CHARLOTTE — Former Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers is one step closer to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Peppers was among 15 finalists named Wednesday night for possible selection to the Class of 2024.
In his first year of eligibility for the Hall, Peppers stands an excellent chance at induction, based on his incredible body of work.
He finished his career with 159.5 sacks, fourth on the all-time list behind only Bruce Smith, Reggie White, and Kevin Greene.
He's also the only player in league history with at least 100 sacks and 10 or more interceptions (he finished his career with 11 of those), and he's second all-time on the forced fumbles list with 52.
He was voted to nine Pro Bowls and was a six-time All-Pro choice.
He's also one of the rare players in NFL history to be named to two All-Decade teams, receiving that honor for the 2000s and the 2010s. Only 29 individuals (players and coaches) have ever earned that honor twice, and the only non-special teams players who haven't made the Hall of Fame from that group are Peppers, quarterback Tom Brady, and coach Bill Belichick (who are not yet eligible).
Peppers and tight end Antonio Gates are the only first-year eligible nominees in this year's final 15.
The remainder of the finalists are: cornerback Eric Allen, defensive end Jared Allen, offensive tackle Willie Anderson, guard Jahri Evans, defensive end Dwight Freeney, safety Rodney Harrison, receiver/returner Devin Hester, wide receiver Torry Holt, wide receiver Andre Johnson, running back Fred Taylor, wide receiver Reggie Wayne, linebacker Patrick Willis, and safety Darren Woodson.
With three receivers in the final 15 plus Hester, Smith is stuck a bit, based on inertia as much as the resume.
Wayne and Holt are finalists for the fifth year and Johnson the third, and without a consensus pick among them in recent years, all three remain in the discussion each year. The Hall has seen similar logjams in the past, with Tim Brown, Cris Carter, and Andre Reed clumped together for multiple years before they all eventually got in one at a time.
Smith was joined by wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Hines Ward on the semifinalist list, but they did not advance this year either.
Of those seven semifinalist receivers, Smith leads the group with 14,731 all-time receiving yards. He's eighth on the league's all-time list in that category, and of the seven players ahead of him, six are already in the Hall of Fame. The other one (Larry Fitzgerald) is not eligible yet.
Smith is 12th on the league's all-time receptions list with 1,031. Boldin is ninth on that list (1,076), Wayne 10th (1,070), and Johnson 11th (1,062).
But it appears that until some of the traffic clears ahead of him, he's going to have to wait for his achievements to be recognized.
From the group of 15 finalists, a maximum of five modern players will be enshrined this year. That voting will take place in January, and the class will be announced at the NFL Honors show during Super Bowl week.
PRO FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME
CLASS OF 2024 FINALISTS
CB Eric Allen
DE Jared Allen
OT Willie Anderson
OG Jahri Evans
DE Dwight Freeney
TE Antonio Gates
S Rodney Harrison
Ret Devin Hester
WR Torry Holt
WR Andre Johnson
DE Julius Peppers
RB Fred Taylor
WR Reggie Wayne
LB Patrick Willis
S Darren Woodson