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Willis, Young among ex-49ers nominated for Hall of Fame

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Will this be the year that 49ers great Patrick Willis makes it as -- at least -- a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

And what about former defensive tackle Bryant Young? He was a finalist two years ago, but he did not make it into the final 15 last year.

With no clear-cut first-year eligible players entering the mix of modern-era candidates, the door is open for players such as Willis and Young to advance far in the process for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2022.

Willis and Young were among the 122 nominees the Hall of Fame announced Wednesday.

The list includes 10 first-year eligible players, including Anquan Boldin, the last 49ers wide receiver to have more than 1,000 yards receiving in a season (2014). Boldin ranks ninth all-time with 1,076 receptions and 14th in NFL history with 13,779 receiving yards.

Other first-year eligible nominees are receivers Andre Johnson and Steve Smith, return specialist Devin Hester, offensive linemen Jake Long and Nick Mangold, linebacker DeMarcus Ware, defensive linemen Robert Mathis and Vince Wilfork, and defensive back Antonio Cromartie


The selection committee will meet early next year in advance of Super Bowl LVI to select from four to eight new members of the Hall of Fame. At most, five modern-era players can be elected. Eighteen finalists will be discussed with 15 modern-era finalists joining recently named senior finalist Cliff Branch, contributor finalist Art McNally and coach finalist Dick Vermeil.

Willis was selected to seven Pro Bowls and was a five-time All-Pro during his eight NFL seasons. He appeared in only six games in his final season due to a foot injury, which led to his retirement. But he did not make it into the top-15 for Hall of Fame consideration in his first two years of eligibility.

Young was a four-time Pro Bowl player and an NFL All-Decade Team member for the 1990s. He was the NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 1999 after he returned to top form after a severely broken leg the previous season. Young was chosen as a finalist for the Class of 2020.

Other former 49ers who are nominated for the Hall of Fame are quarterback Jeff Garcia, running back Ricky Watters, tight end Brent Jones, center/guard Jesse Sapolu, defensive lineman Justin Smith, linebacker Takeo Spikes, defensive backs Merton Hanks and Tim McDonald, kicker Gary Anderson and punter Reggie Roby.

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Here is the entire list of modern-era nominees for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2022:

QUARTERBACKS – Randall Cunningham, Jake Delhomme, Boomer Esiason, Jeff Garcia, Dave Krieg, Donovan McNabb, Steve McNair

RUNNING BACKS Shaun Alexander, Mike Alstott (FB), Tiki Barber, Earnest Byner, Larry Centers (FB), Corey Dillon, Eddie George, Priest Holmes, Steven Jackson, Jamal Lewis, Eric Metcalf (also WR/PR/KR), Lorenzo Neal (FB), Fred Taylor, Herschel Walker (also KR), Ricky Watters, Brian Westbrook


WIDE RECEIVERS – Anquan Boldin, Troy Brown (also PR/KR), Donald Driver, Henry Ellard (also PR), Devin Hester (also PR/KR), *Torry Holt, Joe Horn, Andre Johnson, Chad Johnson, Derrick Mason, Muhsin Muhammad, Andre Rison, Jimmy Smith, Rod Smith, Steve Smith, Hines Ward, *Reggie Wayne, Wes Welker

TIGHT ENDS Dallas Clark, Ben Coates, Brent Jones, Heath Miller, Wesley Walls 

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN Willie Anderson (T), Matt Birk (C), *Tony Boselli (T), Lomas Brown (T), Ruben Brown (G), D’Brickashaw Ferguson (T), Kevin Glover (C/G), Jordan Gross (T), Olin Kreutz (C), Jake Long (T), Nick Mangold (C), Logan Mankins (G), Jesse Sapolu (C/G), Jeff Saturday (C), Chris Snee (G), Brian Waters (G), Richmond Webb (T), Erik Williams (T), Steve Wisniewski (G)

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN John Abraham (DE also LB), *Jared Allen (DE), La’Roi Glover (DT/NT), Casey Hampton (DT/NT), Robert Mathis (DE), Leslie O’Neal (DE), Michael Dean Perry (DT/DE), Simeon Rice (DE), *Richard Seymour (DT), Justin Smith (DE), Neil Smith (DE), Greg Townsend (DE/LB/DT/NT), Justin Tuck (DE), Vince Wilfork (DT/NT), Kevin Williams (DT), Bryant Young (DT)


LINEBACKERS Cornelius Bennett, Lance Briggs, Tedy Bruschi, London Fletcher, Seth Joyner, Willie McGinest (also DE), *Sam Mills, Hardy Nickerson Sr., Takeo Spikes, Pat Swilling (also DE), *Zach Thomas, DeMarcus Ware, Patrick Willis

DEFENSIVE BACKS Eric Allen (CB), *Ronde Barber (CB/S), Dre Bly (DB), *LeRoy Butler (S), Nick Collins (S), Antonio Cromartie (CB), Merton Hanks (S), Rodney Harrison (S), Albert Lewis (CB), Tim McDonald (S), Allen Rossum (DB), Asante Samuel (CB), Bob Sanders (S), Charles Tillman (CB), Troy Vincent (CB), Adrian Wilson (S), Darren Woodson (S)

PUNTERS/KICKERS – Gary Anderson (K), Jeff Feagles (P), John Kasay (K), Sean Landeta (P), Ryan Longwell (K), Reggie Roby (P), Matt Turk (P)

SPECIAL TEAMS Josh Cribbs (KR/PR also WR), Mel Gray (PR/KR also WR), Brian Mitchell (KR/PR also RB), Steve Tasker (ST also WR)


*Finalist in 2021. (Players must have last played at least five full seasons ago to be eligible for nomination. Therefore, any individual who last played in 2016 is eligible for the first time in 2022.)

Editor's note: Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area is on the 49-member Pro Football Hall of Fame Board of Selectors.

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