Joe Thomas, Darrelle Revis Lead HOF Finalists

Cleveland Browns OT Joe Thomas
Cleveland Browns OT Joe Thomas
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Week 18 - Former Cleveland Browns left tackle Joe Thomas and former New York Jets/New England Patriots/Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Darrelle Revis (of "Revis Island" fame) headlined the 15 modern-era finalists for the 2023 Pro Football Hall of Fame class.

Lots of familiar names who have been finalists in the past rounded out the group. An enshrinement committee will meet and deliberate to whittle the finalists down to five 2023 Hall of Fame inductees sometime before the Super Bowl (dates and procedures have changed significantly -- and often suddenly -- since COVID). The five inductees will join senior-committee selections Chuck Howley, Joe Klecko and Ken Riley, as well as coach-contributor Don Coryell, as part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2023*. 

I have written about many of these players in past years and when they were semifinalists. I plan to reach out to individual voters for their anonymous thoughts on this year's class in the days ahead. For now, here are my thoughts and conjectures on this year's finalists:

Joe Thomas (first ballot). There are two types of first-ballot PFHoF inductees: those whom the committee debates about and those who are waved in without even a presentation. Thomas will probably merit a presentation and (brief) debate, if only because some voters get antsy about waving in non-Tom Brady-level candidates when others have been in the queue for years. I give Thomas a 100% chance of going this year. 

Darrelle Revis (first ballot). I am eager to speak to voters about Revis. My gut tells me he’s a first-ballot shoo-in, but he may need to win over some skeptics from, say, the Tampa contingent. The endorsements (or lack thereof) of some of his highly-influential former coaches – and perhaps peers/receivers with axes to grind – will also matter. But perhaps I am borrowing trouble. Let’s pencil Revis in with a 85% chance on the first ballot.

Dwight Freeney (first ballot). Freeney is a likely eventual Hall of Famer because of his sack totals, contributions to a Super Bowl team and signature spin move. He is an unlikely 2023 Hall of Famer because his case is not strong enough to leap-frog Demarcus Ware and Jared Allen. He may also lose support to Reggie Wayne if the Colts contingent senses that Wayne has a better chance of being pushed through. Factor in a reluctance to induct three players on the first ballot, and Freeney has about a 5% chance in 2023. 

Zach Thomas (fourth-time finalist). The committee has probably reached the “why are we still talking about this guy?” stage, which is actually a good sign for Thomas. His enshrinement in 2022 was probably waylaid by the overwhelming support Bryant Young received from former teammates/opponents and by a last-ditch effort to get Sam Mills in before his case was remanded to the senior committee.

Thomas has ardent supporters on the committee and among some very influential past opponents (though he also have some detractors among the old-school football crowd of his era). I give him about a 90% chance of getting in.

Willie Anderson (second-time finalist). Anderson was a welcome-to-the-ballot finalist in 2022. This year, he will probably be shunted behind Thomas, with Riley on hand to placate Cincinnati Bengals fans. Anderson strikes me as the sort of player who gets stuck at the finalist stage for a while because his career lacks a "hook." (Best right tackle of his era is not a persuasive hook.) I give Anderson about a 20% chance of getting in this year. 

Torry Holt and Reggie Wayne (fourth-time finalists). Ah, the Sammy Hagar receivers: great, but not quite as great at teammates who preceded them at the same positions. I have spoken to Holt and Wayne boosters and skeptics on the committee in the past, but Holt and Wayne’s greatest adversaries are not the skeptics but each other, plus Andre Johnson. These two may be heading toward an indefinite stay in finalist purgatory, though there is a chance that the committee decides to just start smashing away at this logjam before more receivers join the fray.

Andre Johnson (second-time finalist). Johnson ranks 11th on the all-time receiving yardage list, Wayne 10th and Holt 17th. The stats serve as a reminder of how little separation there is between the three. Johnson, like the others, has boosters on the committee as well as some ambivalent voters. It's hard to imagine building a case strong enough for him to leap-frog the others. The committee will eventually figure out a way to queue up the receivers. This probably won't be the year.

