The Pro Football Hall of Fame welcomes the 2022 graduates to Canton for Consecration Week and it will be great to see former players like Cliff Branch earn their long-deserved place in professional football immortality on Saturday. But it’s not too early to look at who could be part of the next HOF class. If you’ll allow me, I’d like to offer you my predictions for the 2023 Pro Football Hall of Fame’s modern class members. It should be an interesting group because, like this year, I don’t think there are automatic dunks in the same vein as, say, Peyton Manning or Calvin Johnson, who were enshrined last year. However, there are some extremely strong candidates, so let’s break them down.
Joe Thomas, forward (Cleveland Browns, 2007-2017)
Thomas started his career in the NFL going fishing with his father instead of attending the 2007 draft. And you already fell in love with him. This dude never left the game and spent his entire career with the Browns. He was a 10-time professional bowler and a six-time All-Pro first team player. I mean he played 10,363 attack shots in a row, which is considered the longest such streak in NFL history. Of all the people on this list, I would be the most shocked if Thomas didn’t make it into the class of 2023. But I have been shocked before.
Darrell Revis, cornerback (New York Jets, 2007-2012, 2015-2016; Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2013; New England Patriots, 2014; Kansas City Chiefs, 2017)
Revis dominated his time by shutting down receivers on Revis Island. He earned four All-Pro nods on the first team and, like Thomas, is a member of the 2010s NFL All-Decade team. It’s almost like a castle to me (instead of a castle) because over the years I’ve realized that I can’t predict with certainty what Hall of Fame voters will do.
Like Thomas and Revis, seven-time Pro Bowl quarterback Dwight Freeney will qualify for the first time in 2023, but since nine-time forward DeMarcus Ware failed on his first try earlier this year, I’m not sure Freeney will be part of the 2023 class.
Torrey Holt, wide receiver (St. Louis Rams, 1999-2008; Jacksonville Jaguars, 2009)
There are some great receivers this year. In fact, Holt, Andre Johnson and Reggie Wayne were modern era finalists in the Class of 2022. Holt was a key member of the Rams team that won two Super Bowls in three seasons, winning one. He was one of the biggest game offenders in the league, leading the NFL in receiving yards twice.
Andre Johnson, wide receiver (Houston Texans, 2003-2014; Indianapolis Colts, 2015; Tennessee Titans, 2016)
I’m not sure we’ll see all three full-time wide receivers who were finalists this year make it to 2023, but I do believe voters will induct Holt and Johnson into the Hall of Fame. Both players dominated in their time. Johnson earned more first-team All-Pro nods than Holt (two-for-one) and didn’t have the offense that Torrey played in for most of his career. Johnson has never posted double-digit touchdowns in a season, but that is in no way a testament to his prowess.
DeMarcus Ware, outside linebacker (Dallas Cowboys, 2005-2013; Denver Broncos, 2014-2016)
Ware was one of 15 modern era finalists in 2022, his first year of eligibility. But you know… voters. They seem to think that the “first round” classification is so valuable that they hesitate to give it away. But Ware belongs to the Hall of Fame. He led the league in sacks twice and finished his career with a 138.5 (ninth-best since sacks became the official statistic in 1982). Clearly, he was one of the most dominant pass rushers of his era.
Must come in but… you know
Steve Smith Sr., wide receiver (Carolina Panthers, 2001–2013; Baltimore Ravens, 2014–16)
Once again, I would like to refer you to the words of Chris Wesseling, who published the definitive article on why Steve Smith Sr. should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I know I might be biased because Steve is my friend and colleague on the NFL Network, but it really frustrates me that it might take him a while to get in. I have Holt and Johnson as two receivers going to HOF next year but that’s my prediction for what voters will do, not a reflection of what I I would make. Steve ranks eighth all-time in receiving yards (14,371). This is the second-best pass catcher not currently in Canton (behind Larry Fitzgerald, who is not yet eligible). Steve’s brash nature may not appeal to some voters, and may have to wait because of this. I’m not happy with this. He must be inside.
Devin Hester, returner/wide receiver (Chicago Bears, 2006–2013; Atlanta Falcons, 2014–15; Baltimore Ravens, 2016; Seattle Seahawks, 2016)
Hester is the greatest male comeback of all time. Nobody disputes this. But history has not been on the side of special teams performers when it comes to inducting into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Coaches always talk about winning the three phases of the game: offense, defense and, yes, you guessed it… special teams. But the gatekeepers of Canton are clearly not listening. I would make Hester the first Hall of Famer this year. But I think the voters will make him wait, which is wrong.
Patrick Willis, linebacker (San Francisco 49ers, 2007-2014)
I have never received an adequate answer as to why Willis has not yet received the gold jacket. He was on the All-Pro first team in five of the eight seasons he played pro football. Did you miss his career? I don’t know if Patrick needs a better PR person, but he should be in the Hall of Fame. He became a finalist for the first time in 2022, his third year of participation. He must get into the next class, but I won’t be hopeful.
Another player I would vote for
Chris Johnson running back (Tennessee Titans, 2008-2013; New York Jets, 2014; Arizona Cardinals, 2015-2017)
Johnson was the NFL’s top hitter in 2009, earning the nickname CJ2K after (checking records) rushing for 2,000 yards. He is one of only eight players in league history to reach 2,000 yards in a season and is considered one of the fastest players in NFL history. He was electric. Just a great player. But running backs aren’t appreciated the way they used to be, and that will probably hurt him here.
By the way, my HOF class with Steve Smith Sr., Devin Hester, Patrick Willis and Chris Johnson would be amazing. I’m just talking. I would also add Sterling Sharp as mine Senior Choice and let’s go. Maybe I’ll have my own party in Canton.
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