In the wake of a historical Hall of Fame enshrinement class on defense for 2023, one of the league's all-time sack leaders is among those eligible for the first time in the potential Class of 2024.
Defensive end Julius Peppers, who is fourth all-time in sacks and was a rare two-time All-Decade selection during his 17-year career, is among the players who retired after the 2018 season and will become eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame when the Board of Selectors begins the process for the next class.
Tight end Antonio Gates, who played for 16 years with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers after never playing college football, is the only other All-Decade player among the first-time eligible players next year. Gates is 17th all-time in receptions (955) -- third all-time among tight ends -- and seventh all-time in touchdown catches (116).
Other players eligible for the first time include quarterback Andrew Luck, who surprised most in the league when he retired after his sixth season, kicker Sebastian Janikowski, running back Jamaal Charles, wide receiver Brandon Marshall and defensive tackle Kyle Williams.
Peppers was a nine-time Pro-Bowl selection, a three-time first-team All-Pro and was named to the All-Decade team for the 2000s as well as the 2010s. Peppers had 159.5 sacks in his 17 seasons with the Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers.
That sack total is fourth-highest since sacks became an official statistic in 1982, and he is believed to be the only player since 1960 -- when the AFL began play -- with at least 150 career sacks and at least 50 forced fumbles (52) in a career. A testament to durability and production, Peppers played 16 games in a season in all but two of his years in the league, including every game (51% of his team's defensive snaps overall) in 2018 at age 38.
Peppers was the league's Defensive Rookie of the Year for the Panthers in 2002, and finished in the top four twice in Defensive Player of the Year voting.
Gates played basketball at Eastern Michigan and Kent State, averaging 20.6 points and 7.7 rebounds per game in his final season at Kent State. Gates had a pre-draft workout for a handful of scouts and coaches in the weeks leading up to the 2003 draft, a group that included then-Chargers tight ends coach Tim Brewster.
Gates' workout numbers, including a 4.8-second 40-yard dash, weren't that impressive, but Brewster has said he knew that Gates had sprained his ankle in an NBA basketball showcase leading up to the workout. So, despite the workout performance, the Chargers signed Gates, including a $7,000 signing bonus, as an undrafted rookie free agent.
He went on to expand the scope of the position, racking up two 1,000-yard receiving seasons and seven seasons with at least 800 yards to go with four seasons with at least 10 touchdown receptions. Gates had 21 games in his career with at least two touchdown receptions. By comparison, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce has 10 games with at least two touchdown receptions to this point in his career.
The Hall's Board of Selectors will begin the voting for the Class of '24 in the months ahead as the list of eligible players will be trimmed first to 25, then to 15 finalists. As many as five modern-era finalists can be chosen for enshrinement.