Derrick Thomas was a unique player. In my lifetime there has only been a handful of front-seven players — Ray Lewis, the original L.T., Jason Taylor and maybe Julius Peppers come to mind — that have possessed the ability to dramatically change the face of a game with one single play. D.T. definitely belongs in that group.
D.T. is the best pass-rusher I’ve ever seen. Period. Lawrence Taylor was a better all-around player (and the best defensive player of all time, so that’s no insult), and maybe Ray Lewis has been too, but nobody got to signal callers better than D.T. Additionally, I think that he was arguably the best defensive player of his decade. Reggie White and Deion Sanders, among others, would certainly be in that argument as well, but so would D.T. You’d be a fool to exclude him. He was just that dominant.
Knocking D.T.’s pass-coverage skills is kind of like knocking Peyton Manning’s scrambling ability, considering that wasn’t a skill that the Kansas City Chiefs really expected him to develop, especially early on in his career. He was so good up front that the Chiefs essentially created a position, “falcon” or “elephant,” to have him near the line of scrimmage as much as possible. Pass coverage really wasn’t part of D.T.’s game, and for most of his time in Kansas City it wasn’t expected or needed from him.
As far as D.T. not being good against the run, that’s not true. If he was so bad against the run why is he fifth all-time in Chiefs’ history with 649 tackles? All of those couldn’t have possibly been made just on QBs.
The reason why the opposition ran at D.T. is that he was so incredible at pursuing and chasing down ball carriers. It was simply a more effective offensive game plan to consistently run in his direction and send more blockers at him. It was a recipe for disaster when teams ran the other way and only assigned one blocker to D.T. He either: A.) Penetrated the backfield and blew up the play; or B.) Chased down the ball carrier, often preventing big or even solid gains. D.T. was so quick off the ball that occasionally he would over-pursue. His biggest strength became his biggest weakness at times, but all players have weaknesses. Even legends like the above-mentioned Manning and Taylor.
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D.T. holds the Chiefs records for forced fumbles (45!), fumble recoveries, sacks, and safeties. These stats — along with his constant pressuring of quarterbacks, which caused interceptions aplenty — show that Thomas was the primary reason the Chiefs led the NFL in takeaways during the ’90s. If he had ever played on a team that had an offense comparable to the one from the ’69 Super Bowl team fellow Chiefs greats Bobby Bell and Willie Lanier played with, he probably would have won a Super Bowl too.
Point blank — he was the best defender on the best defense of the ‘90s, and shouldn’t be punished because he wasn’t utilized like a typical linebacker and never played alongside top-notch offensive talent (C’mon, Joe Montana and Marcus Allen were washed up, and Christian Okoye only really had one great campaign. Steve Deberg? Dave Krieg? Steve Bono? Elvis Grbac? O.P.T. — other people’s trash.)
As far as Bell and Lanier are concerned, yes, both are great players. Why are they both in the Hall of Fame when D.T. isn’t? I’d say the fact both Bell and Lanier have rings paired with the whole AFL thing, not to mention the league was smaller back then. Don’t get me wrong — both guys deserve to be in the Hall. It’s just that D.T. deserves to be in also. I fully believe Kansas City’s small market has hurt him, as well as an influx of stars, mostly from larger markets, that have been available for the HoF since D.T. has been.
I know how great Bell was and that he could have played almost anywhere on the field. I also know how great of a player Lanier was during his heydey. I’m an avid NFL Films guy and an even more avid reader. I know their stats and stories. Both were tremendous players.
I do think, however, that D.T. played against superior athletes while playing for a team with less talent. Nobody can change my mind about that. That’s the main reason why I gave D.T. the nod.
Well, along with that D.T. is my personal favorite Chiefs player of all time. That’s a big part of The COAT. We all have our preferences, and when it comes down to making a decision quite a few of us will go with the guy we grew up watching and idolizing. That’s just the way it is.
Personally, I’m glad D.T. is moving on. It sucks that both Bell and Lanier can’t move on as well, but The COAT is a tough racket. Besides, both of them are alive and have Super Bowl rings. I think it’s great that D.T. (Who I’m surprised really hasn’t benefited from what I call the “Biggie-Kurt Cobain-Tupac posthumous effect,“ at least among HoF voters. We talk about Len Bias like he was a combination Magic, M.J. and Larry Bird, and he never made a pro bucket.) has a chance to win this thing.
I definitely think that Derrick Thomas has a chance to take The COAT. Given his popularity and story, the late, great Chief will be hard to beat.