NFL 2022-2023 Pro Football Hall of Fame Predictions

NFL 2022-2023 Pro Football Hall of Fame Predictions

LOS ANGELES, February 7, 2023 — On Sunday, Super Bowl LVII (57) in Phoenix will conclude by crowning the champion of the 2022 National Football League season. The winning team has bragging rights to having the best football players on the field this season. On the Thursday before the game, several retired NFL players and contributors will join the greatest team ever for all eternity. They will join the roster of all-time gridiron greats in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (HOF) in Canton, Ohio.

Forty-six sportswriters will meet in a secret location either in person or virtually to discuss each nominee. In the football equivalent of an underground bunker, vigorous debates will take place. At the conclusion of their deliberations, America will have seven or eight new Hall of Fame nominees.

The forty-six voting sportswriters began with a list of 100 names. They later chopped it down to 25. Recently, they whittled it down to 15 player finalists plus one senior nominee, one contributor nominee, and one head coaching nominee.

Lists of any kind are always controversial because, in the end, they are subjective. Once again, some individuals who absolutely deserve to be in the HOF immediately continue to be shunned. The separate categories for contributors allows more nominees to get in. Thankfully, the Hall of Fame finally listened to reason in 2021 and put coaches in a separate category from players.

Currently, the Pro Football Hall of Fame designates no category at all for assistant coaches. This must change in future years. Also, it is ludicrous that former San Diego Chargers coach Don “Air” Coryell is still waiting to get into the Hall of Fame. 

Most if not all of the current 18 remaining Hall of Fame nominees genuinely deserve to get in. The real issue becomes who deserves to get in right now.

That said, every year produces one or two no-brainers. When sportswriters nominated Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith and Ray Lewis, those discussions probably took 60 seconds.

So without further ado, here is the list of the 18 Pro Football Hall of Fame finalists and what should happen this year if any justice remains in this world.

Devin Hester, PR/KR/WR — 2006-2013 Chicago Bears, 2014-2015 Atlanta Falcons, 2016 Baltimore Ravens, 2016 Seattle Seahawks

As a wide receiver, Hester was at best mediocre. As a return man, Hester was the very best the NFL has ever seen. Football games are won and lost because of turnovers and field position. Hester affected field position. He is the only player in Super Bowl history to return the opening kickoff for a touchdown. He has the most touchdown returns in NFL history, but his impact goes beyond that. Opposing coaches feared Hester. “Do not kick the ball to Devin Hester” became a popular exclamation. Attempts at avoiding kicking to Hester caused kickers to send the ball out of bounds, setting up offenses at their own 40 yard line. Hester should have been a first ballot Hall of Famer last year because he caused the entire league to alter their special teams in a way not seen since he retired. Hester immediately gets in. 

Ronde Barber, CB/S. 1997-2012 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, and John Lynch were the big three, but if a fourth member of the 2002 Buccaneers defense gets in, it should be Barber. If one play defines the greatness of a team, it has to be Barber’s 92 yard interception return that locked up the 2002 NFC Title Game and sent the Pirates of Pewter Power to their first Super Bowl. The history of the NFL cannot be told without that play that turned the laughingstock of the league into World champions. Teams regularly employ the Tampa 2 defense. When an entire defensive strategy is named after the team you played on, you are a Hall of Famer. Barber deserves to get in and will get in. 

Zach Thomas, LB. 1996-2007 Miami Dolphins, 2008 Dallas Cowboys

Thomas was the lead anchor on a solid Miami defense that lacked offensive firepower after Dan Marino retired in 1999. Thomas never got to a Super Bowl or even an AFC Title Game, but the offense was not his responsibility. His teammate Jason Taylor got in, and Thomas was better than Taylor. Thomas is a classic case of someone deserving to get in but who gets crowded out by those who must get in immediately. That logjam has finally been broken. Thomas finally gets in.

Joe Thomas, OT — 2007-2017 Cleveland Browns. 

