When Miami Dolphins LB Zach Thomas didn’t receive his Pro Football Hall of Fame gold jacket in 2021, the furious fists pounding nearby desks and tables from Dolphins fans actually registered on the Richter scale (OK, don’t look that up, it didn’t really). Is 2022 Thomas’ year for enshrinement?
Hey, Thomas waited until the fifth round to get drafted in 1996. Surely, he can exercise patience for immortality.
Zach Thomas’ Hall of Fame résumé
The linebacker position has evolved tremendously from what it was in the late 90s or early 2000s when Thomas played — especially for the middle linebacker. However, he played this role to devastating effect.
Rather than the sideline-to-sideline pass coverage, the run-heavy era called for a more physical style of play. Thomas’ football landscape required havoc in the box and the dismantling of running games. Thomas did that as well as anyone in his era. Not to mention, Thomas was among the best in NFL history in sniffing out and pulverizing screen plays.
The Dolphins’ MIKE linebacker teamed with the mammoths in front of him to shoot creases and control gaps. You had to know where No. 54 was or the play was getting blown up. His versatile play and remarkable consistency have Thomas on the cusp of the Hall of Fame.
The Dolphins drafted Thomas in Round 5 of the 1996 NFL Draft. During his 13 seasons (12 with the Dolphins), Thomas was arguably the best the NFL had to offer. He finished his career with 1,720 tackles, 20.5 sacks, 17 forced fumbles, 8 fumble recoveries, and 17 interceptions with 4 touchdowns in 184 games.
Thomas is a seven-time Pro Bowler, a five-time first-team All-Pro, a two-time second-team All-Pro, and a two-time Linebacker of the Year. He was named AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1996 and inducted into the Miami Dolphins Honor Roll. Additionally, Thomas is a member of the All-Decade Team for the 2000s.
Zach Thomas was unstoppable in the early 2000s
In his years with Miami, especially from 2000 to 2003, he anchored one of the best defenses in the NFL. During that span, Miami ranked third, 11th, fourth, and third in scoring defense. They never finished outside of the top 10 in total defense with two top-five finishes over those four years.
Thomas also had at least 100 tackles in each of his first 11 seasons. Only two people in the Hall of Fame have more combined tackles than Thomas (Ray Lewis – 2,061, Junior Seau – 1,846). First-ballot Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher has 350+ fewer combined tackles than Thomas.
Thomas’ 168 career starts were the most by a Dolphins’ defensive player. The ironman dependability and the three-time Dolphins’ Leadership Award winner endeared him to fans and teammates alike.
If elected, Thomas would be a member of both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame.
What college did Thomas go to?
Zach Thomas went to the University of Texas Tech.
While in Lubbock, Thomas was a two-time SWC Defensive Player of the Year and a unanimous first-team All-American. He recorded 390 tackles in his three-year career at the university, including a career-high 131 tackles in his senior season.
Thomas is in both the Texas Tech and College Football Hall of Fame.
Assessing Zach Thomas’ Hall of Fame legacy
Thomas vs. Urlacher is the oft-cited comparison among Dolphins fans. It’s the most apples-to-apples comparison you can make since they played during the same zeitgeist.
As aforementioned, Urlacher was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, recording 1,354 tackles, 41.5 sacks, 11 forced fumbles, 15 fumble recoveries (2 TD returns), and 22 interceptions (2 TD returns) in 182 career games.
Thomas played in two more games, had nearly 400 more tackles, and one more first-team All-Pro selection. Urlacher, meanwhile, has him beat with 21 more sacks and one extra Pro Bowl. Urlacher also has Thomas beat in draft position — Urlacher went No. 9 overall, whereas Thomas went No. 154.
Is 2022 the year Thomas gets in?
Hall of Fame enshrinement can be about timing as much as talent. The awe-inspiring legends who have graced the football field are plentiful. No cohort is created equal, and when a larger-than-average group of contemporaries bumps up against a finite amount of spaces, some have to play the waiting game.
Thomas’ career in Miami left him as a folk hero in South Florida. Who knows how many young football players wore the neck plate because of him. The on-field and off-field accomplishments have left him knocking on Canton’s door. Perhaps it’s time for David Baker to knock on his door instead.