My Class of 2023 modern-era predictions

Steve Smith Sr., wide receiver (Carolina Panthers, 2001-2013; Baltimore Ravens, 2014-16)

Once again, I would like to direct you to the words of Chris Wesseling, who put out the definitive piece on why Steve Smith Sr. should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I know I might be biased because Steve is my friend and NFL Network colleague, but it really bums me out that it could take him a while to get in. I have Holt and Johnson as the two receivers going into the HOF next year, but that is my prediction for what the voters will do and not a reflection of what I would do. Steve ranks eighth all time in receiving yards (14,371). That’s the second most of any pass-catcher not in Canton at the moment (behind only Larry Fitzgerald, who’s not yet eligible). Steve’s brash persona might have rubbed some voters the wrong way, and perhaps he’ll have to wait because of it. I’m not happy about it. He should be in.

Devin Hester, returner/wide receiver (Chicago Bears, 2006-2013; Atlanta Falcons, 2014-15; Baltimore Ravens, 2016; Seattle Seahawks, 2016)

Hester is the greatest return man of all time. Nobody disputes this. But history has not been on the side of special teams performers when it comes to Pro Football Hall of Fame entry. Coaches always talk about winning three phases of the game: offense, defense and, yep, you guessed it — special teams. But the gatekeepers of Canton obviously aren’t listening. I would have made Hester a first-ballot Hall of Famer this year. But I think voters are going to make him wait, which is wrong.

Patrick Willis, linebacker (San Francisco 49ers, 2007-2014)

I’ve never received an adequate answer for why Willis has yet to receive a gold jacket. He was a first-team All-Pro in five of the eight seasons he played professional football. Was his career not long enough for you? I don’t know if Patrick needs a better publicist, but he needs to be in the Hall of Fame. He was a finalist for the first time in 2022, his third year of eligibility. He should get in with the next class, but I won’t get my hopes up.

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