State Your Case: Dre Bly, the forgotten defensive playmaker
Dre Bly was a bit mystified.
It’s as if his career – and his Hall of Fame candidacy, for that matter – never existed.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame unveiled its preliminary list of 130 nominees for the Class of 2021 and Bly’s name was not on it. Again. He wasn’t one of the 122 nominees for the Class of 2020, either. In fact, Bly has been eligible for Canton since 2015 but has never turned up on any preliminary list.
Bly deserves better. A player wearing a Super Bowl ring with 43 career interceptions, including five for touchdowns, deserves some discussion. And consideration.
Bly is already in the College Football Hall of Fame. For good reason. He’s the only player in North Carolina history to become a three-time All-America. Remember, this is the school that produced Julius Peppers and Lawrence Taylor. Bly became only the fifth true freshman ever named first-team All-America in NCAA history and also the first defender to become a three-time selection (1996-98) since Pitt’s Hugh Green and UCLA’s Kenny Easley (both 1978-80).
Bly was a playmaker in high school with 16 career interceptions and a playmaker in college with 22 more. He led the NCAA as a true freshman with 11 interceptions in 1996 and left school as the ACC’s all-time leader with 22.
Bly believed he was ready for the NFL after his junior season so he applied for early admission to the 1999 draft. With a history of plays at his previous two levels, Bly loomed as a playmaker in the NFL, a slam-dunk first-rounder. But he wasn’t.
Too often the NFL falls in love with a player’s measurables over his productivity on draft day -- and the pros didn’t like Bly’s measurables. By the league's standards for the cornerback position, he was a bit small (5-9) and slow (4.51 40-yard dash).
So Bly slid into the second round of the draft, where the St. Louis Rams claimed him with the 41st overall selection, the sixth cornerback off the board. He intercepted three passes as the team’s nickel back as a rookie in 1999, including one he returned 53 yards for a touchdown against Carolina.
But his biggest play came in the NFC championship game. Bly’s fourth-quarter interception in Tampa Bay territory set the Rams up for the game-wining touchdown in an 11-6 victory. The Rams would go on to win their only Lombardi Trophy two weeks later.
Bly intercepted three more passes in 2000 and then six in 2001 when he led the NFL with 150 return yards. He scored twice on a 93-yarder against Detroit and a 56-yarder against Arizona.
Bly returned a fumble for a 20-yard touchdown in a 2002 victory over the 49ers, then left in free agency for Detroit in 2003. His playmaking skills again shined as he intercepted six passes that season and scored twice, returning an interception 48 yards against Arizona and a fumble 67 yards against Dallas. That earned Bly his first Pro Bowl invitation.
Bly followed that up with a four-interception season in 2004 for 105 yards, including a 55-yarder against the Cowboys for the seventh and final touchdown of his career. He posted his third six-interception season in 2005 and collected five more for the Denver Broncos in 2007.
Bly went to the Super Bowl in two of his first three years but failed to play for a team with a winning record in any of his final eight seasons. It’s difficult to get the attention of Pro Bowl voters off losing teams, which explains why Bly only went to Hawaii twice in his career despite a few other sterling seasons.
In addition to his 43 interceptions, Bly forced 20 fumbles and recovered 12 others. He returned those 55 NFL takeaways for 818 yards. He intercepted at least five passes in a season for three different franchises and was named to the 10th anniversary team of the Rams in St. Louis in 2005.
The interceptions, takeaways, return yards, touchdowns and that championship ring are a lot for the Hall of Fame selection committee to digest. It’s past time for the committee to start digesting them and discussing Bly for a bust. His career is worthy of that discussion.