By now you know two Pittsburgh Steelers, Hines Ward and James Harrison, are part of the 28 semifinalists for this year’s Hall of Fame. But the only question that matters is – will they get in? For Ward, this is old hat. He’s come this close before. For Harrison, this is his first time on the ballot, making his projection of him a bit less certain.
On the heels of the list of 28, NFL.com’s Adam Rank ahem ranked the most likely to least likely players to be inducted this year. Ward didn’t do well while Harrison came in higher than I expected.
Rank’s list had Ward 26th out of 28 with him writing:
“He should be celebrated in the Pittsburgh community. But like I said above, we have to make some tough decisions — and I have other receivers higher than Hines.”
This is now Ward’s seventh time as a Hall of Fame finalist and he’s never been able to get across the finish line. With six other receivers also semifinalists, it’s difficult to see this being the year Ward gets his gold jack. He is the seventh receiver on Rank’s list behind: Anquan Boldin, Henry Ellard, Reggie Wayne, Andre Johnson, Torry Holt, and Steve Smith.
Steelers’ fans love Ward for his smile, blocking, and Super Bowl MVP. But the Hall of Fame voters haven’t shown him the same love, never considered one of the top-three receivers in the game who has good stats but numbers being overshadowed by more recent receivers who played in a more wide-open passing game. It seems doubtful Ward will be able to work his way to the front of the pack this year. The only names Ward is ahead of are LB London Fletcher and RB Ricky Watters.
Harrison is a far more interesting case study and Rank has him all the way at #6 on the list, essentially making him a borderline candidate. Here’s part of what he writes.
“Two-time Super Bowl champs. Two-time first-team All-Pro. 2008 Defensive Player of the Year. Played for the Steelers, which the voters love. He has a great shot.”
Fans who believe in “Steelers’ fatigue” when it comes to Hall of Fame voting, with LC Greenwood still not in and Donnie Shell’s induction taking far longer than it should have, will disagree with Rank’s assessment that voters “love” Harrison playing in Pittsburgh . Regardless, Harrison has the benefit of being one of the game’s most dominant players from to 2007 to 2011, making all five of his career Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams over that span. He’s remembered for one of the Super Bowl’s greatest play – if not its #1 moment – his 100-yard pick-six of Kurt Warner to end the first half against the Arizona Cardinals. In his prime, Harrison was as good as any other player in the league and finished his career as the Steelers ‘all-time sack leader.
The argument against him is simple. Longevity. He didn’t start his first full season until he was 29 and had just 28.5 sacks through his age-30 season. He only had three double-digit sack seasons and ended his career with only 84.5 sacks, a low number by Canton’s standards. Of primary pass rushers in Hall of Fame history, only three have had fewer than Harrison’s total: Dan Hampton, Lee Roy Selmon, and recent inductee Richard Seymour. The fact Seymour made it bodes well for Harrison’s odds but last year was a weaker class than the 2023 slate. Harrison will be competing with Demarcus Ware, who had 138.5 career sacks. Voters may give Ware the node before Harrison. There’s also Dwight Freeney on this list with his 125.5 career QB takedowns.
Topping Rank’s list is Devin Hester, a surprise name in pole position. A legendary return man, it’s still not clear how voters will view his career given its relatively limited scope. Rounding out the top five includes OT Joe Thomas, CB Darrelle Revis, LB Patrick Willis, and Steve Smith.
If I was filling out a ballot with the requirement of between four and eight players being inducted, I would have a list of: Thomas, Revis, Freeney, Harrison, Willis, and OT Willie Anderson.
The list of 28 will be whittled down to 15 with the finalists announced on February 9th.