- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Steve Smith, WR
Body of work: Easily the most explosive and exciting player in the history of a young franchise that doesn't yet have a Hall of Famer. Smith has had four straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Originally drafted to be just a return man and thought to be too small to be a starting receiver, Smith has made himself into one of the league's best. His appearance is deceiving because he's more than a deep threat. He'll catch the ball over the middle and gains a ton of yards after the catch. Already has 509 catches for 7,348 yards and 43 touchdowns.
Unfinished business: Smith will turn 30 before next season and he's going to have to keep piling up numbers like he had this year to have a strong shot. It's getting harder and harder for receivers to make the Hall of Fame, and Smith probably needs about five more 1,000-yard seasons. Oh, a Super Bowl victory or two would help a lot. Smith also needs to avoid the controversies that have plagued his career. He twice has been suspended for beating up teammates.
Projected chance: Outside shot
Julius Peppers, DE
Body of work: On pure athletic ability, Peppers would be a sure-fire Hall of Famer. The guy is as good an athlete as anyone who ever has played the game. At times, he's backed that up. He's got 70.5 sacks and his arrival was an instrumental force in turning around a dismal franchise. Peppers has been a dominant pass-rusher at times, but also has shown the ability to drop into coverage. If every season had been like this (14.5 sacks), Peppers already would be on his way to Canton.
Unfinished business: The problem is Peppers hasn't always been consistent. He had just 2.5 sacks in all of the 2007 season, while insisting he wasn't healthy. To have any shot at the Hall of Fame, Peppers needs to take this season and build on it. Peppers is about to turn 29 and needs four or five more seasons of mid-to-double-digit sacks.
Projected chance: Long shot