Hall of Fame 2024 Class: Gradishar tackles spot

Nov 1975; Unknown location, USA: FILE PHOTO; Denver Broncos linebacker Randy Gradishar (53) in action during the 1975 season. Mandatory Credit: Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 1975; Unknown location, USA: FILE PHOTO; Denver Broncos linebacker Randy Gradishar (53) in action during the 1975 season. Mandatory Credit: Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

With a couple of surprises, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2024 was formally revealed during NFL Network's "Honors” program Thursday night, an Oscar-like production complete with red carpet and an array of presenters with varying degrees of comedic, ah, entertainment.

Getting right to it, the members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2024 from the modern era are defensive end/outside linebacker DWIGHT FREENEY, kick returner/punt returner/wide receiver DEVIN HESTER, wide receiver ANDRE JOHNSON,  defensive end/linebacker JULIUS PEPPERS and linebacker PATRICK WILLIS. Seniors inductess are linebacker RANDY GRADISHAR and defensive tackle/nose tackle STEVE McMICHAEL.

We have a wealth of information on each of the new members below. But even as you and others issue those annual complaints about...whatever, let's take you through the process to give this brain-shredding marathon event some context.

From our perspective the most qualified modern era players who failed to make it were former Chargers fight end Antonoi Gates, who was in his first year of eligibility, and former Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle Willie Anderson.  

The Hall’s 50-person Selection Committee met virtually, which is to say via Zoom, in mid-January to conduct the annual vote. Everybody involved held their tongue — or at least their breath — so as not to release the results before the HOF was able to notify new members, mostly by "The Knock," and tell other finalists they did not make it. 

The newly elected Hall of Famers were chosen from a list of 19 Finalists who had been determined earlier by the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Selection Committee. 

The enshrinement ceremony will be part of a week-long celebration in Canton, with the actual inductions on August 3. 

Freeney, Gradishar, Hester, Johnson, Peppers and Willis learned of their election when another Hall of Famer knocked on their door. McMichael, who is battling ALS, and his wife, Misty, received the news in a phone call from his former Bears teammate RICHARD DENT. The whole production can be seen Saturday, when NFL Network airs a one-hour special beginning at 9 p.m. ET.

In a rare occurance, two fimalists, one senior player and a coach, did not muster the required 80 percent "yes" votes, separate from all other voting. The senior player was former wide receiver Art Powell and the coach was Buddy Parker. More on them llater.

The full committee meeting began with five-minute presentations on three Seniors and the Coach, followed by the yes/no vote. Then the committee hunkered down for an all-day session, the contents of which cannot be repeated.

The discussions began with 15 modern-era prospects. That list included (alphabetically) defensive back Eric Allen, offensive tackle Willie Anderson, guard Jahri Evans, tight end Antonio Gates, safety Rodney Harrison, wide receiver Tory Holt, running back Fred Taylor, wide receiver Reggie Wayne and safety Darren Woodson. Of special note here was Gates, who was a first-ballot nominee after making an unusual impresssion by starring in the NFL after playing only basketball in college.

Along with the eventual inductees, Allen, Anderson, Gates, Holt and Woodson survived the cut to 10.

And from that, again, the modern-era class of 2024 was Freeney, Hester, Johnson, Peppers and Willis.

Now a few notes about Powell and Parker. 

In the interest of full disclosure, we saw Powell play and believed for a long time he belongs in the Hall of Fame. We also advocated strongly for him and presented him to the committees.

Powell, who died in 2015, last played 55 years ago and this was the first time he was even discussed by the committee(s). In perspective, it surprised some that he went from zero to finalist in his first showing. The 12-person Seniors committee learned about him over several meetings and nominated him with strong support. The full committee heard a five-minute presentation and ten minutes of largely positive discussion. 

Powell's play and statistics are as strong as any wide receiver who ever played pro football. He still rates among the top seven in football history, which is more than a century, n key stats (No. 2 in TDs per game, No. 7 in yards receiving per game and No. 4 in TDs per reception). But he played mostly in the 1960s, was never featured by NFL Films, ESPN or NFL Network. 

Parker coached in the 1940s and 50s, winning two league championships for the Detroit Lions. This was back when all sports  were in transition in terms of social diversity and Parker was very much a man of his era. Let's just say it is difficult to find an appropriate equilibrium to judge what he did then against a backdrop of current social perspective. 

The finalists who didn't make it will, of course, be at the head of the pack when the selectors start discussing the next class. Actually, it already started as we selectors looked to the horizon for the Class of 2025, for which prospects will include quarterback Eli Manning, linebacker Luke Kuechly, kicker Adam Vinatieri, offensive tackle Joe Staley, running back Marshawn Lynch and defensive back Earl Thomas.

And the beat goes on. But wait there's more.

In 2026, the first-time eligibles will be quarterbacks Drew Brees and Philip Rivers, running back Frank Gore, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and tight end Jason Witten.

Meantime, let's take a look at the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2024

DWIGHT FREENEY

Times as Finalist: 2 | Year of Eligibility: 2

Position: Defensive End/Outside Linebacker

Ht: 6-1, Wt: 268

NFL Career: 2002–2012 Indianapolis Colts, 2013–14 San Diego Chargers, 

2015 Arizona Cardinals, 2016 Atlanta Falcons, 2017 Seattle Seahawks, 2017 Detroit Lions

Seasons: 16, Games: 218

College: Syracuse

Drafted: First round (11th Overall), 2002

Born: Feb. 19, 1980, in Hartford, Conn.

