Who Should be in the NFL Hall of Fame Series Inside Linebackers

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Earlier this month, CowGirl Cas and I posted our opinions and reasoning for who should next be enshrined in the Dallas Cowboys’ Ring of Honor. This was in our He Said (Darren Woodson ); She Said (Harvey Martin) series. Afterwards, we had a lively discussion on which Cowboys players should be in the NFL Hall of Fame. That got me thinking. While that in itself is a dangerous thing, I was interested in looking at which players, by position, were the most deserving of getting a call from the Hall of Fame throughout the league. Over the next few days, we will do this by looking at the players I believe are the top 5 not now Hall of Famers at each position. This is not a ranking but rather an alphabetical listing. For reference, the player must be eligible for Hall of Fame. Here is the order of our journey through some of the NFL’s all-time greats.

Pass Rusher (4-3 DE, 3-4 OLB)

Defensive Tackle

Inside Linebacker

Cornerback

Safety

Specialist

Offensive Tackle

Offensive Guard

Center

Tight End

Running Back

Full Back

Wide Receiver

Quarterback

Today we will take a look at the tackling machines that roamed the middle of NFL defenses. Guys like Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher aren’t yet eligible to be included in this list. Frankly, neither of them will likely ever be on a list like this as there is a high liklihood that both of them wind up as First Ballot Hall of Famers. Tackle stats used will be team stats for any players or season for which official NFL statistics are not available.

RANDY GRADISHAR

Potential Hall of Famer Randy Gradishar

Case for the Hall of Fame:

5 First-team All-Pro Selections (One additional 2nd team All-Pro); 1978 NFL Defensive Player of the Year; Voted 1st Team 1990’s All-Decade Team; Randy Gradishar was credited with over 2000 career tackles for the Denver Broncos. Gradishar became the leader of the “Orange Crush” defense. That defense allowed the third-fewest rushing yards over the last nine years of his career behind only Pittsburgh’s “Steel Curtain” and Dallas’ “Doomsday Defense”. He was known as a technically sound, highly instinctual linebacker who was as comfortable covering Tight Ends as he was tackling Running Backs

Reasons he isn’t in the Hall of Fame:

Randy Gradishar is one of the players whose individual greatness was always overshadowed. He was not selected for the 1970’s All-Decade team. The two Inside Linebackers picked over him were Dick Butkus and Jack Lambert. He wasn’t a big hitter in an era in which Butkus and Lambert were the standard bearers so many NFL observers at the time did not appreciate his talent and production. His greatness was also overshadowed by his team’s inability to win a championship. As good as he played, his Broncos consistenly came up short to the Steelers and Raiders in the AFC. They finally did break through in 1978 only to get demolished in the Super Bowl by the Dallas Cowboys.

LEE ROY JORDAN

Potential Hall of Famer Lee Roy Jordan

Case for the Hall of Fame:

1 First-team All-Pro Selection (One additional 2nd team All-Pro); 1973 NFC Defensive Player of the Year; Lee Roy Jordan was credited as the Dallas Cowboys all-time tackle leader from his retirement in 1976 until Darren Woodson broke it almost 30 years later. This is even more amazing as Jordan played when the regular season was only 14 games.  Jordan became the leader of a Cowboys defense that went to 5 NFL Championships (including three Super Bowls). As good as he was against the run he was even better with the ball in the air. He finished his career with 32 interceptions to go along with 16 fumble recoveries

Reasons he isn’t in the Hall of Fame:

He was not selected for the 1970’s All-Decade team. While he played in 5 NFL Championships, his team only won it all once. His candidacy suffers from being a key member of “Next Year’s Champions”. This was the unwanted nickname for his Cowboys in the late 1960s as they suffered losses in consecutive NFL Championship Games to the Green Bay Packers and in Super Bowl V to the Baltimore Colts before finally winning it all at the end of the 1971 season.

SAM MILLS

Potential Hall of Famer Sam Mills

Case for the Hall of Fame:

4-time NFL All-Pro Selection; 3-time All-USFL Selection; All-Time USFL Team Selection; His #51 jersey has been retired by two separate NFL Franchise (Saints & Panthers); Sam Mills was the brains of the Saints “Dome Patrol”. This group is widely considered the best linebacker corps in NFL history and Mills was their unquestioned leader.

Reasons he isn’t in the Hall of Fame:

He was not selected for the 1980’s or 1990’s All-Decade teams. While he won two USFL Championships, his Saints teams only made the playoffs 4 out of his 9 seasons and were unable to find playoff success. While his leadership helped the Carolina Panthers to go from an expansion team to the NFC Championship Game in only the team’s second season, his teams never made it to a Super Bowl. His candidacy also suffers from losing three years of outstanding play to the USFL. While the NFL-AFL merger ensured the great accomplishments in the AFL would endure, that is not the case for the players that dominated in the USFL.

TOMMY NOBIS

Potential Hall of Famer Tommy Nobis

Case for the Hall of Fame:

He was selected for the 1960’s All-Decade team; 2-time NFL All-Pro Selection; 1966 Defensive Rookie of the Year; Tommy Nobis was credited by the Atlanta Falcons with 294 tackles in 1966. Although the stat is unofficial, it is the most credited tackles in a season in NFL history. He led his team in credited tackles in 9 of his 11 seasons (all with Atlanta). His contemporaries considered his play on par with Dick Butkus and Ray Nitschke.

Reasons he isn’t in the Hall of Fame:

Quite simply, Tommy Nobis played on some terrible teams as the first ever draft pick of the expansion Atlanta Falcons. His tremendously high level of play never translated into on the field team success. If his Falcons had even a modicum of success, Nobis would already be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

ZACH THOMAS

Potential Hall of Famer Zach Thomas

Case for the Hall of Fame:

He was selected for the 2000’s All-Decade team; 5-time 1st Team NFL All-Pro Selection (two more 2nd Team All-Pro Selections); 1996 AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year; Like Lee Roy Jordan and Sam Mills before him, Zach Thomas was not highly touted because of his size. But like each of them, he played with a passion and intelligence that more than made up for any perceive size issues. He had such an enormous impact with the Miami Dolphins that he was inducted into the team’s Honor Roll (the Dolphins’ team hall of fame)

Reasons he isn’t in the Hall of Fame:

2014 is the first year Zach Thomas is eligible for induction into the Hall of Fame. Even his most ardent supporters understood that he was not going to be elected on his first ballot. That honor will be reserved for players like Junior Seau in addition to Lewis and Urlacher over the next few years. Why not? Thomas’s teams never made the deep playoff run that can solidify a candidate’s place in the minds of the Hall voters. Also, his defenses were remembered as good but not great which takes some of the luster off of his leadership of that group.

These are my five most worthy for induction. I’m interested in your opinion on where I got it right and who I may have missed. Add your comments and vote in the poll below to let us know your thoughts on this group.

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