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49ers’ Patrick Willis is finalist for Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2024 – NBC Sports Bay Area & California

Former 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis was announced Wednesday as one of 15 modern-era finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 2024 class.

Willis, in his fifth year of eligibility, is a finalist for the third time in a row.

Willis made the Pro Bowl in each of his first seven NFL seasons and was a five-time Pro Bowl selection after the 49ers took him 11th overall in the 2007 NFL Draft.

Willis led the league in tackles twice, recorded 20.5 sacks, 16 forced fumbles and broke up 53 passes during his career. He was named to the NFL All-Decade Team of the 2010s.

Willis played in just six games in his eighth season before going on injured reserve with a foot injury. He announced his retirement a few months later, in March 2015, citing his chronic physical condition.

The modern-era list of finalists includes two first-time eligible candidates: defensive end Julius Peppers and tight end Antonio Gates.

Peppers was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time All Pro during his 17-year NFL career. He ranks fourth all-time with 159.5 career sacks, behind Hall of Famers Bruce Smith, Reggie White and Kevin Greene.

Gates played his entire 16-year NFL career with the Chargers organization. He made eight Pro Bowls and was a three-time All-Pro. Among tight ends in NFL history, he ranks No. 1 with 116 touchdown receptions and third with 11,841 receiving yards.

There are four returning finalists who cracked the top 10 a year ago: receivers Andre Johnson, Torry Holt and Reggie Wayne, as well as defensive end Jared Allen.

Other returning finalists are return specialist Devin Hester, defensive end Dwight Freeney, tackle Willie Anders and safety Darren Woodson.

Additionally, there are four first-time finalists among previously eligible players: running back Fred Taylor, offensive guard Jahri Evans and defensive backs Eric Allen and Rodney Harrison.

Here are the modern era player finalists (in alphabetical order):

— Eric Allen, cornerback – Philadelphia Eagles 1988-1994, New Orleans Saints 1995-97, 1998-2001

Oakland Raiders

— Jared Allen, defensive end – Kansas City Chiefs 2004-07, Minnesota Vikings 2008-2013, 2014-15

Chicago Bears, Carolina Panthers 2015

— Willie Anderson, offensive tackle – Cincinnati Bengals 1996-2007, Baltimore Ravens 2008

— Jahri Evans, guard – New Orleans Saints 2006-2016, Green Bay Packers 2017

— Dwight Freeney, defensive end/outside linebacker – Indianapolis Colts 2002-2012, 2013-14

San Diego Chargers, 2015 Arizona Cardinals, 2016 Atlanta Falcons, 2017 Seattle Seahawks, 2017

Detroit Lions

— Antonio Gates, tight end – San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers 2003-2018

— Rodney Harrison, security – San Diego Chargers 1994-2002, New England Patriots 2003-08

— Devin Hester, punt returner/kick returner/wide receiver – Chicago Bears 2006-2013, 2014-15

Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens 2016

— Torry Holt, wide receiver – St. Louis Rams 1999-2008, Jacksonville Jaguars 2009

— Andre Johnson, wide receiver – Houston Texans 2003-2014, Indianapolis Colts 2015, 2016

Tennessee Titans

— Julius Peppers, defensive end – 2002-09, Carolina Panthers 2017-18, Chicago Bears 2010-13,

Green Bay Packers 2014-2016

— Fred Taylor, running back – Jacksonville Jaguars 1998-2008, New England Patriots 2009-2010

— Reggie Wayne, wide receiver – Indianapolis Colts 2001-2014

— Patrick Willis, linebacker – San Francisco 49ers 2007-2014

— Darren Woodson, security – Dallas Cowboys 1992-2003

The selection committee can elect up to five modern-era players for the 2024 class.

Previously, Randy Gradishar, Steve McMichael and Art Powell were selected as senior finalists, alongside Buddy Parker in the coach/contributor category.

Voting for each of these four will take place individually in conjunction with the meeting to decide which modern-era players will be elected to the class of 2024. The next class into the Pro Football Hall of Fame will be revealed on Thursday, February 8. the nationally televised “NFL Honors” broadcast from Las Vegas, site of Super Bowl 58.

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