Zach Thomas’ Bio for Canton

A compelling argument why former Texas Tech linebacker great Zach Thomas should be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day.

With Zach Thomas’ scheduled induction into the College Football Hall of Fame, the only remaining jewel for his gridiron crown is a spot in the NFL Hall of Fame. Thomas’ place in Canton is by no means certain; only 25 linebackers have been so honored, and nary a Dallas Cowboy linebacker has been good enough to make the grade. In other words, the Hall of Fame is selective in the extreme.

With that said, Zach Thomas has a roster of accomplishments every bit the equal of many linebackers who made the Hall of Fame. A strong case, therefore, can be made that he merits inclusion. Below is what Thomas’ Hall of Fame biographical sketch may look like, if the NFL gatekeepers deign to write one.

Zach Thomas was an undersized but rough-and-tumble linebacker who plied his trade for the vast majority of his career, with the Miami Dolphins. Thomas earned Pro Bowl honors seven times, and first team All-Pro plaudits five times. He was also named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the first decade of the 21st century.

Thomas, a lightly recruited linebacker from Pampa, Texas, played his collegiate football at Texas Tech University. While a Red Raider, Thomas earned All America honors in 1994 and 1995 (unanimous), and in that ’95 season was Southwest Conference Defensive Player of the Year and a finalist for the Butkus Award, which went to fellow Hall of Famer, Ray Lewis. Thomas’ game-winning interception return for a touchdown against Texas A&M in 1995 was arguably the most famous single play in Texas Tech football history at that time. In 2015 Thomas was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

After his sterling collegiate career, the Miami Dolphins got a steal selecting Thomas in the fifth round of the draft. He wasted little time proving that he belonged in the league, earning Pro Bowl alternate status and All Rookie honors in his initial season in the pros.

Jimmie Johnson, Thomas’ coach in his early years with the Dolphins, called him a “tackling machine,” and that he surely was. Over his 13-year NFL career, Thomas registered 1,720 tackles, sixth most in league history. He also tallied 20.5 sacks, nine forced fumbles, and 17 interceptions.

And the interceptions were hardly an accident. For while Thomas was double salty against the run, he was also devilish in coverage. He was a quick, instinctive linebacker, as well as a devoted student of the game, and those qualities allowed him to drop into coverage and cause all manner of mayhem in the passing game.

Thomas was never fortunate enough to showcase his skills in a Super Bowl, but he did play on five straight playoff teams—from 1997 through 2001—and on some excellent defenses. Over the course of his Dolphins career, the defense averaged twelfth best in the league in both yardage and points allowed. It is also worth noting that in Miami’s five playoff losses during the Thomas era, the Dolphin offense averaged only five points per game. If Miami had another player like Thomas on the offensive side of the ball, his Dolphins would have made much more playoff noise.


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