NFC West Writer
The most dynamic returner in NFL history and one of the most dominant pass rushers in memory will get their gold jackets this summer.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced on Thursday that former Chicago Bears returner Devin Hester and edge rusher Julius Peppers were among those elected to the Hall by the 50-person selection committee.
Joining them in the Hall’s 2024 class are linebacker Patrick Willis, edge rusher Dwight Freeney and receiver Andre Johnson. Defensive players Randy Gradishar and Steve McMichael were selected by the senior committee.
Including the newly elected class, the Hall of Fame’s membership now stands at 378. The Class of 2024 will be enshrined on Saturday, Aug. 3, at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio.
Hester was a finalist for the third time this year, while Peppers is the 90th first-ballot Hall of Famer since the Hall began identifying groups of 15 finalists in 1970.
Hester, Chicago’s electric return man, ended his career with an NFL-record 20 special teams touchdowns, including 14 on punt returns for scores.
Peppers, who played for the Panthers, Bears and Packers, finished his career fourth on the all-time sacks list with 159.5 and as the only player in league history with at least 100 sacks and 10 or more interceptions. The North Carolina product ranks second all-time with 52 career forced fumbles and made the All-Decade teams of the 2000s and 2010s.
Willis had his career cut short due to injury but was one of the best linebackers in NFL history while healthy. He was named first-team All-Pro five times in his eight seasons with the 49ers and was selected to the Pro Bowl seven consecutive years. Willis finished his career with 20.5 sacks, 60 tackles for loss, eight interceptions and 16 forced fumbles. He was named to the All-Decade team of the 2010s.
A seven-time Pro Bowl selection with the Colts, Freeney played in 218 games over 16 NFL seasons, racking up 125.5 sacks, 148 quarterback hits and 128 tackles for loss. He also finished tied for third all time with 47 forced fumbles.
Johnson had 1,062 receptions for 14,185 receiving yards and 70 touchdowns. He’s one of only three players (along with Jerry Rice and Calvin Johnson) to lead the NFL in receiving yards in consecutive seasons in the Super Bowl era. Johnson surpassed 1,000 receiving yards seven times with the Texans and twice led the NFL in receptions (103 in 2006 and 115 in 2008).
Gradishar, an inside backer for the Denver Broncos, never missed a game in his 10-year career, earned seven trips to the Pro Bowl and was named All-Pro five times. Gradishar was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1978. The only other inside linebackers to win the award between 1971 and 1999 were Jack Lambert and Mike Singletary.
McMichael was a leading member of Chicago’s fearsome defense that allowed the fewest points, rushing yards and total yards in the NFL from 1982 to 1991. The defensive tackle finished his career with the most tackles (814) and most sacks (92.5) in Bears history.
First-year eligible candidates for the 2025 Hall of Fame class include linebacker Luke Kuechly, quarterback Eli Manning, kicker Adam Vinatieri, running back Marshawn Lynch and linebacker Terrell Suggs.
Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.
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