Quarterback Peyton Manning, defensive back Charles Woodson and wide receiver Calvin Johnson are among eight players in their first years of eligibility named Tuesday to the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s list of 25 semifinalists … and no surprise there.
Manning and Woodson are slam dunks to be first-ballot Hall of Famers, while Johnson is a possibility. But the rest of the first-year group? Not so much. They are defensive back Eric Allen, defensive end Jared Allen, offensive tackle Willie Anderson, linebacker Cornelius Bennett and safety Rodney Harrison.
Also, no surprise in some of the returning names – including all of the Class-of-2020 finalists who were not elected. That includes safeties John Lynch and LeRoy Butler, offensive linemen Alan Faneca and Tony Boselli, defensive linemen Richard Seymour and Bryant Young, linebackers Zach Thomas and Sam Mills, wide receivers Torry Holt and Reggie Wayne.
This is Lynch’s ninth consecutive year as a semifinalist and the sixth for Faneca and Boselli.
All were chosen from a preliminary list of 130 candidates.
Other notables among the 25 semifinalists include special-teams candidate Steve Tasker and linebacker Clay Matthews. While this is Tasker’s eighth turn as a semifinalist, he's never been a Hall-of-Fame finalist. It is Matthews’ fifth time as a semifinalist, and – like Tasker – he, too, never made the cut to the final 15.
Moreover, this is Matthews’ last year of eligibility as a modern-era candidate.
So what does that mean? Modern-era players have 20 years of eligibility and do not become candidates until five years after retirement. Manning, Woodson and Johnson, for instance, all retired in 2016 – or following the 2015 season. If they are not chosen within those 20 years, they move to the senior pool of candidates – which is deep with Hall-of-Fame worthy choices and reduced to only one induction per year.
Choices for the Class of 2021 were made by the Hall-of-Fame’s 48-member board of selectors, who next vote on 15 finalists for presentation on Feb. 6, the day prior to Super Bowl LV. An announcement on the finalists is expected in early January.
Of course, that can wait. The semifinalists cannot. Here, then, are the 25:
QB (1) – Peyton Manning.
Analysis: Duh. First-ballot cinch.
RB (1) – Fred Taylor
Analysis: Bit of a surprise, though he was a first-time semifinalist for the Class of 2020. He ranks 17th on the all-time rushing list, with 11,795 yards.
WR (4) – Torry Holt, Calvin Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Hines Ward
Analysis – Holt and Wayne were first-time finalists a year ago and probably make the next cut. Johnson will, too. The only question: Does Megatron join Manning and Woodson as first-ballot Hall-of-Famers? This is the fifth consecutive year Ward has been a semifinalist, so maybe he makes the jump this time. One problem: The competition. It will be tough to name all four wideouts to a group of 15 ... and you have to believe the other three will be ticketed.
OL (3) –Willie Anderson, Tony Boselli, Alan Faneca
Analysis – The surprise here? Willie Anderson. And hallelujah. No team has been short-changed more by Canton than the Cincinnati Bengals, and you can look it up. They have one Hall of Famer who spent most of his career with the franchise, and that’s Anthony Munoz, widely considered the best tackle ever. Anderson is worthy and, unlike most of the tackles considered in recent years, he played the right side. Faneca and Boselli will make the cut to 15, and one – or both -- should make it to Canton in 2021. Now I know what you’re thinking: Have voters ever chosen two offensive linemen in one class? Yes. They just don’t do it often. The last time it happened with modern-era choices was 2013 when Larry Allen and Jonathan Ogden were inducted.
DL (3) – Jared Allen, Richard Seymour, Bryant Young
Analysis – Allen’s inclusion was expected. An edge pass rusher, his 136 career sacks rank 12th on the all-time list and are three-and-a-half fewer than Jason Taylor. Two reasons those two items are significant: 1) Every Hall-of-Fame-eligible pass rusher ahead him has been inducted, and 2) Taylor (who was an edge pass rusher, too) was a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Seymour and Young were defensive tackles, and both are worthy. One may make it to Canton in 2021, with Seymour – a Top-10 finisher this year – the early favorite.
LB (5) – Cornelius Bennett, Clay Matthews, Sam Mills, Zach Thomas, Patrick Willis.
Analysis – Another surprise here: Bennett. And another welcome one. He was a five-time Pro Bowler, three-time All-Pro and two-time AFC Defensive Player of the Year. He also played on all four Bills’ Super Bowl teams. Matthews is the sentimental favorite to break through to Canton, and count me in. It’s his last year of eligibility, and I’d like to hear his case discussed. Willis is a more intriguing case. He had a relatively short career (7-1/2 seasons) before retiring, yet was a seven-time Pro Bowler and six-time All-Pro, including five first-team selections. This is his second turn as a semifinalist, but I'd expect him to move forward. Productivity, we've learned, trumps longevity with Hall voters.
DB (7) – Eric Allen, Ronde Barber, LeRoy Butler, Rodney Harrison, John Lynch, Charles Woodson, Darren Woodson.
Analysis – This is the most scrutinized category, mostly because of Lynch. He’s expected to be a finalist for the eighth straight year and was a Top-10 choice in 2020. The question is: Is this the year he finally breaks through. But what about Butler? He’s the only first-team all-decade player from the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s missing from Canton … and he hadn’t been a finalist until this year, his 14th year of eligibility. Good to have both Woodsons involved, and maybe, just maybe, Darren makes the jump this time. A five-time semifinalist, he was a first-team All-Pro four times and starter on all three Dallas Super Bowl champions in the 1990s. I’d just like to hear his case. Having Allen and Harrison join the party is welcome. Allen was a six-time Pro Bowler, three-time All-Pro and a guy who had 54 career interceptions – good enough for 21st on the all-time list. Plus, he scored nine defensive TDs – including three interception returns in two separate seasons. Harrison was a four-time All-Pro who was so invaluable he was named to two 50th anniversary teams – the Chargers and New England Patriots.
PK (1) – Steve Tasker
Analysis – Bills’ fans will tell you he belongs in the Pro Football of Fame, and he probably does. One problem: Voters are reluctant to induct special teamers. It took them over five decades to act on someone other than kicker Jan Stenerud … and then it was only because it was punter Ray Guy, one of two members then of the NFL’s 75th anniversary team NOT in Canton. Now there are three specialists, with Morten Andersen inducted in 2017. That’s it.