Just a little over a month before the final class itself will be announced, immediately ahead of Super Bowl LVII on Feb. 12, these 15 names were announced as modern finalists. Here’s the list:
Darrelle Revis, cornerback
- Years active: 2007-17
- Teams: New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs
“Revis Island,” as he is known, was a first-round pick of the Jets out of the University of Pittsburgh back in 2007. He was dominate from the start, earning a Pro Bowl appearance as a sophomore. Revis would go on to make four consecutive Pro Bowls while also earning All-Pro status three times during that span. Revis finished his career with seven Pro Bowl nods while recording 29 interceptions.
Joe Thomas, offensive tackle
- Years active: 2007-17
- Teams: Cleveland Browns
Thomas’ tenure in Cleveland was defined by dominating individual play despite the franchise’s struggles. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft out of Wisconsin, Thomas earned a Pro Bowl spot in each of his first 10 NFL seasons before missing nine games in his final year.
A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame All-2010’s team, Thomas is considered among the best blindside protectors in the history of the game. He’s likely a first ballot Hall of Famer despite retiring relatively early at the age of 33.
Willie Anderson, offensive tackle
- Years active: 1996-2008
- Teams: Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens
How good was this former Auburn standout during his 13 seasons in the NFL? Not only did he earn five All-Pro nods, the right tackle dominated against some of the best competition the league had to offer at the time.
Anderson, who has been Hall of Fame-eligible since 2013, faced nine of the top-11 all-time sack leaders during his career, yielding a total of one sack in the process.
Torry Holt, wide receiver
- Years active: 1999-2009
- Teams: St. Louis Rams, Jacksonville Jaguars
Holt played a starring role on the Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf” teams in St. Louis, leading the NFL in receiving yards twice. He racked up eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons from 2000-2007. He was named to the Pro Bowl seven times and helped the Rams to 2000 Super Bowl title.
A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame All-2000’s Team, Holt finished his career with the 17th-most receiving yards in NFL history.
Reggie Wayne, wide receiver
- Years active: 2001-2014
- Teams: Indianapolis Colts
A rarity in today’s NFL, Wayne played all 14 of his NFL seasons with Indianapolis after the Colts made the University of Miami product a first-round pick in 2001. After struggling during parts of his first three seasons, Wayne dominated with Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning.
From 2004-2012, Wayne averaged 92 receptions for 1,240 yards and seven touchdowns. This span saw him earn six Pro Bowl appearances and three All-Pro nods. Wayne finished his career with the 10th-most receiving yards in NFL history. He’s the only Hall-eligible player outside of Steve Smith not in Canton within the top-10 on this list.
Andre Johnson, wide receiver
- Years active: 2003-2016
- Teams: Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans
Johnson played his entire NFL career in the AFC South, primarily doing his damage with the Houston Texans after they made him the No. 3 pick back in 2003. Over the course of his first eight NFL seasons, the University of Miami product averaged 84 receptions for 1,146 yards and six touchdowns. He was among the most-intimidating offensive players during that span.
Johnson finished his career just behind Reggie Wayne on the all-time receiving yards list with 14,185. He earned seven Pro Bowl nods and led the league in receiving twice.
Jared Allen, defensive end
- Years active: 2004-2015
- Teams: Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears, Carolina Panthers
Little known coming out of Idaho State in 2004, Allen made a name for himself with both his original Chiefs team and the Vikings. The fourth-round pick earned five Pro Bowl appearances and four All-Pro nods during his career.
For a seven-year span from 2007-2013, Allen was among the most-dominating pass rushers in the modern history of the league. He recorded 179 QB hits and 101 sacks in 110 games during that span. Allen finished his career ranked 12th on the official NFL sack leaders list.
DeMarcus Ware, EDGE
- Years active: 2005-2016
- Teams: Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos
Dallas shocked the league when it selected this small-school product No. 11 overall out of Troy in 2005. From the start, Ware proved Jerry Jones and Co. right in making that call.
