With some players, a potential Hall of Fame career becomes evident almost immediately.
Von Miller, for instance. He was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2011 and posted 18.5 sacks with six forced fumbles in 2012. After overcoming a career blip in 2013, he’s been on his way to Canton.
Other players sneak into the bronze bust conversation gradually over time. This would be Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib. He didn’t get his first Pro Bowl berth until his sixth season. Now he has four.
It was when he returned an interception 46 yards for a touchdown in game 2 of last season against Andrew Luck that Talib and the Hall of Fame became mentioned as a real possibility.
It was the 9th pick six of Talib’s career and it put him in haughty company. The NFL’s all-time leader in interception returns for touchdowns is Rod Woodson with 12. Woodson is a Hall of Famer.
Then it’s Charles Woodson and Darren Sharper with 11 pick sixes. Charles Woodson will be a Hall of Famer, possibly the first time he becomes eligible in four years.
Tied for fourth in pick sixes with 9 is Aeneas Williams, Deion Sanders and Ken Houston. Hall of Famer, Hall of Famer and Hall of Famer.
And Talib has 9.
“Got a shot,’’ he said. “With all those guys you just named, all those guys played maybe 14-plus seasons. God-willing I can stay healthy and keep stacking these seasons together man and keep getting my numbers together and maybe I’ll be able to get in there.’’
Imagine if Talib gets one more. It may then become impossible to deny him. For now, he is very much active as the Broncos’ cornerback who will take on Dez Bryant and the Dallas Cowboys today at eventually-to-be-renamed Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Bryant broke in right behind the Broncos’ Demaryius Thomas as the NFL’s only first-round receivers in 2010.
Because Bryant is a big, physical receiver and Talib is a big, physical cornerback, they present the most anticipated mano y mano matchup within the game.
“Definitely one of the best,’’ Talib said of Bryant. “His size. Ball skills. His confidence and his competitive nature, you’ve got all those things you’re going to be one of the best. He has all of it. He’s got a real smart quarterback (in Dak Prescott) who can give him the ball, too.’’
It goes fast in the NFL. It doesn’t seem that long ago Talib was MVP of the Orange Bowl after he returned an interception 60 yards for a touchdown to help lift Kansas past Virginia Tech.
He was drafted in the first round by Tampa in 2008 and played well, recording 4 interceptions as a rookie, 5 in his second season and 6 with his first pick six in year three. Yet no Pro Bowls, not even as an alternate.
In his fourth season, Talib only had two interceptions but he returned both for touchdowns. No postseason awards.
His play elevated once he was traded to New England in 2012 and he’s been at his best since signing a six-year deal with the Broncos in 2014.
“Well, first I would say, playing in Tampa had a big part of that,’’ he said. “My first three years I had (15) interceptions and a touchdown and I feel like had I come to Denver and I had (15) interceptions I would have had some accolades. A lot of that had to do with playing in Tampa. You couldn’t even get (the games) on local TV. It was blacked out a lot. I think that plays a part when you get to play on TV, you get seen more.
“But I did, as I got older in the NFL, I took away a lot of the plays I used to give up. I took them away. Now I’m able to make plays and not give up as much.’’
Those 9 pick sixes? Five occurred in his first three seasons with the Broncos. He has a unique return style. First, once he has the ball in his hands, he immediately thinks touchdown. He understands the concept of players going one way and him going the other is an advantage. He is a long-strider with a pronounced sway and excellent vision.
Should Talib get one more touchdown off an interception, he may not sneak into Canton’s hallowed halls. He may sprint through in a rambunctious manner typical of his on-field personality.
Better believe if the Broncos are up 10 with a minute to play and Talib gets an interception around midfield, he’s not sliding. He’s sprinting toward immortality.
“No. No. I’m not sliding,’’ he said with a smile. “I don’t have no time to slide.’’