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Cam Heyward, T.J. Watt Climb Up Hall Of Fame Boards

Cam Heyward and T.J. Watt aren’t done with their NFL careers yet. But each are steadily climbing up Pro Football Reference’s Hall of Fame Monitor, a statistical measure of a player’s career and how likely they are to make it into Canton, Ohio.

It’s a tool I like to look at before and after each season to see where players start and finish. For Heyward and Watt, neither’s quite in golden territory for a golden jacket. But they’re getting closer.

Heyward ranks 24th on the list of all-time defensive tackles with a 59.5 Hall of Fame score, just narrowly behind Vince Wilfork. His score already surpasses one Hall of Famer, the great Curley Culp, though he played in a far different era of football compared to today. Next up on the HOF score list is Bryant Young at 64.3. Young was inducted into the Hall just last year after a great career spent entirely with the San Francisco 49ers.

The Hall of Fame monitor takes into consideration stats and accolades like Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections. For Heyward, he’s up to 78.5 career sacks and is a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro. Despite a strong surge at the end of 2022, finishing with 10.5 sacks, Heyward didn’t make the Pro Bowl or All-Pro team, numbers that hurt his Hall of Fame chances. While Pro Bowl voting may seem silly and arbitrary, they play an important part of a player’s resume, especially for linemen. Those are the elements voters eventually judge and missing out this year is damaging to Heyward this late into his career.

According to PFR, an “average” Hall of Fame score is 110, a number Heyward won’t come close to. The highest score is Bob Lilly’s 159.35 while Aaron Donald sits in second place at 146.25. Hitting at least 100 would be key for Heyward; all but three defensive tackles in the Hall are in triple digits and most the exceptions (Alex Karras, Buck Buchanan, and Culp) played long ago. Similar to Young, Heyward may need a “down” class to get in.

All of that is to say while Heyward has a Hall of Fame path, and he believes he’s on track, it’ll still be an uphill climb to get into Canton. He’ll need to have at least another 2-3 productive seasons and make at least one more Pro Bowl and All-Pro team to have a semi-realistic shot. Finishing his career with at least 100 sacks would also be an important feather in his cap.

T.J. Watt has far more time. Lumped in among the OLBs on PFR, he has a current Hall of Fame score of 57.93, now sitting one spot ahead of Greg Lloyd and two ahead of Andy Russell. His score ranks 29th of all-time and falls ahead of one Hall of Famer, Dave Wilcox. The average Hall of Fame score for the position is 106 and that’s partially skewed by Lawrence Taylor’s ridiculous 222.55 career mark. Only six career OLBs have ever hit triple-digits, though it’s worth noting Von Miller is closing in one that mark. A score in the 90s would likely be enough for Watt to receive serious consideration and he’s on a path to do that and then some. Even coming off a down 2022 season marred by a pec injury, his Pro Bowl berth (earned or not) helps his cause and gives him five for his career.

Destined is too strong of a word but Watt is on a clear and obvious path to Canton, Ohio. Another three strong years in the NFL could be enough to cement his status.

Of other current Steelers, no one else is close. Minkah Fitzpatrick is off to a solid start but still has a long ways to go with his score. Of retired players, QB Ben Roethlisberger, OLB James Harrison, and C Maurkice Pouncey are in the best position to make it. Roethlisberger and Pouncey won’t be eligible for a few more years while Harrison failed to make this year’s finalist ballot, an ominous start to his Hall of Fame path.

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