Drafted in first round (11th overall) of 2002 NFL Draft after leading the nation in sacks (17.5) his senior season at Syracuse … Named Co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year while earning All-American recognition … Ran a 4.48-second 40-yard dash in pre-draft workouts … Selected to 2002 NFL All-Rookie Team after recording 13 sacks and 20 tackles for loss … Seven Pro Bowl selections … AP first-team All-Pro in 2004, 2005 and 2009; second-team All-Pro in 2003 … Named All-AFC by PFWA 2003-05 and 2009-2010 … Secured NFL Sack Title with 16 in 2004 … Member of the Colts’ Super Bowl XLI championship team and played in two additional Super Bowls (XLIV, LI) … Played in 218 regular-season games over 16 seasons in NFL … Career stat totals: 125.5 sacks, 148 quarterback hits and 128 tackles for loss … Credited with 47 forced fumbles (tied for third on the NFL’s all-time list) and forced three fumbles in a game on two occasions.

As a rookie, with Freeney appearing in all 16 games, eight as a starter, the Colts improved their defense from 29th overall in the NFL in 2001 to eighth in 2002. Freeney led the resurgent defensive line with a rookie-record 13 sacks to go with 20 tackles for loss on his way to NFL All-Rookie Team honors and a second-place finish in voting for the AP’s Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

Freeney followed with three more seasons of double-digit sack totals, including a league-best 16 in 2004. That year he also was named first-team All-Pro for the first of three times and earned his second of seven Pro Bowl invitations.

A foot injury limited Freeney to nine games and 3.5 sacks in 2007, but he bounced back in 2008 with 10.5 sacks, and he added 23.5 sacks over the following two seasons.

For his career, Freeney totaled 125.5 sacks, 148 quarterback hits and 128 tackles for loss. He was credited with 47 forced fumbles, a figure that is tied for third on the NFL’s all-time list, and twice forced three fumbles in a game.

Freeney played 218 regular-season games over 16 NFL seasons, the first 11 with the Colts. He appeared in 22 postseason contests, including three AFC Championship Games and two

NFC Championship Games. He won a Super Bowl ring with the Colts and played in two other Super Bowls. In the postseason, he totaled 11 sacks and 12 tackles for loss.

Freeney attended Syracuse University. As a senior, he led the nation with 17.5 sacks and earned All-American accolades.

League Stats  

[Tied for 2nd] Most Consecutive Games with a Sack – 9 (Dec. 18, 2008–Nov. 8, 2009)

[3rd] Most Sacks, Rookie Season - 13 (2002)

Postseason Records

[Tied for 5th] Most Sacks - 11

Colts’ records held by Freeney

(Records through the 2012 season, Freeney’s final season with Indianapolis)

[1st] Most Sacks, Career – 107.5 (2002–2012)

[1st] Most Sacks, Season – 16 (2004)

[1st] Most Sacks Rookie Season – 13 (2002)

[1st] Most Game with a Sack, Career – 81 (2002–2012)

[1st] Most Multi-Sack Games, Career – 25 (2002–2012)

[Tied for 1st] Most Multi-Sack Games, Season – 5 (2004)

[Tied for 1st] Most Game with a Sack, Season – 11 (2009)

[2nd] Most Sacks, Season – 13.5 (2009)

[2nd] Most Game with a Sack, Season – 10 (2002)

[3rd] Most Sacks, Season – 13 (2002)

[3rd] Most Game with a Sack, Season – 9 (2004, 2005)

Postseason Records

[1st] Most Sacks, Career – 9 (2002-2012)

[Tied for 1st] Most Sacks, Game – 2 (vs. Kansas City Chiefs, Jan. 6, 2007; at San Diego Chargers, Jan. 3, 2009)

[3rd] Most Games Played, Career – 17 (2002–2012)

Cardinals’ records held by Freeney

(Records through the 2015 season, Freeney’s final season with Arizona)

[Tied for 3rd] Most Sacks, Game – 3 (vs. Green Bay Packers, Dec. 27, 2015)

Team Statistical Championships

Sack Titles: 2002, 2003, 2004, 2009, 2015

Award and Honors

2002 NFL All-Rookie Team (PFW/PFWA)

2005 AFC Defensive Player of the Year (Kansas City Committee of 101 Awards)

2000s All-Decade Team

RANDY GRADISHAR

Times as Finalist: 4 | Year of eligibility: 35
Position: Linebacker
Height: 6-3 | Weight: 233
NFL career: 19741983 Denver Broncos
Seasons: 10 | Games: 145
College: Ohio State
Drafted: First round (14th overall), 1974
Born: March 3, 1952, in Warren, Ohio

Unanimous All-America selection at Ohio State in 1973 … Broncos’ first-round pick, 1974 (14th overall) … Led Denver in total tackles nine consecutive seasons, 1975-1983 … Played in 145 regular-season games during 10 NFL seasons … Member of famed “Orange Crush” defensive unit of 1970s and 1980s … Named 1978 AP NFL Defensive MVP/Player of the Year … Played in Super Bowl XII, recording eight tackles … First-team All-Pro twice (1977-78), second-team three times (1979, 1981, 1983) … Played in seven Pro Bowls (1975, 1977-79, 1981-83) … Unofficial 2,049 career tackles are most in Broncos history and were most in league history at the time of his retirement … One of 10 linebackers in league history – all Hall of Famers – with at least seven Pro Bowls, 20 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries … Inducted into College Football Hall of Fame in 1998 … Member of Denver Broncos Ring of Fame.

The heart and soul of the Denver Broncos’ famed “Orange Crush” defensive unit of the 1970s and 1980s, Randy Gradishar showed an uncanny knack for knowing where the ball would be before the opposing offense ran the play.

