Oct 29, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Former Panther defensive end Julius Peppers awaits his induction into the Panthers Ring of Honor during the first quarter between the Carolina Panthers and the Houston Texans at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

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Julius Peppers, Antonio Gates headline Hall of Fame finalists

Defensive end Julius Peppers and tight end Antonio Gates — among the most prolific players at their respective positions — highlight the list of 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Modern Era Class of 2024, released Wednesday.

Peppers and Gates are the only players to make the list in their first year of eligibility. Nine players who made the final list in 2023 are back on the list in ’24, while four other players are finalists for the first time though not in their first year of eligibility.

Peppers, a nine-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time first-team All-Pro, finished his 17-year career with 159.5 sacks, fifth all time and the most by any player not yet in the Hall. Taken second overall by the Carolina Panthers in the 2002 draft, Peppers was named Defensive Rookie of the Year after compiling 12 sacks to go with one interception and five forced fumbles in 12 games.

After 10 seasons with the Panthers, Peppers played four years with the Chicago Bears and then finished his career by playing three seasons with the Green Bay Packers.

On the other end of the draft spectrum, Gates went undrafted after not playing football in college. Instead, he starred in basketball in his final two years at Kent State.

Combining his height (6-foot-4) with his rebounding skills, Gates first made a name for himself in the NFL as a jump-ball specialist in the end zone. He really broke through in his second season, scoring 13 touchdowns — then a single-season record for tight ends. He finished his career with 116 career TDs, seventh all time and the most ever by a tight end.

Gates made eight Pro Bowls and was a three-time first-team All-Pro in his 16 seasons. He finished with 955 receptions for 11,841 yards, spending his entire career with the Chargers (14 in San Diego and the final two in Los Angeles).

The four other players making the list for the first time are cornerback Eric Allen (in his 18th year of eligibility), safety Rodney Harrison (11th year), running back Fred Taylor (ninth) and offensive lineman Jahri Evans (second).

Punt/kick return specialist Devin Hester, who holds the single-season record for total kick-return touchdowns (six) and the career mark for punts returned for a score (14) is among those back on the list from 2023. Hester, who also made history with the first opening kickoff returned for a touchdown in Super Bowl history (Super Bowl XLI), is a finalist for the third time.

Wide receivers Reggie Wayne (whose Indianapolis Colts beat Hester’s Chicago Bears in that Super Bowl) and Torry Holt (a member of the St. Louis Rams’ famed “Greatest Show on Turf”) are both finalists for the fifth time, the most of any of this year’s finalists.

The Hall of Fame selection committee will elect the Modern Era Class of 2024 the week leading up to Super Bowl LVIII, with the class announced on Feb. 8.

Up to five members can be elected to the modern class (a minimum of 80 percent of the votes is required for possible election). Finalists from the Seniors and Coach/Contributor categories may also be elected.

Modern Era Class of 2024 Pro Football Hall of Fame Finalists

(Name, position, years, teams)

Eric Allen, cornerback — 1988-1994 Philadelphia Eagles, 1995-97 New Orleans Saints, 1998-2001 Oakland Raiders

Jared Allen, defensive end — 2004-07 Kansas City Chiefs, 2008-2013 Minnesota Vikings, 2014-15 Chicago Bears, 2015 Carolina Panthers

Willie Anderson, offensive tackle — 1996-2007 Cincinnati Bengals, 2008 Baltimore Ravens

Jahri Evans, guard — 2006-2016 New Orleans Saints, 2017 Green Bay Packers

Dwight Freeney, defensive end/outside linebacker — 2002-2012 Indianapolis Colts, 2013-14 San Diego Chargers, 2015 Arizona Cardinals, 2016 Atlanta Falcons, 2017 Seattle Seahawks, 2017 Detroit Lions

Antonio Gates, tight end — 2003-2018 San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers

Rodney Harrison, safety — 1994-2002 San Diego Chargers, 2003-08 New England Patriots

Devin Hester, punt returner/kick returner/wide receiver — 2006-2013 Chicago Bears, 2014-15 Atlanta Falcons, 2016 Baltimore Ravens

Torry Holt, wide receiver — 1999-2008 St. Louis Rams, 2009 Jacksonville Jaguars

Andre Johnson, wide receiver — 2003-2014 Houston Texans, 2015 Indianapolis Colts, 2016 Tennessee Titans

Julius Peppers, defensive end — 2002-09, 2017-18 Carolina Panthers, 2010-13 Chicago Bears, 2014-16 Green Bay Packers

Fred Taylor, running back — 1998-2008 Jacksonville Jaguars, 2009-2010 New England Patriots

Reggie Wayne, wide receiver — 2001-2014 Indianapolis Colts

Patrick Willis, linebacker — 2007-2014 San Francisco 49ers

Darren Woodson, safety — 1992-2003 Dallas Cowboys

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