NFC North: Will Shields

Steve HutchinsonTony Medina/Icon SMISteve Hutchinson has been named to seven Pro Bowls and seven All-Pro teams during his career.
Another in a series on NFC North players whose career trajectories put them on a path to consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Of all positions and players we'll discuss in "Calling Canton," offensive line and Minnesota Vikings guard Steve Hutchinson will be the most difficult to quantify.

Offensive linemen compile no individual statistics. Evaluating them objectively is nearly impossible, and even subjective analysis is tricky. You could hand three knowledgeable football people a tape of an offensive lineman and get three different opinions. Knowing assignments and understanding the level of surrounding competence is crucial.

On top of it all, guard is the least visible position among the offensive line. Centers are typically leaders, make judgeable line calls and are the glue of a line. Tackles are scrutinized for their pass protection against elite rushers. Guards? They're in between, and that's part of why the Seattle Seahawks thought they could protect Hutchinson with a transition tag prior to his entrance into free agency six years ago.

Given that context, Hutchinson's 11-year career has without question has put him into discussion for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He has been named to seven Pro Bowls and seven All-Pro teams. He didn't miss a game during his first 10 1/2 seasons. His teams have had a 1,000-yard rusher in each of his 10 full seasons and the NFL named him to its all-decade team for the 2000s.


As the chart shows, Hutchinson's postseason honors puts him in stride with the eight post-merger guards who have been enshrined. (For the purposes of this list, I left out two players: Billy Shaw, whose career ended in 1969, a year before the AFL-NFL merger, and Bruce Matthews, who played more than half of his career games at a position other than guard.)

For Hutchinson, the most relevant questions will be how he is judged against his contemporaries and how long he must wait to get the voting committee's attention.

On the latter, we should remember that even the best guards in NFL history had to be patient. Russ Grimm was enshrined last summer, 19 years after he retired. It took Larry Little 13 years to get in. Randall McDaniel and Mike Munchak waited eight years.

On the former, we can debate who Hutchinson's contemporaries should be. For now, let's consider the other three guards the NFL named to its all-decade team for the 2000s.
Considering the voting committee has elected eight guards in 41 post-merger years, it might be tough for all four guards of the 2000s to make it to Canton. More than with some other positions, the presentations and first-person testimonials given on behalf of Hutchinson, Allen, Shields and Faneca will play a big role. We can't predict the content of future election meetings, of course, but we can with some confidence state that Hutchinson has had a Hall of Fame-like career. His due seems mostly a matter of timing.

Earlier: Aaron Rodgers has put himself on the path toward Canton. Pass-rushers Julius Peppers and Jared Allen face stiff competition.

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