What does it take to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Only voters can answer that question, but what we do know is that the 44-person Selection Committee inducts no more than five each year (not counting the two Senior Committee candidates) and rarely more than one at each position. It makes for a competitive field, allowing only the best of the best to enter Canton's doors.
Who is on the right track among today's active players? It changes from year to year, with all of them able to be grouped into varying levels of probability.
The 100 players considered below entered the league in 2006 or before, giving them at least five years of work to showcase …
LOCKS: Legends that might as well start getting measured for their suit coat.
QB Peyton Manning, Colts — L-O-C-K in capital letters.
QB Tom Brady, Patriots — The Joe Montana of his era. Enough said.
LB Ray Lewis, Ravens — Next to L.T., probably the greatest linebacker of all time.
TE Tony Gonzalez, Falcons — Has revolutionized his position with numbers to match his wide receiver peers.
WR Randy Moss, Titans — Forget about what happened this past year; Moss' abilities and totals are undeniable (even to voters who sometimes weigh personality issues).
WR Terrell Owens, Bengals — Won't get in on his first try, or maybe even his second. He'll get in, though.
CB Champ Bailey, Broncos — When the Committee is looking to recognize a cornerback and Bailey is in the pool, his body of work will stand out from the others.
RB LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets — No need to talk about rings; Tomlinson was a warrior for many years in San Diego and still owns the single-season TD mark.
S Ed Reed, Ravens — The most opportunistic defender ever. Well-respected, has held up well late into his career — all the stuff voters like.
PK Adam Vinatieri, Colts — I realize it's borderline absurd to call a special-teams player a lock. Then again, find me one HOF voter who doesn't think Vinatieri will get the call some day.
ON THEIR WAY: Elite players on pace to finish up in Canton, each with a 75 percent chance or better.
CB Charles Woodson, Packers — Inched one step closer to the "lock" category after helping get his team to Super Bowl XLV.
S Troy Polamalu, Steelers — A Defensive Player of the Year award can only help his Canton résumé.
QB Drew Brees, Saints — Super Bowl win? Check. Big passing totals? Check. A few more years at this pace and Brees will earn his Canton check, too.
TE Antonio Gates, Chargers — As much as Tony Gonzalez changed the way teams use a tight end, Gates has changed how teams scout tight end prospects.
WR Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals — Pound for pound quite possibly the most gifted and well-rounded receiver of his generation.
OG Steve Hutchinson, Vikings — A stud in Seattle and Minnesota. Opposing players will speak kindly of his grittiness.
OG Alan Faneca, Cardinals — The Selection Committee will see one number — nine Pro Bowls — and be forced to consider Faneca seriously.
WR Hines Ward, Steelers — As was said during Super Bowl week, Ward has almost as many yards as Hall of Famers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth do combined. Any receiver would love to have that on their résumé.
WR Reggie Wayne, Colts — The numbers are enough to get him there. The fact that he caught passes from Peyton Manning might hurt his chances.
LB Brian Urlacher, Bears — Found his way back to the Pro Bowl after a three-year absence. Found his way back into the 75 percent bracket with it, as well.
QB Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers — Even after the Super Bowl XLV loss, Roethlisberger looks more like Terry Bradshaw and less like Jim Plunkett.
DE-OLB Jason Taylor, Jets — The longer he plays, the more his legacy will diminish. In case anyone forgot, at one point, Taylor was the game's most dominant defender.
QB Michael Vick, Eagles — A year ago Vick was a non-candidate. Now that's not the case. Voters must mull his legacy as someone who revolutionized the quarterback position and had a fantastic comeback season against his unforgiveable crimes.
DE Dwight Freeney, Colts — Another player who will claim to have changed the game when he gets to plead his case. Freeney was the most visible small-frame speed rusher of his era. Should reach the 100-sack mark during the 2011 season.
WR Andre Johnson, Texans — Just got into this category. The longer he puts up elite numbers, the higher he'll climb.
MAYBE, MAYBE NOT: Stars that have had a splendid career, just maybe not Hall of Fame-caliber. Each has a 50-50 shot at best.
QB Donovan McNabb, Redskins — Was a member of the "On their way" club a year ago. His legacy is slipping thanks to a failed move to D.C.
DE Julius Peppers, Bears — Hall of Fame stock is on the rise thanks to a fresh start in 2010. Has a chance to finish his career on a positive note if he keeps a good attitude and remains in Chicago.
S Brian Dawkins, Broncos — Very productive 15-year career with eight Pro Bowls to his credit.
