Analyzing the 2023 NFL Hall of Fame finalists
The Pro Football Hall of Fame released its list of finalists yesterday. It includes three players in their first year of eligibility — Joe Thomas, Darrelle Revis and Dwight Freeney — and household names like DeMarcus Ware, Jared Allen and Zach Thomas.
But not all of the 15 modern day finalists will get elected into the HOF. Who deserves to go in? Let’s take a look:
Jared Allen, DE
Splitting the bulk of his career between Minnesota and Kansas City, Allen twice led the NFL in sacks, totaling 136 of them in his career (good for 12th overall, going by official stats). He’s a four-time first team All-Pro who is tied for the most safeties in NFL history.
Does he belong? Probably not. While dominant at times, he’s right on the edge of a HOF-level number of sacks. Allen was never part of a Super Bowl team and his production dipped significantly after his final season in Minnesota.
Willie Anderson, OT
A first round pick in the 1996 pick by Cincinnati, Anderson anchored the Bengals’ offensive line for 12 seasons and earned three first team All-Pro selections. He started 184 games for the Bengals and the Ravens and was named to Pro Football Reference’s All-Decade Team for the 2000s.
Does he belong? Probably. The Bengals had 1,000 yard rushers almost every single season of Anderson’s tenure (Corey Dillon, Rudi Johnson) and that kind of longevity is impressive at tackle. It’s difficult to judge offensive lineman, since there are so few stats to compare, but it’s clear he was one of the best at his position in his era.
Ronde Barber, DB
Part of a shutdown Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense for his entire 16-year career, Barber earned three first team All-Pro selections and a spot on the HOF’s All-2000s team. Barber (whose twin brother, Tiki, had an illustrious career with the New York Giants), was remarkably versatile, finishing with 47 interceptions, over 1,000 solo tackles (tenth all-time), 28 sacks, 15 forced fumbles, 12 recovered fumbles and four touchdowns.
Does he belong? Yes. While he certainly benefited from playing with other great defenders like Warren Sapp and John Lynch, Barber’s longevity, versatility and dominance seal him as a Hall of Famer.
Dwight Freeney, DE
A fearsome edge rusher who spent the bulk of his career with the Indianapolis Colts, Freeney racked up 125.5 sacks and is third in NFL history with 47 forced fumbles. A three-time All-Pro and member of the Colts’ 2006 Super Bowl Team and the HOF’s All-2000s team, Freeney was an effective pass rusher well into his 30s.
Does he belong? No. Freeney is similar to Allen (and if you feel Allen should be in, then you should feel the same way about Freeney). He was more effective over a longer period of time than Allen, but was arguably less dominant in his best seasons.
Devin Hester, KR/PR/WR
In the pantheon of great kick returners, Hester belongs at the top along with Brian Mitchell and Joshua Cribbs. A three-time All-Pro and a member of the NFL’s All-Time team, Hester holds the NFL record for most punt return touchdowns with a whopping 14.
He’s third all-time in career punt return yardarge, twice led the NFL in kick return yards and has five kick return touchdowns as well. Hester added 3,311 receiving yards and 16 receiving touchdowns during his 11-year career.
Does he belong? Yes. Hester is one of only two NFL players with double-digit punt return touchdowns. He made plays almost every time he touched the ball and could almost single-handedly impact the outcome of a game. There’s a high bar for special teams players to enter the HOF, and Hester clears it.
Torry Holt, WR
A member of the Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf” who twice led the NFL in receiving yards, Holt squeezed a lot of production into 11 seasons. A Super Bowl champion, All-Pro and member of the HOF’s All-2000s team, Holt caught 920 passes for 13,382 yards and 74 touchdowns. In 2003, he led the NFL with 117 receptions and almost 1,700 yards.
Does he belong? Yes. While receivers have been putting up eye-popping numbers for the past 20 years as passing attacks exploded, Holt was a dominant receiver who stretched the field and, along with Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk, headlined one of the most exciting teams in NFL history.
Andre Johnson, WR
A big (6–3, 230 lb) receiver who starred for the University of Miami before spending almost all of his 14-year career with the Houston Texans, Johnson twice led the NFL in receptions and yards and was selected to two All-Pro teams.
