He was a perennial Pro-Bowler, an All-Pro and the Defensive Player of the Year in 2005. Is Brian Urlacher the greatest linebacker ever? Probably not, but did he change the way the position is played? Did he revolutionize the middle linebacker position? I believe the argument is there. He was among the first with his size, speed and range at that position.
However, one former NFL executive does not think so.
According to Pro-Football Talk, Ernie Accorsi was asked about Urlacher's Hall of Fame candidacy during a Sirius XM Radio interview. This was his answer:
"I think he’s a borderline Hall of Famer," Accorsi said. "I don’t know that he’s a definite Hall of Famer. I think there is a host of them, like Willie Lanier, that were dominant players. He was good, but I wouldn’t put him in that level."
The follow up question was if Urlacher was a guaranteed Hall of Famer:
"I don’t think he’s a guarantee. I mean, he may get in because he got a lot of publicity and he was a hard player. But his span that he covered was really restricted. Now a lot of those middle linebackers were in those days. They didn’t have three or four wide receivers so they stayed on the field for three downs. They might be off today. But, no, I certainly don’t have him in [Dick] Butkus or Ray Lewis [category]. And I don’t think he should be in there, really with [Joe] Schmidt and [Ray] Nitschke and those guys, either."
Now Accorsi is entitled to his opinion of course, but how wrong is he? I thought I would compare Urlacher's resume to those he mentioned.
Now the first player he mentioned, Willie Lanier, played 11 seasons for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1967-77. He was an 8-time Pro-Bowler and 3-time First Team All-Pro. He played before tackles and sacks were stats so all I can say is that he played 149 games, had 27 interceptions and scored two touchdowns.
Urlacher on the other hand, played 13 seasons, 182 games, had 22 interceptions, scored three defensive TDs and was an 8-time Pro-Bowler and a 4-time First Team All-Pro. To me, those are very, very similar careers. Now, I didn't see Lanier play, but from the stats it seems like Accorsi is really splitting hairs to say that Lanier was dominant and Urlacher is merely "borderline."
Joe Schmidt played 13 seasons for the Detroit Lions in the '50s and '60s, he appeared in 155 games, had 24 interceptions, 17 fumble recoveries and was a 10-time Pro-Bowler and 8-time First Team All-Pro.
Now Ray Nitschke is among the All-Time greats, like Butkus. Nitschke played 15 seasons, 190 games, had 25 interceptions, two defensive TDs and 23 fumble recoveries, a one-time Pro Bowler and 3-time First Team All-Pro. Butkus played in 119 games, scored one defensive TD, had 22 interceptions, 27 fumble recoveries and he was an 8-time Pro Bowler and 5-time First Team All-Pro.
Finally, the most recent player that Accorsi compared Urlacher to was Ray Lewis. Lewis, the media darling, is no doubt one of the best LBs of all time. Lewis played 17 seasons, 228 games, 31 interceptions, three defensive TDs and had 20 fumble recoveries. He was a 13-time Pro Bowler and 7-time First Team All-Pro. Since he played in the same era as Urlacher, I can list his sack and forced fumble stats. Lewis forced 19 fumbles and had 41.5 sacks. Urlacher had 11 forced fumbles and 41.5 sacks.
Yes, that's right, Urlacher and Lewis have the exact same number of career sacks. Lewis played many seasons in the more blitz-heavy 3-4 defensive scheme but has the exact same sack stats.
Some how Lewis is seen as perhaps the greatest linebacker of all time. His career numbers aren't a heck of a lot different than Urlacher's. I'm not listing sack stats because those are so subjective. I hate to say it, but is Lewis considered better because he danced his little dance every Sunday and was all "fiery" and gave a lot of speeches and wore a lot of eye black? 17 seasons and over 200 games played is certainly worthy of the Hall of Fame by itself. it's remarkable. But as far as the stats go, I see five players who all have very similar careers (Urlacher, Schmidt, Nitschke, Butkus and Lanier) and one whose career was just a tad longer and got a couple more rings and a couple more post season honors (Lewis).
To me, they are all worthy of the hall. Sorry Accorsi, but Urlacher is every bit the Hall of Famer that any of these guys are.
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