In a world with COVID-19 affecting our daily lives, we would be preparing for Thursday’s Hall of Fame Game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers before then celebrating Steelers Hall of Famers Bill Cowher, Donnie Shell and Troy Polamalu this weekend.
Instead, those plans were canceled and we’re stuck waiting for the start of the regular season in early September.
ESPN’s Bill Barnwell – in the spirit of Hall of Fame weekend – came up with an interesting article Wednesday, projecting the Hall of Famers for all 32 teams. I know Barnwell has missed the mark on a number of his Steelers’ takes in the past, but his projections were interesting.
Barnwell started off with a lock for the Steelers, which was none other than Ben Roethlisberger…duh.
While Big Ben is coming off an injury, his comments about feeling young, fit and healthy, all while wanting to chase multiple Lombardis into the future should have all Steelers fans fired up.
All that said, Barnwell is spot on with Roethlisberger as a 100 percent lock. He has nothing left to accomplish to be a Hall of Famer. Roethlisberger will likely eclipse 60,000 passing yards this year and could hit 400 passing touchdowns. Add in two Super Bowl rings and he’s all set.
If Roethlisberger gets one more ring, he’ll join Troy Aikman with three and will push into a group with Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw and Aikman as some of the greatest of all-time.
Here’s what Barnwell had to say about Roethlisberger as a lock in his article:
“There are questions about Roethlisberger’s character; he has twice been accused of sexual assault. But history suggests that his on-field performance makes him a Hall of Fame lock.”
It’s really frustrating to continue to see national media bring up something from a decade ago with Roethlisberger, but when you have nothing to complain about with him on the field for his career, you have to dig up dirt. So it goes.
Aside from Roethlisberger, Barnwell projected center Maurkice Pouncey and outside linebacker TJ Watt to be in the running for the Hall of Fame, meaning they have between a 40% and 69% chance of getting into Canton.
If we’re being honest, Pouncey has been one of the top centers in the game since being drafted in the first round out of Florida in 2010. During his career in the black and gold, he’s earned a Pro Bowl nod eight times, earned First Team All-Pro honors twice and Second Team All-Pro three times.
If Dermontti Dawson got into the Hall of Fame, Pouncey has a great shot as well, considering he has more Pro Bowl nods and has just one less overall All-Pro honor.
As for Watt, he’s on a historic pace in terms of sacks, having racked up 34.5 sacks through three seasons. He’s arguably one of the best defensive players in football and should be able to win a Defensive Player of the Year award or two, to add to his collection of Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors.
Here’s what Barnwell had to say about Pouncey’s and Watt’s chances:
“Pouncey fits that magic 8+2 formula I mentioned earlier with regard to Atkins, and at 31, he should still have a couple more Pro Bowls in him. The only thing likely to keep him out of Canton is an electorate that habitually underrates interior offensive linemen in favor of an endless stream of running backs. The only thing Pouncey is missing is a Super Bowl appearance.
Watt is off to a dominant start, having racked up 34.5 sacks over three seasons while earning two Pro Bowl nods and a first-team All-Pro berth last season. Players with two Pro Bowls and one first-team All-Pro spot across their first three seasons who are eligible for the Hall have made it just over 48% of the time. Watt’s last name and presence on a high-profile defense won’t hurt.”
Lastly, Barnwell highlighted wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, defensive lineman Cameron Heyward, and guard David DeCastro as those in the “work to do” category with a 10% to 39% chance of getting into Canton.
For starters, it’s a bit unfair to project Fitzpatrick into Canton at this point. Yes, he was a massive piece in the Steelers’ defensive turnaround last year and was arguably the best safety in the game, earning Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors.
But that’s just one good year. He should continue to be a force in the black and gold, but it’s just a bit silly to me to see Barnwell projecting Fitzpatrick’s chances of reaching Canton.
It’s a bit different for Smith-Schuster, who was putting up historic receiving numbers prior to his down year in 2019. When you have your named mentioned in the same breath as Randy Moss when it comes to on-field stats, you’re on the right track. If he bounces back in 2020 – which I fully believe he will – he’ll be back on track for Canton. The problem is, I just don’t see him playing out the rest of his career in Pittsburgh due to cap constraints. I hope I’m wrong though.
The real issue I have here is with Heyward and DeCastro. Personally, I’d have bumped DeCastro up into the category with Watt and Pouncey.
DeCastro is a perennial Pro Bowler, one of the top guards in the game and is consistently garnering All-Pro votes. The problem with DeCastro is that former Steeler Alan Faneca, with similar accolades is struggling to get in. Barnwell things DeCastro needs to do more, which is fair. I just would have projected DeCastro’s chances a bit better..
Same for Heyward. Aside from Aaron Donald, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better interior defensive lineman than 97 in black and gold. All that said, the NFL continues to sleep on Heyward, including the national media, which will undoubtedly hurt his chances.
That seems unfair, considering how great Heyward is, but it’s basically a popularity contest for the HoF voters.
Here’s what Barnwell had to say about the final four for Pittsburgh:
Smith-Schuster had a down 2019 season amid injuries and terrible quarterback play; he should bounce back to his 1,426-yard form from 2018. DeCastro has five consecutive Pro Bowl appearances and two All-Pro nods; if Faneca can’t get in with nine consecutive Pro Bowl appearances and five All-Pro shots, DeCastro still has a lot of work to do. Fitzpatrick went from getting benched for the Dolphins in Week 1 to becoming a first-team All-Pro after his arrival in Pittsburgh; another year like 2019 will push him into Watt territory.
Heyward reminds me a lot of Campbell; they’re prototypical five-technique ends who upped their pass-rushing performance when given more opportunities to get after the quarterback. Like Campbell, Heyward didn’t earn widespread notoriety until he was approaching 30, with the Steelers star becoming a first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowler for the first time in his seventh season. He repeated that feat in 2019, but he’ll need to have Campbell’s longevity and continue at this level into his mid-30s to have a viable path to the Hall.”
Personally, I think it’s a bit unfair to compare Heyward’s numbers to a guy like Calais Campbell, considering Campbell was allowed to rush the passer from the get-go, whereas Heyward played in a system early in his career that didn’t turn him loose at the line of scrimmage.
If Heyward continues on this dominant path into his 30s, he’ll have a real shot at Canton, much more of one than Barwell is projecting for him right now.