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4 Bengals tabbed as future Pro Football Hall of Fame candidates

A.J. Green is going to make a strong case for the Pro Football Hall of Fame whenever he hangs up his cleats.

Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

There isn't any question as to whether the Bengals have Pro Football Hall of Fame candidates on their roster.

Between Geno Atkins, A.J. Green, Andrew Whitworth and Andy Dalton, there's going to be at least one current Bengal who makes a strong case for the HOF someday, and hopefully gets voted in. Over at ESPN, Bill Barnwell went through and broke down the top HOF candidates for all 32 NFL teams.

For the Bengals, Barnwell listed Atkins, Dalton and Whitworth as being possible HOF players, but only Green was given better than a 30-percent chance to make it to Canton.

1-10 percent: Andy Dalton didn't earn a Pro Bowl nod during his breakout season in 2015; he would need to keep up his new level of play for another decade or so to sniff Hall consideration. ... Andrew Whitworth has gotten better with age and might be one of the best offensive linemen of the decade, but he's turning 35 and has two Pro Bowls to his name.

Geno Atkins had his progress stalled by a torn ACL, which cost him half of 2013 and sapped him badly in 2014, but he returned to form with an 11-sack campaign in 2015. The list of defensive tackles with two first-team All-Pro appearances across their first six seasons has a whole bunch of Hall of Famers: Seven of the 12 previous post-merger eligible defensive tackles who pulled that off, by my count, made it to the Hall. Atkins' numbers will be discounted some as interior pass-rushers accrue more sacks, but he has a better shot at Canton than most would otherwise expect. 30 percent

A.J. Green is perennially compared to classmate Julio Jones, and while Green doesn't have Jones' freakish peak season numbers, he has been far more consistent and stayed healthier, which bodes well for his future. Green has started his career with five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons (averaging over 1,200 yards) and five uninterrupted trips to the Pro Bowl. Here's the list of guys who have pulled that off since the merger: A.J. Green. That's it. The last pass-catcher to start his career with five consecutive Pro Bowl appearances, to put this in context, is Mike Ditka. It would be a major surprise if Green didn't pick up a gold jacket down the line. 80 percent

It's hard to disagree with Barnwell's assessment, though I would give Atkins a slightly better chance at making it to Canton someday. While a torn ACL cost him much of the 2013 and 2014 seasons in terms of production, he’s still is on a pace that should put him in strong contention for a HOF spot.

In 2015, Atkins started in all 16 games while notching 11 sacks, which was the second highest single-season total in his career. He also had 42 total tackles and a forced fumble while being a big reason why the Bengals ranked second in scoring defense and fifth in opponent passer rating (78.9). All of this helped Atkins earn All-Pro honors and a spot in the 2016 Pro Bowl.

For Dalton, he too has enjoyed a great career thus far, though he's only one had 'elite' season in the league, whereas you could argue Atkins has had three of those (2011-12, 2015) so far.

Still, Dalton's best season just came last year, and if he keeps up that pace, it won't be a surprise to see him in the HOF someday. Despite not playing in the final month of the 2015 season, Dalton still threw for 25 touchdowns and 3,250 yards vs just seven interceptions.

Dalton also set career highs in QB Rating (106.3), completion percent (66.1%), had the NFL's eighth-best completion percentage, second-best yards-per-attempt average, second-highest passer rating and fifth-best QBR.

Whitworth probably deserves odds better than 10 percent at making the HOF. He's simply been one of the NFL's best offensive line for almost a decade now, not to mention one of the game's best blindside protectors in today's pass-happy NFL.

And we've seen how much of a joke Pro Bowl selections can be, so I doubt the HOF committee would seriously hold that against him. If they go back and watch all of his career unfold on the field, they'll see a HOF-caliber player.

But while those three Bengals' HF candidacy can be argued, there's no debating Green being a very strong HOF candidate whenever he retires. This past season, Green made 86 grabs for 1,297 yards (15.1 yards per catch) and 10 touchdowns, marking the fifth straight season in which Green topped the 1,000-yard mark.

Future HOF receiver Randy Moss is the only other player in NFL history to accomplish that feat in each of their first five NFL seasons. At his current pace, Green could be a first-ballot induction, depending on how many more years he plays.

Of course, every current Bengals’ odds of getting into the HOF would increase exponentially with a Super Bowl win.

While guys like Dalton and Whitworth may not make the HOF, it would be nice to see Green getting his gold jacket someday with those two in attendance, given how much they would have helped Green get to that point.