ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Seven former Broncos, including Super Bowl 50 champion DeMarcus Ware, have been selected as modern-era nominees for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2022, the Hall announced Wednesday.
Ware is joined by former WRs Rod Smith and Wes Welker, DT/DE Michael Dean Perry, DEs Neil Smith and Simeon Rice and CB Dre' Bly on the initial list of nominees.
This 122-person group will be cut to just 25 names in November, when the Hall of Fame's selection committee announces the semifinalists. That then will be pared down to a list of 15 finalists in January. The committee will then select a group of up to five modern-era picks as it votes on the Class of 2022, along with senior finalist Cliff Branch, contributor finalist Art McNally and coach finalist Dick Vermeil.
This is Ware's first year of eligibility for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. A nine-time Pro Bowler, four-time first-team All-Pro and member of the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team, Ware spent the final three seasons of his NFL career with the Broncos. His arrival in 2014 as a member of a star-studded free agent class helped spur Denver to the franchise's third Super Bowl victory.
In 2015, Ware was a key member of one of the best defenses in league history, forming half of a starting pass-rush tandem that included Von Miller. The group led Denver to earn AFC's top overall postseason seed before a championship run that ended with a dominant Super Bowl 50 victory over the Panthers. Ware contributed 3.5 sacks, a fumble recovery, 10 tackles and 12 quarterback hits during the 2015 postseason.
Ware currently ranks ninth in NFL history in career sacks with 138.5 (since the stat started being tracked in 1982). During his three seasons in Denver, he totaled 21.5 sacks, 81 tackles, 26 tackles for loss, 44 quarterback hits, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one interception.
After Denver saw three former Broncos enshrined in 2021 with Class of 2020 member Steve Atwater and Class of 2021 members Peyton Manning and John Lynch, there are no former Broncos on the 2022 nominees list who were previously finalists for induction.
Rod Smith, the only nominee who is a Broncos Ring of Famer, was a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl champion. He is the franchise's all-time leading receiver in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. Smith also holds the NFL record for most career receiving yards by an undrafted wide receiver; only former tight end Antonio Gates has more among undrafted players.
Neil Smith, another member of the Broncos' back-to-back championship teams, joined the Broncos in 1997 for three seasons and recorded 19 sacks during that span. In his career, Smith had 104.5 sacks as he earned six Pro Bowl selections, one first-team All-Pro nod and a selection to the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team.
Perry was a six-time Pro Bowler during his 10-year career. He spent nearly three seasons in Denver and made one Pro Bowl with the team after seven years in Cleveland. In his career, Perry recorded 61 sacks, 565 tackles, 13 forced fumbles, eight fumble recoveries and one defensive touchdown.
Welker, like Rod Smith, is considered one of the best undrafted players of all time. The wideout spent two seasons with the Broncos from 2013-14 and was a key member of the 2013 offense that set league-wide production records. Welker caught 122 passes for 1,242 yards and 12 touchdowns in his two years with the Broncos; in his career, he recorded 903 receptions for 9,924 yards and 50 touchdowns.
Bly, a Bronco for two years from 2007-08, started 32 games for the Broncos and recorded seven interceptions, 23 passes defensed, one forced fumble, one sack and 113 total tackles. In his 11-year career, he was a two-time Pro Bowler and a member of the St. Louis Rams' Super Bowl XXXIV team.
Rice played with the Broncos for six games in 2007 after a productive career with the Cardinals and Buccaneers. He was a three-time Pro Bowler and one-time first-team All-Pro. In his 12 NFL seasons, he recorded 122 sacks, 28 forced fumbles, eight fumble recoveries, five interceptions and 483 tackles.