Seven first-time eligible former players, including wide receivers Andre Johnson, Steve Smith and Anquan Boldin, are among 26 modern day semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s class of 2022.
Joining them as candidates for induction next year are outstanding kick returner Devin Hester; pass-rushing standouts Robert Mathis and DeMarcus Ware; and former Patriots and Texans run-stuffing defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. Each last played in the 2016 season.
Johnson, the Texans legend, told Fox 26's Mark Berman he would love for supporters to "flood Canton out and everybody just party together and have a great time" if he becomes a Hall of Famer.
Other semifinalists include 17 former players who made it that far this year, plus running backs Eddie George, who retired following the 2004 season, and Ricky Watters, who retired in 2001, and made the list for a second time.
Repeaters from the ’21 semifinals are cornerback Eric Allen, defensive end Jared Allen, offensive tackle Willie Anderson, CB Ronde Barber, OT Tony Boselli, safety LeRoy Butler, receiver Torry Holt, linebacker Sam Mills, DT Richard Seymour, WR-special teamer Steve Tasker, running back Fred Taylor, LB Zach Thomas, WRs Hines Ward and Reggie Wayne, LB Patrick Willis, S Darren Woodson, and DT Bryant Young.
Repeat finalists from 2021 who were not elected for that class include Barber, Boselli, Butler, Holt, Wayne, Jared Allen, Seymour, Thomas and Mills.
The 26 semifinalists will be reduced to 15 finalists before the final voting process in January. The inductees will be announced on Feb. 10 during NFL Honors, the prime-time awards show when The Associated Press reveals its individual award winners for the 2021 NFL season, including Most Valuable Player and Coach of the Year.
Three finalists previous announced are Dick Vermeil in the coaching category, former referee and officiating executive Art McNally in the contributor category, and former Raiders receiver Cliff Branch in the senior category.
Inductions at the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, will be in early August.
Tasker, considered the premier special teams player of his era, is a nine-time semifinalist. Holt, a playmaker for the Rams, has made the semifinals for the eighth time. Boselli, who starred for Jacksonville, is a seven-time semifinalist, while Ward, the dynamic Steelers wideout, makes it for the sixth time, as does Woodson, a hard-hitting defensive back with Dallas.
This is the fifth trip to the semifinals for Barber, a brilliant cover cornerback for Tampa Bay; Butler, a stalwart defender with Green Bay; the late Mills, a star in the USFL and then for New Orleans and Carolina in the NFL; and Seymour, a versatile defensive lineman in New England and Oakland.