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Which Active NFL Players Are Set to Become Fantasy Football Legends?

On Tuesday, The Ringer revealed our Fantasy Football Hall of Fame, with 25 selections being honored as the top performers of all time. Here are the current players who are on pace to join that group.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

On Tuesday, The Ringer unveiled our Fantasy Football Hall of Fame, honoring 25 past and present NFL players as the greatest fantasy stars ever. We’re celebrating the guys who won us championships over the years, from Emmitt Smith to Drew Brees. You can see the full list of our choices here—and yes, we’re fully prepared to argue about them.

The first class of The Ringer’s Fantasy Football Hall of Fame is set. But as soon as we completed the task, a new question emerged: Which active players are on pace to eventually make the fantasy hall?

A handful of current players (Antonio Brown, Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Larry Fitzgerald) already made the list, thanks to high career peaks or incredible longevity (or both). But more could soon follow in their footsteps. Those potential future honorees fall into roughly two groups: veterans who are just on the cusp, and young players who need time for their careers to play out. Here are 12 such players who are worth highlighting.

Longtime Veterans Who Need More Oomph to Make the Hall

Julio Jones

Career fantasy points: 1,381.2 (fifth among active wide receivers)
Points per game: 12.4 (second)

Somehow, Antonio Brown was a unanimous Fantasy Hall of Fame selection while Jones didn’t even make the cut. Jones was drafted in 2011 and Brown earned a role with the Steelers the same year, giving the two parallel careers. During that span, they’ve often passed the title of best receiver in the league back and forth.

Their career stats and accolades are remarkably close. Brown has earned seven Pro Bowl nods and four first-team All-Pro appearances, while Julio has made six Pro Bowl appearances and two All-Pro teams. Each has led the NFL in receiving yards twice, though Julio led the league in receiving yards per game in three seasons while Brown has only accomplished that feat once. Thanks to a few more games played, Brown has the edge on total receiving yards, but just barely (11,207 to 10,731), while Jones has the highest average receiving yards per game in league history (96.7) by a considerable margin (Brown is third at 86.2).

What has separated the two in terms of fantasy production is touchdowns. Brown has found the end zone 74 times in his career, while Julio has done so just 51 times. And in fantasy, that makes all the difference. Brown has been a top-three receiver (in standard points) in five of his nine NFL seasons, while Julio has hit that mark just once. Jones is still great, of course, having ranked in the top 10 six times, but he’s often fallen short of being truly elite when it comes to fantasy. The good news is that Jones has plenty of time to close the gap. At 30, he’s still in his prime—he just needs to figure out how to find the end zone consistently.

LeSean McCoy

Career fantasy points: 1,912.2 (fourth among active running backs)
Points per game: 13.0 (12th)

McCoy was right on the edge of Fantasy Hall of Fame inclusion, but the running back position is crowded. Eight rushers made our Fantasy Hall of Fame, and a number of others—like Terrell Davis, Ricky Watters, and Curtis Martin—were closer to inclusion than McCoy. He’s not the premiere running back of his generation—Adrian Peterson holds that honor—and feels a shade behind the next generation of backs that includes Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell, and Ezekiel Elliott (more on them below). McCoy was never the top points-getter at his position, and his relative inconsistency sometimes burned fantasy owners: He twice followed up top-two finishes with seasons outside of the top 10.

If McCoy can turn back time and become one of the rare running backs who is productive into his 30s, he’ll have a strong case for the Fantasy Hall of Fame. But his rushing production has declined for three straight seasons, and he’s stuck in a Bills offense that could be one of the worst in the league. It’ll be an uphill climb for McCoy to be remembered as a fantasy elite.

A.J. Green

Career fantasy points: 1,264.0 (eighth)
Points per game: 11.4 (fifth)

Green is the model of consistency, having made the Pro Bowl in each of his first seven seasons. But whether you’re talking real football or fantasy, he’s never been in the same conversation as the Julio Joneses and Antonio Browns of the league. Green has just four top-10 fantasy seasons, and the highest he’s ever finished at the position is fourth.

