1) A true Pro (Bowler)
Most everyone knows that Derrick Brooks was an elite player for Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay. He was the 2002 AP Defensive Player of the Year and earned a first-team spot on the 2000s NFL All-Decade Team. But from a historical standpoint, where he really stands apart from his peers is in the realm of ... well ... peer respect.
During his brilliant 14-year career, Brooks was voted (partially by his fellow players) to 11Pro Bowl teams. Among linebackers, to say that puts him in elite company is an understatement -- it places him among the legends of the game. Here are the linebackers with the most Pro Bowl nods in NFL history:
» Ray Lewis: 13
» Junior Seau: 12
» Derrick Brooks: 11
» Joe Schmidt: 10
» Mike Singletary: 10
» Lawrence Taylor: 10
2) Unique six pack
Among all of the accomplishments accumulated by the players in the Class of 2014, Brooks boasts one of the coolest stats. Always a threat to step into a passing lane and pick the ball off, Brooks was also a threat to turn those errant throws into points. Six times over the course of his career, Brooks took interceptions to the house. That is tied with former Kansas City Chiefs great (and Class of 1983 Hall of Famer) Bobby Bell for the most pick-sixes by a linebacker in league history. Oh, and that doesn't even include the interception Brooks returned for a touchdown in Super Bowl XXXVII.
3) Tallahassee trailblazer
Florida State certainly has sent its share of stars to the NFL. Deion Sanders and Fred Biletnikoff already reside in the Canton club Brooks is about to join. In fact, Brooks will be enshrined on Saturday alongside another former Seminole, Walter Jones. And let's not forget about the great Anquan Boldin, who's still making his mark on Sundays.
That said, if you go back and check on the Florida State linebackers drafted prior to Brooks in 1995, you will find yourself staring into the bowels of mediocrity -- at best. The first two Florida State linebackers drafted into the NFL didn't even play a down in the NFL. Of the 16 total drafted before Brooks, starting with George Boyer in 1956, six failed to play in the league and none made the Pro Bowl; the best of the lot was former Jet Marvin Jones -- a solid if unspectacular player.
4) All's well that ends well
Brooks didn't close out his illustrious career the way so many long-time greats (sadly) do -- which is to say, in his final NFL days, Brooks didn't look like a shadow of himself. He could still backpedal and get depth in coverage, and his veteran guile kept Tampa's defense viable in his last campaign. Team-wise, the 2008 Bucs finished in the top 10 in total defense and points allowed. Personally, Brooks was solid, allowing opposing quarterbacks a lowly 70.1 passer rating when they threw on him. (According to the analytics mavens at Pro Football Focus, that was the lowest figure among 4-3 outside linebackers in all of football.) In December of that season, he was the subject of a fascinating Peter King article in Sports Illustrated that examined how Brooks and his Bucs cohorts approached a Herculean task: stopping Adrian Peterson. Peterson went on to lead the NFL with 1,760 rushing yards that season, but when the second-year pro visited Tampa Bay in Week 11, Brooks and Co. held A.D. to 85, all day.
And at the end of the season, Brooks would be named to yet another Pro Bowl. Now, how many 35-year-old linebackers go out like that?
5) Biggest Buc?
Warren Sapp has often been considered the premier defensive player of those great Tampa defenses of the late 1990s/early 2000s. John Lynch might be the most popular. Both were elite players, but Brooks might have been the best.
Brooks logged the most tackles of the trio. OK, he's a linebacker, so he's supposed to, right? Sure, but did you know that Brooks recorded just one fewer interception (26 to 25) than Lynch, who lived in the secondary as a safety? Brooks also forced eight more fumbles than Lynch, despite the latter's reputation for being a big hitter. Lastly, Brooks' 11 Pro Bowl nods nearly equal Sapp and Lynch's combined total (12) during their Bucs days.
It's a very tough call as to who was the greatest -- Brooks and Sapp each collected a Defensive Player of the Year trophy -- but there's certainly an argument to be made for the linebacker.