Gradishar’s impact was felt from the moment the Broncos selected him with the 14th overall pick in the 1974 NFL Draft. Prior to choosing Gradishar, the club had posted only one winning season and had never made the playoffs. With their new defensive leader, they totaled seven winning seasons and four playoff appearances in his 10-year career.

In his second season, Gradishar led Denver in total tackles, beginning a streak of nine consecutive seasons accomplishing that feat. His dominance helped the Broncos to their first postseason berth in 1977, including an appearance in Super Bowl XII against the Dallas Cowboys. Gradishar recorded eight tackles in the both the AFC title game and Super Bowl that season.

A career year followed in 1978, earning Gradishar countless accolades that included AP NFL Defensive MVP/Player of the Year, first-team All-Pro status, All-AFC and selection to the Pro Bowl. For his career, Gradishar is one of only 10 linebackers with at least seven Pro Bowls, 20 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries. The other nine (Chuck Bednarik, Dick Butkus, Jack Ham, Ted Hendricks, Jack Lambert, Willie Lanier, Ray Lewis, Joe Schmidt and Brian Urlacher) are members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

His unofficial 2,049 career tackles (tackles became an official stat in 2001) are still the most in Broncos history and would place him second all-time behind Hall of Famer Ray Lewis for most in the NFL.

Broncos’ records held by Gradishar at the time of his retirement following the 1983 season

[1st] Most Interception Return Yardage, Game – 93 (at Cleveland, Oct. 5, 1980)

[1st] Longest Interception Return – 93 (at Cleveland, Oct. 5, 1980)

[1st] Longest Scoring Interception Return – 93 (at Cleveland, Oct. 5, 1980)

Team Statistical Championships Interception Leader: 1975

Total Tackles Leader: 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983

Awards and Honors

1978 NFL Defensive MVP/Player of the Year (AP, NEA, PW)

1978 AFC Defensive Player of the Year (UPI)

Denver Broncos Ring of Fame

Broncos Top 100 Team

Broncos 50th Anniversary Team

DEVIN HESTER

Times as Finalist: 3 | Year of Eligibility: 3
Position: Punt Returner/Kick Returner/Wide Receiver

Ht: 5-11, Wt: 190

NFL Career: 2006-2013 Chicago Bears, 2014–15 Atlanta Falcons,

2016 Baltimore Ravens, 2016 Seattle Seahawks

Seasons: 11, Games: 156

College: Miami (Florida)

Drafted: Second round (57th Overall), 2006

Born: Nov. 4, 1982, in Riviera Beach, Fla.

Multi-dimensional player who joined Bears after collegiate career as offensive, defensive and special teams threat … Became immediate standout as return specialist, earning spot on 2006 NFL All-Rookie Team … In debut season, returned 47 punts for 600 yards (both NFL highs) and three TDs, along with 20 kickoffs for 528 yards and two touchdowns … Also returned a missed field goal that season for a 108-yard touchdown – one of only four such “kick-six” scores of that distance in an NFL game. … Opened Super Bowl XLI with 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown – the only time in Super Bowl history that has occurred … In second NFL season, returned four punts and two kickoffs for scores, establishing an NFL record for six combined kick returns for TDs … First-team All-Pro three times (2006-07, 2010) … Member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 2010s … One of two return specialists on the NFL 100 All-Time Team.

When the Chicago Bears selected Devin Hester with a second-round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft (57th choice overall), the team knew it was adding a multi-dimensional player with elite skills in the return game. Few, however, could have predicted how profoundly he would influence the franchise, set NFL records still standing and reinforce the importance of special teams.

Hester played in 11 NFL seasons (2006-2016) – eight in Chicago, two in Atlanta and a final season split between Baltimore and Seattle. He burst onto the scene as a rookie, helping ignite a Bears team that finished with a 13-3 regular-season record and eventually reach Super Bowl XLI.

In that 2006 season, he returned 47 punts for 600 yards (12.8 average) and three TDs, 20 kickoffs for 528 yards (26.4 average) and two touchdowns and also returned a missed field goal 108 yards for a touchdown – one of only four such “kick-six” scores in an NFL game.

Hester opened Super Bowl XLI with 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown – the only time in Super Bowl history that has occurred.

He followed his All-Pro rookie season by setting more records in 2007. Among the many highlights in that All-Pro season was a game against Denver in which he returned both a punt (75 yards) and a kickoff (88 yards) for touchdowns. Overall that year, Hester returned two kickoffs and four punts for scores, establishing an NFL record for six combined kick returns for TDs.

Hester earned first-team All-Pro honors a third time with a 2010 season that saw him lead the NFL with 564 yards and three touchdowns on punt returns.

For his career, Hester took 14 punts and five kickoffs to the end zone in 156 regular-season games.

He was selected to play in four Pro Bowls (2007–08, 2011, 2015) and earned one of the two spots for return specialists on the NFL 100 All-Time Team. He also was named to the NFL’s All- Decade Team of the 2010s.

