Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Zach Thomas: Hall Of Fame Player?


Unfortunately, this is the second time that I feel I must take a stand against one of Pete Prisco's articles over at CBS SportsLine. I don't have any ingrained biases against any members of the media. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but in my own humble judgment, unless those opinions are arrived at through a sound process of logic they lose a large deal of their credibility and validity.

This time around, I am taking exception to Prisco's article "In or out? Will these stars of today be HOF-bound tomorrow?" (Previously, I argued against Prisco's assertion that Joey Porter is the most overrated player in the NFL. In that piece, he used the incredibly faulty logic that outside linebackers should be expected to record double-digit sacks at the least. See that article here.)

Prisco's latest article takes the top players of the game today who have played in at least 6 seasons and assigns them to one of four categories based on their chances of getting enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Those categories are 1)No way; 2) Needs more work; 3) On the bubble; and 4) Welcome to Canton. For the most part, he does a very good job of weeding out the true greats of today's game. As a Dolphins fan, I am in total agreement that as of right now Jason Taylor should be considered as "on the bubble." As long as he stays healthy for one or two more seasons he will become a lock for the Hall. One thing the Hall looks for is longevity. A season or two more from Taylor with even just 75% of the production he's turning out now should guarantee his spot. But I'm not here to dispute his ranking of Taylor.

It's the ranking of Zach Thomas that really gets me. According to Prisco, Thomas is in the "No way" group. His reasoning? "He was a good player but overrated at times."

Excuse me? Maybe I've been under a rock since the beginning of Thomas' career (I haven't been), but there is not a chance that Thomas has ever been overrated in his career. If anything, he's been vastly underrated. I think a very valid comparison can be drawn between Thomas and the San Antonio Spurs' Tim Duncan. Both have been dominant performers at their positions for close to a decade and yet both fly under the radar because of a low-key personality and the national media's ignorance of their year-in and year-out greatness. It's much easier to jump on a flash in the pan performance or a player with a fiery attitude. A recent article in Sports Illustrated contained this quote about Tim Duncan:
"The 'problem' has been his steadfast consistency. If you keep banging out great seasons with none standing out more than any other, who's going to notice?"
I couldn't help but think of Zach Thomas after reading that. It's the most concise way of explaining Thomas' situation. No one notices his incredible performances because a 150 tackle season is the "boring" norm. Finishing in the league's top five tacklers is the norm. Leading the Dolphins in tackles is the norm. Since he doesn't draw the attention to himself, those accomplishments are noticed by few. It's the old hypothetical question, if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a noise? Well, if Zach Thomas quietly puts up over 1500 tackles in 11 seasons and few people take notice of it, is his greatness somehow diminished?

Absolutely and unequivocally not.

In fact, it's an interesting exercise to compare Thomas to the last middle linebacker to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame - Bears MLB Mike Singletary. Singletary played from 1981-1992 in Chicago where he made 10 Pro Bowls and finished his career with 1488 tackles (885 solo), 51 passes defensed, and 7 interceptions. In comparison, Thomas, who has played in one less season than Singletary and has yet to retire, has recorded 1586 tackles (1195 solo), 63 passes defensed, and 17 interceptions while making 7 Pro Bowls. Judging by those statistics (and much of the Hall of Fame voting is based on statistical production) Thomas has played at a Hall of Fame level.

It's also interesting to compare Thomas to two current players who a majority of people would consider to be better players than Zach - Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher.

Both Lewis and Thomas came into the league in 1996. According to Prisco, Lewis is in the "Welcome to Canton" category, meaning that whenever he retires he is guaranteed a spot in the Hall. And yet Thomas beats out Lewis in all the important MLB statistical categories - tackles (1586 to 1398), solo tackles (1195 to 1117), and forced fumbles (16 to 8). Additionally, Thomas has proven to be much more of a workhorse over his career, missing only 13 games due to injury. Lewis has missed 27 games over the same period - more than twice the amount of Thomas. The one difference between Lewis and Thomas? Lewis draws as much attention to himself as possible so that he is a household name. I guess that counts for something in Prisco's evaluation of Hall of Fame talent. Also, I realize that Lewis has won a Super Bowl, but the Hall of Fame is about individual achievements and rings should play little in the voters' choices.

Next we come to Brian Urlacher. It's tough to compare Thomas and Urlacher in terms of absolute statistics since Thomas has played in the NFL for four more seasons than Urlacher. But if we take the season averages of both players, we can make some conclusions. Again, in all of the important middle linebacker statistical categories, Thomas' season averages beat out Urlacher's - tackles (144 to 120), solo tackles (109 to 92), and forced fumbles (1.45 to 1.14). And wouldn't you know, Prisco has labeled Urlacher as a "needs more work." Yet even if Urlacher continues on at his current rate of production, he still won't approach the level of Thomas. And somehow, someway, Zach Thomas is the one out of all three of these players to be given no chance by Prisco at the Hall of Fame.

Thankfully, Pete Prisco does not get a vote in the Hall of Fame selection process.

8 comments:

Rodrigo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

amen zach is the man

Anonymous said...

Zach Thomas has more tackles than any linebacker in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. How anyone can say he is not guaranteed a first ballot ticket in the Hall is out of their mind.

Anonymous said...

Zach Thomas: Hall Of Fame. PERIOD.

This guy is NOT somebody you want to line up against. WHY? Not because he is the most "physically dominating"... but because he WILL defeat you when he comes off that line. No question. You will NOT get past him.

Forget "prime-time"... this is "smash mouth", get your duds dirty kinda sportsmanship here. Zach Thomas *BRINGS IT*... every... single... time.

Thank GOD he was a Miami Dolphin. We LOVE you down here in 'The SFL', Zach... thank you for your intensity game after game after GAME...

PETE said...

THE LINEBACKER WITH THE MOST HEART THAT EVERY PLAYED THE GAME. I WILL BE THERE WHEN HE GETS INDUCTED INTO THE HALL.

54 IS THE MAN!

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Anonymous said...

Zach was simply awesome!!! One of the only 2 things that Jimmy Johnson ever did right was a lucky 5th round selection in 96' and a 3rd round pick 2 yrs later, Jason Tayler. Zach led by example which may mean that if he goes on DWTS he gets in

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