24 former Patriots included on initial Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2023 ballot
It’s Hall of Fame season once again in Canton, OH. On Tuesday, the Pro Football Hall of Fame revealed the initial list of modern-era candidates for the Class of 2023, signifying the first step in the voting process.
The list includes 129 players, an increase from the group of 122 last season. In November, the committee will trim the list down to 25 players, then 15, before the full class is revealed the week of the Super Bowl.
Of the 129 players nominated this year, 24 spent at least some time with the Patriots. Of those 24, 20 appeared on the ballot last year (only one player from last year isn’t back on the ballot, with Seymour getting inducted last year), while two are first-time candidates and two are back on after not appearing in 2022.
Who has the best chance to be the next Patriots player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Here’s a look at the 24 cases.
RB Corey Dillon
Runningback Corey Dillon of the New England Patriots during the AFC Division playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts on January 16, 2005. The Patriots beat the Colts 20-3 to advance to the AFC Championship against the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
This will be Dillon’s 11th year on the ballot. He ranks 20th all-time in career rushing yards with 11,241, and doesn’t project to lose that standing any time soon (the next closest active player behind him is Mark Ingram, with just under 8,000 yards). He’s ahead of multiple Hall of Famers, including Terrell Davis. Davis has 7,067 yards, yet is in despite playing at the same time as Dillon. When it comes to touchdowns, Dillon is also among the all-time leaders, with his 82 scores ranking 18th. Again, for comparison, Davis reached the end zone 60 times.
Drafted by the Bengals in the second round in 1997, Dillon put up most of those numbers with Cincinnati. The Patriots acquired him for a second-round pick in 2004, and put up 3,180 rushing yards and 37 touchdowns in three seasons in New England.
RB Fred Taylor
FOXBORO, MA – SEPTEMBER 12: Fred Taylor #21 of the New England Patriots is tackled by Johnathan Joseph #22 of the Cincinnati Bengals during the NFL season opener on September 12, 2010 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The Patriots defeated the Bengals 38-24. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Taylor’s case is similar to Dillon’s, with 11,695. He came to the Patriots late in his career after spending 11 seasons with the Jaguars, rushing for over 1,000 yards seven times. This will be his eighth year on the ballot.
RB Steven Jackson
DENVER, CO – JANUARY 24: Steven Jackson #39 of the New England Patriots runs with the ball in the first half against the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 24, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Jackson is another back that sits on the fringe of the top-20 rushers of all time, with 11,438 yards in his career. That ranks 18th. He somehow managed to follow of the footsteps of the great Marshall Faulk in St. Louis, and was a two-time All-Pro for the Rams.
However, Patriots fans remember him best for his month-long stint in New England at the end of the 2015 season. At 32-years-old, he was signed in December as injuries depleted the Patriots’ running back depth. He struggled to make a difference, running for under three yards per carry as the Patriots lost three of the four games he played in including the AFC Championship. Jackson is in his third year on the ballot.
FB Larry Centers
Former Patriots full Larry Centers, circa 2003. (Courtesy of the New England Patriots/David Silverman)
Centers had one of the most unique careers in NFL history, and helped change the way backs are used in the passing game. He still holds the NFL record for most career catches by a back (827) and is third all-time among non-receivers, behind only Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten. You can read more about his fascinating case for the hall here.
WR/PR Troy Brown
JACKSONVILLE, FL – DECEMBER 24: Troy Brown #80 of the New England Patriots carries the ball during the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on December 24, 2006 at Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida. The Patriots defeated the Jaguars 24-21. (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Brown has been on and off the ballot in his two years of eligibility, but this now makes it two years in a row where he appears on the initial list. Being listed as a returner as well as a wide receiver should help his case. Brown’s 10.42 yards per punt return rank fourth among all players during his time in the league (min. 250 returns). He also made a number of big plays in big moments, such as his punt return touchdown in the 2001 AFC Championship against the Steelers, and his forced fumble while covering an interception in the 2006 playoffs against the Chargers.
WR/PR Henry Ellard
Ellard was a star receiver and returner for the Los Angeles Rams throughout the 80’s and left the organization in 1993 holding a number of franchise records. He bounced around the final few years of his career, and caught five passes in five games for the Patriots in his final NFL season in 1998.
