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Predicting Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2022

Vincent Frank

The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced its list of 122 modern-era candidates for the class of 2022 on Wednesday. That included 10 first-time eligible players.

Typically, eight modern players and/or coaches are inducted each year. This past summer was headlined by the likes of Peyton Manning.

While there’s no sure-fire first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famers on the list for 2022, there’s a ton of top-end candidates. Below, we predict the eight that will be inducted in Canton next summer.

Steve Smith, wide receiver, Carolina Panthers/Baltimore Ravens

pro football hall of fame: steve smith
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

A third-round pick of the Carolina Panthers back in 2001, Smith had been seen as too small (5-foot-9) to make it in the NFL. He more than made up for that lack of size by boasting a passion for the game few could scarcely imagine. It led to a tremendous amount of production in stints with the Panthers and Ravens.

Throughout his 16-year career, Smith put up eight 1,000-yard seasons. Back in 2005, he led the NFL in receptions (103), receiving yards (1,563) and touchdowns (12). He finished his career 12th on the all-time list in receptions and eighth in receiving yards. Those are Pro Football Hall of Fame numbers.

Related: Top 100 players in the NFL today

Tony Boselli, offensive tackle, Jacksonville Jaguars/Houston Texans

pro football hall of fame: tony boselli

The No. 2 overall pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars back in 1995 (their first ever draft pick), Boselli is hurt to an extent by the face that his career was cut short due to injuries. Having played just seven NFL seasons, he’s been bypassed by the Pro Football Hall of Fame every year since 2009.

With that said, we’re talking about a dude who earned Pro Bowl honors as a left tackle each of his final five seasons in the league. During this span, the Southern California product was the single-best offensive lineman in the game.

Patrick Willis, linebacker, San Francisco 49ers

pro football hall of fame: patrick willis
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Yet another player who has been hurt by his seemingly short career, Willis was among the most-dominant defensive players when he suited up for San Francisco from 2007-14. This included him earning Pro Bowl honors in each of his seven full seasons by the bay.

Related: Ranking NFL defenses in 2021

All said, Willis recorded 100-plus tackles six times, leading the league in that category twice. He spearheaded a dominant 49ers defense that led the team to the Super Bowl back in 2012 and boasts a career approximate value of 108, per Pro Football Reference. For comparison’s sake, Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher had an AV of 152 despite playing five more seasons than Willis.

Andre Johnson, wide receiver, Houston Texans/Indianapolis Colts/Tennessee Titans

pro football hall of fame: andre johnson
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Typically, one wide receiver makes his way to Canton on an annual basis. We’re predicting this to change in 2022 with so many qualified candidates. That includes this seven-time Pro Bowl performer.

The Texans’ No. 3 pick in 2003, Johnson recorded seven 1,000-yard seasons while leading the NFL in that category in 2008 and 2009. The Miami (F) product finished his NFL career ranked 11th in both receptions and receiving yards. Yeah, those are Pro Football Hall of Fame numbers.

DeMarcus Ware, EDGE, Dallas Cowboys/Denver Broncos

pro football hall of fame: demarcus ware
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Eligible for the Hall for the first time, there was a good six-year span that Ware was the most-dominant defensive player in the entire NFL. A former first-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys, Ware recorded a combined 173 quarterback hits, 121 tackles for loss, 103 sacks and 29 forced fumbles from 2006-12.

After playing the final three seasons of his career with the Denver Broncos, Ware finished ninth on the all-time NFL sack list. Those certainly are Canton-worthy numbers.

Torry Holt, wide receiver, St. Louis Rams/Jacksonville Jaguars

pro football hall of fame: torry holt
Eric Parsons / The Tennessean, Nashville Tennessean via Imagn Content Services, LLC

One-fourth of the Greatest Show on Turf during his time with the St. Louis Rams, Holt never really received the appreciation he deserved throughout his career. That went to the likes of Marshall Faulk and Isaac Bruce.

Even then, we’re talking about a guy who tallied eight 1,000-yard seasons in his 11-year career. That included leading the NFL in receiving yards in both 2000 and 2003. Once the North Carolina State product called it quits, he ranked 16th in league history in receptions and 21st in receiving yards.

Zach Thomas, linebacker, Miami Dolphins/Dallas Cowboys

pro football hall of fame: zach thomas
Photo by Craig Melvin/USA TODAY Sports

Understated, but dynamic. That’s the best way to describe this former fifth-round pick from Texas Tech. Seen as undersized (5-foot-11), he clogged the middle in South Beach during a 12-year career with the Dolphins.

That span included Thomas earning seven Pro Bowl appearances and five All-Pro honors. He was also named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Team of the 2000’s, which should tell us all we need to know about his status.

Ronde Barber, cornerback, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

pro football hall of fame; ronde barber
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It’s an absolute shame that Barber has not made his way into the Hall of Fame nearly a decade after retiring from the game. A third-round pick out of Virginia back in 1997, this dude earned five Pro Bowl honors and helped lead one of the most-dominant defenses in NFL history during his stint with the Buccaneers.

Like Thomas, Barber was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Team of the 2000’s, proving his status as a truly elite corner during his playing days. When all was said and done, Barber recorded 47 career interceptions.