Manning, Woodson and Johnson join Jared Allen as semifinalists in their first year of eligibility. The list will be trimmed to 15 modern-day finalists in January.
Manning and Woodson are mortal locks for first-ballot status. Manning retired with nearly major passing record, throwing for 71,940 yards and 539 touchdowns in is career with the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos. His five regular-season MVPs are the most of any player.
Woodson is one of the greatest defensive backs in NFL history, making the Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams at both cornerback and safety during his NFL career. He won the Defensive Player of the Year award as a hybrid corner/safety in 2009 after having already spent the first decade of his career as one of the best corners of his generation. Still effective well past his prime, Woodson was a second-team All-Pro and a Pro Bowler at age 39 in 2015.
Johnson was headed to no-doubt first-ballot status before surprisingly retiring after only nine seasons in 2015. He is the single-season receiving yards record holder at 1,964, set in 2012.
However, with Torry Holt, Reggie Wayne and Hines Ward also nominated, it's likely Johnson will have to wait in line for enshrinement.
Allen is a borderline Hall of Famer based on accomplishments but is likely behind Richard Seymour and Bryant Young among defensive linemen.
John Lynch, Rodney Harrison and Alan Faneca are among the names who could join Manning and Woodson.