Zach Thomas is a Hall of Fame semifinalist for the third consecutive year.
The Miami Dolphins linebacker was announced Tuesday as one of the 25 modern-era semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2021, a move that should have been seen as almost a formality considering Thomas was a finalist for the 2020 class.
Thomas was the only one of the 25 modern-era semifinalists with ties to the Dolphins among a group that includes four players in their first year of Hall eligibility — former Colts and Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, former Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson, former Vikings and Chiefs defensive end Jared Allen, and former Packers and Raiders defensive back Charles Woodson.
The other 2021 modern-era semifinalists are: CB Eric Allen, T Willie Anderson, DB Ronde Barber, LB Cornelius Bennett, T Tony Boselli, S LeRoy Butler, G Alan Faneca, S Rodney Harrison, WR Torry Holt, FS John Lynch, LB Clay Matthews, LB Sam Mills, DL Richard Seymour, ST/WR Steve Tasker, RB Fred Taylor, WR Hines Ward, WR Reggie Wayne, LB Patrick Willis, S Darren Woodson and DT Bryant Young.
Along with Thomas, other 2020 finalists among the 2021 semifinalists are Boselli, Butler, Faneca, Holt, Lynch, Mills, Seymour, Wayne and Young. Lynch has been a finalist seven times, Faneca five times, Boselli four times, Seymour twice, and the others once.
The list of semifinalists came from an initial group of 130 nominees announced in September. The semifinalists will be trimmed to 15 modern-era finalists, who will join the recommended nominees of the Hall of Fame’s Coach, Contributor and Senior Committees: Tom Flores, Bill Nunn and Drew Pearson, respectively.
The Class of 2021, which will include between four and eight new members, will be selected and announced during the week leading up to Super Bowl LV in Tampa. No more than five modern-era finalists will be part of the 2021 class.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2021 will be enshrined Sunday, Aug. 8, 2021 in Canton, Ohio. Other events during the week of festivities will include the rescheduled Hall of Fame Game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys on Aug. 5, the Gold Jacket Dinner on Aug. 6 and the Centennial Class of 2020 Enshrinement on Aug. 7.
Thomas was inducted in 2012 into the Dolphin Honor Roll along with Jason Taylor, the other half of the Dolphins' dynamic defensive duo of the 2000s. Taylor was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018 in his first year of eligibility, while Thomas was a finalist for the first time this year.
In his 168 games with the Dolphins — all of them starts — Thomas averaged a remarkable 9.7 tackles, according to pro-football-reference.com. That’s an average of 155 for every 16 games.
In all of the 10 seasons when he played at least 12 games, Thomas finished with at least 128 total tackles. He topped 150 tackles six times, leading the NFL in that category twice (in 2002 with 156 and in 2006 with 165).
But it wasn’t just the tackles.
Thomas also made big plays for the Dolphins defense.
He ended up with 17 interceptions in his career, including three in 1996, 1998 and 2003. He forced 16 fumbles and recovered eight, and also had 20.5 sacks.
His stat sheet filled up nicely, but that doesn’t factor in the intangibles he brought to the Dolphins defense. He was the centerpiece of the Dolphins defenses Head Coach Jimmy Johnson built after arriving in 1996.
Thomas’ impact was immediate, evidenced by him earning a starting job as a rookie and leading to the release of established veteran Jack Del Rio, who would go on to become an NFL head coach.
With Thomas leading the way — with major contributions from Taylor obviously — the Dolphins defense finished in the top 10 in fewest yards allowed an impressive seven consecutive seasons (1998-2004). Five times during Thomas’ career, the Dolphins were in the top five.
Thomas’ brilliance was recognized, as he earned eight Pro Bowl invitations and was named an All-Pro five times.
Longtime Jets center Kevin Mawae went up against Thomas many times during his career, which ended with his induction into the Hall of Fame last year. And during his induction speech, while mentioning all the teammates, coaches and other influential people he encountered, to talk about Thomas.
It was one Hall of Famer saying one of his rivals belonged in the Hall of Fame with him.
“Zach Thomas was my nemesis,” Mawae said about three-quarters into his 27-minute Hall of Fame 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.”