The one who is probably closest to the Hall of Fame is former Carolina Panthers Kevin Greene. He spent three seasons of his 15 year career with the Panthers in 1996 and then again in 1998 and 1999.
Greene had some of his best years of his career while with Carolina, even though he was at the end of his career. Greene recorded 160 sacks in his time in the NFL, which ranks third in the league’s history. Of those 160, over 25 percent came while with the Panthers (41.5 sacks), which again was only three seasons. He also earned two Pro Bowl appearances and one First-Team All-Pro selection as a member of the Panthers.
Greene was a key player on the team’s defense in 1996 when they reach the NFC Championship Game in the organization’s second year. The former outside linebacker has been a finalist four straight seasons and it is hard to imagine a player with his resume not entering the Hall in the near future.
The legacy of Sam Mills for the Carolina Panthers goes well beyond any stats as he is the person responsible for the famous “Keep Pounding” speech. As for what Hall of Fame voters are concerned about, he does have a rather impressive resume.
Over a 12-year career, Mills made 1,142 tackles, 20.5 sacks, 22 forced fumbles and 23 fumble recoveries. Similar to Greene, Mills was a key player on the Panthers defense in 1996 and helped them go deep into the playoffs. That season he earned his fifth career Pro Bowl appearance as well as his first First-team All-Pro selection.
The selection of Mills certainly seems to be a longshot considering he has been on the preliminary list for 11 consecutive seasons and has never even made it to the semifinalist stage, according to Panthers.com’s Bryan Strickland. It is hard to deny the impact he had on the Panthers’ organization in a short period of time.
After these two, there aren’t many retired players who seem likely to earn a selection from the Hall of Fame committee. However, one current player who is nearing the end of his career certainly seems to have a good chance of making it. The Panthers used their second overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft on defensive end Julius Peppers and he has gone on to become one of the best pass rushers in the league.
The former Tar Heel spent seven seasons with the Panthers and earned four Pro Bowl selections, two First-team All-Pro selections and two Second-team All-Pro selections. He also was named the AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2002 and NFC Defensive Player of the Year in 2004.
Along with all the awards, he currently ranks 16th in NFL history in sacks with 125.5 and is only eight sacks back of 10th place. If Peppers can stay healthy this season, he should get close to this mark by the end of the season.
Steve Smith Sr.
The toughest position it seems to make the Hall of Fame is the wide receiver position. It is rare for wide receivers to be inducted their first time eligible for the Hall. There are only 24 wide receivers in the Hall right now, which is the second fewest position group right now, not counting place kickers.
Steve Smith Sr. was the face of the Panthers’ franchise for over a decade but was released prior to last season and is entering his second year with the Baltimore Ravens. While with the Panthers though, he was one of the top wide receivers in the game. He currently ranks 14th in NFL history in receiving yards with 13,262 yards and is less than 1,000 receiving yards behind the ninth place player James Lofton. He also ranks 18th all-time in receptions with 915.
Even though Smith Sr. may have the resume he may be waiting for his name to be called as mentioned above. Players like Cris Carter, Andre Reed and even Tim Brown have had to wait for a few years even though they were some of the premier players at the position.
*All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.
Follow me on Twitter @BrandonCroce.