(4) – 2007, 2008, 2011, 2015

League Records

[1st] Most Punt Return Touchdowns, Career – 14

[1st] Most Combined Kick Return Touchdowns, Career – 19 (p-14, k-5)

[1st] Most Combined Kick Return Touchdowns, Season – 6 (p-4, k-2)

[Tied for 1st] Most Punt Return Touchdowns, Season – 4 (2007)

[Tied for 1st] Most Kickoff Return Touchdowns, Game – 2 (vs. St. Louis, Dec. 11, 2006)

[1st] Most Combined Kick Return Touchdowns, Game – 2 (vs. St. Louis, Dec. 11, 2006; k-2); (vs. Denver, Nov. 25, 2007; p-1, k-1)

[2nd] Most Combined Kick Return Yardage, Game – 314 (vs. Detroit, Sept. 30, 2007; p-95, k-219)

[2nd] Most Combined Kick Return Touchdowns, Season – 5 (p-3, k-2)

[2nd] Longest Return of a Missed Field Goal – 108 (vs. N.Y. Giants, Nov. 12, 2006)

[Tied for 2nd] Most Seasons Leading League in Punt Returns – 2 (2010-11)

[Tied for 2nd] Most Seasons Leading League in Punt Return Yardage – 2 (2006, 2010)

[Tied for 2nd] Most Seasons Leading League in Kickoff Return Yardage – 2 (2013-14)

[2nd] Most Punt Return Touchdowns, Rookie Season – 3 (2006)

[Tied for 2nd] Most Punt Return Touchdowns, Season – 3 (2013-14)

[Tied for 2nd] Most Combined Kick Returns, Game – 12 (vs. Detroit, Sept. 30, 2007; p-5, k-9)

[3rd] Most Punt Return Yardage, Career – 3,695

Postseason Records

[Tied for 1st] Most Kickoff Return Touchdowns, Game – 1 (vs. Indianapolis, Super Bowl XLI)

[Tied for 1st] Most Fumbles Recovered, Game, Own and Opponents – 3 (3-own)

Super Bowl Records

[Tied for 1st] Most Kickoff Return Touchdowns, Game – 1 (vs. Indianapolis, Super Bowl XLI)

Bears records held by Hester

(Records through the 2013 season, Hester’s final season with Chicago)

[1st] Most Punt Return Yardage, Rookie Season – 600 (2006)

[1st] Most Punt Return Touchdowns, Rookie Season – 3 (2006)

[1st] Most Kickoff Return Touchdowns, Rookie Season – 2 (2006)

[1st] Most Punt Returns, Career – 264

[1st] Most Punt Return Yardage, Career – 3,241

[1st] Most Punt Return Yardage, Season – 651 (2007)

[1st] Most Punt Return Yardage, Game – 152 (at Arizona, Oct. 16, 2006)

[1st] Highest Punt Return Average, Season – 17.1 (2010)

[1st] Highest Punt Return Average, Game – 40.7 (vs. Nov. 13, 2011)

[1st] Most Punt Return Touchdowns, Career – 13

[1st] Most Punt Return Touchdowns, Season – 4 (2007)

[1st] Most Punt Fair Catches, Career – 79

[1st] Most Kickoff Returns, Career – 222

[1st] Most Kickoff Return Yardage, Career – 5,504

[1st] Most Kickoff Return Yardage, Game – 249 (vs. Minnesota, Sept. 15, 2013)

[1st] Highest Kickoff Average, Game – 56.3 (at St. Louis, Dec. 11, 2006)

[1st] Most Kickoff Return Touchdowns, Game – 2 (at St. Louis, Dec. 11, 2006)

[1st] Most Combined Return Yardage, Career – 8,745

[1st] Most Combined Return Yardage, Game – 314 (at Detroit, Sept. 30, 2007; p-95, k-219)

[1st] Most Combined Return Touchdowns, Career – 18 (p-13, k-5)

[1st] Most Combined Return Touchdowns, Season – 6 (p-4, k-2)

[1st] Most Combined Return Touchdowns, Game – 2 (vs. Denver, Nov. 25, 2007; at St. Louis, December 11, 2006)

[Tied for 1st] Most Field Goal Returns for a Touchdown – 1 (108 yards vs. N.Y. Giants, Nov. 12, 2006

[2nd] Most Punt Returns, Rookie Season – 47 (2006)

[2nd] Most Punt Return Yardage, Season – 600 (2006)

[2nd] Most Punt Return Yardage, Game – 143 (vs. Kansas City, Sept. 16, 2007)

[2nd] Highest Punt Return Average, Career – 12.3

[2nd] Highest Punt Return Average, Season – 16.2 (2010)

[2nd] Most Punt Return Touchdowns, Season – 3 (2006, 2010)

[2nd] Most Kickoff Return Yardage, Game – 225 (at St. Louis, Dec. 11, 2006)

[2nd] Most Kickoff Return Touchdowns, Career – 5

[2nd] Most Combined Return Yardage, Game – 249 (vs. Minnesota, Sept. 15, 2013; p-0, k-249)

[2nd] Most Combine Return Touchdowns, Season – 5 (p-3, k-2)

[2nd] Most Fumbles Recovered, Own Team, Career – 14

[Tied for 2nd] Most Punt Fair Catches, Game – 5 (at Denver, Dec. 11, 2011)

[3rd] Most Punt Returns, Season – 47 (2006)

[3rd] Most Punt Return Yardage, Season – 564 (2011)

[3rd] Highest Punt Return Average, Season – 15.5 (2007)

[3rd] Most Kickoff Return Yardage, Season – 1,436 (2013)

[3rd] Most Combined Return Yardage, Game – 246 (at St. Louis, Dec. 11, 2006; p-21, k-225)

[Tied for 3rd] Most Punt Return Touchdowns, Season – 2 (2011)

Postseason Records

[1st] Most Punt Returns, Career – 11

[1st] Most Kickoff Return Touchdowns, Career – 1

[1st] Longest Kickoff Return – 92t (vs. Indianapolis, Feb. 4, 2007, Super Bowl XLI)

[3rd] Most Kickoff Return Yardage, Career – 214

[3rd] Longest Punt Return – 26 (vs. Seattle, Jan. 16, 2011)