Devin Hester (second-time finalist). As I wrote last year, Hester has support on the committee and (perhaps more importantly) among peers and coaches of his era. He benefits from not having to split the ticket with anyone, and from a novel Hall of Fame argument. I personally don’t think Hester is a Pro Football Hall of Famer, but I long ago abandoned writing about what I want to happen in favor of what I think will happen. I won't estimate odds for Hester because he is such a square peg.

Jared Allen (third-time finalist). Allen’s first year as a finalist was the Peyton Manning-Megatron year; he did not get serious consideration. Last year, the committee unofficially used the lack of gotta-have-him first-ballot candidate to clear out the Tony Boselli types who have been waiting for years.

Allen has gone from someone waiting for a backlog to clear out to part of a backlog. I feel like this is a 50-50 year for him.

Demarcus Ware (second-time finalist). Ware has 138.5 career sacks, Allen 136.0 and Freeney 125.5. Julius Peppers arrives on the 2024 ballot with 159.5. It would make sense to strike up the take-a-number deli line in order of who showed up first, enshrine Allen this year, Ware and Peppers next year (Peppers is a stronger candidate than the others) and then add Freeney the following year.

Committee members do not actually plan such queues out. But they can all see logjams forming and will often tacitly agree on a solution like this one. 

Patrick Willis (second-time finalist). Strong candidate; unlikely to get through ahead of Zach Thomas.

Darren Woodson (first-rime finalist). Intriguing case. The committee has enshrined many safeties over the last few years, which may (unfairly or not) work against someone whose case will soon go to the senior's committee. Woodson may also end up splitting a ticket he cannot afford to split with Ware as spots near the bottom of the ballot fill up.  

Ronde Barber (third-time finalist). I have never gotten a sense of any momentum behind his candidacy, which is a bad sign. Barber is fighting against a reputation as a Cover-2 “system product,” as opposed to Revis. Barber’s best chance to get in this year may be a sentiment that he does not deserve to be leap-frogged. Let's set his chances around 20%.

Albert Lewis (first-time finalist). Lewis, a four-time Pro Bowler for the Chiefs in the late 1980s and early 1990s who also played for the Raiders, is getting a hearing before the full committee before his case is turned over to the seniors committee. He was a semifinalist once back in 2013.

These last-ditch finalist opportunities are common: Clay Matthews, Everson Walls and Joe Jacoby reached the finalist stage after many years in the last decade, and Sam Mills was enshrined under such circumstances. Generally, players with a real chance of enshrinement reach the ballot two or three years before they reach their eligibility limit and logged several years among the semifinaists. Lewis is very unlikely to receive more than cursory consideration. 

My preliminary guess as to who will make up the 2023 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class: Joe Thomas, Darrelle Revis, Jared Allen, Zach Thomas, Torry Holt, Chuck Howley, Joe Klecko, Ken Riley and Don Coryell.

One final thought: Steve Smith, Vince Wilfork, Fred Taylor, Anquan Boldin, Rodney Harrison, James Harrison, Robert Mathis and Hines Ward are among the semifinalists who did not make the finalist cut this year. Think about that group of players the next time someone tries to tell you that someone like Julian Edelman is a Hall of Famer.

* The senior committee nominees and coaches must still be officially be ratified, but this is a mere formality.  

Comments

42 comments, Last at 11 Jan 2023, 10:07pm

#1 by Raiderfan // Jan 04, 2023 - 10:04pm

Sadly for you, Mr. Tanier, I agree with you exactly on who should get in this year…which means you have no shot of being correct.

Points: 2

#2 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 05, 2023 - 12:06am

No Jahri mention, smh. 

Points: 0

#3 by theslothook // Jan 05, 2023 - 12:14am

I've written enough about Revis, Allen, and Kevin Williams, so I'll spare frustrated readers. 

I am curious about someone like Daren Woodson. I certainly never watched the 90s Cowboys. By the time I was into football, he was a good but aging player - the kind that had a harder job than it appears because Roy Williams was a gambling, Polamalu type who was weak in coverage but also someone who likely hung around a bit too long because Jerrah runs a loyalty program with the Cowboys.

So I am left to wonder if Woodson was just a pretty good player who happened to play for a dynasy and thus people believe deserves extra hall of famers. Could he be the Devin McCourty of his era?

