The middle linebacker position has always been one that requires great physical skill and intelligence. The closest equivalent to the quarterback on offense, on the defensive side of the ball the middle linebacker is usually the signal caller and leader of the unit. Today’s linebackers are asked to do it all, tackle, cover, blitz, and motivate the troops.
The players ranked below brought all of these traits to the table, but more importantly brought their lunch pails to work every day. I can rank these players with pride knowing that they put their heart and souls into playing for the Dolphins and left everything out on the field. The following three players represent my biased ranking of the all-time Miami Dolphins middle linebackers.
3. John Offerdahl (1986-1993): Drafted with the 52nd pick in the 1986 draft, Offerdahl made an immediate impact making the Pro Bowl in his rookie season. He continued his stellar play for the next 4 years, making the Pro Bowl in each of them and being named a First Team All-Pro in 1990. Unfortunately, Offerdahl’s career was plagued with various injuries, allowing him to only start 22 games out of 48 over the next 3 seasons, leading to his early retirement. Offerdahl was one of the few bright spots on a porous Miami Dolphins’ defense, seemingly the only defensive player trying to help Dan Marino win a Super Bowl. Offerdahl could do it all on defense. He was a punishing hitter, was rarely out of position, had perfect tackling technique and drove his opponents into the ground. The Miami Dolphins were lucky do have such a dedicated and tenacious player, and one can only imagine what his career would have looked like without the injuries.
2. Nick Buoniconti (1969-1976): Traded to the Dolphins from the Boston Patriots in 1969, Buoniconti was the perfect veteran addition to a young and stumbling Dolphins defense. He went on to anchor the greatly feared “No Name Defense,” leading them to back-to-back Super Bowls and the undefeated season. Buoniconti made the Pro Bowl three times with the Dolphins in ‘69, ‘72 and ‘73. The Dolphins’ retiree was inducted to the Miami Dolphins Honor Roll in 1991 and inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001. Now a lot of people are going to say “Hey jack-hole, how can you rank a Hall-of-Famer with two Super Bowl rings behind Zach Thomas, a guy with no rings”. Ah, good point, but from my point of view, it is not Zach Thomas’ fault that he never won a ring. We will get to his merits soon, but the Dolphins’ offense in the post-Marino era was and has been, how do I put this, ‘less than stellar’ (or mind boggling garbage, whichever you prefer). Thomas put 11 years of blood and sweat into the Dolphins, starting 168 out of a possible 168 games and that is why he is our #1 all-time Miami Dolphins’ middle linebacker.
1. Zach Thomas (1996-2007): No one expected the 154th pick of the 1996 draft to make an impact, let alone become an instant star in Miami. No one believed in the 5-11 undersized linebacker. This fuelled him to become a leader, fan-favourite and household name. In his rookie season, he was credited with 120 solo tackles, 34 assists on tackles, 3 interceptions, 2 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. He continued to be a force for the team for the next 10 years, being named to the Pro Bowl seven times, and being named First-Team All-Pro five times. He continuously led the team in tackles, and had well over 100 (solo+assist) in every year except his last. But these numbers don’t even begin to do him justice. The man was a machine; you have to watch him to understand. He was all over the place; he could always run down a running back on a sweep and would never miss an open field tackle. This guy was one of my favourite players growing up and always made me believe that the team would be competitive. The Miami Dolphins need more players like Zach Thomas, the greatest middle linebacker to ever put on the pads in franchise history.