Does he belong? Probably. Johnson’s case is hindered by three things: he battled injuries his entire career, losing 22 games during his prime; he only caught 70 touchdowns and never double-digits scores; and he played for a bad Houston Texans franchise.
Despite that, he still caught over a thousand passes for 14,185 yards, good for 11th in NFL history in both categories.
Albert Lewis, CB
Lewis was a fixture in the AFC, spending 11 seasons with the Chiefs and five with the Raiders. A two-time All-Pro, Lewis recorded 42 interceptions.
Does he belong? No. He had a nice, long career, but was never the best at his position and his overall numbers aren’t HOF worthy.
Darrelle Revis, CB
“Revis Island” was a feared, ball-hawking defensive back who quarterbacks simply stopped throwing toward. A four-time All-Pro and Super Bowl champ, Revis led the league in pass deflections in 2009 and returned from an injury suffered in 2002 to have productive stints in Tampa Bay, New England and the Jets (for a second time).
Does he belong? Yes. While his career stats seem a little bare, that’s in large part because he was a dominant cover corner, one of the best of his era. That’s why he’s a part of the HOF’s All-2000s team along with Patrick Patterson and Richard Sherman. At his peak, he was better than both of them.
Joe Thomas, LT
A third round pick for Cleveland in 2007, Thomas spent his entire 11-year career with the Browns, starting every game he ever played (and all 16 games his first 10 years in the league. He made the Pro Bowl 10 times, was a six-time All-Pro and is part of the HOF’s All-2000s team.
Does he belong? Yes. 100%. End of discussion.
Zach Thomas, LB
There’s one thing a middle linebacker needs to be great at: tackling. And that’s what Zach Thomas did… a lot. He’s fifth in solo and combined tackles in NFL history, with a whopping 1,734 combined in his career. He added 20.5 sacks, 17 interceptions, 16 forced fumbles and eight recovered fumbles. But tackling the ball carrier is where he made a living.
Does he belong? Yes. A five-time All-Pro, Thomas should soon be in the Hall of Fame with his former teammate and brother-in-law, Jason Taylor. He was a durable, punishing, sideline-to-sideline linebacker. Not the best of his generation: that distinction goes to Brian Urlacher and Ray Lewis. But very, very, very good.
DeMarcus Ware, LB
Troy University has produced a surprising number of NFL players. DeMarcus Ware is the best of them all. At his peak, he was as good an edge rusher as you’ll ever see, racking up 138.5 career sacks and leading the NFL in tackles for loss three times. He led the league in sacks twice (with 20 and 15.5) and almost hit 20 sacks again in 2011.
Does he belong? Yes. The margin between Ware and Freeney/Allen is slim, but Ware had a better and longer peak. He deserves a spot in Canton.
Reggie Wayne, WR
If Marvin Harrison is the best wide receiver in the history of the Indianapolis Colts (and Peyton Manning’s most legendary target), Wayne is just hair behind him. With more than 1,000 receptions, more than 14,000 yards and a Super Bowl ring to his name, Wayne was consistently one of the best receivers in the game.
Does he belong? Yes. He’s 10th all time in receptions and yards, and while he only led the NFL in yards once, he recorded eight seasons of more than 1,000 yards receiving.
Patrick Willis, LB
Willis only played in the NFL for eight seasons, and was only healthy for seven of them. But what a career he had: seven Pro Bowls, five All-Pro selections and a Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Willis had almost 1,000 tackles in 112 games.
Does he belong? Yes. When he played, he was one of the three best players in the NFL at his position. While his career was cut short by injury, it was still magnificent.
Darren Woodson, S
A hard-hitting safety who spent his entire career in Dallas and was part of three Super Bowl-winning teams, Woodson recorded almost 1,000 combined tackles and 23 interceptions along with three All-Pro selections.
Does he belong? No. Woodson was a solid performer on some great Cowboys’ teams. But solid isn’t quite good enough for the Hall of Fame. Counterparts like Rod Woodson and Ronnie Lott were better.