The NFL will be inducting the Class of 2015 this weekend, but it will be missing one retired star with Carolina ties.
For a decade now, former outside linebacker Kevin Greene has been eligible for the Hall of Fame, but every year the voters give him the snub while men with lesser stats get in.
For those who need a little reminder, Greene was a lowly fifth-round selection out of Auburn. His first three years with the Rams, Greene wasn’t a starter, but still managed to put up 13.5 sacks in part-time duty.
Then when he finally got into the starting lineup, Greene put up some of the most mind-boggling sack totals this side of Reggie White.
His first two years as a starter he posted 16.5 sacks. Not combined, that’s each season. He followed that up with 13 sacks before the Rams changed from a 3-4 to a 4-3 and made him an undersized defensive end.
When his time was up with the Rams, Greene took off for another 3-4 defense in Pittsburgh. He had 35.5 sacks in three years with the Steelers, then moved south to Carolina, following his former defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who was the Panthers’ head coach.
He racked up 40.5 sacks in three seasons with Carolina and 10.5 sacks with San Francisco.
In summary, Greene had 10 seasons with double-digit sacks and other years with nine, seven and six-and-a-half.
He finished his career with 160 sacks, ranking him third behind only Reggie White and Bruce Smith. With 176 career starts, he nearly averaged one sack per start.
White and Smith are in the Hall of Fame. So are Chris Doleman, Michael Strahan, Richard Dent, Lawrence Taylor, Rickey Jackson and Derrick Thomas — players known predominantly for sacking the QB, but who were less successful at it than Greene.
The knock on Kevin Greene is old, tired and, perhaps surprisingly, not very accurate.
All Greene did was rush the quarterback, said some Hall of Fame voters who didn’t pick him. Greene wasn’t a good all-around linebacker. He’s like a home run hitter that either gets a homer or strikes out.
My response has two parts. One, he played in defenses where he wasn’t asked to play the run. If a halfback took a hand-off, Greene’s job was to assume it was a play-action fake and keep going at the QB. It’s hard to tackle a running back up inside the hole when you’re being paid to circle around the outside of the tackle.
And two, he was no less effective a run-stopper than any of these other guys atop the career sacks list.
That season where the Rams made Greene play defensive end? He finished with a career-high 87 tackles. The rest of his career, he averaged about four tackles a game.
Reggie White averaged about four-and-a-half. So did Chris Doleman. Bruce Smith averaged four tackles a game. Michael Strahan only averaged three tackles a game.
What about this year’s darling, Charles Haley? He is only 29th in sacks with 100.5. That is 59.5 sacks less than Greene. And Haley only averaged three tackles a game, so all he did was pressure the quarterback, too.
Lawrence Taylor is considered by many to be the best outside linebacker in history. His peak lasted eight years. Greene’s peak last three years’ longer. While Taylor had a whopping 20.5 sacks in 1986, Greene actually averaged more sacks per season.
Derrick Thomas had a career similar to Taylor’s. One huge season (20 sacks in 1990) and seven years with double digits. Yet, he averaged less than four tackles a game and finished 33 sacks behind Greene.
Ricky Jackson was considered a much better all-around player, so one would think his tackle totals would be way better, but he simply averaged about five tackles a game.
Can you see my point? Kevin Greene wasn’t a good enough player with four tackles and one sack per game. But guys with four-and-a-half to five tackles and half a sack a game are better players. It’s perception, not fact.
And here’s a weird quote from an anonymous voter last year.
“Kevin, to me, has always been a strange one. Late in his career, he bounced around, so we’re trying to still figure out the effect of that.”
The man spent eight years with the Rams, three with Pittsburgh and three in Carolina and one in San Francisco. That’s a journeyman? Deion Sanders bounced around looking for a paycheck, too, but that didn’t hurt his voting.
Haley went from San Francisco to Dallas and back to San Francisco. Instead of being criticized, he is being rewarded for being on five Super Bowl teams.
Really, Greene is being criticized for being in a 3-4 scheme. If a man plays a position and plays it better than anyone ever has before, then he has to be in the Hall of Fame.
Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.