Brian Urlacher is a seven-time Pro Bowl pick and a four-time All-Pro, not to mention No. 49 on NFL Network's "The Top 100 Players of 2011," as voted by the players. But is the Chicago Bears linebacker worthy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame right now?
Don't cast Urlacher's bust just yet
Although Urlacher's numbers certainly place him on the cusp of inclusion, you'd be hard-pressed to rank him as the top middle linebacker over the past decade, and that makes it tough to say he's a Hall of Fame lock after his career ends.
On the contrary: Urlacher deserves Hall spotUrlacher already has established himself as a first-ballot Hall of Fame selection. His enormous talent has been evident from the start of his career, and it continues to shine through now. Urlacher has done a superb job of upholding the incredibly rich tradition of Bears middle linebackers, and five years after his retirement, he'll join the likes of Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary in Canton.
He hasn't done enough, but there's timeNo. Urlacher deserves to be in the Hall of Very Good, but if he comes up big in this, his 12th season, that would give me pause.
Urlacher has been a very good cover linebacker, good in space and a sure tackler. But he has been criticized at times for not being physically intimidating, or a guy for whom you must alter the game plan. He's also not particularly strong at rushing the passer, although he's rarely asked to do that.
Obviously, I'm nitpicking like crazy, but that's the deal with Hall of Fame banter. Urlacher might be the quintessential on-the-cusp Hall of Fame player, somewhat like Art Monk, who wasn't enshrined in Canton until 13 years after his career ended.
It should be a done dealUrlacher will make the Hall of Fame, just maybe not on the first year of eligibility. Being the Bears' middle linebacker for 11 seasons with seven Pro Bowl appearances is hard to deny. He had great stats in 2010 and is on pace to finish his career with over 1,200 tackles, 20 interceptions, 50 sacks, 15 forced fumbles, and 80 passes defended if he plays just three more years.
High standards for linebackers hurts Urlacher's causeMy gut instinct tells me probably not. No doubt Urlacher is among the most productive at his position during his era. He has strung together some Pro Bowl seasons.
However, Urlacher also has been a part of some of the more woeful defenses in the NFC, and he hasn't put together a résumé filled with instant-classic plays or hits in massively important games. Injuries have sapped him of some of his prime playing time.
To me, Urlacher is someone who will be a borderline guy, but perhaps time will catch up to him, and he'll end up going in the Hall of Fame several years after he retires. But to see how long it took late Kansas City Chiefs LB Derrick Thomas, for example, I think Urlacher might wait awhile.
Urlacher is a worthy focus of discussion, but as elite as the Hall is and as difficult as the standard for enshrined linebackers seems to be, I'm just not sure he'll get to Canton. The fact that he played for the Bears, who have a deep linebacker lineage, helps, but I'm not sure it will be enough. A few more Pro Bowl seasons at the latter stages of his career certainly would.
Shadow of Butkus, Singletary cast over UrlacherIf there was any doubt about Urlacher's impact, he showed it last season in his return from missing most of the 2009 season, when the Bears weren't much of anything, and helped them move within one game of the Super Bowl.
That said, I'm not sure he's a Hall of Famer. Part of that stems from playing in the shadow of Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary in Chicago. Both were mashers and intimidators. Urlacher isn't viewed that way. He's more of a playmaker instead of a face-mask bender. Also, if you lined up Urlacher next to some of today's best inside linebackers -- Ray Lewis, Patrick Willis and Jon Vilma, among others -- many people would take them above Urlacher, even though they might not be Hall of Famers either.
Urlacher overrated? You must be jokingAt various times throughout his career, I've heard talk that Urlacher is overrated. I've always had a hard time believing that to be true, and now, more than ever, I don't. In fact, I believe there is a bust waiting for him in Canton at the end of his career. His body of work, just in statistics is impressive. He's led his teams to a Super Bowl appearance and two NFC title games. He's not just physical, but quick and fast, effective in run support, able to drop deep down the middle of the field in Chicago's Tampa-2 defense, and can blitz with abandon. Two years ago he missed much of the season with an injury, and the Bears struggled. Back healthy in 2010, the Bears were NFC North champs. Yes, Canton will beckon.