[3rd] Most Kickoff Returns, Career – 9

NFL Statistical Championships

Punt Return Titles: 2010, 2011

Awards and Honors

2000s All-Decade Team

NFL 100 All-Time Team

 ANDRE JOHNSON

Times as Finalist: 3 | Year of Eligibility: 3
Position: Wide Receiver

Ht: 6-3, Wt: 229

NFL Career: 2003–2014 Houston Texans, 2015 Indianapolis Colts, 2016 Tennessee Titans

Seasons: 14, Games: 193

College: Miami (Florida)

Drafted: First round (third overall), 2003

Born: July 11, 1981, in Miami

Surpassed 1,000 receiving yards seven times (2004, 2006, 2008–2010, 2012-13) … Led NFL in receptions twice (103 in 2006 and 115 in 2008) and in receiving yards twice (1,575 yards in 2008 and 1,569 yards in 2009) … One of only three players (Jerry Rice, Calvin Johnson) to lead NFL in receiving yards in consecutive seasons in Super Bowl era … Finished career with 1,062 receptions for 14,185 yards and 70 receiving touchdowns … Texans franchise leader in most receiving statistics … Caught five passes for 90 yards and a touchdown as Texans beat Cincinnati in first playoff appearance (2011); followed the next week with eight receptions for 111 yards in narrow loss to Ravens … Three career games with 200+ receiving yards … First-team All-Pro twice (2008–09) … Selected to seven Pro Bowls (2004, 2006, 2008–10, 2012–13) … Member of 2003 NFL All-Rookie Team … First player elected to Texans’ Ring of Honor (2017).

Andre Johnson, a 6’3”, 229-pound wide receiver out of Miami, was selected in the first round (third overall) of the 2003 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans. He played 14 seasons in the League with the Texans (2003-2014), Indianapolis Colts (2015) and Tennessee Titans (2016).

An offensive powerhouse, Johnson helped the Texans reach their first playoff berth in 2011. In 2008, he led the NFL in both receptions (115) and receiving yards (1,575). He followed up that All- Pro season with a league-best 1,569 receiving yards in 2009, another All-Pro season. Johnson also led the NFL with 103 catches in 2006 and finished his career with five 100-plus reception seasons – more than any current member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Johnson is one of three players in the Super Bowl era – along with Calvin Johnson and Jerry Rice – to lead the National Football League in receiving yards in back-to-back years.

His career stats include 1,062 catches for 14,185 yards and 70 touchdowns in 193 regular- season games. Following his final season in Houston (2014), he held dozens of team records, including career receiving yards (13,591), career receptions (1,012) and most seasons (10) leading the team in receptions.

When Johnson retired following the 2016 season, he was tied for third in the NFL with three career games with 200 or more receiving yards. He received first-team All-Pro honors in 2008 and 2009 as well as second-team honors in 2006 and 2012. He was voted to seven Pro Bowls over a 10- year span (2005, 2007, 2009–2011, 2013–14).

He was the first player inducted into the Texans’ Ring of Honor in 2017.

In the NFL Record Book (at time of his retirement following the 2016 season)

[Tied for 3rd] Most Game 200 or More Receiving Yards Receiving, Career – 3

Texans’ records held by Johnson

(Records through the 2014 season, Johnson’s final season with Houston)

[1st] Most Receiving Yards, Career – 13,597

[1st] Most Yards from Scrimmage, Career – 13,651

[1st] Most Combined Net Yards, Career – 13,651

[1st] Most Yards from Scrimmage, Game – 273 (vs. Jacksonville, Nov. 18, 2012)

[1st] Most Combined Net Yards, Game – 273 (vs. Jacksonville, Nov. 18, 2012)

[1st] Most Seasons Leading Team in Receptions – 10

[1st] Most Consecutive Seasons Leading Team in Receptions – 4 (2003–06)

[1st] Most Receptions, Career – 1,012

[1st] Most Season, 50 or More Receptions – 11 (2003–2010, 2012–14)

[1st] Most Receptions, Season – 115 (2008)

[1st] Most Receptions, Rookie Season – 66 (2003)

[1st] Most Receptions, Game – 14 (vs. Jacksonville, Nov. 18, 2012)

[1st] Most Consecutive Games with a Pass Reception – 133 (Nov. 6, 2005-Dec. 21, 2014)

[1st] Most Seasons Leading Team in Receiving Yards – 10 (2003-2010, 2012-13)

[1st] Most Consecutive Seasons Leading Team in Receiving Yards – 8 (2003–2010)

[1st] Most Seasons 1,000 or More Receiving Yards – 7 (2004, 2006, 2008–10, 2012–13)

[1st] Most Receiving Yards, Season – 1,598 (2012)

[1st] Most Receiving Yards, Rookie Season – 976 (2003)

[1st] Most Yards Receiving, Game – 273 (vs. Jacksonville, Nov. 18, 2012)

[1st] Most Games 100 or More Yards Receiving, Career – 51

[1st] Most Games 100 or More Yards Receiving, Season – 8 (2008)

[1st] Highest Receiving Average, Game – 30.50 (at Buffalo, Nov. 16, 2003; 4-122)

[1st] Most Seasons Leading Team in TD Receptions – 8 (2003–04, 2006–2010, 2013)

[1st] Most Consecutive Seasons Leading Team in TD Receptions – 5 (2006–2010)

[1st] Most Touchdown Receptions, Career – 64

[1st] Most Touchdown Receptions, Game – 3 (vs. Indianapolis, Nov. 3, 2013)

[1st] Most Two-Point Conversions, Career – 2

[1st] Most Seasons – 12

[1st] Most Games Played, Career – 169

[1st] Most Games Started, Career – 169

[1st] Most Consecutive Games 100 or More Yards Receiving, Season – 4 (Oct. 5, 2008–Oct. 26, 2008)

