INDIANAPOLIS — Just weeks after seeing two of their own inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Indianapolis Colts on Wednesday evening learned five more former players will be among those up for election next year.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced that former great Colts running back Edgerrin James, offensive linemen Ray Donaldson and Chris Hinton, linebacker Cornelius Bennett and safety Bob Sanders — in his first year of eligibility — were among the modern-era nominees for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2017.**
Statistically one of the greatest running backs in NFL history, Edgerrin James last year, in his second year of eligibility, was one of 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2016 — the same class that ended up including James' former teammate, Marvin Harrison, and head coach, Tony Dungy.
James played 11 NFL seasons, including his first seven with the Indianapolis Colts. In his career, James was named to four Pro Bowls and rushed for 12,246 yards, which ranks 11th on the all-time list. His 15,610 total yards from scrimmage ranks 11th all-time among running backs, and is more than Hall of Fame backs Eric Dickerson, Jerome Bettis and Jim Brown.
The Colts' fourth-overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft out of Miami, James lit up the league from the start in his NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign, leading the league in rushing with 1,553 rushing yards and also scoring 13 touchdowns on the ground and four touchdowns through the air.
He's the greatest running back in Colts history, and leads the franchise in career rushing yards (9,226), rushing touchdowns (64), rushing yards per game average (96.1), rushing yards in a single season (1,709 in 2000) and most seasons with 1,000 rushing yards (five).
A second-round draft choice of the Colts in 1980, Donaldson became one of the most dependable offensive linemen in franchise history, starting 152 straight games at center from 1981 to 1991 before breaking his leg during a September 1991 game against the Los Angeles Raiders. He would return to start all 16 games the following season.
Donaldson was selected to the Pro Bowl four straight seasons from 1986 to 1989, and at the time of his departure from the Colts, he had played in the third most games in franchise history (184).
Donaldson also had successful stops in Seattle (1993 and 1994) and Dallas (1995 and 1996) after his days in Indianapolis were over, earning Pro Bowl selections with the Cowboys both seasons.
Donaldson's name has appeared on the preliminary ballot for the Pro Football Hall of Fame for several years.
Hinton became one of the most decorated Colts offensive linemen ever during his career with the franchise from 1983 to 1989.
An All-Rookie Team selection as a guard in 1983, Hinton was selected to six Pro Bowls and was named All-NFL several times as a left tackle from 1985 to 1989.
Hinton joined the Colts in a trade that sent John Elway to the Denver Broncos and left the club in a trade with the Atlanta Falcons in 1990.
Through his career, Hinton played in 177 total games over 13 years with three teams, and was inducted into the Colts' Ring of Honor in 2001.
In Hinton's final three seasons in Indianapolis, he enjoyed blocking for future Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson, who joined the Colts in October 1987 in a three-team trade that also included the Los Angeles Rams and the Buffalo Bills.
Hinton has been selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame's preliminary ballot several years running.
Bennett, a Alabama product, was selected by the Colts with the second-overall pick in the 1987 NFL Draft and spent the offseason with the club before he was traded to the Buffalo Bills in a three-way deal that sent running back Eric Dickerson from the Los Angeles Rams to the Colts.
A star pass rusher, Bennett then re-joined the Colts for the final two seasons of his career in 1999 and 2000.
A five-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro, Bennett would go to win two AFC Defensive Player of the Year awards and played in five Super Bowls. In 14 NFL seasons, Bennett collected 71.5 sacks, seven interceptions, 31 forced fumbles, 27 fumble recoveries and three defensive touchdowns — one each via blocked field goal return, fumble return and interception return.
He had a combined eight sacks in his final two seasons with the Colts, playing in all 32 games with 31 starts over that span.
Like Hinton, Bennett has also been selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame's preliminary ballot several years running.
Sanders this year makes his first-ever appearance on the Pro Football Hall of Fame's preliminary ballot.
A hard-hitting safety out of Iowa, Sanders was selected by the Colts in the second round (44th overall) in the 2004 NFL Draft, and played with the team from 2004 to 2010 before finishing his career with the San Diego Chargers in 2011, playing in two games.
