LAS VEGAS (AP) — First-time candidate Julius Peppers headlines a 2024 Pro Football Hall of Fame class that has a distinctive defensive feel.

The star defensive end was joined by another elite pass rusher in Dwight Freeney and do-everything linebacker Patrick Willis in the modern era category announced Thursday night. Prolific receiver Andre Johnson and dynamic returner Devin Hester also got voted into the Hall from the group of 15 finalists.

Two more defensive players got in on the senior category, with linebacker Randy Gradishar and defensive tackle Steve McMichael getting the needed 80% support from the panel.

Former AFL receiver Art Powell and coach Buddy Parker fell short of the threshold and missed out.

Peppers was one of the league’s most dominant linemen after being picked second overall by Carolina in 2002. He had 12 sacks as a rookie and never really slowed down in a 17-year career that included stops in Chicago and Green Bay before ending with the Panthers. He was an All-Pro in 2004, 2006 and 2010.

Peppers finished his career with 159 1/2 sacks — the fourth most since they became official in 1982 — and had 10 seasons with double-digit sacks. Only Hall of Famers Bruce Smith (13) and Reggie White (12) had more.


Willis’ career was brief but impactful.

A first-round pick by San Francisco in 2007, Willis immediately became a star with 174 tackles, four sacks, seven QB hits and eight tackles for loss on the way to winning the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

He was a first-team All-Pro five times in eight seasons and helped San Francisco reach three straight conference title games and one Super Bowl.

Freeney was the defensive star on the stellar Colts teams led by Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning. Indianapolis hadn’t won a playoff game in Manning’s first four seasons before Freeney arrived but won nine in his first nine seasons, including Super Bowl 41 and another AFC title game in the 2009 season.

Known best for his devastating spin move, Freeney was a first-team All-Pro three times, led the NFL with 16 sacks in 2004 and finished his career with 125½ sacks and 47 forced fumbles.

Hester was one of the most feared players in the game despite his small stature at 5-foot-11, 190 pounds. While he played both receiver and cornerback, he excelled as a returner for Chicago.


He scored six TDs on returns in each of his first two regular seasons, including a 108-yarder following a missed field goal as a rookie in 2006 when he helped the Bears make the Super Bowl.

He then took the opening kick in that game against Indianapolis back 92 yards for a touchdown for the only opening kick TD return in Super Bowl history.

Hester was a first-team All-Pro three times and finished his career with a record 14 punt return TDs and five more on kickoffs.

Johnson became the first player to spend the bulk of his career with the Texans to make the Hall of Fame.

A first-round pick in Houston’s second season in 2003, Johnson led the league in receiving yards twice, was a two-time All-Pro and had seven 1,000-yard seasons despite spending most of his career without an elite quarterback.

The only other Hall of Famer who played for the Texans was Ed Reed, who spent part of his final season in Houston.


Gradishar was a key part of Denver’s “Orange Crush” defense in the 1970s, making the Pro Bowl seven times in 10 seasons, being selected as an All-Pro in 1977 and ’78 and winning Defensive Player of the Year in 1978.

A tackling machine at inside linebacker, Gradishar also intercepted 20 passes and recovered 13 fumbles in a 10-year career and never missed a single game. He was a modern era finalist for the Hall in 2003 and ’08 but didn’t get elected.

While the Broncos fell one game short of winning it all in 1977 when they allowed only 10.6 points per game, McMichael was part of an even more dominant defense that won the Super Bowl in the 1985 season.

McMichael controlled the interior of the line on the Bears’ famed “46 defense” that is considered by many to be the best ever after leading Chicago to an 18-1 record and allowing only 10 points in three playoff wins.

McMichael had 95 career sacks as a defensive tackle, was selected as an All-Pro in 1985 and ’87 and was a second-teamer two other times.

The other finalists from the modern era category who didn’t advance to the final five were tight end Antonio Gates; receivers Torry Holt and Reggie Wayne; offensive linemen Willie Anderson and Jahri Evans; defensive backs Darren Woodson, Eric Allen and Rodney Harrison; running back Fred Taylor and defensive end Jared Allen.

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