Thomas was the ultimate lunch pail guy. He never played in a playoff game. The Browns went 10-6 in his rookie season but lost the tie-breaker. After that came 10 straight losing seasons. Yet Thomas is the only offensive lineman to ever make the Pro Bowl every year in his first 10 years. He played in 10,363 straight snaps without missing a single snap, an NFL record with no close second. In his first year of eligibility, the ultimate winner on America’s most lovable losers deserves his due. Thomas gets in. 

Albert Lewis, CB — 1983-1993 Kansas City Chiefs, 1994-1998 Los Angeles Raiders

Lewis terrorized opposing defenses. Although he never got to the Super Bowl, he did record 42 interceptions in his 16 year career. As great as he was as a ballhawk in the secondary, he was even greater on special teams. He blocked 11 kicks in his career. He was one of the best special teams players of all time, and his blocked punts affected several games. In his final season at age 38, he became the oldest player in NFL history to return an interception for a touchdown. It was the only interception return touchdown in his career. He also forced 13 fumbles and recovered 13 fumbles. 25 years after he retired, he has finally been nominated for the first time to the Hall of Fame. Based on his versatility from defense to special teams, he deserves to get in. He will. 

Andre Johnson, WR — 2003-2014 Houston Texans, 2015 Indianapolis Colts, 2016 Tennessee Titans

Andre Johnson never made it to an AFC Title Game, much less a Super Bowl. On the other hand, try to remember who was throwing him the football. The best of the bunch was Matt Schaub, who managed to throw a pick six in four straight games. Johnson also caught passes from David Carr and Sage Rosenfels. In Johnson’s final season in Houston, he caught passes from Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett and Case Keenum. Johnson made seven Pro Bowls and holds every meaningful Texans franchise receiving record. He was the first player ever inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor. Johnson has more receiving yards than James Lofton and Cris Carter, who are both in the Hall of Fame. Lofton and Carter also had better quarterbacks throwing them the ball. Johnson deserved to get in last year on his first ballot. On merit alone, he deserves to get in this year. Yet due to several players who have been unjustly waiting forever, Johnson will have to wait one more year. He must get in next year. 

DeMarcus Ware, LB — 2005-2013 Dallas Cowboys, 2014-2016 Denver Broncos

DeMarcus Ware is a nominee because he deserves to be. All of the nominees deserve to be. The issue is whether Ware deserves to be in now. This is his second year on the ballot. In the 1970s, the Cowboys were known for having the Doomsday Defense. Try remembering something distinguishing about the Dallas defense while Ware was there. People remember the offense in those years, led by Tony Romo. Ware did win a Super Bowl with the 2015 Broncos, but that team was led by Von Miller and coordinated by one of the greatest defensive coordinators in league history in Wade Phillips. Ware does hold the Cowboys franchise record for sacks, but nothing about his career says he must be enshrined right now. He waits. 

Reggie Wayne, Wide Receiver – 2001-2014 Indianapolis Colts

Wayne caught a lot of passes from Peyton Manning, but so did many other receivers. Wayne was a reliable receiver, but he was not the top receiver on those Colts teams. That was Marvin Harrison, who is already in. Those Colts teams dominated the regular season but only won one Super Bowl. Reggie Wayne was not Calvin Johnson, which explains why Wayne has waited. Johnson got in two in years ago. Now another Johnson in Andre stands in his way. Wayne will continue to wait at least until Andre Johnson gets in.

Torry Holt, WR. 1999-2008 St. Louis Rams; 2009 Jacksonville Jaguars

Holt was a key receiver on the “Greatest Show on Turf.” His quarterback Kurt Warner is in. Running back Marshall Faulk is in. Left tackle Orlando Pace is in. Receiver Isaac Bruce got in two years ago. From 1999 through 2001, the Rams offense scored at will. It was right to put Bruce in to the HOF before Holt. Like Reggie Wayne, Holt was the number two receiver on his team. Holt also got crowded out two years ago by Calvin Johnson and gets bumped until Andre Johnson gets in. Holt waits.

