Written by JOSH DUBOW, Professional Football Writer for the Associated Press.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame has officially added a member from every NFL team to its roster, including Las Vegas’ own.
On Thursday night at NFL Honors, it was announced that Julius Peppers and Andre Johnson were the first players drafted by Carolina and Houston, respectively, to be inducted into the Hall of Fame as part of the 2024 class.
The last two teams to have a drafted player voted into the Hall of Fame were the Panthers and Texans.
Johnson expressed how incredible it feels to be the first player to accomplish something, as it adds to their lasting impact and legacy.
The atmosphere of the class was focused on defense, as Johnson was the sole offensive player included. Peppers was accompanied by another exceptional pass rusher, Dwight Freeney, and versatile linebacker Patrick Willis in the modern era division.
Devin Hester, a skilled returner, was voted into the Hall of Fame alongside 14 other finalists. He is the first player to primarily enter the Hall based on his return abilities.
Hester expressed his joy in demonstrating the significance of special teams to others. He considers it a great source of pride to be inducted into the Hall of Fame and hopes that this will bring more attention to the often overlooked aspect of football.
Two additional players in the senior category, linebacker Randy Gradishar and defensive tackle Steve McMichael, received the minimum 80% support from the panel.
“I have a strong affinity for defense,” expressed Freeney. “We have a deep understanding of the game and how it operates. While I acknowledge the marketability of offense, I personally prefer to have a defensive player on my team.”
Former NFL wide receiver Art Powell and coach Buddy Parker did not meet the required mark and were not selected.
In 2002, Peppers was chosen as the second overall pick by Carolina and quickly became one of the league’s top linemen. He received the honor of being inducted into the league in his first year of eligibility.
“It’s an unreal moment,” he stated. “It’s still hard to believe.”
Peppers achieved 12 sacks in his first year and maintained a consistent level of performance throughout his 17-year career, playing for teams such as Chicago, Green Bay, and ultimately, the Panthers. He received All-Pro honors in 2004, 2006, and 2010.
Peppers finished his career with 159 1/2 sacks — the fourth most since they became official in 1982 — and had 10 seasons with double-digit sacks. Only Hall of Famers Bruce Smith (13) and Reggie White (12) had more.
Willis had a short career, but it had a significant impact.
Willis, who was drafted by San Francisco in 2007, quickly rose to fame with 174 tackles, four sacks, seven QB hits, and eight tackles for loss. He went on to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
He achieved the honor of being named first-team All-Pro on five occasions during his eight seasons, and played a significant role in San Francisco’s three consecutive appearances in conference title games and one Super Bowl.
Freeney was the defensive star on the stellar Colts teams led by Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning. Indianapolis hadn’t won a playoff game in Manning’s first four seasons before Freeney arrived but won nine in his first nine seasons, including Super Bowl 41 and another AFC title game in the 2009 season.
Freeney made a name for himself with his powerful spin move and was selected for the first-team All-Pro three times. He topped the NFL with 16 sacks in 2004 and retired with a total of 125½ sacks and 47 forced fumbles.
Hester, standing at 5 feet and 11 inches and weighing 190 pounds, was renowned for his skills in the game and was feared by many. He was versatile in his positions, playing both as a receiver and a cornerback, but he truly shone as a returner for Chicago.
He achieved six touchdowns on returns in both of his initial two regular seasons, which included a 108-yard touchdown after a failed field goal as a first-year player in 2006. His contributions aided the Bears in reaching the Super Bowl.
He received the initial kick during the game against Indianapolis and ran it back 92 yards for a touchdown, making it the only opening kick return for a touchdown in Super Bowl history.
Hester expressed gratitude for the opportunities he received, stating that every time he was able to touch the ball was a chance for him to showcase his skills. He thanked not only Tony Dungy, but all the coaches who allowed him to return kicks.
Hester achieved the honor of being a first-team All-Pro three times and concluded his career with an impressive 14 punt return touchdowns and an additional five on kickoffs.
Johnson was the inaugural player for the Texans to be inducted into the Hall of Fame after spending the majority of his career with the team.
In 2003, Johnson was chosen as the first-round pick for Houston. He achieved the highest number of receiving yards in the league twice, was selected as an All-Pro twice, and had seven seasons with over 1,000 receiving yards. Despite not having a highly skilled quarterback for most of his career, Johnson still managed to have a successful career.
During the 1970s, Gradishar played a crucial role in Denver’s renowned “Orange Crush” defense. He was honored with seven Pro Bowl selections in 10 seasons, named an All-Pro in 1977 and 1978, and awarded Defensive Player of the Year in 1978.
A tackling machine at inside linebacker, Gradishar also intercepted 20 passes and recovered 13 fumbles in a 10-year career and never missed a single game. He was a modern era finalist for the Hall in 2003 and ’08 but didn’t get elected.
In 1977, the Broncos came close to winning the championship but fell short, despite only allowing an average of 10.6 points per game. However, in the 1985 season, McMichael was part of a highly dominant defense that led the team to win the Super Bowl.
McMichael dominated the middle of the field in the Bears’ well-known “46 defense,” which is widely regarded as the greatest in history. He helped lead Chicago to a record of 18-1 and only allowed 10 points in three playoff victories.
McMichael accumulated 95 sacks during his career as a defensive tackle and was chosen as an All-Pro in 1985 and 1987, as well as being a second-team selection twice.
The remaining candidates in the modern era division who did not progress to the top five were Antonio Gates (tight end), Torry Holt and Reggie Wayne (wide receivers), Willie Anderson and Jahri Evans (offensive linemen), Darren Woodson, Eric Allen, and Rodney Harrison (defensive backs), Fred Taylor (running back), and Jared Allen (defensive end).
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