49ers great Willis named Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist


NFL All-Decade linebacker Patrick Willis was among the 15 finalists announced Wednesday for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2023.

Willis, who is in his fourth year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame, spent his entire eight-year NFL career with the 49ers, who selected him with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft out of Ole Miss.

Willis led the NFL in tackles as a rookie in 2007 and, again, in 2009, and was selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his seven full seasons in the league. He was also a five-time All-Pro player.

He appeared in just six games in 2014 after sustaining a foot injury. Willis announced his retirement in March of 2015, citing chronic foot problems.

"I knew there would be a day I'd leave,” Willis said at his retirement announcement, “and I always told myself that I wanted it to be on my terms.”

The Pro Football Hall of Fame on Wednesday cut the list of modern-era candidates from 28 to 15 finalists through a vote of the 49-member selection committee.

Willis was named to the NFL All-Decade team of the 2010s. He was enshrined into the 49ers Hall of Fame during a 2021 ceremony at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara.

In 2019, Willis was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

He was a consensus first team All-American in 2006 at Ole Miss and was honored with the Butkus Award and the Jack Lambert Award as the best linebacker in the country.

Willis was the 2006 SEC Defensive Player of the Year.

A maximum of five modern-era candidates will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s class of 2023.

In addition to Willis, the loaded list of modern-era finalists consists of the following 14 individuals:

— DE Jared Allen

— OT Willie Anderson

— CB Ronde Barber

— DE Dwight Freeney

— RS Devin Hester

— WR Torry Holt

— WR Andre Johnson

— CB Albert Lewis

— CB Darrelle Revis

— OT Joe Thomas

— LB Zach Thomas

— DE DeMarcus Ware

— WR Reggie Wayne

— S Darren Woodson

Freeney, Revis and Thomas are the only first-year eligible players included among the finalists.

Lewis, whose final NFL season was 1998, is in his final year of eligibility as a modern-era candidate.

Former 49ers running back Ricky Watters and wide receiver Anquan Boldin were among 13 individuals who did not advance out of the semifinalist stage.

Anywhere from four to nine new members will be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year, including coach finalist Don Coryell, and seniors finalists Chuck Howley, Joe Klecko and Ken Riley.

RELATED: Willis a 'no-brainer' Hall of Famer, DeMeco Ryans believes

Hall of Fame bylaws allow for a maximum of five modern-era individuals to be inducted on an annual basis.

The selection committee will gather in late-January to select the Class of 2023, which will be announced live on the “NFL Honors” telecast scheduled to air Thursday, Feb. 9.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area is on the Pro Football Hall of Fame Board of Selectors.

Download and follow the 49ers Talk Podcast 

Contact Us