With the uncertainty surrounding Zach Thomas' future in Miami, and the general acknowledgment that time and injuries have at last brought him into the winter of his stellar career, the discussion among Dolphins fans has begun over whether the seven-time Pro Bowler will end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Thomas might not get the consideration among voters when his time comes, and even a great many Miami fans believe that his teammate and friend Jason Taylor should get in first.
However, it would be more than a shame if Thomas didn't make it to Canton, Ohio. It would be an injustice.
The lack of postseason success, although not entirely his fault, has probably harmed Thomas' prospects of induction.
At this time, there are likely only three other linebackers whose careers engulfed Thomas' and will merit Hall of Fame discussion when their careers are over: Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher and Derrick Brooks.
Junior Seau is probably going to the Hall of Fame as well, but because he was drafted a full six years before Thomas, we'll leave him out of this comparison.
Of those three, Lewis and Brooks have rings, while Urlacher has made it to the big stage of Super Sunday. Thus far, Thomas has never even played in a conference championship game.
A study of Thomas' bread-and-butter contribution to the Dolphins over the past 12 seasons, i.e. tackles, indicates that, when measured against those three contemporaries, he may deserve induction more than any of them.
In another unfortunate circumstance for Thomas, the NFL did not begin recording tackles as an official stat until 2001. Since then, and up until his injury-plagued 2007 season, Thomas has never finished lower than third in the entire league in tackles during the regular season, averaging 156.6 per year.
Minus the 2002 and 2005 seasons, during which he missed serious playing time, Lewis, who may be the one linebacker of the past dozen years whose space in Canton seems a foregone conclusion, averaged 138.2 tackles in that span.
Brooks, meanwhile, has averaged 117.4 tackles during that period, and his personal high was 137 in 2004. That very same year, Thomas had 146 tackles, his lowest tally ever.
Thomas has twice gone over 160, in 2003 and 2006. Urlacher, on the other hand, has exceeded 150 only once (2002).
Take away that year, and his 2004 season in which he only played nine games, and Urlacher averages 123.4 tackles per year, more than 30 tackles per season behind Thomas's average.
What is it that will probably keep Thomas out of Canton, or at least severely hinder his selection? It's his total Pro Bowl selections, which is a funny stat when you consider that the players practically vote the same guys in year after year, and then half of them don't play.
Thomas has made it to seven Pro Bowls, but he's in danger of not seeing another. Brooks has 10 selections in his illustrious career, and Lewis has nine. Of the modern-day linebackers either enshrined or headed to Canton, only Sam Huff and Andre Tippett had fewer selections than Thomas, with five each.
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