Green is now 31, and injuries have hampered the talented wideout in recent years. He’s missed games in three of the last five seasons, and will soon make that four of six, as an ankle injury is expected to relegate him to the bench to begin 2019. We’ve seen players flourish in their 30s (see: Fantasy Hall of Famer Cris Carter), so Green still has time to add to his résumé. But he’ll need that late-career push to make a case for inclusion.

Frank Gore

Career fantasy points: 2406.4 (first)
Points per game: 11.5 (17th)

Gore is the current active leader in fantasy points among flex-eligible players (running backs, receivers, and tight ends), so he has to be included on this list. But Gore has never been a fantasy-championship winner—his spot at the top of the active fantasy leaderboard is due solely to his supernatural longevity.

Gore may be the most reliable fantasy RB2 ever. He ranked in the top 20 in points at the position for 12 straight seasons from 2006 to 2017. That’s an unfathomable stretch of success given that running backs’ careers often nosedive the moment they turn 30. Gore is now 36, and he’s still chugging along. He’s fourth on the career rushing yards list and should earn a spot in the actual Hall of Fame. But from a fantasy perspective, Gore gets knocked for not having much of a notable peak. He has ranked in the top 10 in fantasy points at the position just three times in his career—most recently in 2009. He technically still has time to make something happen—and one last run at fantasy relevance this season could push Gore into the Hall—but it feels unlikely at this advanced stage of his career.

Jimmy Graham

Career fantasy points: 1,163.9 (second among active tight ends)
Points per game: 8.5 (second)

Graham has already cemented his place as one of the better receiving tight ends in history. Everyone remembers his incredible stretch from 2011 to 2013 with the Saints, in which he averaged 1,169 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns per season. But he was also pretty good with the Seahawks, coming in fourth at the position in points scored in 2016 and 2017.

But tight end is one of the less-relevant fantasy positions (only three made our Hall of Fame), and Graham is overshadowed on all sides: He doesn’t have the longevity of a Tony Gonzalez or an Antonio Gates, and his career peaks aren’t as high as Rob Gronkowski’s. Graham hasn’t yet developed a reliable connection with Aaron Rodgers after joining the Packers last year, but if he becomes an end zone threat for Green Bay, it could be enough to make him a fantasy legend.

Cam Newton

Career fantasy points: 2,469.0 (eighth among active QBs)
Points per game: 20.1 (fourth)

Newton is a testament to how much rushing stats matter for fantasy quarterbacks. In his eight-year career, he’s averaged 625 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns per 16 games played. That’s buoyed him to some fantastic fantasy finishes: In all five seasons in which he’s played 16 games, Newton has finished as a top-four quarterback.

But injuries have frequently hampered him, even though he’s missed only five career games. He didn’t look right for a chunk of 2017 and was slowed by a bum shoulder in 2018. That’s made Newton’s career feel underwhelming—both in real life and in fantasy.

Still, Newton’s potential as the league’s premiere dual-threat QB is sky-high. If Cam can be healthier in his 30s than he was in his 20s, he’s a surefire fantasy legend.

Younger Players Who Just Need to Keep Up the Pace

Le’Veon Bell

Career fantasy points: 1,045.6 (ninth)
Points per game: 16.9 (third)

Bell has been a top-five running back three times (2014, 2016, and 2017); he even earned the distinction the year he missed four games due to a suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy (2016).

Even so, he hasn’t exactly put up the types of pantheon numbers that would be enough to make the Fantasy Hall of Fame. The Jets have a significantly worse offense—from the line to the quarterback to the receiving corps—than the Steelers did, and there’s evidence to support the belief that Bell’s success was more a product of Pittsburgh’s offense than the running back’s talent. Bell should be a focal piece of the Jets moving forward (and volume is king in fantasy), but his legacy will hinge on whether he can prove he’s a true difference-maker on a new team.