WR Irving Friar
2 Oct 1988: Irving Fryar #80 of the New England Patriots catches the ball during the game against the Indianapolis Colts. The Patriots defeated the Clots 21-17. Credit: Rick Stewart/Allsport
The Patriots made Fryar the first overall pick in the 1984 NFL Draft, which began a 17-yar career. Fryar was an All-Pro in 1985, but his career didn’t really take off until he left the Patriots after the 1992 season. Four of his five Pro Bowl seasons came after he departed the Patriots, all in his 30’s. He ranks 21st all-time in NFL history with 12,785 receiving yards, and 20th with 84 touchdown receptions. Fryar did not appear on the ballot last year.
WR Torry Holt
FOXBORO, MA – AUGUST 02: Torry Holt #84 of the New England Patriots catches a pass during training camp on August 2, 2010 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Holt really does deserve to be enshrined in Canton, and has reached finalist status a number of times in the past. He was an integral part of the Greatest Show on Turf Rams teams, where he put up eight straight 1,000-plus yard seasons. The other half of those teams’ wide receiver duo, Isaac Bruce, was inducted in 2020. Holt joined the Patriots for training camp in 2010, but a knee injury kept him from making the team.
WR Chad Johnson
FOXBORO, MA – SEPTEMBER 18: Chad Ochocinco #85 of the New England Patriots makes the catch as Quentin Jammer #23 of the San Diego Chargers makes the tackle on September 18, 2011 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Johnson’s personality overshadows his playing career at times, especially now 10 years removed from his NFL career. He also played on some bad teams in Cincinnati, which prevented him from putting up the numbers a player of his caliber probably should have. For the bulk of his career, he was one of the elite route runners in the league.
After a contract dispute in the offseason, Johnson (then Ochocinco) was traded to the Patriots in 2011. He struggled to catch on though, and recorded just 15 receptions for 276 yards and a touchdown that season, before being released the following summer.
In five years of eligibility, Johnson has never been a finalist for the Hall. With a relatively thinner wide receiver group this season (there are no first-year eligible players at the position), this could be his best chance so far. And even if it doesn’t happen in 2022, he still has 87 years before his jacket is out of date.
Wayne, like Holt, had a stellar career as a part of an all-time offensive unit with Peyton Manning’s Colts. Over the course of 14 NFL seasons, he racked up 1,070 catches (10th all-time), 14,345 yards (10th), and 82 touchdowns (25th). He retired after a very brief and apparently unpleasant stint in Patriots training camp in 2015. He’s been a finalist each of the last four years.
WR Wes Welker
FOXBORO, MA – OCTOBER 16: Wes Welker #83 of the New England Patriots gains yardage against Mike Jenkins #21 of the Dallas Cowboys in the second half at Gillette Stadium on October 16, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
In his first two years on the ballot, Welker has failed to make it past the initial round of voting. This is despite the fact that he was the best slot receiver in the NFL for multiple years. Between 2007 and 2013, nobody even came close to Welker’s reception total of 745 (Brandon Marshall is the next closest player with 692). His 903 career catches rank 22nd all-time.
Welker’s Hall of Fame case could be a pivotal one as the first wave of players from the NFL’s age of specialization start to become eligible for induction. The committee has generally only recognized players who fit the traditional mold at a given position, and not newer breakoff positions like slot receiver, pass-catching back (Larry Centers), or even kick returners like Devin Hester (who reached the finalist round last year in his first year of eligibility).
TE Ben Coates
15 Nov 1998: Tight end Ben Coates #87 of the New England Patriots in action against safety Henry Jones #20 of the Buffalo Bills during the game at the Rich Stadium in Orchard Park, New York. The Bills defeated the Patriots 13-10. Mandatory Credit: Rick Stewart /Allsport
There’s no way around it, Ben Coates is long overdue for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was ahead of his time and absolutely dominated his era, with the second most receptions (499) and yards (5,555) by any NFL tight end between 1991 and 2000, behind only Shannon Sharpe. No other tight end, including Sharpe, scored more touchdowns (50). Yet for some reason, he hasn’t gotten any recognition from the committee.