Points: 0

#4 by Mr Shush // Jan 05, 2023 - 1:20am

On the WR front, I am adamant that Johnson and Smith belong clearly ahead of Holt and Wayne. The latter pair benefitted from vastly superior quarterbacking to the former, substantially increasing their production relative to how good they were. I don't much mind one way or the other if Holt and/or Wayne eventually get in. I will be very cross if Johnson or Smith fails to. I'd also take both of them over Harrison and Bruce - neither of whose enshrinements I object to.

This year, I'd like to see Joe Thomas, Revis, Allen, Ware and one of Zach Thomas, Willis or Johnson get in.

Points: 0

#6 by theslothook // Jan 05, 2023 - 3:53am

 I'd also take both of them over Harrison and Bruce 

I think Marvin Harrison is one of the all time receivers and one of the very best route runners that ever played. I love Andre Johnson, thought he was above Holt and Wayne and by a non trivial amount but I can't get to a point of putting him above Marvin, which is understandable coming from me. 

Points: 0

#34 by RickD // Jan 05, 2023 - 11:52pm

Strong agreement about Smith, who I thought was better than any of the three listed as finalists.  I don't have a great feel for Johnson as a WR, but agree he suffered from poor QB play.  

Points: 0

#5 by Will Allen // Jan 05, 2023 - 2:09am

It's a joke that Kevin Williams, 5 times 1st team all pro, all time leader in blocked passes, is not already inducted, much less that he didn't even make the semifinalists this year. By the way, among defensive tackles and blocked passes, the guy 2nd to Williams' 73, is John Henderson, with 46. All the guys between Williams and Henderson are defensive ends, many in the HOF or certain future HOFers. Williams is obviously worthy, and the people who vote for this institution are in good measure ignorant.

Points: 6

#7 by David // Jan 05, 2023 - 4:33am

Jared Allen is on the ballot.  This is going to impede Williams' progress until Allen is enshrined and clearing out that 'Vikings' position.  It isn't fair, or reasonable, but it is obvious that the voters are not going to put forward two players who are as entwined (same team, same unit) as Allen and Williams.

 

Points: 1

#12 by Pat // Jan 05, 2023 - 7:50am

Bull. Williams wasn't even a semifinalist. Bruce and Holt played the same position on the same team and they were finalist/semifinalist together.

Williams's problem is that he's an interior lineman.

Points: 5

#35 by RickD // Jan 05, 2023 - 11:54pm

Indeed.  This process overrates wide receivers and underappreciates interior linemen.  And they seem to only care about sacks when it comes to ends.  

Points: 0

#37 by Pat // Jan 06, 2023 - 11:54am

I think part of the problem people are clinging to here is "oh, there's just a logjam of receivers, we need to clear that up."

It won't clear. The next few years have at least 2 guys each year from stat positions who are basically walk-ins just due to reputation. Peppers and Gates in '24, Vinatieri and Keuchly in '25, and then a bloodbath in '26 with Brees, Fitz, Witten and lesser candidates of Rivers, Gore, and McCoy. Followed by a continued stream of Roethlisberger and Peterson in '27 and then at least Watt in '28, and God only knows who else.

Of all the players on the finalist/semifinalist ballot, I think you've probably got space for 12 of them in the next 5 years. And six of those guys on the list are modern WRs (Holt, Johnson, Wayne, Smith as the serious candidates, and Boldin and Ward as the cough lesser). Obviously on the current list, Revis and J. Thomas are walk-ins, and Zach Thomas will likely get in this year as well. And Hester will get in just because when you rocket up to the finalist level that quick, you're going to get in (sigh). So now if you believe the "serious" WR candidates will eventually get cleared, that's 8/12 accounted for.

Which means it's like, "pick 4 of the rest" that you can try to shoehorn in over the next 5 years. By HOFm the "best" candidates (currently on the list) would be Willis, Ware, Evans, Freeney. That's actually a high bar.

This is why I worry about guys like Kevin Williams.

Points: 1

#39 by KnotMe // Jan 06, 2023 - 8:00pm

Problem with passes defense is they are kinda like tackles in that "you happened to be the guy in right place to make a play". There is some skill to it, but alot of luck also

I was always surprised Kevin Williams didn't get more attention as he reached "the default guy" levels with award voters and they just put him in on AP1. But yeah, part of his problem is Vikings where not that good when he was. (compare to Richard Seymour). It actually impressive to do that when not on a high profile team. 

