The Pro Football Hall of Fame plans on revealing the class of 2021 during NFL Honors on Feb. 6, the day before the Super Bowl. The 15 modern-era finalists feature four players entering their first years of eligibility. While the class of 2020 didn’t feature many first-ballot Hall of Famers, the three previous classes produced eight first-ballot inductees. The voters shouldn’t change that trend this year.
Traditionally, Hall of Fame classes consist of one or two contributors, one or two players from the senior committee, and five modern-era players. This article only focuses on the modern-era finalists. With only five receiving gold jackets, two-thirds of the finalists must go home empty-handed yet again.
While just getting on the Hall of Fame ballot is a significant accomplishment, it’s one step short of the sport’s greatest honor. The following five players will cry, laugh, and smile with family members next Saturday when they hear their names announced among the Hall of Fame class of 2021.
Tony Boselli, T 1995-2002
I thought we all learned our lesson when Terrell Davis got inducted in 2017. It isn’t the length of the career. It’s the peak. Any player that claims they dominated their position deserves a gold jacket. Boselli was the NFL’s best left tackle and perhaps the best offensive lineman from 1997 through 1999. Injuries tore him down after a Pro Bowl year in 2000, but Boselli’s brief run atop the NFL wasn’t that different from Davis’ three-year dash.
Alan Faneca, G 1998-2010
Boselli was the NFL’s best left tackle for three years. Faneca was the best left guard for six. In his 13-year career, the decorated LSU product went to nine Pro Bowls, earned two Second-Team All-Pro selections, and dominated all other players at his position with six First-Team All-Pro campaigns. A Super Bowl champion with the Pittsburgh Steelers and 2000s All-Decade Team member, Faneca should’ve cemented his place in Canton years ago.
Calvin Johnson, WR 2007-2015
If Jerry Rice is the greatest wide receiver of all-time, Johnson is the most dominant. Nicknamed Megatron, Johnson towered over his competition at 6-5, 237 lbs. During his nine-year career, Johnson amassed 731 receptions, 11,619 yards, and 83 touchdowns. He led the NFL in receptions once, receiving yards twice, and receiving touchdowns once.
The former second overall pick ignited one of the best peaks by a wide receiver in 2011, earning the first of three consecutive First-Team All-Pro selections. From 2011 through 2013, Johnson caught 302 passes for 33 touchdowns and 5,137 yards (111.7 yards per game). Unfortunately, injuries and Detroit’s general shortcomings led to decreased production in 2014 and 2015.
Johnson doesn’t have the career statistics to compete with many other great wide receivers coming down the pipeline. However, his short run of dominance captivated the league in an undeniable way. You can’t write the game’s history without mentioning Megatron.
Peyton Manning, QB 1998-2015
Statistically, Manning accomplished almost everything he could’ve during the 17 seasons he suited up. The Sheriff retired as the league’s all-time leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns while only trailing Brett Favre in completions. Manning earned 14 Pro Bowl appearances, seven First-Team All-Pro selections, five MVPs, and two Offensive Player of the Year awards.
The one knock against Manning, if you can call it that, is his lack of rings. The Tennessee product won Super Bowl XLI before losing Super Bowls XLIV and XLVIII. As Manning limped to the finish line, throwing nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions in his final season, Denver’s defense won the legend his second ring in Super Bowl 50.
As far as first-ballot Hall of Famers go, Manning is an easy lock.
Charles Woodson, CB 1998-2015
While Manning has one of the best résumés in NFL history, Woodson is arguably the gem of the 2021 Hall of Fame class. He’s undoubtedly a first-ballot worthy player. The fourth overall pick in the 1998 draft, Woodson spent 18 years in the league. He amassed 65 interceptions (tied for fifth all-time), well over 1,000 tackles, 20 sacks, 33 forced fumbles, and 13 defensive touchdowns.
Woodson’s stature rivaled 2019 first-ballot Hall of Famer Champ Bailey’s standing throughout the NFL. Woodson surpassed Bailey by successfully transitioning to safety at the end of his career. The former Packer and Raider capped his career with five interceptions, including two against Manning, and a Second-Team All-Pro selection in 2015.
Woodson left the NFL with four First and Second-Team All-Pro selections. He also won the Defensive Rookie of the Year award in 1998 and was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2009. A Super Bowl title with Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay stands out as the crowning achievement of Woodson’s lengthy career.