The Pro Football Hall of Fame revealed its 26 semifinalists for the Class of 2022 on Wednesday. Which means I get to take a break from ruining your fantasy season in order to briefly insult your HOF sensibilities.
And just to be perfectly clear: THIS IS MY PERSONAL RANKING. Definitely not a predictions piece. It’s what I feel deep in my bones. Deal with it.
26) Ricky Watters, RB (San Francisco 49ers, 1991-94; Philadelphia Eagles, 1995-97; Seattle Seahawks, 1998-2001): After getting Roger Craig into the Hall of Fame, it only stands to reason that — wait, what’s that? Roger Craig is not in the Hall? Man. I don’t know if I can put Watters higher on this list. He was a good player, make no mistake. He had three touchdowns in the 49ers’ Super Bowl blowout of the Chargers. But his contemporaries are Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas. I’m not out to be disrespectful here, but no.
25) Bryant Young, DT (San Francisco 49ers, 1994-2007): Stepped in and immediately helped San Francisco capture its most recent Lombardi Trophy, becoming a mainstay on that defense for what seemed like generations. He made the 1990s All-Decade Team. Stellar player. But he had some stiff competition at the position (SEE: Hall of Famers Cortez Kennedy, John Randle and Warren Sapp).
24) Hines Ward, WR (Pittsburgh Steelers, 1998-2011): There was nothing like watching Hines Ward deliver a crushing block. He might also be the only dude who won a Super Bowl MVP award and appeared in a Batman movie. This is why the Hall of Fame selection process is so difficult. Ward was great. But he wasn’t better than Megatron. And when you look at some of the WRs entering the pool this year (and beyond), his chances get slimmer.
23) Anquan Boldin, WR (Arizona Cardinals, 2003-09; Baltimore Ravens, 2010-12; San Francisco 49ers, 2013-15; Detroit Lions, 2016): He was a great receiver. One of the toughest to ever do it. No doubt about it. He kind of fills the same profile as Ward. Physical guy who was one of the hardest dudes to stop. Super Bowl winner. But like Hines, Anquan was never voted All-Pro. And to my knowledge, was never in a Batman movie. But he was Offensive Rookie of the Year. Still, this is a hard list to move up.
22) Ronde Barber, CB (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1997-2012): I really love Ronde. Really do. But dang, it’s so tough to be a cornerback from this era. Look at the competition: Deion Sanders, Rod Woodson, Darrell Green, Aeneas Williams. Not to mention guys like Champ Bailey and Ty Law. Add in Charles Woodson’s induction earlier this year, and I’m not sure if you can make a solid case for Barber. Great player in an extraordinary CB generation.
21) Fred Taylor, RB (Jacksonville Jaguars, 1998-2008; New England Patriots, 2009-2010): If the Matthews family can eventually get in, maybe we can also do early-2000s Jags running backs as a group entry. Taylor was an exceptional player. A great running back. But it’s tough when you measure him up against his contemporaries. Honestly, just getting to this list is quite an accomplishment.
20) Eddie George, RB (Houston/Tennessee Oilers/Titans, 1996-2003; Dallas Cowboys, 2004): You won’t get me to say a bad word about Eddie. Dude was fantastic. He was the Rookie for the Year with nearly 1,400 yards rushing right off the bat. A first-team All-Pro in 2000, when he ran for 1,509 yards and 14 touchdowns. And this doesn’t matter for his Hall credentials, but he’s also a former Heisman Trophy winner who excelled in the NFL. I’m a huge fan of Eddie George. Just tough competition here.
19) Tony Boselli, OT (Jacksonville Jaguars, 1995-2001; Houston Texans [injured reserve], 2002): I was a big proponent of Terrell Davis getting into the Hall of Fame, using the Gale Sayers argument that rare greatness should overcome a career shortened by injury. I’d be happy if Boselli were to receive the Hall call. I even have him higher than on this list than I did last year, and I wonder if voters will start to soften up to him, too. It’s tough to watch him be on this list year after year. Let’s figure out what we’re doing here because it’s not fair to the man. BTW, he’s excellent on the radio. I know that’s not what we’re doing here, but it needed to be said.