Points: 0

#40 by Pat // Jan 07, 2023 - 10:47am

I've heard that argument and I disagree: tackles can happen when you *lose* a rep. A defensed pass means you weren't moved from the QB's passing lane and were upright and able to get your hands up. That's already a win for a DT, even if it isn't a "super-win" like a sack.

The problem with Williams, to me, is that Donald came along and redefined what a DT is capable of. So now they're judging Williams by Donald and not recognizing *at the time* he was the standard for what a DT was. Occupy blockers, don't get beaten, get your hands up. Defenses were still frequently "boring" old 4-3 base, even as teams were recognizing that you had to be more flexible and ask players to do more to stop offenses.

Points: 1

#41 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 08, 2023 - 10:36am

It won't happen, but you can use Williams as a criticism of Donald.

Teams can run on Donald. Williams was a black hole where rushing went to die.

Points: 0

#16 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 05, 2023 - 9:25am

Well the leader of PD for DT. Few others with more. 

Maybe they don't like Saints that also play for an NFCN team and make the all decade team? 

Points: 0

#17 by Will Allen // Jan 05, 2023 - 10:15am

No, Williams is the leader among all defensive linemen. 

https://www.statmuse.com/nfl/ask/most-passes-defended-in-the-nfl-by-a-defensive-lineman-career#:~:text=Kevin%20Williams%20has%20defended%20the,lineman%2C%20with%2073%20passes%20defended.

(edit) Ah, I see a disparity with pro football reference, which has  Julius Peppers with 82, and the stat wasn't kept until 1999. 

Points: 0

#30 by Travis // Jan 05, 2023 - 1:47pm

The Cowboys, who kept track of passes defensed starting in 1980, credited Too Tall Jones about 90 of them, and that didn't include any he had in the five seasons he played before that.  My guess is that Jones would hold the career passes-defensed-by-a-defensive-lineman record for all eras if such stats had been kept throughout the NFL's history.

Points: 1

#32 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 05, 2023 - 11:30pm

DE Jason Taylor has 87+ and DE Carlos Dunlap has 76 too.

Points: 0

#26 by Pat // Jan 05, 2023 - 12:18pm

It's a joke that Kevin Williams, 5 times 1st team all pro, all time leader in blocked passes, is not already inducted, much less that he didn't even make the semifinalists this year.

It's even worse than you think. Not sure if I mentioned it here or elsewhere, but this was the largest semifinalist class, with the exception of 2020. There were 3 more than last year. And look, man, I'm a big fan of London Fletcher, but no way in the world is he a serious Hall candidate in comparison to Kevin Williams. That's just bizarre.

I was really hoping Jahri Evans would be a finalist though.

Points: 2

#8 by KnotMe // Jan 05, 2023 - 5:10am

I'm kinda curious about Revis getting a 15% chance to NOT make it. 

Points: 0

#9 by theslothook // Jan 05, 2023 - 5:13am

The 15% that don't actually watch football but watch the highlights and look at the boxscores.

Points: -3

#23 by Pat // Jan 05, 2023 - 11:46am

Yup: the baseball Hall voters just look at box scores.

To be non-flippant: there's an incredibly obvious bias with the PFHoF for stat players over non-stat accumulating players, and also a bias in that certain era teams just have to have a representative. As in, Jacksonville had this epic stretch right at the beginning of their team (through '99) so you've got to have someone from that team be in the Hall of Fame, right? Which is partly how Boselli gets in, and definitely some of the argument for Fred Taylor, who is not in any way, shape, or form a Hall of Fame player.

Important note: this is not a diss on Fred Taylor or Boselli. The problem with the PFHoF is that as media attention grows for all teams, it becomes easier to make arguments for certain stat players, and because of the way the Hall voting (effectively) works, you basically only need to convince someone once. Players virtually never go down - once you're a semifinalist, you're basically a semifinalist forever until you drop off or you're in. So because it's easier to make arguments for stat players (cough Anquan Boldin), ludicrously obvious non-stat guys can get shoved off just by lack of room.

