Skip to main content

We know who comprises the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s Class of 2022 modern-era semifinalists. The names were revealed earlier this week when the Hall announced the 26 candidates. But we don’t know much more than that, right?


It's time to take a deeper dive into the class, with an analysis of what just happened. So let's go.

BIGGEST SURPRISE – Two of the three running backs. One is Eddie George. He’s never been a semifinalist before. The other is Ricky Watters. He’s been a semifinalist once, but that was 2020. Then he disappeared a year later. Now, both are eligible for two of the 15 finalists’ spots, and hallelujah. George ran for 10,441 yards, with 1,000 or more in seven of his nine NFL seasons. Watters accumulated nearly 15,000 scrimmage yards, scored 91 times and won a Super Bowl ring. Both are longshots for Canton, but they deserve to be here.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT – The absence of Leslie O’Neal. The guy’s tied for 14th among the all-time sack leaders with 132-1/2 … or as many as first-ballot Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor. Now let’s get something straight: O’Neal wasn’t L.T. But he was good enough to merit a Hall-of-Fame debate as a finalist. Sadly, he hasn’t gotten one. In fact, voters barely recognize him, making him a semifinalist just once (2018). Don’t ask me why. All I know is that he has two more years of modern-era eligibility before vanishing in the deep end of the senior pool.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT II – Linebacker Cornelius Bennett. The two-time UPI AFC Defensive Player of the Year was a first-time semifinalist last year. Now, he’s nowhere to be found, the only eligible semifinalist from 2021 who didn’t make the cut again. He was a three-time first-team All-Pro, five-time Pro Bowler and member of the 1990s’ all-decade team. Yet he gets as much attention as O’Neal.

Read More

MOST LIKELY FIRST-BALLOT ENSHRINEE – There are seven candidates in their first years of eligibility, with former pass rusher DeMarcus Ware the most attractive. Reason: He had 138-1/2 career sacks, or one fewer than Jason Taylor … and Taylor was a first-ballot choice in 2017. Plus, there’s this: Every Hall-of-Fame-eligible player ahead of Ware already is in Canton. Ware checks all the boxes: A nine-time Pro Bowler, seven-time All-Pro (including four first-team designations), ninth all-time in sacks, all-decade choice and a Super Bowl winner. Voters love first-ballot Hall of Famers, choosing 10 the past five years – or half the modern-era field. Ware may be the next.

RICHEST POSITION – Linebacker. There are four, and look at the names: Sam Mills, Zach Thomas, Patrick Willis and Ware. Mills and Thomas were finalists the past two years. In fact, Thomas made the cut to 10 each time and is among the frontrunners for election in 2022. You already know about Ware. Then there’s Willis. He’s only been eligible two years and was a semifinalist each time. But he didn’t go farther. Now look at the resume: In eight NFL seasons he was Defensive Rookie of the Year, a six-time All-Pro (including five times as a first-team choice), seven-time Pro Bowler, two-time leader in tackles and an all-decade selection. All four candidates could move on as finalists.

ANOTHER WR GRIDLOCK IS ABOUT TO BEGIN – No position has more candidates than wide receiver. There are six, and you can make a case for each – including 2021 finalists Torry Holt and Reggie Wayne. Now you add Anquan Boldin, Andre Johnson, Steve Smith and Hines Ward, and you see why voters fear a logjam that makes the Andre Reed-Cris Carter-Tim Brown stalemate look facile by comparison. With the NFL tilted heavily toward the passing game, more and more receivers with inflated numbers are going to appear. This is the first wave.

GETTING IT RIGHT – Nice to see Cincinnati’s Willie Anderson back on this list for a second consecutive year. Anderson was a right tackle and so accomplished that Hall-of-Famer Michael Strahan said he has “to be right there as the best right tackle of his generation.” Strahan should know. He never had a sack vs. Anderson. One problem: Voters are more partial to left tackles, as they may (will?) prove with Tony Boselli in 2022. Nevertheless, there’s another reason to push Anderson: Cincinnati has only one Hall of Famer who spent the bulk of his career with the franchise (Anthony Munoz), and that’s embarrassing. The Bengals deserve better. So does Anderson.

THE HESTER FACTOR – Devin Hester is one of two special teamers to make it (Steve Tasker is the other) and deserves serious Hall-of-Fame consideration. But voters have been slow to respond to specialists, with just three (kickers Jan Stenerud and Morten Andersen and punter Ray Guy) enshrined. Nowhere in there can you find a return specialist. That’s because none has been considered, including Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, who along with Hester was named to the NFL’s 100th anniversary team. So where does that leave Hester? We won’t have long to find out.

WHERE HAVE ALL THE QBs GONE? —We've had two quarterbacks enshrined the past five years (Kurt Warner and Peyton Manning) and, granted, the cupboard isn’t exactly full. But tell me why Randall Cunningham and/or Donovan McNabb aren’t worthy of making it this far. Cunningham was 82-52-1 as a starter and was a dual threat, rushing for nearly 5,000 yards. McNabb quarterbacked the Eagles to five conference championship games in eight years (including four in consecutive seasons), took them to the Super Bowl, was a six-time Pro Bowler and had his number 5 retired by the Eagles. Neither he nor Cunningham has been a semifinalist, and Cunningham is running out of time. He has four years of modern-era eligibility left.