Photo courtesy of Pro Football Hall of Fame.
This past week, the NFL has announced their class of 2024 Hall of Fame inductees. The list consists of 5 modern day players and 2 who were chosen by the senior committee. Here is a breakdown of who was selected and how they were drafted into the league.
Dwight Freeney, Defensive End (2002-2017)
Dwight Freeney was to the Indianapolis Colts defense as Peyton Manning was to their offense during their run to 2 Super Bowl appearances. Freeney was unblockable off the edge with his speed and agility and finished his career with 125.5 career sacks.
Freeney was selected out of Syracuse in the 2002 NFL draft as a complimentary piece to Robert Mathis on the defensive line. He went on to finish 2nd in the 2002 Defensive Rookie of the Year voting, finishing behind fellow 2024 Hall of Fame inductee Julius Peppers of the Carolina Panthers.
He played 16 seasons in the NFL, 11 in Indianapolis and earned 4 All-Pro honors. Freeney wasn’t just an edge rusher who produced sacks, he also ranks 4th in NFL history in forced fumbles with 47. Besides Indianapolis, he also played for the San Diego Chargers, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons and the Seattle Seahawks.
Draft Nation Stats- First round pick (11th overall) in the 2002 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts out of Syracuse.
Randy Gradishar, Linebacker (1974-1983)
Randy Gradishar was a tackling machine who was considered one of the best linebackers of his time. He was voted in by the senior committee, making him the first member of the Denver Broncos' defense who was known as the “Orange Crush”.
Gradishar was a first-round pick out of Ohio State and played his entire career with the Denver Broncos. He earned five All-Pro selections and won the Defensive Player of the Year in 1978, beating out the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers' defensive members.
During his 10-year career, Gradishar was estimated to have totaled 2,049 tackles, which puts him at over 200 tackles a season. He also had 20 career interceptions and 3 defensive touchdowns.
Draft Nation Stats- First round pick (14th overall) in the 1974 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos out of Ohio State.
Devin Hester- Return Specialist (2006-2016)
Devin Hester is on the shortlist of greatest return men in the history of the NFL, and now becomes one of the few true specialists in the Hall of Fame.
He played cornerback and receiver early in his career, but became a true weapon for the Chicago Bears in both the kick and return game. Hester set an NFL career record with 20 return touchdowns, including an opening kickoff return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLI.
Hester had one of the greatest rookie campaigns ever seen in the NFL. He returned six kicks for touchdowns in the regular season, one coming on a blocked field goal, and added a seventh in the Super Bowl against the Colts. He followed up his elite rookie season by returning six more kicks (4 punt returns) in his sophomore season.
Hester never caught on as a wide receiver or a cornerback but still ended his career with 255 catches for 3,311 yards and 16 touchdowns as a wideout. He played 11 seasons, playing 8 for the Chicago Bears, 2 with the Atlanta Falcons and splitting his last season with the Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks.
Draft Nation Stats- 2nd round pick of the Chicago Bears in the 2006 NFL Draft out of Miami (FL).
Andre Johnson, Wide Receiver (2003-2016)
Andre Johnson beat out two other top-notch wide receivers in this class, both of whom collected Super Bowl rings (Torry Holt, Reggie Wayne).
Johnson continually put up monster numbers on bad Texans' teams that featured quarterbacks such as David Carr and Matt Schaub. Johnson had seven 1,000 yard seasons, with four of those being 1,400 plus. Only Jerry Rice (six) and Julio Jones (five) produced more 1,400 yard campaigns.
Johnson is 11th all-time in career yards for receivers with 14,185. Johnson spent 12 years with the Houston Texans and is the first Texans player to enter the Hall of Fame. He finished his 14 year career playing 1 season with both the Indianapolis Colts and the Tennessee Titans. Over the course of his time in the NFL, he snared 1,062 passes for 14,185 yards and 70 touchdowns.
Draft Nation Stats- First round pick (3rd overall) by the Houston Texans in the 2003 NFL Draft out of Miami (FL)
Steve McMichael, Defensive Tackle (1980-1994)
Steve McMichael was originally drafted by the New England Patriots but only played 6 games before being released and being picked up by the Chicago Bears.
With Chicago, he teamed up with fellow Hall of Famers Dan Hampton and Richard Dent, along with William “The Refrigerator” Perry to form one of the best defenses in NFL history. He ended up playing 13 of his 15 seasons in Chicago, finishing up his career in 1994 playing for the Green Bay Packers.
McMichael ended his career with 95 sacks, including 92.5 with Chicago, good for 2nd in Bears history. McMichael was elected by the senior committee after failing to qualify during his original rounds of voting.
Draft Nation Stats- 3rd round draft by the New England Patriots in the 1980 NFL Draft out of Texas.
Julius Peppers, Defensive End (2002-2018)
Julius Peppers is still 5th on the all-time sacks list with 159.5, even after being retired for 5 seasons. He was voted in on his first attempt after his illustrious career.
Peppers was a consistent pass rusher and is among only a few players to land on two All-Decade teams. In his career, he won several awards, including Defensive Rookie of the Year and 6 All-Pro honors.
Julius Peppers had 10 or more sacks 10 times, including notching 11 at age 37 in his return to Carolina. All in all, he played 17 seasons, 10 in Carolina, 4 in Chicago and 3 in Green Bay.
Draft Nation Stats- First round pick (2nd overall) by the Carolina Panthers out of North Carolina.
Patrick Willis, Linebacker (2007-2014)
Willis is unique in the fact that he only played 8 seasons and dominated at the age of 29 from the NFL.
In those 8 years, though, Willis was an exceptional tackling and playmaking linebacker and finished with 6 All-Pro honors. He won Defensive Rookie of the Year while also being named to the first-team All-Pro honors in the same season. In his rookie season, he led the league in both tackles with 176 and solo tackles with 136.
Willis collected over 100 tackles in 6 of his 8 seasons, the other 2 seasons were cut short due to injury. After suffering a foot injury in the middle of the 2014 season, Willis opted to retire from the game. He ended his career playing in 112 games and finished with 950 tackles, 8 interceptions, 20.5 sacks and 2 defensive touchdowns.
Draft Nation Stats- First round pick (11th overall) in the 2007 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers out of Ole Miss.