KR-PR Devin Hester, Bears — Say what you will about Hester being a return guy (because he surely won't make Canton as a receiver), but no one can deny that he has influenced countless games with a single play.
DE Jared Allen, Vikings — Has collected just less than 12 sacks per season over his seven-year career.
S Darren Sharper, Saints — Close to cracking the top five all time in career interceptions.
C Matt Birk, Ravens — Probably viewed as one of the best centers/anchors of this era. An all-time great? That's debatable.
DL Richard Seymour, Raiders — Numbers don't really tell how much of an impact Seymour has made in New England and Oakland. Contract dollars, on the other hand …
ILB London Fletcher, Redskins — A very good player for a very long time. Never outstanding, never disappointing. Consistency should count, right?
WR Donald Driver, Packers — Popular guy and the Packers' all-time leader at receiver. Probably falls short in a lot of areas that voters consider, though.
WR Steve Smith, Panthers — Like Driver, will suffer from being a receiver in an era with so many deserving WR candidates. Only a few of the masses will gain entrance.
OLB Terrell Suggs, Ravens — An integral part of the game's most intimidating defense. Will lose points for playing alongside so many other studs.
RB Thomas Jones, Chiefs — There's a chance he'll reach 12,000 rushing yards. Every back in that club is golden (or soon to be).
RB Fred Taylor, Patriots — Ditto.
TE Jason Witten, Cowboys — Has five seasons with 80 or more catches. Antonio Gates can't say that.
WR Anquan Boldin, Ravens — The deciding factor might be whether he reaches 1,000 catches before the end of his career.
DT Kevin Williams, Vikings — Six Pro Bowls in eight seasons. One of the best interior D-linemen of the decade.
LB Lance Briggs, Bears — Six consecutive Pro Bowls. Never has been the face of the Bears' defense, though, and that hurts his campaign.
DE John Abraham, Falcons — Slipped some in 2009 but made up for it with a Pro Bowl season in ’10. Would need a couple more big years to receive strong consideration.
WR Chad Ochocinco, Bengals — An example for where a milestone (10,000 yards) doesn't earn automatic entry, as it once did.
DON'T HOLD YOUR BREATH: Players that have not been able to sustain a level of success consistent with a Hall of Fame career. Each has a 25 percent chance at best.
WR Derrick Mason, Ravens — Has A LOT of catches (924), but only two Pro Bowls in 14 seasons says a lot, too.
QB Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks — His playoff effort against New Orleans was nice, and he has built up some respectable totals. Enough? Not by a long shot.
CB Ronde Barber, Buccaneers — If Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp get through, that might be all for Tampa Bay's outstanding defenses.
S Adrian Wilson, Cardinals — Still is one of the game's top safeties, but he's running out of time to do something remarkable voters will take notice of.
DE Robert Mathis, Colts — Voters aren't likely to induct two Colts defensive ends from this era.
OLB Joey Porter, Cardinals — His motor and mouth are nonstop, but not enough substance there to talk his way into Canton.
TE Jeremy Shockey, Saints — Career has faded. Great team guy, but résumé is not impressive when stacked up against tight ends from his era.
DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, Lions — Has been solid late into his career. Notice the word "solid."
QB Carson Palmer, Bengals — Fading fast.
OLB Mike Vrabel, Chiefs — Lots of rings, but viewed as mostly an above-average player on great teams.
ILB Keith Brooking, Cowboys — His pregame pep talks have overshadowed five consecutive Pro Bowl invites in the beginning of the 2000s.
RB Clinton Portis, Redskins — Too much work early on probably killed his ability to sustain the type of career a Canton back needs for entry.
CB Antoine Winfield, Vikings — Probably a better cornerback than voters will remember.
ILB James Farrior, Steelers — Does a lot of things at the linebacker spot — as Pittsburgh guys are asked to — but did not distinguish himself in any one area.
QB Kerry Collins, Titans — Has more than 40,000 career passing yards. So do Vinny Testaverde and Drew Bledsoe.
QB Chad Pennington, Dolphins — Has 17,823 career passing yards.
DE Osi Umenyiora, Giants — After seven seasons, the numbers aren't as impressive as fans might imagine.
MLB Jonathan Vilma, Saints — Never has been a big sack guy or huge tackle guy. For an interior linebacker, what more is there?
OLB Julian Peterson, Lions — His career (and candidacy) has died in his two years in Detroit.
RB Ricky Williams, Dolphins — The "bad" outweighs the "good," and there isn't much good to begin with.