[1st] Highest Receiving Average, Career – 13.44

[1st] Most Touchdown Receptions, Season – 9 (2009)

[Tied for 1st] Most Touchdown Receptions, Rookie Game – 2 (vs. Kansas City Chiefs, Sept. 21, 2003)

[Tied for 1st] Most Consecutive Games with a Touchdown Reception – 4 (Dec. 2, 2007–Dec. 23, 2007; Dec. 13, 2010–Sept. 18, 2011)

[Tied for 1st] Most Seasons Leading Team in Touchdowns – 4 (2006–07, 2009, 2013)

[Tied for 1st] Most Touchdown, Game – 3 (vs. Indianapolis, Nov. 3, 2013)

[2nd] Most Combined Attempts, Career – 1,035

[2nd] Most Consecutive Seasons Leading Team in Receptions – 3 (2008-10, 2012–14)

[2nd] Most Receptions, Season – 112 (2012)

[2nd] Most Receptions, Game – 13 (at. Jacksonville, Dec. 5, 2013)

[2nd] Most Receiving Yards, Season – 1,575 (2008)

[2nd] Most Consecutive Games 100 or More Yards Receiving, Season – 3 (Sept. 9, 2007–Nov. 18, 2007)

[2nd] Highest Receiving Average, Game – 28.67 (at Detroit, Sept. 19, 2004; 3-86)

[2nd] Most Touchdown Receptions, Rookie Season – 4 (2003)

[2nd] Most Consecutive Seasons Leading Team in Touchdowns – 2 (2006–07)

[2nd] Most Touchdowns, Career – 64

[2nd] Most Games 100 or More Yards Receiving, Season – 6 (2009, 2010, 2012, 2013)

[Tied for 2nd] Most Points, Game – 18 (vs. Indianapolis, Nov. 3, 2013)

[Tied for 2nd] Most Touchdown Receptions, Season – 8 (2007, 2008, 2010)

[3rd] Most Points, Career – 388

[3rd] Most Yards from Scrimmage, Rookie Season – 966

[3rd] Most Receiving Yards, Season – 1,569 (2009)

[3rd] Most Yards Receiving, Game – 229 (vs. Indianapolis, Nov. 3, 2013)

[3rd] Highest Receiving Average, Season – 15.53 (2009)

[3rd] Most Receptions, Season – 109 (2013)

[Tied for 3rd] Most Seasons Leading Team in Combined Net Yards – 2 (2009, 2013)

[4th] Most Receiving Yards, Season – 1,407 (2013)

[4th] Most Receptions, Season – 103 (2006)

[Tied for 4th] Most Points, Rookie Season – 24 (2003)

[Tied for 4th] Most Fumbles, Career – 10

[Tied for 4th] Most Own Fumbles Recovered, Career – 4

[5th] Most Receiving Yards, Season – 1,216 (2010)

Postseason Records

[1st] Longest Pass Reception – 40TD (From T.J. Yates vs. Cincinnati, Jan. 7, 2012)

[1st] Most Receptions, Career – 25

[1st] Most Receiving Yards, Career – 358

[1st] Most Receiving Yards, Season – 201

[1st] Most Receiving Yards, Game – 111 (at Baltimore, Jan. 15, 2012)

[1st] Most Games, 100 or More Yards Receiving, Career – 1

[1st] Most Games, 100 or More Yards Receiving, Season – 1 (2011)

[1st] Highest Receiving Average, Career – 14.3

[1st] Highest Receiving Average, Season – 15.5 (2011)

[1st] Highest Receiving Average, Game – 18.0 (vs. Cincinnati, Jan. 7, 2012)

[1st] Most Two-Point Conversions, Career – 1

[1st] Most Two-Point Conversions, Season – 1 (2012)

[1st] Most Two-Point Conversions, Game – 1 (at New England, Jan. 13, 2013)

[Tied for 1st] Most Touchdown Receptions, Career – 1

[Tied for 1st] Most Touchdown Receptions, Season – 1

[Tied for 1st] Most Touchdown Receptions, Game – 1 (vs. Cincinnati, Jan. 7, 2012)

[2nd] Most Yards from Scrimmage, Career – 358

[2nd] Most Combined Net Yards, Career – 358

[2nd] Most Combined Attempts, Career – 25

[2nd] Most Receiving Yards, Game – 95 (at New England, Jan. 13, 2013)

[Tied for 2nd] Most Receptions, Game – 8 (at New England, Jan. 13, 2013; at Baltimore, Jan. 15, 2012)

[Tied for 2nd] Most Touchdowns, Career – 1

[Tied for 2nd] Most Touchdowns, Season – 1

[3rd] Most Yards from Scrimmage, Season – 201

[3rd] Most Receptions, Season – 13

[3rd] Most Receiving Yards, Season – 157

[3rd] Highest Receiving Average, Season – 13.1 (2012)

[3rd] Highest Receiving Average, Game – 15.5 (vs. Cincinnati, Jan. 5, 2013)

[3rd] Most Combined Yards, Career – 358

[4th] Most Receptions, Season – 12

[5th] Most Yards from Scrimmage, Game – 111 (at Baltimore, Jan. 15, 2012)

