Does Zach Thomas belong in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? That was going to be my title for this piece. The more I thought about it though the more ridiculous that seemed. “Does he belong?” shouldn’t even be a question, the Miami Dolphins great deserves to be in, of that I am in no doubt.
Statistics and direct comparison
A lot of Hall of Fame voting can come down to statistics. It can also be about direct comparison. Who was around in your era and how do you compare to them?
Zach certainly has the stats. He was routinely putting in 150+ tackles per season at the height of his career.
During his career he was often compared to Brian Urlacher as their time in the NFL overlapped. Thomas playing from 1996-2008 & Urlacher from 2000-2012. Zach made 182 starts over his 13 season career whilst Urlacher made 180 over his 13 year career.
They would go on to have quite similar career numbers (more below) but one was feted much more than the other.
Urlacher was a first ballot Hall of Fame inductee in the class of 2018. So he must have been much better than Thomas who has waited until 2020 to be a finalist right? NO.
The comparison with a first ballot Hall of Fame ILB
In 182 games Urlacher had 1,046 solo tackles (5.74 per game). In 184 games Thomas had 1107 solo tackles (6.01 per game).
Urlacher put in 315 assists on tackles (1.73 per game), Thomas had 627 career assists (3.4 per game).
I’ll be the first to admit that Urlacher outstrips Thomas in sacks – by a factor of two to one but then Thomas was making far more tackles per game.
Perhaps Urlacher was better at forcing turnovers? Well he has 22 interceptions to his name whilst Zach has 17. On the other hand the former Bears player forced 11 fumbles as a player whilst Thomas forced 16.
As we can see they both forced a fairly even number of turnovers or turnover opportunities all told. Yet Zach Thomas had a much more productive career in terms of tackles per game. But somehow Urlacher was a first ballot Hall of Fame inductee and Thomas who retired earlier is still waiting to get into Canton. What gives?
It’s about perception
Zach Thomas was not much of a self-promoter. He was the archetypal character that NFL commentators love to label a “Bring his own lunch-pail to work guy”. Like it or not, those who make a fuss in an entertainment business (which sport essentially is) can often capture the attention.
Then there’s the issue of the Dolphins during Thomas’ time there. Between 1996 & 2008 they won two division titles. They went 108-100 and went 3-6 in the playoffs.
Not exactly setting the league alight. Should that reflect on Thomas? In NO way. This is about individual recognition. He was one of the most reliable and consistent facets of the team during that whole period.
In 2005 Urlacher won the Defensive Player of the Year award. An award Zach never received. That year he had 122 tackles, (17 for loss), 5 passes defended 1 forced fumble, no interceptions and 6 sacks. The Bears that year were 11-5.
The same year Thomas had 162 tackles (13 for a loss), 3 passes defended, 4 forced fumbles, 1 interception and 2 sacks. The Dolphins that year were 9-7 and did not make the playoffs.
It’s all about perception – play on a successful team (the Bears were 126-98 & went to a Superbowl during Urlacher’s career), and you get the recognition. Well that’s over now.
As I noted above this is about individual recognition – and Zach Thomas deserves to be recongised as equal to his peers – the ones regarded as Hall of Fame worthy from his era.
Don’t just take my word for it
Obviously I think (know) that Zach Thomas should be in the Hall of Fame. I am not alone in that thinking.
During his induction speech he gave props to Thomas, who he faced 16 times during his 16-year NFL career.
“Zach Thomas was my nemesis,” Mawae said 22:16 into his 27-minute Hall of Fame speech. “My first year with the Jets before my first game we played against each other, (Coach) Bill Parcells told me in front of my entire team, ‘If you don’t block Thomas, we won’t win the game,’ and for the next 16 matchups I never forgot that.
Taylor & Thomas. For a while Jason Taylor & Zach Thomas were the beating heart of the Dolphins’ D.
Taylor was enshrined in Canton in 2017. When asked about whether Thomas belonged in the Hall of Fame he had this to say, ” There’s a handful of guys that I played with that are elite status as far as players, people, competitors, teammates, and Zach Thomas is No. 1 on that list.”
“He made everybody that played with him better. He’s one of those guys that never got the respect he deserved, never got the attention he deserves. To me, is he a Hall of Famer? Absolutely.”
Zach Thomas belongs
Opponent and team-mate are in agreement and that theme of being overlooked is there again. He wasn’t demonstrative, but Zach Thomas was top of the tree good – a true great at his position.
Equal to his peers. Recognised by his direct opponents. There is only one thing left for the 7 time Pro Bowler, 5 time first team All-Pro, All Decade team member, 2 time NFL alumni linebacker of the year & Miami Dolphins All-Time leader in tackles made – get him in the damn Hal of Fame, where he belongs!
Featured Image: Zach Thomas lined up for action. Image from miamidolphins.com