G Logan Mankins
Logan Mankins #70 of the New England Patriots gets ready on the line of scrimmage during the game against the Kansas City Chiefs on November 27, 2005 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. The Chiefs won 26-16. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Mankins, a first-round pick in 2005, did what many linemen struggle to do – he stayed on the field. He started 15 or 16 games in nine of his 11 years in the NFL, playing through a torn ACL for the entirety of the 2011 season. A six-time All-Pro, he was included as one of the starting guards on the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 2010s.
Mankins didn’t make it past the initial round in either of his first two years on the ballot in 2021, perhaps because his 11-year career is shorter than the average Hall of Fame lineman. Looking long-term though, he absolutely belongs in Canton.
G Brian Waters
FOXBORO, MA – DECEMBER 24: Brian Waters #54 of the New England Patriots prepares to block Jared Odrick #98 of the Miami Dolphins during the second half of New England’s 27-24 win at Gillette Stadium on December 24, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
Waters is best known for his 11 seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, but followed that time with a season in New England. That was the sixth of his six All-Pro seasons, when he started all 16-games for the league’s top offense. In six years on the ballot, he’s never been a finalist.
NT Vince Wilfork
FOXBORO, MA – JANUARY 14: Vince Wilfork #75 of the New England Patriots reacts after he sacked Tim Tebow #15 of the Denver Broncos in the second half during their AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Gillette Stadium on January 14, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Two years ago, Richard Seymour was inducted into the Patriots team Hall of Fame, then was given an overdue induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame the next year. Will Wilfork, who is this year’s inductee into the Patriots Hall of Fame, follow that same pattern?
Like Seymour, Wilfork’s career can’t truly be appreciated by just looking at his stats. His presence alone was enough to impact blocking schemes, and the Patriots were regularly one of the toughest teams to run on during his tenure. In fact, when he missed 12 games in 2013 their rank against the run dropped all the way to 30th from ninth the year before.
As good as he was as a run defender, Wilfork’s was an effective pass rusher, making him a three-down player at 6-foot-2, 325 pounds (listed). Wilfork was incredibly durable as well. That 2013 season was the only time he failed to play at least 13 games, and he played a full 16 in nine of his 13 seasons.
Last season, Wilfork made it to the semifinalist round in his first year on the ballot. He should get further this year.
LB, DE Willie McGinest
FOXBORO, MA – JANUARY 2: Ken Dorsey #7 of the San Francisco 49ers is sacked by Willie McGinest #55 of the New England Patriots during their game on January 2, 2005 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
McGinest may be one of the more underappreciated players from his era in the NFL. He was an All-Pro just twice in 15 yet ranks fifth in both tackles for loss (96) and sacks (86) during that time. he also has the all-time single game (4.5) and career (16) sack records. If he hasn’t gotten in at this point, it’s tough to see why things would change, but he deserves more recognition.
LB Chad Brown
DENVER – OCTOBER 16: Defensive lineman Chad Brown #98 of the New England Patriots lines up for a play against the Denver Broncos at INVESCO Field at Mile High on October 16, 2005 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Pats 28-20. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Brown, who didn’t appear on the ballot last year, has now been eligible for nine years. He was an All-Pro for the Steelers in the mid-90’s and was named a part of the Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary Team for his stint with the team in the last 90’s and early 00’s.
He played two separate stints for the Patriots, appearing in 15 games with five starts in 2005, then playing a reserve role in two games in 2007, his final year in the league.
LB Tedy Bruschi
FOXBORO, MA – JANUARY 16: Tedy Bruschi #54 of the New England Patriots recovers a fumble from the Indianapolis Colts during the AFC divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 16, 2005 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The Patriots defeated the Colts 20-3. (Photo By Elsa/Getty Images)
Bruschi’s contributions can’t solely be measured in stats or league honors – he did so much to elevate the Patriots organization to where it is now, both on and off the field – which is part of what makes his career special. However, it doesn’t help his Hall of Fame case. With guys like Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher, Zack Thomas, and Derrick Brooks, playing in the same era he was never one of the ‘elite’ linebackers in the league. He’s an all-time Patriot but didn’t have the league-wide impact he needed to get to Canton (as much as New England would love to see it).
