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Pro Football Hall of Fame announces 2019 semifinalists

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The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced the list of semifinalists for the Class of 2019 last week.

Three candidates in their first year of eligibility – tight end Tony Gonzalez, safety Ed Reed and cornerback Champ Bailey – lead the list. They’re joined by three coaches and 19 additional players to make up the group of 25.

From here, the group will subsequently be trimmed to 15 in early January. After that, the Selection Committee will meet on February 2 – the day before Super Bowl LIII – to decide the final class.

All three of the newcomers warrant serious consideration after their impressive careers.

Topping the list is Gonzalez. Over the course of his 17-year career – 12 with Kansas City and five with Atlanta – Gonzalez helped redefine the offensive capability of the tight end position. He retired with 1,325 receptions, good for second all-time behind only Jerry Rice. His 111 touchdown receptions was good for sixth all-time, though he has since been overtaken by fellow tight end Antonio Gates and receiver Larry Fitzgerald. He was top-five in receiving yards with over 15,000 – 15,127, to be exact – though he’s since been topped by Fitzgerald. His 254 games played puts him tenth; he was named to 14 Pro Bowls and was a six-time First Team All-Pro. He’s an absolute no-doubt first-ballot guy; as things currently stand, he’s the greatest offensive tight end in the history of the league.

As impressive as Gonzalez is, the truth is that Ed Reed can’t be far behind him. The safety spent the vast majority of his career with the Ravens, playing 11 years in Baltimore (2002-2012) before splitting his final season between the Texans and the Jets. Reed was a rare player – one feared for both his ballhawking coverage skills and his ferocious hitting. Over the course of his career, he led the league in interceptions three times and landed in the top-10 four other times; he wound up with 64, which puts him seventh all-time. His 13 non-offensive touchdowns is tied for the fifth-most ever. He made nine Pro Bowls, was named First Team All-Pro five times and was the 2004 Defensive Player of the Year. One of the most feared defenders of his era.

Next comes Champ Bailey. He’s definitely third among newcomers, but being third on this list is no insult. He wasn’t quite the opportunist that Reed was – Bailey “only” wound up with 52 career interceptions and four TDs. However, it’s tough to argue his skills as a coverage cornerback. Over the course of his 15 years in the NFL – 10 with Washington and five with Denver – he managed to accumulate over 200 passes defensed. He wound up with 203 in all – the most ever. He was a shutdown corner for over a decade, making a dozen Pro Bowls and getting the nod for First Team All-Pro three times. He might not be a first-ballot guy, but he’ll make it eventually.

There are some talented holdovers on the list as well.

As far as offensive skill position players, there are some really good receivers on the list – guys like Hines Ward and Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt – as well as running back Edgerrin James. On the defensive side, the secondary is well-represented, with cornerbacks like Ty Law and Ronde Barber and safeties like LeRoy Butler and John Lynch joining Bailey and Reed. It’s a talented group of linemen as well, although even with names like Tony Boselli, Steve Hutchinson, Alan Faneca and Kevin Mawae in the mix, it has traditionally been a struggle for the O-line to make the leap to induction.

As you might notice, I’ve already named 15 players and haven’t even touched the three coaching legends – Jimmy Johnson, Tom Flores and Don Coryell – or the other immense talents on the list. Culling this group down to 15 will be hard enough, let alone getting the number down to the eventual inductees.

Look, there’s no denying that the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s process is a convoluted one without a lot of transparency. But even with that opacity, it’s hard to argue against the 25 names on this list of semifinalists. Whatever happens from here is anyone’s guess – just about any combination of 15 names will be more than worthy of the honor - but thus far, it looks like they’ve done a solid job of advancing a potential 2019 class.

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