Ray Lewis vs. Brian Urlacher: Who has the edge for the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Ray Lewis vs. Brian Urlacher: Who has the edge for the Pro Football Hall of Fame

As things go for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it’s rare for two players who played the same position to be inducted into Canton in the same year. Running backs Ladanian Tomlinson and Terrell Davis bucked that trend a year ago, while two pairs of quarterbacks (Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and Dan Marino and Steve Young) did in the mid-2000s. 

But only once have a pair of linebackers been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the same year: 1990, when Jack Lambert and Ted Hendricks were enshrined (it's also not like there have been a lot of years with two elite linebackers up for election). 

Could that spell bad news for Brian Urlacher (or Ray Lewis) on Saturday?

Urlacher and Lewis are both in their first year of Hall of Fame eligibility, and are joined as 2018 finalists by running back Edgerrin James, wide receivers Randy Moss, Isaac Bruce and Terrell Owens, center Kevin Mawae, guards Steve Hutchinson and Alan Faneca, tackles Tony Boselli and Joe Jacoby, cornerbacks Ty Law and Everson Walls and safeties Brian Dawkins and John Lynch. 

Is that class deep enough to potentially pit Urlacher against Lewis in one of the Hall of Fame selection committee’s cut-downs (from 15 to 10 and 10 to five)? For the sake of this argument, let’s say it is, and compare the careers of the Bears’ and Ravens’ longtime, franchise-altering linebackers:

  Lewis Urlacher
Years 1996-2012 2000-2012
Games 228 182
Tackles* 2,050 1,353
Sacks 41.5 41.5
Interceptions 31 22
Forced fumbles 19 12
Playoff games 21 7
Playoff tackles 211 55
Playoff sacks 2 2
Playoff INTs 2 2
Playoff FFs 6 0
Conference titles 2 1
Super Bowl titles 2 0
Pro Bowls 13 8
1st-team All-Pro years 7 4

*A quick note on tackles: The NFL only began officially tracking tackle totals in 2001, so these are unofficial combined (which included assisted) career totals via Beyond the odd nature of this country’s most popular sports league somehow not tracking its most basic defensive statistic until after the turn of the millennium, it may make both Urlacher and Lewis’ tackle numbers not 100 percent accurate. Either way, both players were productive on a per-game basis after 2001: Urlacher averaged 7.4 tackles per game, while Lewis averaged 8.8 tackles per game in the same time period. 

Anyways, back to the main point: The statistical comparison above doesn’t favor Urlacher if it were to come down to him or Lewis making the Hall of Fame. Yes, they're equal on sacks, but on a per-game basis, Lewis tops Urlacher in every other category in both the regular season and playoffs. 

But one of this year’s fellow finalists — Mawae, who played for the Seattle Seahawks, New York Jets and Tennessee Titans from 1994-2009 — offered this reasoning why he’d choose Urlacher over Lewis in a head-to-head battle for a Hall of Fame spot:

"I’ve got to view it in the lens of how I played against guys … not as if I was in the coach … I’ve got to do it in how I played against them,” Mawae said, via Talk of Fame Sports Network’s Clark Judge. “To me, Ray was all over the place — an athletic guy, but he was not a downhill hitter. He’s not taking on offensive linemen. He was a jump-around guy.

“Brian Urlacher, sideline to sideline … could do it all … just like Ray. But he was more of a physical player in the box against offensive linemen, and that’s just the way I view it. Half-one dozen, half the other. Both of them are going to get in. You know what I’m saying?”

Both Lewis and Urlacher will be enshrined in Canton. Whether they go in together or a year apart is the first question — and then if Lewis will get in before Urlacher seems to be the second question. We’ll find out Saturday. 

Under Center Podcast: What should we make of Kevin White?


Under Center Podcast: What should we make of Kevin White?

Kevin White had a, well, interesting media session on Wednesday, but was he wrong for how he approached it? Plus, Moon and JJ look at Mike Furrey’s approach to White and how Mitch Trubisky is quickly growing into being a leader barely over a year after being drafted. 

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Pro Football Focus: Bears could be surprise playoff team in 2018

Pro Football Focus: Bears could be surprise playoff team in 2018

There's a lot of optimism about the Chicago Bears in 2018 largely because of the incredible offseason had by GM Ryan Pace. It started in free agency with several big-name additions on offense and continued in the NFL Draft with the selection of Roquan Smith, arguably the top all-around defender in the class.

Pace now finds himself in unfamiliar territory. He's entering a season with actual expectations. While those expectations vary, one thing is consistent: Improvement is expected.

According to Pro Football Focus, Chicago should end up challenging for a playoff spot.

No less than five additions on offense this offseason could make key impacts for the Bears, including wide receiver Allen Robinson who was one of the NFL’s best in 2015 before a down year in 2016 and essentially missing all of 2017 through injury. He’s joined at the position by Taylor Gabriel, who had three touchdowns on throws 20 yards or further downfield in 2016 and rookie Anthony Miller, who was tied for fourth among wide receivers in this draft class with 19 missed tackles forced on receptions. Add in tight end Trey Burton, who had three touchdowns from just 16 targets when lined up in the slot and rookie offensive lineman James Daniels from Iowa and it’s easy to see why this offense led by Mitchell Trubisky has the potential to trend upwards big time in 2018.

The Bears were one of five teams PFF listed as a surprise Wild Card candidate. The road to the post-season will be challenging, however. Not only do all of the new pieces have to gel, but they have to do it while playing in one of the toughest divisions in football.

The NFC North could have three teams -- not including the Bears --  playing in January. The Vikings may be the most talented club in the NFC and the Packers will always be a contender with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. The Lions have some vulnerability, but they've had more success than Chicago in recent seasons.

Still, Pace deserves credit for winning the offseason.