By most estimations, Chicago Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher is enjoying one of his finest seasons in 2011. The 12-year veteran seems to have turned back the clock this year, racking up 61 tackles so far this season, along with three interceptions and seven defended passes, which is good for third best among NFL linebackers in 2011.
On Thursday's Mully and Hanley show on WSCR-670 AM, out of Chicago, executive producer Dustin Rhodes claimed that Brian Urlacher is overrated, and is not worthy of the Hall of Fame, sparking a spirited debate between Rhodes and WSCR listeners.
Rhodes, who was filling in for show regular Brian Hanley, contends that Urlacher can never get past a block, and benefited early in his career from playing behind run-stopping defensive linemen, Ted Washington and Phillip Daniels.
This isn't the first time that Urlacher has been tagged with the overrated label. In a 2006 Sports Illustrated poll which asked NFL players who was the most overrated player, Urlacher came in second behind Terrell Owens.
Even as recent as last week, NFL players called Urlacher overrated. Urlacher received two votes from 11 current players who were interviewed by Sporting News.
As far as Urlacher's body of work, he ranks among the all-time greats who has ever played the game. Urlacher was named the 2000 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl seven times, and was named the AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2005. He was also named to the NFL 2000's All-Decade team.
While those honors are opinion-based, the sportswriters, coaches and players who make those selections also base their decisions on statistics, observed level of play and team success.
Since playing for the Bears, Urlacher has been to the playoffs four times, the NFC Championship Game twice and he played in Super Bowl XLI.
Rhodes also claimed that Urlacher's popularity was based on his race, claiming that because Urlacher is a white superstar athlete, he somehow gets more praise for his play.
I completely disagree with that claim. While there is no way to prove that this is the case, one way or the other, I believe Urlacher's accomplishments on the field speak for themselves, regardless of his race.
Rhodes also contended that Urlacher's legend is overblown because he plays linebacker on the Chicago Bears, following a long line of legendary players, such as Bill George, Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary.
An argument could be made that Bears fans revere middle linebackers based on Bears history, after so many great players have played the position. It could be said that anyone who is decent will have lofty status based on Bears fans' nostalgia for players who played that position before Urlacher. While Urlacher certainly fits the mold of linebacker legends in Chicago, I believe reality trumps myth in Urlacher's case.
I contend that Urlacher is not overrated, and continues to be an elite linebacker in the NFL. His combination of strength and speed has made him one of the premier players in the NFL for more than a decade.
Between his career statistics and accolades that he has received throughout his career, I believe Brian Urlacher will be a first-ballot Hall of Fame selection.