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Seven first-year eligible players – including DeMarcus Ware, Devin Hester and Andre Johnson – are among the 26 semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s modern-era Class of 2022. Also included are Anquan Boldin, Robert Mathis, Steve Smith and Vince Wilfork.

All seven were chosen by the Hall’s board of 49 selectors from a group of 123 preliminary candidates and move forward to the next cut -- with the list reduced to 15 finalists, expected to be announced in early January.

Seven first-year eligibles is noteworthy, but not necessarily a surprise. But this is: Running backs Eddie George and Ricky Watters made the first cut, too. George has never been a Hall-of-Fame semifinalist, while Watters was named one for only the second time.

He was previously a semifinalist in 2020 and has never been a finalist.

The breakdown between offensive and defensive candidates was close, with 11 chosen for offense and 13 for defense. Only two candidates – kick returner Devin Hester and Steve Tasker – belong to special teams.

Also of note: Of the 26 candidates for the Class of 2022, 17 were semifinalists a year ago.

The Hall’s board of selectors will choose the modern-era Class of 2022 prior to Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles, with an announcement live on the “NFL Honors” broadcast on Thursday, Feb. 10. Included in that vote will be finalists from the senior (Cliff Branch), coaches (Dick Vermeil) and contributor (Art McNally) categories.

The Class of 2022 will be enshrined in Canton in early August, with Aug. 6 the anticipated date.

Here, then, are the 26 semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s modern-era class of 2022.

OFFENSE (11)

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RB (3) – Eddie George, Fred Taylor, Ricky Watters.

WR (6) – Anquan Boldin, * Torry Holt, Andre Johnson, Steve Smith, Hines Ward,* Reggie Wayne.

OL -- Willie Anderson (T), * Tony Boselli (T).

DEFENSE (13)

DL (5) – * Jared Allen (DE), Robert Mathis (DE), * Richard Seymour (DT), Vince Wilfork, Bryant Young (DT).

LB (4) – * Sam Mills, * Zach Thomas, DeMarcus Ware, Patrick Willis.

DB (4) – Eric Allen (CB), * Ronde Barber (CB),* LeRoy Butler (S), Darren Woodson.

SPECIAL TEAMS (2)

Devin Hester (also WR), Steve Tasker (also WR).

Denotes 2021 finalist