Julius Peppers, Antonio Gates headline finalists for football HOF

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Thursday, December 28, 2023

First-time candidates Julius Peppers and Antonio Gates joined nine returning finalists who advanced to the final stage of voting for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's class of 2024.

Peppers and Gates were announced Wednesday as finalists in their first year of eligibility. They will be joined on the 15-player ballot by five-time finalist wide receivers Torry Holt and Reggie Wayne.

Seven other players returned as finalists, with Patrick Willis, Andre Johnson, Dwight Freeney, Jared Allen, Willie Anderson, Darren Woodson and Devin Hester all back to this step.

Defensive backs Eric Allen and Rodney Harrison, running back Fred Taylor and offensive lineman Jahri Evans made it to this stage for the first time after previously being semifinalists.

The 15 finalists will be trimmed to 10 then to five during the selection meeting early next year. The final five candidates will need to receive 80% of the votes from the panel to get into the Hall.

Four finalists previously announced are Buddy Parker in the coaching category, and Randy Gradishar, Steve McMichael and Art Powell in the senior category. They also will get in if they earn support from at least 80% of voters.

The class of 2024 will be announced at the NFL Honors show in Las Vegas on Feb. 8, when The Associated Press' season awards for 2023 also will be announced.

Peppers and Gates were both college basketball players before finding their greatest success in football.

Peppers was one of the league's most dominant linemen after being picked second overall by theCarolina Panthersin 2002 following a two-sport career in college at North Carolina.

He had 12 sacks as a rookie and never really slowed down in a 17-year career that included stops inChicago and Green Baybefore ending up with the Panthers again. He was an All-Pro in 2004, 2006 and 2010.

Peppers finished his career with 159.5 sacks -- the fourth most since they became official in 1982. He had 10 seasons with double-digit sacks; only Hall of Famers Bruce Smith (13) and Reggie White (12) had more.

Gates played only basketball in college before turning into one of the NFL's top tight ends. He switched to football after going undrafted in basketball.

TheChargerstook a chance on him, and it paid off in a big way, as he became an All-Pro in just his second season, in 2004. He was an All-Pro again the next two campaigns and went on to have a 16-year career for the team.

Gates finished with 955 catches for 11,841 yards and an NFL record for tight ends with 116 touchdown receptions. Only Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten have more catches or receiving yards as a tight end.

The 15 finalists also include three prolific wideouts, with Johnson, Holt and Wayne all catching more than 900 passes and ranking in the top 20 in career yards receiving.

Allen and Freeney rank in the top 20 all time in sacks, and they had four and three first-team All-Pro selections, respectively.

Willis (five), Evans (four), Anderson (three), Woodson (three), Hester (three) and Harrison (two) all enjoyed multiple first-team All-Pro selections.

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