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NFL: AUG 23 Redskins v Panthers

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Thursday night, the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced their class for the 2024 ceremony which will take place in Canton later this summer. Headlining the group was the Panthers first-ever drafted player for the team to go in, defensive lineman Julius Peppers, who was in his first year on the ballot. While that was where the majority of the attention went and rightfully so, two other players who will receive their gold jackets also drew the eyes of Panther fans.

Former Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson got elected after two years of waiting, removing a key piece from the log jam at wide receiver. This still leaves former Ram Torry Holt and former Colt Reggie Wayne as finalists for the receiver position, but it feels like Johnson’s induction could open up a finalist spot for Steve Smith. Considering Smith has yet to be a finalist in his first two years on the ballot, this would be a big step for him even though he has better numbers than the other two who are still attempting to get in.

The other election that has Panther fans feeling hopeful is the one of former 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis. In his fifth season of eligibility, Willis was given the honors despite only playing eight seasons in the league. His induction clears a path for Luke Kuechly, who will be on the ballot for the first time next year, after he played eight seasons in the league at an even higher level than Willis did. He may have to wait a little because of how short his career was, but it should mean it won’t be an agonizing wait like it was with Sam Mills.

On Monday, Jim Szoke stopped by the Mac & Bone Show and discussed the impact Johnson and Willis’ inductions have on the outlook for Smith and Kuechly. He thinks that the Willis induction lays out a template for how long Kuechly will have to wait. “It doesn’t have to play out exactly that way, but it shows you how that may go with Kuechly. Very similar careers and length of service in this league. (He) Will be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for sure, it’s just a matter of what year for him.”

Szoke is also equally confident that Smith will be in at some point. “I think Steve Smith will absolutely get in. There are so many players that have similar numbers, but as we see each Cris Carter and those types of players get in, you can make the case more and more for Steve Smith that he definitely had the same type of career and, in many cases, a better career than those players.”

To hear Szoke full comments on the Hall of Fame, including Peppers’s induction, be sure to listen to the interview below and subscribe to the Mac & Bone Show podcast wherever you get your podcasts.