LB James Harrison
FOXBORO, MA – DECEMBER 31: James Harrison #92 of the New England Patriots looks on during the first half against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on December 31, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
The first of two players in their first year of eligibility, Harrison was a force for the Pittsburgh Steelers for 14 seasons, which included four All-Pro nods and a Defensive Player of the Year award in 2008. His 84.5 career sacks rank fourth among all linebackers during the span of his career, from 2002-2017.
Released by the Steelers during his final season in 2017, he joined the Patriots for the stretch run. He played on one regular season game – in which he had two sacks – and all three postseason games that winter.
CB Darrelle Revis
FOXBORO, MA – OCTOBER 26: Darrelle Revis #24 of the New England Patriots reacts during the third quarter against the Chicago Bears at Gillette Stadium on October 26, 2014 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Revis joins Harrison as a first-year eligible player. Like Harrison, he only spent one season in New England, after a dominant career with an AFC rival. He was a three-time All-Pro with the Jets between 2007 and 2012, but after a year in Tampa followed the money to New England when the Patriots loaded up before the 2014 season.
His 2014 campaign is considered one of the best by a cornerback in the modern era, and culminated with his fourth All-Pro nod and a Super Bowl win. Following the season, he returned to New York on a massive contract, but retired three years later.
Between his All-Pro seasons, his placement on the NFL 2010s All-Decade team, and just his overall dominance – remember, the whole [player’s name] Island talk started with Revis Island – Revis seems like a likely first ballot candidate.
CB Asante Samuel
INDIANAPOLIS – JANUARY 21: Asante Samuel #22 of the New England Patriots runs back an interception for a touchdown in front of Marvin Harrison #88 of the Indianapolis Colts during the second quarter against the Indianapolis Colts during the AFC Championship Game on January 21, 2007 at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
One of the better ball-hawking corners corners in the NFL in the late 00’s, Samuel led the league in interceptions twice in 2006 and 2009. He was a two-time All -Pro and made four straight Pro Bowls from 2007-2010.
Still, he never seemed to hit that ‘elite’ shutdown corner level others in his era had such as Champ Bailey (inducted in 2019) and Charles Woodson (2021). He’s never made it past the first round of voting, and could be in for another one-and-done year.
S Rodney Harrison
Rodney Harrison of the New England Patriots talks to Chad Johnson of the Cincinnati Bengals after Johnson was unable to catch a ball in the end zone at Gillette Stadium on December 12, 2004 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The Patriots won 35-28. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Cleary, Rodney Harrison had a Hall of Fame caliber career. This shouldn’t be a debate. A four-time All-Pro, his was considered the best strong safety in football during his time with the Patriots.
Harrison has the distinction of being the founding member of the NFL’s 30-30 club, with 30 sacks and 30 interceptions. Since he became the first player to accomplish the feat, only Ray Lewis (first ballot Hall of Famer) has joined him, and nobody else has come particularly close.
Yet even with all of that, Harrison has never been a finalist, and only reached the semifinalist round once. How could that be? It’s likely a combination of his reputation as a “dirty” player, as well as the team he played for. Harrison has criticized the process in the past, claiming it has a “lazy” anti-Patriots bias (which isn’t necessarily incorrect, just looking at this list). That couldn’t have sat well with the selection committee.
Whatever the case, it’s time for the voters to right the wrong and put him in. He truly is one of the game’s all-time greats, and deserves to be recognized as such.
S Adrian Wilson
After 12 strong years in Arizona with three Pro Bowl seasons, the safety-needy Patriots signed Adrian Wilson as a free agent in 2013, hoping he could turn back the clock. His versatile and physical game seemingly made him an ideal fit, but an Achilles injury in training camp ended his career.
Had he played a few more years, he’d likely have a stronger case (he nearly joined Harrison and Lewis in the 30-30 club with 27 career interceptions and 25.5 career sacks), but will likely find himself on the outside looking in once again.
P Jeff Feagles
The Patriots signed Feagles as a UDFA in 1988, and he spent the first two seasons of his 22-year career with the Patriots. He played for a lot of teams with bad offenses, which combined with his longevity led to some gaudy numbers including the all-time records for most career punts (1,713) and punt yards (71,211). He might have a better chance at getting in if the Hall inducted more than one specialist every 50 years.
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarthor via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.