18) Eric Allen, CB (Philadelphia Eagles, 1988-1994; New Orleans Saints, 1995-97; Oakland Raiders, 1998-2001): As I’ve said many times before, the 1990s Eagles’ defense was so loaded. I feel like we need a Football Life on this Buddy Ryan era team. There were so many great players in addition to Allen, including Jerome Brown and Clyde Simmons. They never seem to get the love they deserve. Blame the 1992 Cowboys. That was supposed to be the Eagles’ year, following the Giants and Washington as Super Bowl champions. Canton would feature more of these Eagles guys if they had won a title in that decade.
17) Robert Mathis, DE (Indianapolis Colts, 2003-2016): Mathis was a very good player. I keep feeling the need to point that out. But I’m not quite sure I can have him higher on this list. He has some nice credentials. Earned first-team All-Pro honors in 2013 with a league-high 19.5 sacks. Member of the 100 sacks club. Solid player. Deserves a look. But he’s not a first-ballot guy to me.
16) Vince Wilfork, DT (New England Patriots, 2004-2014; Houston Texans, 2015-16): Wilfork was named first-team All-Pro once, but he also snagged second-team honors three more times. And he was a critical cog on two Patriots title teams. Not to mention, the guy rocks overalls like no other.
15) Willie Anderson, OT (Cincinnati Bengals, 1996-2007; Baltimore Ravens, 2008): It kind of sucks to say this, but a few more years on the Ravens might have made him an automatic induction into the Hall of Fame. I’m not going to lie: I think playing for the Bengals kind of hurts his case. Which is wrong, because he was routinely All-Pro in Cincy, earning first-team honors three times and second-team once. That’s pretty impressive. Like Tony Boselli, Anderson got a rankings boost from last year’s list.
14) Darren Woodson, S (Dallas Cowboys, 1992-2004): Woodson has the same problem as LeRoy Butler, as a great player on a team with huge personalities. And look how long it took Charles Haley to get his bronze bust. But I would say Woodson deserves it at some point. He was a key member on all three of those Jimmy Johnson title teams of the 1990s. (And yes, I know exactly what I wrote there.) At some point, we need more members of the 1990s Cowboys in the Hall of Fame.
13) Richard Seymour, DL (New England Patriots, 2001-08; Oakland Raiders, 2009-2012): Speaking of dynasties that feel underrepresented in Canton … the Patriots! Though a certain member of those title teams just refuses to retire. And now, even without him, is the dynasty still unfolding? The Pats are going to the Super Bowl this season, aren’t they? Also, New England sort of gets rid of guys when they are still good, huh? I mean, nobody is immune. I could see Seymour getting into the Hall at some point. That said, the competition seems to grow every year.
12) Andre Johnson, WR (Houston Texans, 2003-2014; Indianapolis Colts, 2015; Tennessee Titans, 2016): He’s going to get into the Hall of Fame. He is. But there is a logjam at receiver right now. Still, dude was amazing. Two first-team All-Pros and two second-team nods during a golden era for the position. Led the NFL in receptions and receiving yards twice. With all due deference and respect to Andre, I just have a few guys ahead of him. Nothing wrong with that. He’s going to get in.
11) Reggie Wayne, WR (Indianapolis Colts, 2001-2014): This one is tough. I love Reggie and realize he’s one of the best to ever do it. The problem is … He beat my Bears in the Super Bowl. Kidding. He still has to compete against Torry Holt, who has one more Pro Bowl nod. And now additional receivers have been added to the pool, which kind of pushes him down the list a little bit.
10) Sam Mills, LB (New Orleans Saints, 1986-1994; Carolina Panthers, 1995-97): Look, if the voters want to do something where they put Mills and Steve Smith Sr. into the Hall of Fame together to touch off an epic celebration in Charlotte, I’m here for it. Mills isn’t just a sentimental pick, however. Sure, he’s the inspiration for the “Keep Pounding” mantra, but dude was exceptional as part of the Dome Patrol. And if you want to underscore the “pro football” in Pro Football Hall of Fame, recognize his USFL work.
9) Zach Thomas, LB (Miami Dolphins, 1996-2007; Dallas Cowboys, 2008): I know you look at him next to Derrick Brooks, Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher, and think Thomas is the Paul Roma of that group. And I get that. But earned first-team All-Pro honors five times. Like, are the people responsible for making him an All-Pro not the same people who vote on the Hall of Fame?
