The Pro Football Hall of Fame has unveiled 122 nominees for the 2022 class, including 10 first-year eligible players. That list includes WR Anquan Boldin, OL Jake Long, DB Antonio Cromartie, WR Steve Smith, OL Nick Mangold, DL Vince Wilfork, WR Andre Johnson, EDGE DeMarcus Ware, DL Robert Mathis, and last but not least, WR/KR Devin Hester.
Several of these candidates strike us as being worthy of entering Canton on their first attempt. Here are five guys who stand out.
ANQUAN BOLDIN, WR
The group of first-year eligible wide receivers is particularly difficult to sort through. All of them deserve to get in, but I’m making the first argument for Boldin. A 14-year pro, Boldin lit the league on fire from the very beginning—and I do mean very beginning. Boldin recorded an astounding 217 receiving yards in his first career game!
It was clear that Boldin was a force to reckoned with from the very first time he stepped onto an NFL field. Boldin went on to catch a record-breaking 101 balls in his rookie season. The fact that Boldin still holds that rookie receiving record today is truly incredible considering how pass-happy the league has become since then.
A three-time Pro Bowler, Boldin finally got his Super Bowl as a member of the Baltimore Ravens in his 10th season. As for his impact in the biggest event of the year, Boldin opened the scoring in that game, catching a 13-yard touchdown from quarterback Joe Flacco. Boldin led all Ravens receivers with six catches for 104 yards and a score.
A seven-time 1,000-yard receiver, Boldin made a profound impact on the game that is still felt today.
VINCE WILFORK, DT
The big boys never get enough love. A first-round pick out of Miami back in 2004, Wilfork will go down as one of the greatest defensive tackles to ever play the game. Wilfork is the poster child for longevity at his position, playing in an astonishing 213 career games in 13 seasons.
Wilfork wrapped up his playing days as a member of the Houston Texans but will be best remembered for the impact he made alongside Tom Brady with the New England Patriots. Wilfork truly was the heart and soul of Bill Belichick’s defense throughout the golden years of the greatest dynasty we’ve ever seen.
Wilfork hung up his boots as a two-time Super Bowl Champion, five-time Pro Bowler, first-team All-Pro in 2012, and three-time second-team All-Pro. It’s gonna take a lot of fabric to make a gold jacket for Wilfork’s 350-pound frame, so they should probably start on it sooner rather than later.
NICK MANGOLD, OL
From one big boy to another, Nick Mangold represented consistency in its purest form at one of the league’s most important and underappreciated positions. A first-round pick out of Ohio State back in 2006, Mangold played his entire 11-year career as a member of the New York Jets.
You always knew what you were going to get from Mangold, who was named to seven Pro Bowls and retired as a two-time first-team All-Pro. I realize this may be the most controversial selection in this article, but Mangold was that good for that long.
A lack of team success could hurt Mangold’s chances here, but it’s not like didn’t partake in any special playoff moments. The Jets won 10 or more games in just three of Mangold’s 11 seasons but reached the AFC Championship Game twice (2019 and 2010) during the peak of his playing days.
Mangold didn’t play a glamorous position, but he was truly a special talent and leader.
DEMARCUS WARE, EDGE
Ware is the most obvious first-ballot Hall of Famer on the list. One of the greatest pass rushers to ever play the game, Ware racked up an astounding 138.5 career sacks in 12 career seasons, placing him in the top 10 on the all-time leaderboard.
For as consistent as Ware was throughout his career, and he sure was consistent, it’s tough not to single out his special 2008 season. The former University of Troy standout was completely and utterly unblockable en route to recording 20(!) sacks as a member of the Dallas Cowboys.
Ware would leave Dallas after nine seasons, but the impact he made on America’s most popular franchise is still felt to this day. Ware holds the franchise records for sacks (117), forced fumbles (32), tackles for loss (117), and quarterback hits (185).
For many players, the second chapter can be a disappointment, but that wasn’t the case with Ware. In three seasons as a Denver Bronco, he totaled a respectable 21.5 sacks and earned his Super Bowl ring as a member of the 2015 team, alongside Peyton Manning. The Broncos won Super Bowl 50 on the back of a dominant defensive performance, and Ware did his part by recording two sacks in the biggest game of his career.
Ware is one of the greatest pass rushers to ever grace an NFL field, and shouldn’t have to wait a second longer to receive his invite to Canton.
STEVE SMITH SR., WR
You didn’t think I was gonna leave him out, did you?
The second wide receiver I’m making the case for is one of the greatest showmen we’ve ever seen. A former third-round pick out of Utah, Smith was a larger-than-life presence every time he graced an NFL field.
Smith amassed a ridiculous 19,180 all-purpose yards throughout 16 successful seasons in the league. You can’t overstate what Smith meant to the Carolina Panthers. To this day, he holds more than 50(!) franchise records.
An eight-time 1,000-yard receiver, it’s tough to single out Smith’s brightest season, but 2005 was truly special. Smith led the league in receiving yards (1,563), receptions (103), and touchdowns (12).
Smith was a true gamer to the very end. Smith remained a respectable talent in his final three years in the league, totaling 2,534 receiving yards as a member of the Baltimore Ravens.
It’s super unfortunate that Smith never won a Super Bowl, but that shouldn’t stop him from being honored as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
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