As part of tonight’s NFL Honors program, the 2024 Pro Football Hall of Fame class has been revealed. It consists of modern-era standouts and two players chosen by the senior committee. Here is the full breakdown of this year’s honorees:
Dwight Freeney, defensive end (2002-17)
In his second year as a finalist, Freeney received enough support to be voted into the Hall. One of the quickest edge rushers in NFL history, Freeney will reach Canton with 125.5 career sacks. That total ranks 18th in NFL history. The Colts made Freeney their pass-rushing anchor during Peyton Manning‘s extended run as their franchise centerpiece. While the team eventually found a bookend in Robert Mathis, it chose Freeney 11th overall in the 2002 draft with a hope of building a pass defense around the Syracuse alum. Freeney delivered and will book a Hall of Fame nod on his second try.
Freeney finished second to fellow 2024 inductee Julius Peppers in 2002 Defensive Rookie of the Year voting, but the spin-move maven showed what was ahead by forcing nine forced fumbles as a rookie. The 11-year Colt earned four All-Pro honors, joining Mathis as one of the era’s defining pass-rushing duos. Freeney led the NFL with 16 sacks in 2004 and helped the Colts vanquish their Patriots hurdle en route to a Super Bowl XLI win two years later. The Colts gave Freeney a six-year, $72MM extension in 2007.
The enduring sack artist managed to play five seasons following his Colts career, spending time with the Chargers, Falcons, Cardinals, Seahawks and Lions. Serving as a designated rusher near the end of his career, Freeney helped the Cardinals reach the 2015 NFC championship game, after an eight-sack season, and played in Super Bowl LI with the Falcons.
Randy Gradishar, linebacker (1974-83)**
Widely viewed as one of the best linebackers of his era and one of the game’s best tacklers of any period, Gradishar moves into the Hall via the senior committee route. Gradishar’s selection makes him the first member of the Broncos’ “Orange Crush” defense to be enshrined in Canton. That defensive nucleus powered Denver to its first playoff berth, a 1977 season that included postseason wins over 1970s superpowers Pittsburgh and Oakland en route to Super Bowl XII. The Broncos allowed just 10.6 points per game in 1977. Despite multiple rule changes designed to increase offensive productivity in 1978, the Broncos yielded just 12.4 points per contest that year.
A first-round pick out of Ohio State, Gradishar played his entire career in Denver and earned five All-Pro honors. The above-referenced 1978 season featured perhaps the best team in Steelers history, but Gradishar outflanked “Steel Curtain” cogs by being voted as Defensive Player of the Year after helping the 10-6 Broncos back to the playoffs. The off-ball linebacker added 20 interceptions and four defensive touchdowns in his career.
Devin Hester, return specialist (2006-16)
Almost definitely the greatest return man in NFL history, Hester becomes one of the few true specialists in the Hall of Fame. Dabbling at cornerback and wide receiver, Hester provided the Bears tremendous value as a return specialist. Elite in both the kick- and punt-return capacities, Hester set an NFL record with 20 return touchdowns. Famously adding a kick-return score in the playoffs — to begin Super Bowl XLI — Hester delivered one of the great rookie seasons in NFL history. The Bears second-round pick notched six return TDs in the regular season — one coming on a blocked field goal sprint against the Giants — and added No. 7 against the Colts in the Super Bowl.
Hester’s 2007 season dismissed any fluke notions; he posted six more return scores (four on punts) during his NFL sophomore slate. While producing 17 more TDs on offense over the course of his career, Hester never caught on as a pure wideout in Chicago. But he landed on two All-Decade teams for his return work. Eighteen of Hester’s 19 return TDs came in Chicago. Hester’s 14 punt-return TDs are four more than second place all time (Eric Metcalf); he broke the record for combined kick- and punt-return TDs in only his sixth season (2011).
The Falcons gave Hester a three-year, $9MM contract in 2014; he finished his career splitting time with the Ravens and Seahawks in 2016. Seattle signed Hester just before the 2016 playoffs, using him in both its postseason contests that year.
Andre Johnson, wide receiver (2003-16)
Not collecting a Super Bowl ring like the other two pure wide receiver finalists in this year’s class (Torry Holt, Reggie Wayne), Johnson became well known for putting up monster numbers despite not being gifted a top-tier quarterback. But Johnson operated as one of the most physically imposing receivers in NFL history. The ex-Miami Hurricanes star’s numbers, largely compiled with David Carr and Matt Schaub targeting him, reflect that. Of Johnson’s seven 1,000-yard receiving seasons, four included 1,400-plus. Only Jerry Rice (six) and Julio Jones (five) produced more such seasons. Johnson’s 14,185 career yards rank 11th all time.
