The 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2021 were announced Tuesday night. Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas is a finalist for the second straight season.
“I am humbled and honored to have my name again be among the finalists for consideration into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Just being in the conversation, I feel like I won. Coming from a small town in Texas and getting this far is bigger than I ever allowed myself to dream. The game was my life for 28 years and I enjoyed every moment of it. If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t change a thing.” Zach Thomas
Across a storied 13-year career (12 in Miami), Thomas racked up 1,734 total tackles. His 1,107 solo tackles are fifth-most since at least 1994 and more than any linebacker in Canton besides Ray Lewis and Derrick Brooks.
Thomas intercepted 17 passes in his career and returned four of them for a touchdown, tied for a franchise record. He totaled 20.5 sacks, forced 14 fumbles and recovered eight.
Thomas was named first-team All Pro on five occasions and selected to seven Pro Bowls. He won the Defensive Rookie of the Year award in 1996 and was named to the NFL's All-2000's Team.
During Thomas' most productive years, Miami's defense was nearly impenetrable. Between the 2000-2003 seasons, Miami ranked third, 11th, fourth and third in the league in scoring defense. Those units never finished outside of the top 10 in total defense with two top-five finishes over that four-year span.
Thomas earned the respect of his opposition. Former Jets center Kevin Mawae, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019. He had this to say about the former Dolphins linebacker:
"Zach Thomas was my nemesis," Mawae said during his induction speech. "My first year with the Jets before my first game we played against each other, (Coach) Bill Parcells told me in front of my entire team, 'If you don't block Thomas, we won't win the game,' and for the next 16 matchups I never forgot that. Zach was one of, if not the smartest player I ever faced. He loved the game, had fun when he played and brought the best out of me. When people ask me who's not in the Hall of Fame and that I think should be here, it's an easy one for me: number 54 from the Miami Dolphins."
This isn't the first time Thomas' name has come up in the Hall of Fame conversation. Thomas was a finalist in 2020. Kyle Brandt on NFL Network's Good Morning Football made his case for Thomas back in 2018.
Traditionally, the Hall of Fame class is announced the day before the Super Bowl. This year's big game is February 7 in Tampa Bay.