Pro Football HoF announces 2022 semifinalists; Steve Smith, DeMarcus Ware among first-timers

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By , Audacy Sports

Just days after the Baseball Hall of Fame unveiled its 2022 ballot, including Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz among the newly eligible candidates, the Pro Football Hall of Fame followed suit regarding its 26 semifinalists for the modern-era players.

Among the 26 are 13 defensive stars, 11 offensive standouts and two special teams greats. Only 15 of the 26 will make it through the next round of cuts, at which point the final round of voting will occur to select the 2022 class. And out of those 26, seven of the names — all very recognizable — are first-time eligible candidates, a handful of whom seem like surefire electees on their initial go-around.

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Here are the first-year eligible players who made it to the ballot immediately following their eligibility:

— Anquan Boldin, WR: A 14-year veteran who hit the ground running as a rookie (101 receptions, 1,377 yards) and never looked back, recording seven seasons of 1,000-yard production and earning three Pro Bowl nods. He ranks ninth all-time in receptions (1,076) and 14th in receiving yards (13,779), adding a strong postseason resume that was capped off by a 2012 Super Bowl victory with the Ravens.
— Devin Hester, WR/RS: Perhaps the greatest return specialist the game has ever seen, Hester's prowess in both kick and punt returns earned him three first-time All-Pro selections, four Pro Bowl nods and a spot on the NFL 100 All Time Team. He ranks eighth on the career leaderboard for career kick and punt return yards.
— Andre Johnson, WR: A force regardless of who was under center, Johnson led the league in receptions, yards and yards per game in multiple seasons, finishing 11th all-time in both receptions and receiving yards. His dominant play, most of which came in Houston, earned him seven Pro Bowl appearances and two first-team All-Pro selections.
— Robert Mathis, DE: A career Indianapolis Colt who far surpassed his fifth-round draft value, Mathis was a five-time Pro Bowler and was named a first-team All-Pro in 2013. The NFL's all-time leader in forced fumbles in a career (54) and in a single season (10), Mathis was an unstoppable force on the edge, ranking in the top 20 with 123 official career sacks.
— Steve Smith, WR: Known as much for his blazing speed and awesome route running as he was for his trash talk and never-back-down mentality, Smith checks in at eighth all-time in receiving yards (14,731) and 12th in receptions (1,031). A devastating kick and punt returner for a time, Smith also cracks the top ten in all-purpose yards, and was recognized five times in the Pro Bowl and twice as a first-team All-Pro selection.
— DeMarcus Ware, LB/DE: A member of the Hall of Fame's All-2000s Team, Ware was a Pro Bowler in all but one season from 2006 to 2015, leading the league in sacks twice and earning four first-team All-Pro nods. He ranks ninth in official career sacks (138.5) and fourth in tackles for loss (171). Though he spent most of his career with the Cowboys, he won his lone ring in Denver in his penultimate campaign.
— Vince Wilfork, DT: A hulking presence in the middle of the defensive line, Wilfork made it immensely difficult for opposing rushing attacks to find space against the Patriots throughout the 2000s and early 2010s. For his contributions on some of the best teams in the post-2000 era, he was named to five Pro Bowls and has two Super Bowl rings.

The only other first-time semifinalist is longtime running back Eddie George, though he has been eligible for several years, retiring in 2004. The rest of the ballot, including George, is as follows:
— Eric Allen, CB
— Jared Allen, DE
— Willie Anderson, T
— Ronde Barber, S
— Tony Boselli, T
— LeRoy Butler, S
— Eddie George, RB
— Torry Holt, WR
— Sam Mills, LB
— Richard Seymour, DE/DT
— Steve Tasker, ST/WR
— Fred Taylor, RB
— Hines Ward, WR
— Ricky Watters, RB
— Reggie Wayne, WR
— Patrick Willis, LB
— Darren Woodson, S
— Bryant Young, DT

Dick Vermeil, Art McNally and Cliff Branch will add to the list of 15 finalists from the above names, as they were recommended nominees of the Hall of Fame's Coach, Contributor and Senior Committees, respectively. The Modern-Era players will be trimmed from 15 down to 10, then from 10 down to five, at which point those remaining five players must individually receive an 80 percent positive vote in order to become elected.

Last season, all five finalists in the last round — Alan Faneca, Calvin Johnson, John Lynch, Peyton Manning and Charles Woodson — were elected.

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