A two-time Pro Bowler and First-Team All-Pro (2005 and 2007), Sanders put together his best season in 2007, when he was named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year. That year, he played in a career-high 15 games and collected 85 total tackles, 3.5 sacks, six passes defensed, and two interceptions.
He became the first Colts player in team history to be named Defensive Player of the Year, and only the fourth safety in league history to earn that honor.
Sanders was also a key piece to the Colts' championship in Super Bowl XLI, forcing a fumble and intercepting a pass to help secure the title against the Chicago Bears.
This year's Modern-Era nominees for the Class of 2017 is comprised of 94 players and coaches, including 45 offensive players, 32 defensive players, six special teams players and 11 coaches. The Modern-Era nominees will be trimmed to 25 semifinalists in November and then to 15 finalists in January.
According to NFL.com: "Eighteen finalists will be presented to the full 48-member Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee during its annual selection meeting on the eve of Super Bowl LI. The finalists will consist of 15 Modern-Era finalists, the recently named Senior Finalist, Kenny Easley, and the 2017 Contributor Finalists, Jerry Jones and Paul Tagliabue.
The Selection Committee will meet on Saturday, February 4, 2017 in Houston, Texas to elect the Class of 2017. While there is no set number for any class of enshrinees, the selection process by-laws provide that between four and eight new members will be selected."
The Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2017 will be formally enshrined on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017.
MODERN-ERA NOMINEES FOR THE PRO FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME CLASS OF 2017
*Finalist in 2016 (Players and coaches must have last played or coached at least five full seasons ago to be eligible for nomination. Therefore, any individual who last played or coached in 2011 is eligible for the first time in 2017).
QUARTERBACKS (7): Drew Bledsoe, Randall Cunningham, Doug Flutie, Donovan McNabb, Steve McNair, Phil Simms, *Kurt Warner
RUNNING BACKS (13): Shaun Alexander, Ottis Anderson, Tiki Barber, Larry Centers, Roger Craig, *Terrell Davis, Eddie George, *Edgerrin James, Daryl Johnston, Eric Metcalf (also WR/PR/KR), LaDainian Tomlinson, Herschel Walker (also KR), Ricky Watters
WIDE RECEIVERS (10): Isaac Bruce, Henry Ellard (also PR), Torry Holt, Chad Johnson, Derrick Mason (also KR/PR), *Terrell Owens, Sterling Sharpe, Jimmy Smith, Rod Smith, Hines Ward
TIGHT END (1): Mark Bavaro
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (14): Tony Boselli (T), Ray Donaldson (C), *Alan Faneca (G), Jay Hilgenberg (C), Chris Hinton (G/T), Kent Hull (C), *Joe Jacoby (T), Mike Kenn (T), Olin Kreutz (C), Jim Lachey (T), Kevin Mawae (C/G), Tom Nalen (C), Nate Newton (G), Steve Wisniewski (G)
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (5): Leslie O'Neal (DE), Simeon Rice (DE), Fred Smerlas (NT), Jason Taylor (DE), Bryant Young (DT)
LINEBACKERS (11): Carl Banks, Cornelius Bennett, Tedy Bruschi, Seth Joyner, Levon Kirkland, Clay Matthews, Willie McGinest (also DE), Karl Mecklenburg, Sam Mills, Joey Porter, Zach Thomas
DEFENSIVE BACKS (16): Eric Allen (CB), *Steve Atwater (S), Joey Browner (S), LeRoy Butler (S), Brian Dawkins (SS), Rodney Harrison (S), Ty Law (CB), Albert Lewis (CB), *John Lynch (S), Frank Minnifield (CB), Bob Sanders (SS), Darren Sharper (FS), Dennis Smith (SS), Troy Vincent (S), Everson Walls (CB), Darren Woodson (S)
KICKERS/PUNTER (4): *Morten Andersen (K), Gary Anderson (K), Sean Landeta (P), Nick Lowery (K)
SPECIAL TEAMS (2): Brian Mitchell (KR/PR, also RB), Steve Tasker (ST, also WR)
COACHES (11): *Don Coryell, Bill Cowher, Tom Flores, Mike Holmgren, Jimmy Johnson, Chuck Knox, Buddy Parker, Richie Petitbon, Dan Reeves, Clark Shaughnessy, Dick Vermeil