TT is an online writer with over eight years of experience writing about sports and pop culture.
These guys could rush the passer, stop the run, and drop back in coverage but have not yet made it to Canton. Today I rank the top 10 linebackers not in the pro football Hall of Fame.
10. Chris Spielman
He was a all star player, but outside forces put his career on hold.
A second round pick in 1988, Chris Spielman was the defensive standout in Detroit for eight years. He captained the Lions defense that was one of the best statistically in the NFL in the mid 90s. Spielman is Detroit’s all time leader in career tackles with 1,138. In 1996, he set a Buffalo and personal record with 206 tackles. In his 11 seasons with Detroit, Buffalo, and Cleveland, Spielman was a four time pro bowler and three time All-Pro.
Spielman walked away from football in 1998 to support his wife Stefanie, as she battled breast cancer. Also he suffered two neck injuries towards the end of his career that hampered his production. He was a great player on the field but also a great man off the field for his family.
9. Greg Lloyd
He was the leader of the Pittsburgh defenses in the 90s.
A sixth round pick in 1987, Greg Lloyd became the team's starting outside linebacker in 1989. He became the emotional and fiery leader of the Steelers defense after the retirement of inside linebacker David Little. Lloyd teamed with cornerback Rod Woodson to give the Steelers two of the most dynamic and dominating defensive players in the game. He spent one final year in Carolina before retiring after 1998. Lloyd was a five time pro bowler, three time All-Pro, and AFC champion.
Lloyd spent the beginning and end of his career injured which really hurt his career stats. There is also his many off the field incidents of him pointing a gun to his family members.
8. Lee Roy Jordan
He was the key piece of off Tom Landry's "Flex" defense.
A first round pick in 1963, Lee Roy Jordan started off as the team's weakside linebacker before becoming the middle linebacker in his second season. Along with Chuck Howley and Dave Edwards, the trio formed one of the best linebacker corps in NFL history. He may have only been 6'1" and 215 lbs., but his competitiveness and drive made up for his lack of size. He ran Landry's "Flex" defense on the field with unmatched intensity and efficiency. Jordan watched game film endlessly as his contract included a projector for his home. He retired as the franchise's all time leader in solo tackles with 743 and still ranks second in team history today. Jordan retired after 1976 as a five time pro bowler, two time All-Pro, three time NFC Champion, and Super Bowl champion.
It's a mystery why Jordan doesn't have his gold jacket. He has stats, pro bowls, and a Super Bowl ring. He is one of many Dallas players ignored by the Hall of Fame.
7. Karl Mecklenburg
"The Albino Rhino" was the Broncos defense for much of his career.
A 12th round pick in 1983, Karl Mecklenburg worked his way up into the starting lineup. He went on to become an integral part of the Broncos' Super Bowl teams of the 80's. His 79.5 sacks are the second highest total in franchise history. Considered one of the most versatile players ever, Mecklenburg played all seven positions on the defensive front. Denver's coaches wanted him to be at the point of attack so he would move positions through out the game. Mecklenburg retired after 1994 as a six time pro bowler and four time All-Pro.
The problem with Mecklenburg is he never stuck to one position. His stats are impressive but not what one would expect from a 12 year veteran. He also dealt with dozens of concussions throughout his career which affected him in the long run.
6. Pat Swilling
He was the quickest member of the "Dome Patrol."
A third round pick in 1986, Pat Swilling was brought in to be a complement to Rickey Jackson. In 1991, he had 17 sacks and was named NFL defensive player of the year. In 1992, Vaughan Johnson, Sam Mills, Jackson, and Swilling became the only linebacker corps in history to make the Pro Bowl in the same season as the Saints led the league in quarterback sacks. Despite its tenacious defense, the team lost in the first round each time it made the playoffs. In his career, he recorded 107.5 sacks and six interceptions. Swilling spent his final seasons in Detroit and Oakland before retiring in 1998. He was a five time pro bowler, four time All-Pro, and the 1991 defensive player of the year.
The one criticism with Swilling is that he was seen as just a pass rusher. Many question his ability as a run stopper and in coverage.
5. Zach Thomas
He proved all his detractors wrong throughout his career.
A fifth round pick in 1996, Zach Thomas was considered to be too small and not fast or athletic enough to play at the professional level according to scouts and draft experts. He was initially drafted to be a special teams player, but Dolphins head coach Jimmy Johnson was so impressed with him, he became the team's starting middle linebacker. In his 13 year career, he posted 1,720 tackles, 20.5 sacks, 17 forced fumbles and interceptions, eight fumble recoveries, and four touchdowns. He finished his career as a seven time pro bowler and All-Pro, the 1996 AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year, two time NFL Alumni Linebacker of the Year, led the league in tackles twice, and a member of the 2000's All-Decade team
Thomas gets overlooked due to his size and for the bulk of his career playing on middle of the road to bad Miami teams. He has the third most tackles all time and should be recognized with a gold jacket.