From 2006-12, Ware recorded 173 QB hits, 121 tackles for loss and 103 sacks. He led the league in sacks twice and tackles for loss three times during that span. The seven-time All-Pro and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame All-2000’s Team, Ware finished his career ranked ninth on the all-time sack list. Every Hall-eligible player ahead of him on the list currently has a bust in Canton.
Dwight Freeney, EDGE
- Years active: 2002-2017
- Teams: Indianapolis Colts, San Diego Chargers, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, Seattle Seahawks
Freeney might have held on to his career a bit too long. But during his heyday with the Peyton Manning and the Colts, he was one of the most-dominating edge pass rushers in modern NFL history.
From his rookie season of 2002 to 2011, Freeney represented what it meant to be consistent throughout an entire decade while still finding a way to dominate. The Syracuse product averaged double-digit sacks during that span while recording 43 forced fumbles.
Albert Lewis, defensive back
- Years active: 1983-1998
- Teams: Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Raiders, Oakland Raiders
Lewis, in his final year of eligibility, recorded 42 interceptions throughout his career while earning four consecutive Pro Bowl trips. He was named to the Chiefs 25-Year All-Time Team in 1987 and inducted into their Hall of Fame a decade later.
Ronde Barber, cornerback/safety
- Years active: 1997-2012
- Teams: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Not only was Barber dominant during his college years with Virginia, he became a menace for opposing quarterbacks after injuries limited him to just one game during his rookie season. Barber recorded multiple interceptions in a season 14 times, leading the league in that category with 10 back in 2001.
Barber was one of the leaders on a Bucs defense that found itself among the greatest of all-time en route to winning the Super Bowl following the 2002 season. He finished his career with five Pro Bowl appearances and three All-Pro nods while earning a spot on the Pro Football Hall of Fame All-2000’s Team.
Devin Hester, special teams
- Years active: 2006-2016
- Teams: Chicago Bears, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Seattle Seahawks
Very few pure specialists find have earned a spot in Canton. But Hester was no ordinary special teams player. A former second-round pick in 2006 out of the University of Miami, Hester dominated almost from the start.
He earned four Pro Bowl appearances and three All-Pro nods while making two different Pro Football Hall of Fame All-Decade teams. He ranks first all-time in punt returns for touchdowns, third in punt return yards and ninth in kick return touchdowns.
Zach Thomas, linebacker
- Years active: 1996-2008
- Teams: Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys
Considered undersized coming out of Texas Tech back in 1996, the 5-foot-11 Thomas earned seven Pro Bowl appearances and was a five-time All-Pro in Miami.
Thomas recorded triple-digit tackles 10 times while leading the NFL in that category twice. He finished his career ranked fifth in league history in both solo tackles and overall tackles. Not bad for a fifth-round pick few thought too much about leading up to the 1996 NFL Draft.
Patrick Willis, linebacker
- Years active: 2007-2014
- Teams: San Francisco 49ers
If Willis had not opted to retire at the height of his career, some observers believe he would have been a first ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer and potentially the greatest linebacker to ever play.
The Mississippi product was the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2007, earning First-Team All-Pro honors that very same season. This started a stretch in which Willis was an All-Pro in each of his first six seasons. He led the NFL in tackles twice and anchored one of the most-dominant defenses of the era during Jim Harbaugh’s tenure in San Francisco.
Darren Woodson, safety
- Years active: 1992-2003
- Teams: Dallas Cowboys
One of the lesser-known components that headed to Dallas in the Herschel Walker trade, Woodson became one of the primary reasons the Cowboys formed a dynasty in the 1990’s. He earned Pro Bowl honors five consecutive seasons from 1994-1998, acting as one of the best safeties in the game.
When his career ended, Woodson made a name for himself as a brutal tackling machine and someone who could moonlight playing center field as a cover safety. Such a dual-threat was rare in league history.