For a player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame he has to be a special player who (in most cases) stood out at his position. Since one-year wonders and alike come and go, the player also has to be a constant elite performer for many years.
A third criteria is how the player impacted the league and his team. This takes the player's position somewhat into consideration. For example, a quarterback is more valuable to the team than the linebacker. However, impact can also mean that a player influenced his position. For example, Brian Urlacher helped redefine the role of the middle linebacker (who by the way is not a candidate because of his recent retirement).
I don't value Super Bowl rings as much as many others do. It's a team sport first and furthermost. A Super Bowl win is about being lucky enough to be on the right team. Even the most important player: the quarterback; can't win without his teammates.
Lastly, not many players are named here, but that's how it's suppose to be! The Hall of Fame is a very very exclusive club and listening to people claiming newly retired players like Ronde Barber belongs in the Hall of Fame is ridiculous. Barber was a great player, but many people are quick to throw the "HoF Lock" label around.
For example, I think Brett Favre is not a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He undoubtedly had a great career and his durability was one-of-a-kind. Statistical, he's the number one passer in history which makes for an obvious argument, but that is more related to the number of games he played than you'd prefer. And let's not forget that out of all his records, the passes intercepted is probably the least likely to be broken. That doesn't compare well when he played in an era of super-efficient quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Should a player be a first-ballot when he wasn't even the first or second best quarterback of his time?
With that being said, I do think he will get in on the first ballot. It doesn't hurt that Brett Favre was one of the most-liked players in NFL for multiple decades either.
Hall Of Fame On The First Ballot
In order, active NFL players in 2013 who could retire today and probably enter the Hall of Fame on the first-ballot. (Ray Lewis would have been on this list if he was still active)
- Peyton Manning
Third most passing yards in history, second most touchdowns. The mastermind of football. There has never been someone like him. 37 years old and maybe the best in the league even to this date.
- Tony Gonzales
Most touchdowns caught by a tight end in history. Even more impressive: second most receptions by any position behind Jerry Rice. 37 years old and still plays on a high level. Fulfills every criteria: super consistent high performer over a huge period of time and impacted the game as he contributed to the evolution of the tight end position
- Tom Brady
Fifth most touchdown passes in history. His mental approach to the game and consistent reach for perfection is unique. 35 years old and owns three Super Bowl rings. Many might argue that he should be the number one on this list.
- Ed Reed
10th most intercepted passes in history. Give him another decent year and he'll be number 5 right behind "Night Trane" Lane. At worst: the best free safety of the decade. Uncanny nose for the ball and a master at baiting the passer into throwing interceptions. Furthermore, he is a great runner with the ball in his hands as he has the most interception return yards in history. He contributes on special teams in multiple ways and his versatility is prominent as he's the first person in NFL history to return an interception, punt, blocked punt, and fumble for a touchdown.
Give Them A Few More Years...
Active NFL players in 2013 who either needs more years off the field with HoF eligibility or a few more years on the field to make the Hall of Fame.
- Drew Brees
Living in the shadow of Manning and Brady isn't easy. He also had to fight criticism against his height and arm strength in the early part of his career. Just imagine how better his numbers would have been if he had been trusted like Manning was from the beginning, and if played for the Saints from day one. Despite all this, he already has the 6th most pass touchdowns in history, and the 8th most yards, which is one spot ahead of Tom Brady. 34 years old and Inch-for-inch, most likely the best passer of all time
- Champ Bailey
The best pure cornerback of the last century. 34 years old.
- Adrian Peterson
At only 28 years old, he already owns the record for most rushing yards in a game, second most yards in a season, and most 60+ yard TD runs in history. We have witnessed Peterson run for over 2000 yards on arguably the worst pass offense while coming of a devastating knee injury. The future is bright for this man!
- Charles Woodson
With 56 interceptions, 30 forced fumbles, 11 touchdowns and 18 sacks, he is one of the most complete corners in history. 36 years old and likely to retire after this season.
- Troy Polamalu
This is a good example of a candidate where you can't just look at the numbers. Not that his numbers are bad by any means, but it's his great toughness, skills, and remarkable unique instincts that makes him special. He is the special type of payer that the offense needs to know where is at all times. His playing style is aggressive and risky, but it makes him into arguably the biggest defensive game-changers of this century.
- Jared Allen
Two years removed from having the second most sacks in a season throughout NFL's history. With his 117 sacks, no other active player has more career sacks and that's a big reason why Allen is the only defensive lineman on this list. Two more years with his average sack numbers and Allen will touch the top 5 on the all-time list.
Last words: you have probably noticed the near complete absent of linemen and wide receivers. This is mostly a co-incident. The most obvious candidates at wide receiver: Randy Moss and Terrell Owens; are currently not on any teams and are consequently out of the conversation. The next in line of wide receivers is a little crowdy and need to produce a little more, especially the one with the most promise: Calvin Johnson. Another reason for the lack of receivers are all the rules in favor of the receivers and the passing offense. Comparing the recent statistics of receivers and quarterbacks to older players has become near impossible.