4. Clay Matthews
Browns fans widely consider Matthews the biggest of the team's snubs for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and it's hard to argue.
Given the high-attrition associated with his position, his 19-year NFL career is nothing short of incredible. It's even more impressive given his relatively small frame for his position at 6'2", 245 pounds. Matthews was highly versatile and played every linebacker spot, registering 1,430 tackles, 62 sacks, 14 interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries with the Browns. He retired averaging almost 85 tackles a year.
To some, he's better known as the father of Packers linebacker Clay Matthews III and brother to Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews. In time though, there will be more and more consideration to put him Canton. He was the face of the defense during the his time and Cleveland and even brought leadership to Atlanta in his final three seasons.
3. Tommy Nobis
Unless you're a die hard Falcons fan, you probably don't remember Tommy Nobis. And that's not how it should be.
You can't underestimate what Tommy Nobis means to the Atlanta Falcons. He was their first ever draft pick, their first Hall of Fame-type player, first Rookie of the Year, first everything. The man compiled 294 tackles in his rookie season and it is still the all-time NFL record. You can't exaggerate his contributions to the franchise he played 11 years for. Where as a team like the Saints had to suffer for decades with retreads and guys on their way out of football, at least Atlanta had Nobis. E was the 1966 defensive rookie of the year, made five pro bowls, and his #60 has since been retired by Atlanta
When Norm Van Brocklin coached the Falcons he once gestured towards Nobis' locker and said to a reporter, "that's where our football team dresses." That's the sort of thing written for B-movies, not reality, but during his tenure in Atlanta, that could truly be said about Mr. Nobis. The fact that he played for the expansion Falcons should not diminish his chances as a Hall of Famer.
2. Randy Gradishar
Randy Gradishar is probably one of the biggest snubs by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He was the cornerstone of Denver's "Orange Crush" defense in the 70's. In his 10 seasons with the team, he led the team in tackles each year, was a seven time pro bowler, and was the 1978 Defensive Player of the Year. During his 10 years, Denver's defense gave up the third fewest yards from 1974-1983 and were the second best run defense during that time. He became the first great inside linebacker to play in a 3-4 defense. He is regarded by both Woody Hayes and Dan Reeves as the best linebacker they ever coached.
Regarded as one of the smartest players to come along, Gradishar retired as the NFL's all time leading tackler. Despite his stats and reputation, he has yet to be inducted into Canton. Its been over 30 years since he retired, and its time for Gradishar to get his gold jacket.
1. Chuck Howley
It was a coin flip between Howley and Jordan as the biggest Cowboys snub. In the end I decided to go with the Super Bowl MVP.
Howley was a dynamic playmaker who played better in his 30s than 20s, which is not to say he was bad in his 20s. The five-time first team All-Pro at outside linebacker was excellent in space, picking off 25 balls in his career, including three in two Super Bowls. He is the only player from a losing team to be named Super Bowl MVP.
All this, and he's not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Seriously!? If playing big in big games makes one a Hall of Famer like a Lynn Swann, who did not have great numbers, how is Howley not in Canton? He played 14 years, making the Pro Bowl as a 35 year old outside linebacker in 1971. Had the Cowboys not been so awful in the early '60s as an expansion team, and devoid of talent defensively, Howley might have received more accolades sooner.
Troy Taylor (author) from Anywhere on August 04, 2017:
Mike Curtis only made four Pro Bowls in a 14 year career and he is best remembered for tackling a fan
Mark Cavill on August 03, 2017:
What about Mike Curtis, only linebacker in history to be first team all pro middle and outside linebacker. He should be No. 1 on this list.
Sam Montana from Colorado on April 06, 2016:
A great list of linebackers. I grew up watching both Mecklenburg and Gradishar, and it is a mystery why they are not in the HOF, especially Gradishar.
I mainly watched the AFC, but I certainly heard of Nobis and Howley and it surprised me to read they aren't even in the Hall of Fame.
jim north on February 23, 2016:
Kevin Goodwin on August 14, 2015:
All these linebackers are great but my choice would be greg lloyd.
Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on July 21, 2015:
Greene and Mecklenburg are no brainers to be in. I can't understand why they aren't in yet.