NFL Statistical Championships

Pass Reception Titles: 2006, 2008

Pass Receiving Yardage Titles: 2008, 2009

Awards and Honors

2003 NFL Rookie of the Week (Week 4)

2003 NFL Rookie of the Week (Week 11)

2004 Touchdown Club Player of the Year

2006 AFC Offensive Player of the Week (Week 4)

2006 NFL Alumni Wide Receiver of the Year

2006 Touchdown Club Player of the Year

2008 AFC Offensive Player of the Month (October)

2008 NFL Alumni Wide Receiver of the Year

2009 NFL Alumni Wide Receiver of the Year

2010 AFC Offensive Player of the Week (Week 2)

2012 AFC Offensive Player of the Month (November)

STEVE McMICHAEL

Times as Finalist: 1 | Year of eligibility: 29
Position: Defensive Tackle/Nose Tackle
Height: 6-2 | Weight: 270
NFL career: 1980 New England Patriots,

1981-1993 Chicago Bears, 1994 Green Bay Packers
Seasons: 15 | Games: 213
College: Texas
Drafted: Third round (73rd overall), 1980
Born: Oct. 17, 1957, in Houston

Selected by New England in third round (73rd overall) of 1980 NFL Draft out of the University of Texas … Signed with Chicago in 1981 after being released by Patriots … Started franchise-record 191 consecutive games for  Bears in 13 seasons … Finished career with most tackles (814) and most sacks (92.5) in Bears history … Twice led Chicago in sacks: 1988, 1992 … Member of Bears’ defenses that allowed the fewest points, rushing yards and total yards in the NFL from 1982-1991 … Played in 14 career playoff games, making 11 starts … Won Super Bowl XX with Bears over Patriots, started at left defensive tackle and recorded a sack … Forced 13 fumbles, recovered 17 and had three safeties in 15 total seasons … Earned first-team All-Pro three times (1985-87) … Two Pro Bowl nods (1988, 1989)

The New England Patriots selected Steve McMichael, a consensus All-America selection at the University of Texas, in the third round (73rd overall) of the 1980 NFL Draft. After playing in only six regular-season games, the Patriots released him before the start of the 1981 season.

The following season, after an injury to one of their starting defensive linemen, the Chicago Bears brought in McMichael to back up Hall of Famer Alan Page during his final season. Unbeknownst to them at the time, the Bears had found the quintessential ironman to bolster their defensive unit.

At 6-feet-2 and 270 pounds, McMichael played in a franchise-record 191 consecutive games for the Bears, becoming a starter at defensive tackle during the 1983 campaign. As a full-time starter, McMichael went on to earn two Pro Bowl nods (1986 and 1987) and three consecutive first-team All- Pro selections (1985-87).

“Mongo” became a vital part in the Chicago Bears’ Super Bowl run, as the club looked to end their championship drought of nearly 20 years. From 1982 until 1991, the Bears allowed the fewest points, rushing yards and total yards in the NFL, while recording the most sacks. McMichael played a role in the Bears winning six division championships and Super Bowl XX in 1986 against his former club, the New England Patriots. In his lone Super Bowl, McMichael started at left defensive tackle and recorded a sack.

McMichael helped the Bears set numerous defensive team records in 1984, including fewest yards allowed (3,863) and most sacks (72; McMichael had 10). The Bears’ 72 total sacks still stand as an NFL record.

McMichael’s 92.5 career sacks rank second in Bears history, behind Hall of Famer Richard Dent. Twice, in 1988 (11.5) and 1992 (10.5), McMichael led the team in the category, and he totaled seven seasons with eight or more.

Bears’ records held by McMichael at the time of his retirement following the 1994 season

[1st] Most Safeties, Career – 3

[1st] Most Tackles, Career – 814

[1st] Most Games Played, Career – 191

[1st] Most Consecutive Games Played, Career – 191

[1st] Most Consecutive Games with at least .5 Sack – 6 (Oct. 29 to Dec. 3, 1989)

[2nd] Most Sacks, Career – 92.5

[2nd] Most Forced Fumbles, Career – 12

[2nd] Most Double-Digit Sack Seasons, Career – 3 (1984, 1988, 1992)

[2nd] Most Consecutive Games with at least .5 Sack – 5 (Nov. 6 to Dec. 4, 1983)

[Tied for 2nd] Most Seasons Played – 13 

JULIUS PEPPERS

Times as Finalist: 1 | Year of Eligibility: 1
Position: Defensive End/Outside linebacker

Ht: 6-7, Wt: 295

NFL Career: 2002–09, 2017–18 Carolina Panthers,

2010–13 Chicago Bears, 2014–16 Green Bay Packers

Seasons: 17, Games: 266

College: North Carolina

Drafted: First round (second overall), 2002

Born: Jan. 18, 1980, in Wilson N.C.

Dominant defensive end who finished career fourth on all-time sacks list with 159.5 … Only player in NFL history with at least 100 sacks and 10 or more interceptions … Second all-time with 52 career forced fumbles … At the time of retirement, ranked sixth all-time among defensive players with 266 games played … Carolina Panthers franchise leader in sacks (97), forced fumbles (34) and blocked field goals (eight) … One of four players to record 10 seasons with 10-plus sacks, other three are Hall of Famers … Named 2002 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year by AP and PFWA … Led league with 18 tackles for loss in 2006 … Totaled 719 tackles, 175 tackles for loss, 186 quarterback hits … Voted to nine Pro Bowls … Three time first-team All-Pro, three times on second team … Member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team of both the 2000s and 2010s.

The second overall pick by the Carolina Panthers in the 2002 NFL Draft, Julius Peppers became one of the most dominant pass rushers of his era. Playing for three franchises over a 17- year career, Peppers was the single-season sack leader for each at least once (Carolina, seven seasons; Chicago, four; and Green Bay, one).

As a rookie, Peppers earned AP and PFWA Defensive Rookie of the Year after averaging a sack per game, totaling 12 on the season. Peppers would register 10-plus sacks in 10 seasons, tied for third most in NFL history at the time of his retirement.

