Today’s guest post comes from one of the longest followers of this blog (and its predecessor), Richie Wohlers. Richie is 44-year-old accountant from Southern California who is a Dolphins fan despite never being to Florida. As always, we thank our guest posters for contributing.
This is the first part in my series looking at the NFL Hall of Fame. I am going to take a look at which players are in the HOF, and look at some objective attributes of HOFers. I am only going to focus on players who played any part of their career after the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. While this will include many players who played in the pre-merger days, the bulk of the careers will have at least been played since 1960 with at least 21 combined teams. Before the AFL came along there were generally many fewer teams, so things like draft position and Pro Bowl/All Pro honors are more difficult to compare. Also, the game of pro football was much different before the 1950s. I am mostly going to stick with looking at the few statistics that can be compared across positions, such as All Pros, Approximate Value, etc.
I created a very quick and simple formula to give each player a career score based on the average of six statistical categories (All-Pros, Pro Bowls, Weighted AV, Total AV, Super Bowl Appearances, Super Bowl wins) at a position. Each category is weighted equally (though, the categories are related, and winning a Super Bowl essentially becomes worth 2 categories). The average HOF player at each position will have a score of 100. This makes an easy (though not exhaustive) way to rank careers, and to quickly see if anybody is missing from the HOF. I feel that using honors (Pro Bowl, All Pro) helps factor in peak value, AV factors in total value and Super Bowls helps factor in players on winning teams, who HOF voters seem to favor.
Today I am taking a look at linebackers.
There are 20 HOF linebackers who played in the post-merger NFL.1
First year: 8 players
Median: 4 years
Longest: 34 years (Dave Robinson)
Most weighted AV: 144 (Derrick Brooks)
Least weighted AV: 72 (Dave Wilcox)
Average weighted AV: 104 (Nick Buoniconti, e.g.)
Most total AV: 194 (Brooks)
Least total AV: 91 (Wilcox)
Average total AV: 136 (Lambert, e.g.)
17 of the 20 (85%) played in a Super Bowl and 13 (65%) won a Super Bowl. Butkus, Wilcox and Derrick Thomas are the three who didn’t. Four others never won a Super Bowl.
Who’s not in but should be?
Dave Wilcox would probably have the weakest statistical HOF case of those who are in. Andre Tippett is 11 game score points ahead of him, due mainly to his one Super Bowl appearance. Kevin Greene is close, but gets in due to his high sack total, which is not directly factored in here. Derrick Thomas also is towards the bottom, but that’s partially due to his career being cut short.
Every HOF linebacker has at least two All-Pros or a Super Bowl win. Everybody but Dave Robinson (3) and Ray Nitschke (1) has at least five Pro Bowls. They both make up for it by winning two Super Bowls, and some NFL Championships before that.
A few of the guys who are eligible, and would qualify in the Wilcox range are Robert Brazile, Sam Mills and Pat Swilling. Brazile is quite similar to Wilcox with 2 AP, 7 PB and 91 total AV. Mills and Swilling have fewer honors but more AV.
Then there is a group of 8 players who would be in the bottom third of HOF linebacks should they make it:
Hardy Nickerson (51 career score)
Isiah Robertson (53)
Lance Briggs (60)
Randy Gradishar (61)
Greg Lloyd (62)
Terrell Suggs (70)
London Fletcher (74)
Zach Thomas (74)
All of the above seem like unlikely HOFers. They all come up short in either Super Bowls or in honors. Thomas’ five All-Pros and seven Pro Bowls is impressive, but I think missing out on the Super Bowl may cost him.
Brian Urlacher (82) – His numbers are very similar to Zach Thomas, but he has the Super Bowl appearance. He seems like a probably Hofer.
Karl Mecklenburg (84) – He’s been waiting 17 years for the HOF to call. He doesn’t have the AV or honors like Thomas, but he makes up for it with 3 Super Bowl appearances. At this point an invitation seems unlikely, but I think he has the credentials, and he’d be far from the bottom.
DeMarcus Ware (90) – Still playing, but already checks all the boxes of a HOFer thanks to last year’s Super Bowl.
James Harrison (102) – Another active player. He ranks this highly due mainly to his Super Bowl hardware. His career score would make him an above average HOFer, but maybe Super Bowl wins have a diminishing value? He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who is going to get a lot of HOF support, but I could easily be wrong.
Ray Lewis (156) – Obviously a no-brainer who will be inducted in 2018. Once in, he would rank as the 4th-best LB behind Lambert, Ham and Hendricks.
Who will make it?
The guys at the bottom of my chart either had to wait over a decade for induction or were Derrick Thomas or Dick Butkus. I think it would take a career score of 80+ for anybody else to get in. My guesses, just based on typical qualifications and general feel: Urlacher, Peppers, Ware and Lewis. If Suggs can get another Pro Bowl and/or be a contributing member of another Super Bowl team before he retires, he might get in as well.
- From here on out, unless otherwise specified, I am only going to be discussing post-merger players. [↩]