Jared Allen, DE. 2004-07 Kansas City Chiefs, 2008-2013 Minnesota Vikings, 2014-15 Chicago Bears, 2015 Carolina Panthers

Cruel misfortune denied Allen a Super Bowl ring. In the 2009 NFC Title Game, Brett Favre threw an interception rather than run out of bounds and let his kicker try a game winning field goal. The Vikings lost in overtime on a field goal without ever touching the ball, leading to the overtime rule change giving each team one chance with the ball (barring a touchdown on the opening drive). In his final game, the 15-1 Panthers lost the Super Bowl. Von Miller suffocated Cam Newton, allowing Peyton Manning to retire on top rather than Allen. In 2011, Allen had 22 sacks, only 1/2 a sack shy of the single season record. He will get in at some point, but too many players crowd him out this year.

Patrick Willis, LB — 2007-2014 San Francisco 49ers

Willis was part of a nasty 49ers defense that went to three straight NFC Title Games. The 49ers won ugly, with the defense leading the team. Willis made the Pro Bowl seven straight years to start his career. His injury-plagued eighth season was his last. Like Boselli, Willis would have benefitted from a longer body of work. To be fair, Terrell Davis and Gale Sayers only played six seasons apiece. Yet they were indispensable to the success of their teams, particularly Davis. Willis was on a team that was loaded with defensive talent that did not win a Super Bowl. After a couple of lean years, the 49ers soon returned to tough defense with other players. Willis does not stand out enough, so he waits. 

Willie Anderson, OT — 1996-2007 Cincinnati Bengals, 2008 Baltimore Ravens

In his favor is his only allowing 16 total sacks in his 13 seasons. He faced off against nine of the top 11 sack leaders of all time and only allowed one total sack from them. That came in his rookie season against. Bruce Smith. This is another example of a worthy player who has faced stiff competition. He was not the best tackle in Bengals history. That would be Anthony Munoz, who is in the Hall of Fame. Anderson was not an equal to his contemporaries Walter Jones, Jonathan Ogden or Orlando Pace. They are all in. Anderson never reached a Super Bowl or even an AFC Title Game, but he played on a team that for years was known as the Bungles. It would be a feel-good story if Anderson got in the HOF in the same year the Bengals reached consecutive AFC Title Games for the first time, but Anderson will have to wait. Joe Thomas merits getting in first. 

Dwight Freeney, DE — 2002-2012 Indianapolis Colts, 2013-2014 San Diego Chargers, 2015 Arizona Cardinals, 2016 Atlanta Falcons, 2017 Seattle Seahawks/Detroit Lions. Freeney got to two Super Bowls with the Colts, winning it all in 2006. Freeney got to the NFC Title Game with the Cardinals and to the Super Bowl with the Falcons. He was part of the Atlanta defense that blew a 28-3 third quarter Super Bowl lead. In his 16 seasons, he only played a full 16 games in seven of those seasons. When people think of the Colts, they think of Peyton Manning and the offense. The defense continually ranked neat the bottom. Freeney waits. 

Darrelle Revis, CB — 2007-2012 New York Jets, 2013 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2014 New England Patriots, 2015-2016 New York Jets, 2017 Kansas City Chiefs. This is a case of celebrity giving a player a higher profile than is deserved. For a few years, he truly was Revis Island. Yet after back to back AFC Title Games in 2009 and 2010, Revis regressed. He won a Super Bowl with the Patriots, but he was just a role player at that point. They did not even pick up his option to return after they won. His number of good years was five at most, followed by six mostly mediocre years. He was overrated. Other cornerbacks merit inclusion before him. 

Darren Woodson, S — 1992-2003 Dallas Cowboys. Woodson was the longest tenured player from the Dallas dynasty that won three Super Bowls in 1992, 1993 and 1995. He played under five coaches in his career. He excelled under Jimmy Johnson, Barry swather, Chan Gailey, Dave Campo and Bill Parcells. He was a hard-hitting safety who played in all 16 games for each of his first five seasons and in eight of the 12 seasons he played. He deserves to get in soon, but he is crowded out for now. 