Odell Beckham Jr.

Career fantasy points: 825.2 (21st)
Points per game: 14.0 (first)

OBJ’s career stats are wild: He’s averaging 1,485 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns per 16 games. There’s a problem, though: He’s never hit 1,485 receiving yards in a single season, because he keeps missing games.

In his five-year career, Beckham has missed 21 contests due to various injuries and suspensions, and he’s played a full 16-game season just once (in 2016). Injuries have been especially troublesome for the wideout recently, with an ankle fracture robbing him of 12 games in 2017 and a bruised quadriceps relegating him to the bench for four games last year. Reliability is important for fantasy, and Beckham simply hasn’t been able to stay on the field.

But again: Those per-16-games splits are incredible! Now with the Browns, Beckham has a chance to play with the best quarterback of his career, and he could actually improve upon his already remarkable numbers. If he starts regularly clocking in 16-game seasons, OBJ has the talent to be one of the most dominant fantasy receivers we’ve ever seen.

DeAndre Hopkins

Career fantasy points: 1,017.0 (13th)
Points per game: 10.7 (ninth)

Hopkins has shown flashes as an elite fantasy wideout, finishing in the top six in fantasy points at the position in three of the past four seasons, including a no. 1 finish in 2017. He’s on the edge of fitting into the “veteran” category for the purposes of this list (the 27-year-old has played in 95 games), but he’s still got plenty of prime years left to put up big numbers.

Per Fantasy Football Calculator, this season will mark the first time that Hopkins will be the top-drafted wide receiver in ADP, and given his age, he could hold down that spot (or come close to it) for the next five years or so. He has an ascendant quarterback in Deshaun Watson and just put up his second-straight first-team All-Pro season. Hopkins has already been a prolific fantasy wideout, and there’s plenty of reason to believe his best years are still in front of him.

Ezekiel Elliott

Career fantasy points: 722.7 (18th)
Points per game: 18.1 (second)

Elliott led the league in rushing yards per game in each of his first three seasons, and he’s been a top-10 fantasy running back each year, too. He’s also fifth in total touchdowns in that span, despite missing eight games—six of which came from a 2017 domestic violence suspension.

When he’s on the field, Elliott is one of the most productive running backs in the game. But entering 2019, he’s holding out for a better contract, and his future rests on whether he and the Cowboys can come to an agreement. If they do and the 24-year-old back can keep up his current pace until about age 30 or so, he’ll easily be one of the highest-scoring fantasy performers of his era.

Todd Gurley

Career fantasy points: 975.0 (12th)
Points per game: 16.8 (fourth)

Gurley is one of the rare players who finished as the no. 1 overall fantasy player by VBD—which measures a player’s value relative to others at his position—two seasons in a row, becoming the first to do so since Shaun Alexander in 2004 and 2005. Given that Gurley was a top-five fantasy running back as a rookie in 2015, he’d appear to be on the fast track to legend status—the type of consistent league-winning running back the fantasy world hasn’t seen in about a decade.

But Gurley’s future is in limbo. His reportedly arthritic left knee sapped his effectiveness late last season to the point that the Rams barely utilized him in the Super Bowl, and he enters 2019 as the biggest question in fantasy football. Even if Gurley never performs like a top-tier running back again, he could still get into the Fantasy Hall of Fame in the same way Priest Holmes did—but that would require some time to grow nostalgic for his 2017 and 2018 seasons. If he can return to peak form, he’s a no-brainer entry.

Patrick Mahomes

Career fantasy points: 427.5 (39th)
Points per game: 25.2 (first)

Yeah, it may be premature to put Mahomes on this list after just one season as a starter, but he just had the most fantasy points by a quarterback ever. And while everyone is assuming he’ll regress to the mean some in 2019, Mahomes just may be different.

The quarterbacks in the Fantasy Hall of Fame—Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Brett Favre—have all had long, productive careers. So check back in about a decade to see whether it’s Mahomes’s turn.