8) LeRoy Butler, S (Green Bay Packers, 1990-2001): Butler really was an excellent player for the Packers. I would even say he was a better safety than John Lynch, who was just enshrined in August. It was just tough for him to stand out on a team that had Brett Favre and Reggie White. Almost impossible. He’s the Krist Novoselic of that trio of Packers. I won’t at all be surprised if he eventually gets in. He was a fantastic player. I mean, 1990s All-Decade Team, four-time first-team All-Pro. Every time I do this list, I keep pushing him higher and higher.
7) Steve Tasker, ST (Houston Oilers 1985-86; Buffalo Bills, 1986-1997): Yes, I’m leaving him high on this list. But I do believe another special teamer is going to get into the Hall of Fame this year (more on him in a sec). I mean, if they want to make this the special teams class, I’m in! Tasker basically had a second home at the Pro Bowl. He was All-Pro like all the time. And sure, those All-Pro nods came via Pro Football Weekly, which is kind of like letting a comic right his own credits. But hey, he was recognized as the best at his position for years.
6) Jared Allen, DE (Kansas City Chiefs, 2004-07; Minnesota Vikings, 2008-2013; Chicago Bears, 2014-15; Carolina Panthers, 2015): Was Jared the guy who … yep! He was the guy pointing (and laughing) when Dan Orlovsky ran out of the back of the end zone for a self-safety back in the day. I know you’ve seen it. But what you might not remember is Jared was a damn good football player. He was a four-time first-team All-Pro. Not as many as Zach Thomas, you’re right. But he led the NFL in sacks twice. And he’s tied for the NFL record with four safeties. I would have put him in last year.
5) Torry Holt, WR (St. Louis Rams, 1999-2008; Jacksonville Jaguars, 2009): After The Go-Go’s were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this year, I started watching a lot of their videos on YouTube and got a greater appreciation for the band. I feel the same way about Holt: The more I watch, the more I believe he’s underappreciated. And I know Torry was probably happy for his former teammate to get into the Hall of Fame last year, but I would have totally taken Holt over Isaac Bruce. Maybe that’s just me. But I feel like this is his year.
4) Steve Smith Sr., WR (Carolina Panthers, 2001-2013; Baltimore Ravens, 2014-16): Full disclosure: I had a working relationship with Steve even before he joined NFL Network. He was a recurring guest when I was on the cast of The Dave Dameshek Football Program. So why him over the other guys? He’s currently eighth all-time in receiving yards — ahead of Calvin Johnson, who just got his gold jacket in August, and the other WRs on the list this year. And if you need more convincing, I’m happy to spotlight the late, great Chris Wesseling’s definitive pitch for Steve to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That’s it. That’s my story.
3) DeMarcus Ware, OLB (Dallas Cowboys, 2005-2013; Denver Broncos, 2014-16): I feel like I kind of slept on Ware before taking some time to really examine his career. It was excellent. A four-time first-team All-Pro four times, he also earned second-team honors three more times. He twice led the league in sacks and is a member of the 100 sacks club. Oh, and he was a key member of the Broncos’ Super Bowl 50 championship team. Of the first-time eligibles, I’d give the Hall nod to Steve Smith, Ware and one other guy to be named shortly.
2) Patrick Willis, LB (San Francisco 49ers, 2007-2014): I promise you that I will get on one of these gold jacket shows on NFL Network just to ask one simple question: How is Patrick Willis not already in the Hall? He was a first-ballot guy to me. Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2007. In eight NFL seasons, he was first-team All-Pro five times. Eight years is still a pretty solid career, too. People are out here acting like he played for three years. I need to be in that room. I wouldn’t vote anybody else in until Willis got his due. Well, I’d made an exception for one man …
1) Devin Hester, WR/ST (Chicago Bears, 2006-2013; Atlanta Falcons, 2014-15; Baltimore Ravens/Seattle Seahawks, 2016): I’m not going to dignify any dissent on this matter. When you are universally regarded as the best to ever play your position, then you belong in the Hall of Fame. You can build your straw man arguments, but the numbers speak for themselves. He was one of the most feared playmakers in football. The same way defensive coordinators go into a game trying to figure out how to stop Christian McCaffrey or Jonathan Taylor, coaches were up late at night debating on how they should approach Hester as a return man. I mean, the dude basically took Rex Grossman to the Super Bowl. Had it not been for the rain in Miami, he’d likely be a Super Bowl winner. And honestly, he should be in for inspiring this epic rant from Dennis Green.
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