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The Hall of Fame Class of 2012 was the first one since 1996 not to include any first-year-eligible candidates. Bill Parcells and Will Shields were the two modern-era finalists who were on the ballot for the first time, but they will have to wait another year.
Unlike the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, first-timers on the NFL's ballot have had success. The most recent first-time-eligible players to get inducted were Deion Sanders and Marshall Faulk in 2011.
On the heels of the announcement of the Class of 2012, we want to look ahead to the first-year-eligible players who will be crashing next year's ballot. To be eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a player must have been retired at least five years, so the next class will include players who called it quits following the 2007 season.
If the 2012 class is any indication, the offensive linemen are getting plenty of love from the voters, and that should bode well for a couple of players who become eligible next year — Larry Allen and Jonathan Ogden. Both C Dermontti Dawson and OT Willie Roaf were elected in the Class of 2012.
The Pro Football Weekly staff voted solely on players who will be eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the first time next year, and ranked the players we believe are most deserving.
1. OG Larry Allen / Cowboys 1994-2005, 49ers 2006-07 — Allen was a huge part, literally and figuratively, of the Cowboys' dynasty in the mid-1990s. Beginning his career in 1994, Allen played a total of 203 games, starting 197 of them, before retiring after the 2007 season. Allen was a member of the NFL's All-Decade team for both the 1990s and 2000s. For nine seasons, Allen paved the way for Hall of Fame RB Emmitt Smith, including the 1995 campaign when Smith ran for a league-high 1,773 yards. That year marked the first of Allen's 11 Pro Bowl selections.
2. OT Jonathan Ogden / Ravens 1996-2007 — While Ray Lewis and the Baltimore defense received much of the glory, Ogden was one of the key reasons why the Ravens were so successful during his 12-year career. The mammoth, 6-9, 340-pound tackle had incredible mobility for someone his size and could be counted on as an elite run blocker and pass protector. Ogden was a Pro Bowler in each of his NFL seasons except his rookie campaign and was a key contributor to Baltimore's Super Bowl title in 2000.
3. DE Michael Strahan / Giants 1993-2007 — The league's single-season sack champion, Strahan retired in 2007 with 141½ career sacks, which ranks fifth all-time. His mark of 22½ sacks in 2001 remains an NFL record. Strahan spent his entire 15-year career with the Giants, which included a Super Bowl title in his final season, when he recorded nine sacks. Strahan was a seven-time Pro Bowler and also was the AP Defensive Player of the Year in '01.
4. DT Warren Sapp / Buccaneers 1995-2003, Raiders 2004-07 — The anchor of the famed Tampa-2 defense, Sapp, a seven-time Pro Bowler, was a constant nightmare for opposing offenses. He recorded 96½ career sacks and was named the AP Defensive Player of the Year in 1999 after notching 12½ sacks and four forced fumbles. The next season, he had a career-high 16½ sacks. Known for his nonstop trash talking on the field, Sapp usually backed up his chatter with exceptional play during his 198 career games.
5. DT Bryant Young / 49ers 1994-2007 — Young was a standout on the 49ers' defense for 14 seasons, finishing his career with 89½ sacks, 12 forced fumbles and three safeties. Young started all 208 games in which he played. His best season came in '96 when he had a career-high 11½ sacks and two safeties. It was the only year he was honored as a first-team All-Pro. Young made it to four Pro Bowls in his career.
6. RB Priest Holmes / Ravens 1997-2000, Chiefs 2001-07 — Though he lacked the longevity of some other Hall of Fame backs, Holmes posted some of the best individual seasons of anybody in NFL history. During his first three seasons in Kansas City, Holmes had more than 2,100 yards from scrimmage and was named a first-team All-Pro in each campaign. He also led the league in touchdowns twice ('02 and '03), and his 86 rushing TDs rank 14th all-time.
Other first-ballot candidates — PK Morten Andersen, RB Mike Alstott, QB Steve McNair.
PFW associate editor Kevin Fishbain contributed to this article.