When one thinks about future Hall of Fame candidates that have, at one time during the past decade, made their homes in Pittsburgh, it's not Maurkice Pouncey that springs to mind.
There are the mortal locks in Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu and the "sure to be someday soon" greats in Hines Ward, Jerome Bettis and Alan Faneca. That's followed up by the "slim chance" brigade comprised of Casey Hampton and James Harrison, both deserving in their own way but highly unlikely to be enshrined.
Finally, bringing up the rear is Antonio Brown. He's got a long way to go, but he's working diligently at it with three 1000+ yard seasons, mammoth receptions numbers and a receiving season for the ages in 2014.
All of the aforementioned players have, at one time or another, been recognized nationally and locally as the very best in the NFL to play their position and given the respect due to performers of their stature.
And then there's Pouncey. He wore a stupid hat, he's been known to drink alcohol and there were some false charges at a nightclub. Oh and his brother doesn't seem like a nice guy, so he probably isn't either. Maybe he's a thug. Is he a thug? What precisely is a thug?
In any event, people continue to grumble. Some in the media grumble that he's overrated, even though they continue to lavish independently-voted awards on him. A segment of fans grumbles about his big contract, they continually grumble about his personality and they're ruthlessly quick to point out any bad snaps on the field.
However, in reality, Maurkice Pouncey is well and truly on his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, tattoos and all.
When Pouncey was drafted In 2010, he was 20 years old. Now I can't put that into perspective for any of you readers, however, from my own perspective, I'm 22, recently graduated from the university and I don't know what the hell my life is going to look like in three months, never mind in a year. I can't even fathom entering the National Football League at age 20, nor starting an entire rookie campaign at age 21. But that's what Pouncey did, and he earned second team All-Pro honors in the process. If you want to appreciate just how good Pouncey's rookie season was, remember that he received two votes for Offensive Rookie of the Year. For a center, that's just plain ridiculous.
Since then, Pouncey has received three more All-Pro selections, giving him a grand total of four with two first-team and two second-team honors. That's four in his first five years. I don't have the time or patience to accurately trawl through 15 years' worth of All-Pro selections looking for similar cases, but I could only find one other guy who has accomplished this feat in recent history, and that, interestingly enough, is Earl Thomas, who was selected four picks ahead of Pouncey in the 2010 draft.
The one year Pouncey didn't make All-Pro was 2013, which was a completely lost year after he was injured in the first quarter of the first match of the season. So, to be accurate, any season in which Maurkice Pouncey has played more than one quarter of football, he has been voted an All-Pro.
In 20 years' time, that's going to sound an awful lot like a Hall of Famer in my book.
As far as the charge of being overrated, perhaps in his sophomore year he was thought to be slightly better than he actually was, but that's about all I'll accept. Every year when he has been healthy, he has been a Top-3 center. Is there much that separates him from Alex Mack and Nick Mangold? No, there isn't a huge chasm there apart from Pouncey's name recognition. But you earn recognition for a reason and Pouncey earned his on the field long before the occurrence of any foolishness off of it.
Sure, there are better run blockers, athletes and pass blockers at the center position in the NFL. But there are none, in my mind at least, that possess all three in combination to the extent that Maurkice Pouncey does. Here's the scary thing though, he's only 25 years old. He'll be 26 by the time the first ball is snapped in the 2015 season.
Pouncey is just now attaining the physical peak of his career. He has studied one year under famed offensive-line guru Mike Munchak, and he looks pretty certain to spend at least one more. He has been the unquestioned leader of the Steelers offensive line for a number of years now, a line that's brimming with talent. His mental grasp of the position, already superb by all accounts, will only continue to grow. He's under contract for another five years, with no reason to expect him not to reach the end of it.
Now standing at age 30, and assuming five more seasons under his belt, what might Maurkice Pouncey achieve as an individual? The potential is limitless. If he continues along his current trajectory, he could be remembered as one of the greatest interior linemen ever to play the game of football.
One thing is for certain, Pouncey is in the midst of authoring a Hall of Fame career. Make no mistake about it.