LB Keith Bulluck, Giants — Very good (five consecutive seasons with 99 or more tackles) but not enough to draw much interest from voters.
WR Braylon Edwards, Jets — Probably always will be viewed as an underachiever, no matter how he finishes his career.
RB Brian Westbrook, 49ers — His greatness was short-lived.
RB Ronnie Brown, Dolphins — Has never proven to be the do-it-all wonder he was at Auburn.
LB Takeo Spikes, 49ers — Four teams in 13 seasons. Never better than solid at any one stop, except in Buffalo.
NT Jamal Williams, Broncos — On the verge of turning 35, he just doesn't have the portfolio one needs.
DE Trevor Pryce, Jets — Ditto, only Pryce is almost 36.
DT Albert Haynesworth, Redskins — If induction could be purchased, Haynesworth would be a lock. But it can't, so he'll have to accept voters weighing the head stomp, battles with Mike Shanahan and off-field issues against his on-field accomplishments.
QB Jake Delhomme, Browns — [Insert one of countless reasons here].
NEED MORE DATA: Players whose legacy has yet to be decided. Each has Hall of Fame qualities on their incomplete Canton résumé.
OLB DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys — One more year like the past five and he'll be in the 75 percent group.
DL Darnell Dockett, Cardinals — The past four seasons have shown promise but age 30 is around the corner.
RB Michael Turner, Falcons — Will he wear down before reaching the magical totals running backs need? That's the question.
WR Roddy White, Falcons — With Matt Ryan in the pocket, White's success should continue, as he is the undisputed big-play target in Atlanta's offense.
RB DeAngelo Williams, Panthers — Was HUGE in 2008. Before and after, eh …
OL Jordan Gross, Panthers — Building a nice career with two Pro Bowls over the past three seasons.
QB Tony Romo, Cowboys — Not far from being crammed into the "Don't hold your breath" category. Romo needs to win big, and quickly, to establish a lasting legacy.
WR Miles Austin, Cowboys — Only two productive seasons so far.
WR Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers — With Aaron Rodgers, Jennings has a chance to be the Reggie Wayne of Green Bay (see Reggie Wayne on this list).
QB Aaron Rodgers, Packers — The Packers have surrounded him with plenty of ammo, and Rodgers looks like the perfect blend of smarts and ability. That said, he only has three years on the field under his (championship-strapped) belt.
TE Dallas Clark, Colts — Slow start to his career, but if he continues to be Peyton Manning's go-to guy, who knows? Staying healthy is another concern.
RB Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars — Think voters will consider Jones-Drew for being a social media pioneer among players? Nah. Numbers are looking good so far, though.
WR Brandon Marshall, Dolphins — Still early, but in Marshall's case it seems only a matter of time. Has a lot of T.O. in him; he's tough to stop no matter the offense or surrounding talent.
WR Wes Welker, Patriots — A lot of players record a lot of catches these days. No one does it as well as Welker, though.
WR Marques Colston, Saints — Has 1,000 yards in four of five seasons with an average of eight touchdown catches. Good start.
QB Eli Manning, Giants — Has a ring. Probably needs another before he can become a serious candidate.
DE Justin Tuck, Giants — Has 40½ sacks and will be 28 years old when the 2011 season begins. Could go either way at this point.
WR Santonio Holmes, Jets — Don't discount the value that one big play can have on your career (ask Dave Casper, who had a couple). Holmes' numbers are lacking, though, and the perception (whether fair or not) is that he's a "me" guy.
C Nick Mangold, Jets — Has the look of a longtime leader up front. Two consecutive All-Pro nods.
CB Nnamdi Asomugha, Raiders — The best player (at any position) that no one talks about outside of Oakland. A fabulous cover corner.
CB Asante Samuel, Eagles — Got better after leaving New England (rare). If he adds to his four-year Pro Bowl streak he'll start to gain favorable consideration.
OLB James Harrison, Steelers — Harrison's words this year will sting, but his hits and raw playing style will resonate.
QB Philip Rivers, Chargers — Has the tools; now he needs the hardware.
TE Vernon Davis, 49ers — A few years from elevating to where Antonio Gates is now. Maybe having an offensive-minded coach will allow that to happen.
RB Steven Jackson, Rams — Canton likes candidates from winning teams. Jackson's best argument is that he has remained productive, year in and out, for lousy teams.
TE Kellen Winslow, Buccaneers — Has scored 21 touchdowns in six seasons. Not the player scouts imagined he would become.
Mike Beacom is a pro and college football writer whose work has appeared in numerous print and online sources. He is also the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Football (Alpha, 2010).