Points: 1

#24 by Will Allen // Jan 05, 2023 - 12:11pm

It may be worse than that. Williams is the leader is passes blocked, and among dts, he's the leader by a huge margin, and he can't get a sniff. However, I'd wager that if the Vikings had been blessed by good qb play during Williams best years, the Vikings would have attracted more attention, and Williams would have been a regular finalist by now, at a minimum. Another way to put it is that Peyton Manning will greatly speed Freeney's selection. I don't mean that as a knock on Freeney at all,  but just to illuminate how disconnected the voters are from evaluating actual player performance.

Points: 3

#27 by Pat // Jan 05, 2023 - 12:26pm

The problem is that passes defensed isn't a highlight stat - it's like tackles. Yeah, you can show a guy jumping in the air to block a pass, but people are like "that's... just a regular play."

Maybe I should change it from "stat vs non-stat positions" to "explosive vs non-explosive" or "highlight vs non-highlight." I mean, in some sense interior line guys are characterized by the lack of highlights against them since their excellent play usually leads to highlights by someone else.

Kevin Williams is definitely my cause célèbre now for interior linemen though since Jason Kelce's Hall ticket seems punched and Lane Johnson's got no chance thanks to dopey All Pro voters.

Points: 1

#18 by coboney // Jan 05, 2023 - 10:16am

I'd imagine that 15% is largely people saying he has to wait his turn and aligning to clear up a backlog at positions. Pointing to his Tampa time to say that he wasn't as good as his reputation at times and that while he may be a HOFer, he shouldn't get the first ballot treatment.

Points: 2

#10 by Pat // Jan 05, 2023 - 7:42am

I want Hester to get in to get him off the freaking ballot. He's not going to drop out of the finalist level, so just vote him in and be done with it. He's not in discussion with any other position so it's only asking "is a returner deserving?" and they've already said "yes" by being on the ballot.

Sigh, the Hall discussion gets worse every year.

Points: -1

#38 by KnotMe // Jan 06, 2023 - 7:50pm

Yeah, I made my peace with Hester. I think he fulfills the literal condition for it (he was famous!). So..well, ok then. 

Points: 1

#13 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 05, 2023 - 9:14am

cornerback Darrelle Revis (of "Revis Island" fame) 

If you have to explain that he’s famous, is he still famous?

🧐

Points: 0

#36 by RickD // Jan 06, 2023 - 12:00am

Did anybody have to explain who Revis is? 

Aside from Deion, he's been the most prominent CB in my lifetime.  Playing at an all-Pro level in the NYC market will do that. 

Points: 0

#15 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 05, 2023 - 9:22am

Kevin Williams should take on the semi-finalists and above royal-rumble style, and the winner gets into the Hall.

Points: 0

#19 by dmb // Jan 05, 2023 - 10:32am

I'm not so sure about that, just making a few movies shouldn't give someone a path to the PFHoF -- even a path as difficult as you suggest -- when their career hasn't even tangentially intersected with football.

Points: -1

#25 by almon // Jan 05, 2023 - 12:15pm

i'm very impressed by how *skinny* joe thomas is nowadays ...

Points: 0

#28 by Will Allen // Jan 05, 2023 - 12:38pm

The retired o-linemen interested in their longevity are often shedding huge weight upon retirement. Matt Birk went from 310 to 225 in about 18 months. Along those same lines,  the guy who played The Mountain, in Game of Thrones, retired from World's Strongest Man competition a couple years ago, and has gone from about 420 pounds to about 260. Said eating 12000-14000 calories a day was hideously exhausting, physically and mentally.

Points: 2

#29 by SandyRiver // Jan 05, 2023 - 1:07pm

Brad Culpepper, of "Survivor" fame (or infamy) played DT at about 295 but looked closer to 215 in the reality show.

Points: 0

#31 by MilkmanDanimal // Jan 05, 2023 - 2:17pm

I have built a comfy home upon this Put Ronde Barber In The Hall of Fame hill, and I still intend to die on it.

The odds of him getting in the same year that Revis does are clearly not so good.

Points: 1

Save 10%
& Support Mike
Support Football Outsiders' independent media and Mike Tanier. Use promo code TANIER to save 10% on any FO+ membership and give half the cost of your membership to tip Mike.