The Texans chose Johnson third overall in 2003, the second draft in their history. The 229-pound pass catcher led the NFL in receptions twice and receiving yards in back-to-back years (2008, 2009). Neither of those seasons lifted the Texans to a playoff berth, but Johnson remained in place as the team’s No. 1 wideout when the team finally booked its first two postseason cameos in 2011 and 2012. Johnson amassed 201 yards in two playoff games in 2011, doing so despite Schaub’s injury leaving rookie T.J. Yates at the controls.
Johnson is the Texans’ first Hall of Famer. This is fitting, as he retired with the most games played in Texans history. The longtime WR1 spent 12 years with the team. Johnson signed two Houston extensions spanning at least seven years in length, earning more than $108MM throughout his NFL run. He finished a 14-year career with one season apiece in Indianapolis and Tennessee.
Steve McMichael, defensive tackle (1980-94)**
Part of the storied 1985 Bears’ defense, McMichael played 13 of his 15 NFL seasons in Chicago. A Patriots third-round draftee, McMichael found himself in the Windy City ahead of his second season. The Patriots waived the future D-line mainstay during the 1981 offseason. Teaming with fellow Hall of Famers Dan Hampton and Richard Dent (along with William “The Refrigerator” Perry) on Chicago’s D-line, McMichael earned four All-Pro honors while helping a Bears team — one that saw Jim McMahon injuries impede paths to Super Bowls — become a perennial contender.
The Bears did, of course, break through as champions in 1985. That 18-1 team is on a short list of those in the running for the best ever, allowing only 12.4 points per game and outscoring its playoff opposition 91-10. McMichael started 16 games for the ’85 team and suited up every week for an ’86 Bears defense that statistically outflanked its famed predecessor. Better known by some as part of WCW’s Four Horsemen faction during his wrestling career, “Mongo” finished his gridiron run with 95 sacks (three of them safeties). McMichael closed out his NFL stay with the Packers in 1994. His 92.5 sacks with the Bears are second in franchise history.
Five years after retiring, Peppers remains fourth on the NFL’s all-time sack list (159.5). The former Panthers, Bears and Packers pass rusher finished a half-sack shy of Kevin Greene for third. While Greene needed to wait a bit before enshrinement, voters will send Peppers to Canton on his first try. The former North Carolina two-sport standout came into the league with high expectations, going off the 2002 draft board second overall. He justified those, remaining a productive pass rusher into his late 30s. No active sack artist is within 35 of Peppers’ career total. He is among the rare players to land on two All-Decade teams.
Peppers collected six All-Pro honors, three as a first-teamer, and did quite well on the contract front. Peppers’ rookie contract spanned seven years (and $46MM, before the 2011 CBA introduced the slot system), and the Panthers kept him off the market with a franchise tag ahead of Year 8. During the uncapped 2010, Peppers landed a then-record-setting DE pact from the Bears (six years, $84MM). He played four seasons on that deal, and after the Bears made the 6-foot-6 rusher a cap casualty in 2014, Peppers made an impact for three playoff-bound Packers teams in the mid-2010s.
While this can be considered a big night for the Bears — due to the enshrinements of three former players — Peppers played 10 years with the Panthers, returning home to close out his 17-season run. Fifteen years after he won Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in Charlotte, the North Carolina native re-signed with his hometown team. Peppers’ penultimate season brought a 10th double-digit sack showing; he totaled 11 at age 37 to help the Panthers to their most recent playoff berth.
Willis did not overstay his welcome in the NFL, retiring after his age-29 season. The dominant inside linebacker did not lack for accolades in his eight-year career, racking up six All-Pro honors — including five first-team distinctions. The 49ers nabbed Willis in the 2007 first round and turned him loose. Although San Francisco did not form the Jim Harbaugh–Vic Fangio pairing until Willis’ fifth season, he flashed frequently as a young player and was regarded by many as the NFL’s best off-ball linebacker for an extended period.
The Ole Miss alum picked up Defensive Rookie of the Year acclaim and became the rare player to win that award while earning first-team All-Pro honors. Willis tallied a career-high 174 tackles — including a staggering 136 solo — as a rookie to provide an indication of his capabilities. Willis remained in his prime when Harbaugh and Fangio arrived in 2011. While Harbaugh’s arrival elevated Alex Smith and then Colin Kaepernick, Willis’ presence represented a key part of a defense-geared 49ers blueprint that produced three straight NFC championship games and a berth in Super Bowl XLVII.
Willis teamed with NaVorro Bowman to form one of the great linebacking pairs in modern NFL history. Seeing each soar to the first-team All-Pro perch, the 49ers went second-second-third in scoring defense from 2011-13. After suffering a foot injury midway through the 2014 season, Willis opted to call it quits.
* = denotes first year of eligibility
** = denotes senior candidate