The Pro Football Hall of Fame's enshrinement weekend is one of my favorite times of the entire year. And obviously, given current circumstances amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the enshrinement of the Hall of Fame's Class of 2020 has been postponed for a year. But that won't stop me from looking ahead to the Class of 2021. Here is my prediction of who gets in next year. Again, this is a prediction.
Peyton Manning, quarterback (Indianapolis Colts, 1998-2011; Denver Broncos, 2012-15)
Picking the Hall of Fame class is an all-day affair and seems kind of grueling. While I've never been in the room for the final voting, I would imagine it must be a welcome reprieve when a player like Peyton Manning is up for nomination. Because this is about as unanimous as it will ever get. Even the one wise guy who tries to feign an argument against him will get laughed out of the room. Manning is perhaps the greatest regular-season quarterback in NFL history. Manning won an unprecedented five MVP awards -- a mark that is pretty astounding given the high-profile quarterbacks he's played with, including Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. Manning also won a Super Bowl with two different teams, so there is no point in putting more words on this page about his qualifications.
Charles Woodson, cornerback (Oakland Raiders, 1998-2005 and 2013-15; Green Bay Packers, 2006-2012)
Woodson might not be as automatic as Peyton, but he's still getting in with little resistance. Woodson was a key member of Green Bay's Super Bowl XLV championship team. He was a four-time first-team All-Pro and four-time second-team All-Pro. In short, he's getting in. Kids today might not remember, but when you see highlights of the Tom Brady "Tuck Rule" game, that was Woodson who knocked the ball free. He's obviously a Hall of Famer, but you wonder how much bigger his legacy would be if that had been ruled a fumble and the Raiders had gone on to win the Super Bowl that season.
Three other projected inductees
Torry Holt, wide receiver (St. Louis Rams, 1999-2008; Jacksonville Jaguars, 2009)
Thought it was a mild surprise Holt didn't get into the Hall of Fame's Class of 2020, given that his long-time teammate Isaac Bruce was a member of it. There are football minds who would suggest Holt was actually the more dynamic player of the duo. No matter, he's going to get his enshrinement in Canton in 2021. Holt was a first-team All-Pro in 2003, a second-teamer in 2006 and a seven-time Pro Bowl selectee.
Alan Faneca, offensive guard (Pittsburgh Steelers, 1998-2007; New York Jets, 2008-09; Arizona Cardinals, 2010)
Felt like it was a near certainty Faneca would get in last year. He's been a finalist in each of his five years of eligibility. Props to the voters if they want to continue this as an annual tradition, just to leave him on the outside looking in. But he really should get in this time. He was a first-team All-Pro selection six times. He made the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 2000s. He was a stud for the Steelers' Super Bowl XL-winning team. So, yeah, it's kind of wild that he didn't get in with former teammate Troy Polamalu in 2020.
Reggie Wayne, wide receiver (Indianapolis Colts, 2001-2014)
Reggie was a great receiver and he certainly deserves to get in. He was a first-team All-Pro in 2010 and a two-time second-team selection ('07 and '09). It was surprising he didn't receive first-team honors in '07 considering he led the NFL in receiving yards that year. He was also a member of the Colts' Super Bowl XLI championship team. And he has a couple of things working for him here. Namely, former Colt Edgerrin James is going in as a member of the 2020 class. Peyton will be inducted in 2021, too. Wayne certainly deserves a spot in Canton with his former teammates.
I'd put them in, but voters love to make people wait
Patrick Willis, linebacker (San Francisco 49ers, 2007-2014)
I was absolutely stunned that Willis wasn't part of the 2020 class. I thought he was one of the few automatic selections. But apparently some Hall of Fame voters tend to favor longevity over guys who were dominant over a shorter period time. It's a reason why Terrell Davis had to wait several years before he rightfully got in. Willis was a five-time first-team All-Pro, and one-time second-team selection, during his eight-year career. He had few peers. But I really feel the voters are going to make him wait another year.
Calvin Johnson, wide receiver (Detroit Lions, 2007-2015)
I would vote Megatron into the Hall of Fame, but we know how this works. Hall of Fame voters are going to punish him (and vote in two other receivers) for having the audacity to retire on his own terms. Few receivers in NFL history were better than Calvin, though. He was a three-time first-team All-Pro and earned second-team honors once, too. And I still can't believe he didn't reach 2,000 receiving yards in 2012, when he finished with 122 receptions for a record 1,964 yards. Although that Week 17 game was against my Chicago Bears, so I was kind of happy he didn't get it. But still. I'm just fearful he's going to be left out of the Hall of Fame. It will be ridiculous if he's not inducted.