March 15, 2024 9:00am

Hall of Fame Worthiness

Our panel weighs in on the Hall of Fame chances of Jason Kelce and Eli Manning

Photo of Rick Gosselin
NFL Correspondent

It will be smooth sailing for retired center Jason Kelce into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But not so for quarterback Eli Manning.

Kelce retired from the Philadelphia Eagles this offseason and will be eligible for Canton in the Class of 2029. Manning retired after the 2019 season and is eligible now for the next class, the Class of 2025. So we made the Hall of Fame the focus of this week’s NFL Power Poll.

We asked our panel of former players, coaches, officials, talent evaluators, writers and broadcasters to predict the chances of both Kelce and Manning. We gave five options for Kelce: first ballot, second ballot, third ballot, fourth ballot or a later round of the voting. We also gave five options for Manning: first ballot, second ballot, third ballot, a later round of the voting or not a Hall of Famer at all.

Our panel voted that Kelce will be a first-ballot selection. He received 58 of the 134 votes cast for first ballot, 35 for second ballot, 22 for third ballot, eight for fourth and 11 for a later round of the voting. Only 20 voters believed Manning would be a first-ballot selection. Forty voters said he was not a Hall of Famer, 28 said he’d be second ballot, 17 said third ballot and another 29 said he’d be elected in a later round.

There are only eight modern-era centers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Dermontti Dawson, Jim Langer, Kevin Mawae, Jim Otto, Jim Ringo, Dwight Stephenson, Mick Tingelhoff and Mike Webster. Otto, Stephenson and Webster were named to the NFL’s Centennial team. But Kelce would become only the third first-ballot center of the modern era, joining Otto and Langer.

Webster was elected in his second year of eligibility, Mawae his third year, Stephenson’s his sixth, Dawson his seventh, Ringo his ninth and Tingelhoff his 32nd year. Otto went to 12 Pro Bowls, Ringo 10, Webster nine and Mawae eight. Kelce went to seven Pro Bowls. Webster, Ringo and Langer all started on two NFL champions. Kelce started on one.

“Kelce’s leadership and representation of Philly alone make him an excellent candidate,” said former Associated Press NFL writer and Hall-of-Fame voter Barry Wilner. “His skill and longevity should put him over the top in his first year of eligibility. But so much depends on the other players in the class because, as documented, getting centers into the Hall is difficult.”

But the coronation of Kelce is not unanimous.

“Kelce was the second or third best center in the league through most of his tenure,” said Wayne Larrivee, the radio voice of the Green Bay Packers.

The discussion by the Hall of Fame selection committee of Manning will be an interesting one.

“Manning had two sensational postseason runs for the 2007 Giants and the 2011 Giants, twice beating Tom Brady in the league's showcase event,” said Hall-of-Fame voter Ira Kaufman of “He was remarkably durable but threw a lot of interceptions and was never considered elite. His candidacy will generate considerable discussion among the voters.”

Indeed. Manning ranks 10th all-time in both passing yards and touchdowns. But he only went to four Pro Bowls in his 16 seasons and was never either a first- or second-team all-pro. He was the Super Bowl MVP in both of those upset victories over Brady’s Patriots, engineering game-winning touchdown drives in the final minute of both games. But he was only a .500 quarterback during the NFL’s regular season (117-117).

“Eli Manning was quite frankly a pretty average quarterback for his entire career who got hot during two playoff runs,” said Alain Poupart, the Dolphins writer for SI’s Fan Nation. “But even then it was the Giants front four more than anything that won the Giants those two Super Bowls, particularly the one after the 2007 season against the previously undefeated Patriots. Jim Plunkett also won the Super Bowl title twice and isn't in the Hall of Fame, so I'm not sure exactly (other than playing in New York) why Eli deserves that kind of recognition.”

Added Alan Saunders, a sports writer with Pittsburgh Sports Now, of Manning: “He's not the kind of player that you usually think of when you think of a first-ballot Hall of Famer … but I can't come up with a good reason to wait, either.”

Bruce Lowitt, another former Associated Press NFL writer, said both players deserve enshrinement on the first ballot.

“I've never understood why voters think that candidates not good enough to be voted into a Hall of Fame the first time they're on a ballot become good enough to be voted in subsequently,” he said. “It's not as if their stats get better. The only reason might be space limitations - the Pro Football Selection Committee limits the number to between four and nine each year. Saying Jason Kelce or Eli Manning is worthy of entry into the Hall of Fame only on the second or third ballot but not on the first is ludicrous. And I say both are deserving now.”

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of significant key players in American sports today. It's member list draws on people from media, team management, and league management. It is not a scientific survey, but the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those who know most about the sport.

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