Hines Ward, Robert Mathis among semifinalists for Pro Football Hall of Fame

Pro Football Hall of Fame reveals 28 semifinalists for Class of 2023

Four players with local ties were named semifinalists for enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Tuesday.

Former Georgia standout Hines Ward, Robert Mathis, Dwight Freeney and Devin Hester were in the group of 28 players who’ll move forward in the selection process.

The group of semifinalists last year was highlighted by seven first-year eligible players: wide receivers Anquan Boldin, Andre Johnson and Steve Smith; wide receiver/kick returner Hester; Mathis and Vince Wilfork; and outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware. None went into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 2022.

Fifteen finalists will be revealed in January. The final vote is set for Super Bowl week in February.

Ward, who played at Forest Park High and Georgia, spent his entire NFL playing career with the Steelers from 1998-2011. Ward was named a semifinalist for a seventh time. He did not advance to being a finalist last year, as receivers Torry Holt, Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne and Hester were selected as 2022 finalists.

Mathis played at McNair High before starring at Alabama A&M and with the Indianapolis Colts (2003-17). He was a fifth-round pick and went on to make 534 tackles, 123 sacks and 54 forced fumbles.

Freeney played 11 seasons for the Colts (2002-12), two with the Chargers (2013-14), one with the Cardinals (2015), one with the Falcons (2016) and parts of 2017 with the Lions and Seahawks.

He had 125.5 sacks over his career. He led the league with 16 sacks in 2004. Freeney also led the league with 20 tackles for loss as a rookie in 2002.

With the Falcons, he played in 15 regular-season games and made one start. He had three sacks but helped defensive line coach Bryan Cox as a buffer with defensive end Vic Beasley, who led the league with 15.5 sacks in 2016.

Freeney started in the NFC Championship game and in Super Bowl 51. He had a sack and a quarterback hit in the Super Bowl loss to the Patriots.

Hester played with the Bears from 2006-13. He played with the Falcons in 2014 and 2015. He spent time with Baltimore and Seattle in 2016. He returned 14 punts for touchdowns and five kickoffs for touchdowns.

Former Falcons running back Warrick Dunn, wide receiver Roddy White, wide receiver Andre Rison, running back Steven Jackson, cornerback/returner Allen Rossum, cornerback Asante Samuel, linebacker Cornelius Bennett, kicker Jason Elam and defensive end John Abraham were in the group of 129 players who were nominated.

Players must have last played at least five full seasons to be eligible for nomination. Therefore, any individual who last played in 2017 was eligible for the first time in 2023.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2023 will be enshrined in August 2023.

Complete list of semifinalists for Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2023

1. Eric Allen

2. Jared Allen

3. Willie Anderson

4. Ronde Barber

5. Anquan Boldin

6. Henry Ellard

7. Jahri Evans

8. London Fletcher

9. Dwight Freeney

10. James Harrison

11. Rodney Harrison

12. Devin Hester

13. Torry Holt

14. Andre Johnson

15. Albert Lewis

16. Robert Mathis

17. Darrelle Revis

18. Steve Smith

19. Fred Taylor

20. Joe Thomas

21. Zach Thomas

22. Hines Ward

23. DeMarcus Ware

24. Ricky Watters

25. Reggie Wayne

26. Vince Wilfork

27. Patrick Willis

28. Darren Woodson

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Sept. 25 Falcons 27, Seahawks 23

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