touchdown catches in 2007.

Kurt Warner (1998-2009)

Not only is Kurt Warner one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, he also has one of the greatest stories of making it into the NFL.  An undrafted player from Northern Iowa who went from stocking shelves in a grocery store to lighting up the Arena Football League, Warner only got his chance as an NFL starter in St. Louis when Trent Green went down with a season-ending injury during the 1999 preseason.

Warner went on to lead the ‘greatest show on turf’ to a Super Bowl victory that year, also claiming the league MVP.  He was also named the MVP of the 2001 season and led the led the NFL in completion percentage his first three years in the league.  Released by the Rams in June of 2004, he signed on with the New York Giants and served as a mentor for a rookie named Eli.  Arizona signed him in ’05 to play the same role for Matt Leinart but by 2007 Warner was back as a starter.

He was almost as productive in his last three years in the NFL as he was in his first three years, taking the lackluster Cardinals franchise and turning them into a Super Bowl contender.  He led the Cardinals to Super Bowl XLIII and came within one spectatular play of winning his second championship.  Warner retired with an amazing 93.7 quarterback rating, finishing his 12-year career with 32,344 passing yards and 208 touchdowns.

Brett Favre (1991-2010)

If anyone on this list is going to be a first-ballot hall of famer, it has to be Brett Favre.  One of the best gunslingers the NFL has ever seen, Favre somehow made it through an amazing 20-year career while setting a league record with 297 consecutive starts (321 if you include the playoffs), a streak that lasted until Week 14 of his final season.

Favre was named league MVP three times and was selected to 11 Pro Bowl’s.  He took the Green Bay Packers to back-to-back Super Bowl’s in 1996 and 1997, winning the big game in ’96 against Bill Parcells’ New England Patriots. A three-time All-Pro, Favre retired holding the NFL record for passing touchdowns (508), passing yards (71,838), completions (6,300), attempts (10,169), starts (298), wins (186) and interceptions (336).

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