Does former Miami Dolphins middle linebacker Zach Thomas belong in the NFL Hall of Fame? If you were to ask most Miami Dolphins fans the answer is yes, most certainly YES! Unfortunately for you and me and the rest of us that make up Dolphins Nation, we do not get to vote on who gets in and who does not. My mind set is that if a guy is a shoe in for your ring of honor then he should at least get strong national consideration for the HOF.
Zach's long time defensive teammate, best friend and brother in law, former Dolphins defensive end and linebacker Jason Taylor is a shoe in or at least that's the common belief among Dolphins fans. Luckily for us most of the national media seems to agree with Dolphins Nation. Most national media members, when asked agree that Taylor has put together a HOF resume' based solely on his stats with special emphasis on his 139.5 career sacks placing him 6th all time.
When I go looking for opinions on Zach's career many of the same writers that love the idea of JT in the HOF do not find Thomas' career likewise HOF worthy. Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says "Unless a guy is obvious, like Troy Aikman or Dan Marino" he goes on to say "My initial reaction? Zach Thomas just doesn't jump out at me as a Hall of Famer". John McClain of the Houston Chronicle said "I've watched him since he was at Texas Tech. When I think of Dick Butkus or Ray Nitschke and Jack Lambert as the greatest inside linebackers in history, then, no, Zach doesn't belong.".
To the average Dolphins fan Zach is, was and always will be "The Man". The guy that the Dolphins drafted in the 5th round of the 1996 NFL draft who was "too small and too slow" to actually play linebacker in the NFL. Of course this was the same thing that he was told coming out of high school and wanting to play at the college level where he was left with being a walk on for his local college, Texas Tech. He went on to be a 3 year starter and a finalist for the Butkus award, a unanimous 1st team All-American and Southwest Conference Defensive Player of the Year in his Senior season.
Despite Zach's pedestrian numbers at the 1996 NFL combine, then Dolphins head coach Jimmy Johnson took a chance on him in the 5th round of that same year's NFL draft because "All he did when I looked at tape of him was make plays!". Many draft analyst questioned Miami "wasting" a draft pick on a player that was not likely to ever start in the NFL. By the end of what was just Thomas' first NFL pre-season game Jimmy Johnson knew that what he had was his starting middle linebacker of the future, prompting him to cut longtime NFL linebacker Jack Del Rio.
All Zach Thomas managed to do in his 13 year NFL career was go to the Pro Bowl 7 times, make First-team All-Pro 5 times, Second-team All-Pro twice and was named NFL Alumni Linebacker of the Yr in both 1998 and 2006, named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month in Oct. 1996, named All-Rookie selection by College and Pro Football Newsweekly/The Football News/Pro Football Weekly & Pro Football Writers of America, AFC Defensive Rookie of the Yr, Dolphins 1996 Unsung Hero Award as selected by NFLPA, Newcomer of the Yr by S. Florida media, 2 time Dolphins MVP by S. Florida media, AFC Defensive Player of the Month Sept. 1998, 1998 All-Madden team, 3 time Dolphins' Leadership Award, 3 time AFC Defensive Player of the Wk and has more tackles than any linebacker currently inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
So it seems as if the HOF standard for a pass-rushing defensive end is all about stats but for some reason the standard for top of the pile NFL middle linebackers is some sort of arbitrary eye test? Is it because he just never looked the part? Zach once relayed the story of finding a new barber when he arrived in S. Florida to the Miami Heralds Amando Salguero. Thomas was talking to his new barber when the discussion came around to what he did. Zach tells the barber "I'm a football player". Thomas then said "He asked me what high school I played for.". Once again he was the guy that did not look the part. He just did not look like he belonged at the NFL level but boy did he. More than any of us even knew at the time.
With that in mind I decided to take a look at some of his contemporaries and compare their stats to those of Zach's for his career. By contemporaries I mean other middle linebackers that played more or less at the same time as Zach Thomas and also at a very high level. Below you will see the comparisons. Given that a couple of the others on this list are shoe-ins for the NFL Hall Of Fame what do you think are Zach's chances and do you think he deserves to be inducted with all the other greatest players to ever play the game?
YRS=years played; SK=sacks; INT=interceptions; TD's=touchdowns; PD=passes defended; FF=forced fumbles; FR=fumble recoveries; TKL=tackles; AV=yearly average for each year played