Don Coryell, Coach Finalist

It is time to correct one of the biggest injustices in Pro Football Hall of Fame history. The leader of “Air Coryell” should have been enshrined decades ago. The knock on him is that he never reached the Super Bowl. The rebuttal is that it is impossible to tell the story of the NFL without him. Coryell and Al Davis were disciples of the legendary Sid Gilman. Gilman and Davis are both already in the Hall of Fame. 

It is one thing to take over a really good team and get them to the next level. Coryell took over losers and turned them into winners. He took the laughingstock St. Louis Cardinals to the playoffs, unleashing quarterback Jim Hart. He took the lowly San Diego Chargers to consecutive AFC Title Games. His Air Coryell quarterback Dan Fouts was a first ballot Hall of Famer in 1993. Wide receiver Charlie Joiner and tight end Kellen Winslow are in. It is long past time that the mastermind behind one of the greatest offenses the football world has ever seen gets in.  

One of Coryell’s disciples was Mike Martz. Martz was the St. Louis Rams Mad Scientist offensive coordinator during the “Greatest Show on Turf” years. Martz’s quarterback, running back, wide receiver and offensive tackle all got in the Hall of Fame, as did their coach Dick Vermeil last year. Everyone connected to Coryell knows that he took what Gilman taught him and revolutionized the passing game. He threw the ball all the time and changed the way offense is played. Again, he must get in. It should be unanimous.

Senior Finalists: 

Chuck Howley, Outside Linebacker (Chicago Bears 1958-1959, Dallas Cowboys 1961-1973). His story is inspiring. A serious knee injury had him quitting football after only two years. Yet after taking an entire year off, he came back and played another 13 seasons. He was part of some of the most important games in NFL history. He probably would have gotten in earlier had the Cowboys not lost so many heartbreakers. They were defeated in the 1966 and 1967 NFL Championship games against Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers. Both losses came on the final play, with the latter game being the famous “Ice Bowl.” Then in Super bowl V in 1970, the Cowboys lost to the Colts, also on the final play. That game was known as the “Blunder Bowl.” Yet Howley was the MVP of that game. He remains the only Super bowl MVP to play for the losing side. He finally got his Super Bowl ring when the 1971 Cowboys won it all in Super Bowl VI. He won many games and was consequential to the story of the NFL. Howley merits enshrinement.

Joe Klecko, Defensive end/tackle and nose guard (New York Jets 1977-1987, Indianapolis Colts 1988). Klecko was part of the feared quartet known as the New York Sack Exchange along with Mark Gastineau, Abdul Salaam and Marty Lyons. Klecko is the only player in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl at three different positions. Some voters may be tempted to vote against Klecko due to criminal acts he committed after leaving football. Yet he should only be judged based on his on the field performance. Under Klecko, the Jets only made the AFC Title Game once, a losing effort in the Miami mud. That was during a strike-shortened season where Klecko missed most of the season. Klecko was a very good player, but the Hall of Very Good is not the Hall of Fame. It’s a very close call. Klecko is famous for his appearance in several Burt Reynolds movies, but celebrity should not be a factor. Again, making the Pro Bowl at three separate positions is the biggest selling point for those in the pro-Klecko corner. Klecko may get in at some point, but keeping him out for now could be justified. 

Ken Riley, Cornerback (Cincinnati Bengals 1968-1983).  Despite being a standout quarterback in college, Riley was an NFL cornerback and played in seven playoff games in 15 seasons. He made it to one Super Bowl. He even had two interceptions in his final regular season game. Since Riley retired in 1983, only Rod Woodson has had more interceptions. While he does not receive as much fame or notoriety as Deion Sanders or Dick “Night Train Lane,” Riley did have 65 interceptions. at the time of his retirement, that was the fourth most in NFL history. The three players ahead of him, Lane, Emlen Tunnell and Paul Krause are all in the Hall of Fame. Riley also had 18 fumble recoveries. Additionally, he was a special teams ace who was used on kickoff returns. The case against Riley would be that he never made the Pro Bowl. Yet he played on some terrible Bengals teams, causing many Pro Bowl voters to ignore the Bengals altogether. Riley’s body of work is worthy of inclusion. He should get in.  

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