Julius Peppers, Dwight Freeney, Patrick Willis Lead 2024 NFL Hall of Fame
The 2024 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement class will honor defense as well as a player many consider the best kickoff/punt returner ever.
The seven-member Class of 2024 will include defensive end Julius Peppers, defensive end Dwight Freeney and linebacker Patrick Willis. Devin Hester, the league's record holder for kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns, and wide receiver Andre Johnson will also be enshrined as modern-era selections.
Linebacker Randy Gradishar, who played in his last game in 1983, and defensive tackle Steve McMichael, who retired after 1994 season, were senior finalists selected to be enshrined.
Freeney is 18th all time in sacks, with 125.5, and was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection with his signature spin move. Freeney had seven seasons with at least 10 sacks and eight campaigns with at least four forced fumbles.
Peppers was a two-sport athlete at North Carolina, having also played two seasons for the Tar Heels basketball team in addition to his All-American status with the football squad. He went on to become one of the league's most prolific pass-rushers and is fourth on the official sack list with 159.5 since sacks became an official statistic in 1982.
Hester will be considered the first player who was primarily a returner to be selected for enshrinement. He had two 50-catch seasons in his 12-year career as a receiver and three seasons with at least 100 snaps on defense, but many consider Hester to be the best returner to have played in the NFL.
Johnson, who was among three wide receivers (Reggie Wayne, Torry Holt) who were finalists for the Class of 2024, had seven Pro Bowl selections, 14,185 career receiving yards and 70 receiving touchdowns. He played all but two of his 14 seasons with the Houston Texans.
McMichael was part of the Chicago Bears defense some in the league consider the best of the Super Bowl era. Released by the New England Patriots after a back injury limited him to six games as a rookie, McMichael went on to become one of the NFL's best interior pass rushers with 95 career sacks.
Gradishar, the league's Defensive Player of the Year in 1978 and a seven-time Pro Bowl selection, might have been the most decorated player in the Hall's senior pool. With Gradishar as the anchor in the middle of the fabled "Orange Crush" defense, the Broncos were in the league's top 10 in rushing defense, pass defense, total defense, scoring defense and interceptions during his career.
Many players had longer careers than Willis, who retired after eight seasons because of a painful toe injury that wouldn't heal, but few have been more productive or had decorated years. He was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection in his eight seasons as well as a five-time first-team All-Pro selection.
Willis was also selected to the all-decade team of the 2010s, led the league in tackles twice and had six 100-tackle seasons.
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