In his second season, Peppers helped the Panthers win the NFC South Division and three playoff games to reach Super Bowl XXXVIII – a three-point loss to the Patriots.

Peppers’ first All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections came after the 2004 season, which saw the defensive end record 11 sacks, nine additional tackles for loss, nine passes defensed and a 97-yard interception return for a touchdown. In 2008, he helped the Panthers to a 12-4 record and first place in the NFC South, totaling 14.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss.

In 2010, Peppers signed with the Chicago Bears, earning Pro Bowl honors and leading the team in sacks in all four years with the club. The Bears returned to the NFC Championship Game for only the second time since 1988.

For his career, Peppers appeared and started in 18 playoff games, recording 49 total tackles,6.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss.

He hold the Panthers’ team records for sacks (97), forced fumbles (34) and blocked field goals (eight).

A member of both the NFL’s All-Decade Teams of the 2000s and 2010s, Peppers’ 159.5 career cks rank fourth on the league’s all-time list.

Awards and Honors

2002 NFC Defensive Rookie of the Month (October)

2002 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year

2002 PFWA Defensive Rookie of the Year

2004 NFC Defensive Player of the Month (November)

2006 NFC Defensive Player of the Week (Week 10)

2006 NFC Defensive Player of the Month (October)

2008 NFC Defensive Player of the Month (November)

2009 NFC Defensive Player of the Week (Week 8)

2017 NFC Defensive Player of the Week (Week 4)

NFL All-Decade Team of 2000s

NFL All-Decade Team of 2010s

Defensive end Julius Peppers currently ranks fourth all-time in league history with 154.5 sacks and owns Carolina's franchise record of 92.0 sacks. In his 16 NFL seasons, Pep- pers has finished with at seven sacks 15 times.

NFL CAREER SACK LEADERS

PLAYER SACKS

Bruce Smith (1985–2003) 200.0

Reggie White (1985–2000) 198.0

Kevin Greene (1986–99) 160.0

Julius Peppers (2002–17) 154.5

PATRICK WILLIS

Times as Finalist: 2 | Year of Eligibility: 5
Position: Linebacker

Ht: 6-1, Wt: 242

NFL Career: 2007–2014 San Francisco 49ers

Seasons: 8, Games: 112

College: Mississippi

Drafted: First round (11th Overall), 2007

Born: Jan. 25, 1985, in Bruceton, Tenn.

Immediate starter for 49ers after joining team as 11th overall selection in 2007 NFL Draft … Totaled 174 tackles, four sacks, seven QB hits and eight tackles for loss in earning 2007 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year Award … Named first-team All-Pro five times in eight NFL seasons (2007, 2009, 2010-12) … Selected to Pro Bowl following seven consecutive seasons (2007-2013) … Won NFL’s version of the Butkus Award (then in its second year) in 2009, following his best season statistically overall: 152 tackles, four sacks, three forced fumbles, eight pass deflections and career-bests of three interceptions and 13 tackles for loss … Won the Bill Walsh Award in 2009 as the 49ers’ most valuable player … Contributed 10 tackles in Super Bowl XLVII loss to Baltimore Ravens … Career stats include 20.5 sacks, 60 tackles for loss, eight interceptions and 16 forced fumbles. … Named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 2010s.

Patrick Willis joined the San Francisco 49ers as the team’s first-round selection in the 2007 NFL Draft. He was the No. 11 pick overall and first linebacker chosen.

Given Willis’s college accolades, the high draft slot came as little surprise. He had been named an All-American following his standout senior year at the University of Mississippi. That season, he won the SEC Defensive Player of the Year award and both the Butkus Award and the Jack Lambert Award as the nation's top collegiate linebacker.

With the 49ers, Willis stepped into the starting lineup as a rookie and made an immediate impact. He totaled 174 tackles (according to Pro Football Reference), four sacks and eight tackles for loss. He also forced two fumbles and defensed five passes. For his efforts, he earned the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award from The Associated Press, was named a first-team All-Pro and was the only rookie invited to the Pro Bowl – his first of seven consecutive selections to that game in an injury-shortened eight-year career.

Willis continued to build his reputation and resume in 2008 and came back in 2009 with perhaps his best overall season statistically: 152 tackles, four sacks, three forced fumbles, eight pass deflections and career-bests with three interceptions and 13 tackles for loss. He won the NFL’s version of the Butkus Award, then in its second season. He also won the Bill Walsh Award as the 49ers most valuable player.

In 2011, he anchored one of the NFL’s top defenses, which set an NFL record by not allowing a rushing touchdown until Week 16. The 49ers finished 13-3, won the NFC West for first time since 2002 and reached the NFC title game. One year later, they played in the Super Bowl, with Willis contributing 10 tackles in the loss to the Ravens.

Willis finished his career with 20.5 sacks, eight interceptions and 16 forced fumbles. He was selected to the NFL’s All Decade Team of the 2010s and was a five-time AP first-team All-Pro.

49ers records held by Willis

(Records through the 2014 season, Willis’ final season with San Francisco)

[Tied for 3rd] Most Interceptions Returned for a Touchdown, Career – 2

[Tied for 7th] Longest Interception Return – 86t (at Seattle, Sept. 14, 2008)

[Tied for 10th] Most Interception Return Yards, Game – 86 (at Seattle, Sept. 14, 2008)

AWARDS AND HONORS

2007 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year

2007 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month (October)

2007 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month (December)

2007 Bill Walsh Award

2009 Bill Walsh Award

2009 Linebacker of the Year (NFL Alumni)

2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Week (Week 5)

2012 NFL Defensive Player of the Week (Week 4)

2010s All-Decade Team

 

By Frank Cooney with data from HOF