Dolphins Draft History: Zach Thomas

MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 21: Linebacker Zach Thomas #54 of the Miami Dolphins lines up against the New England Patriots at Dolphin Stadium on October 21, 2007 in Miami, Florida. The Pats won 49 - 28. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 21: Linebacker Zach Thomas #54 of the Miami Dolphins lines up against the New England Patriots at Dolphin Stadium on October 21, 2007 in Miami, Florida. The Pats won 49 - 28. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images) /

In this edition of the Dolphins draft history in anticipation of the 2018 NFL Draft, we’ll take a look back at when Miami selected Zach Thomas in 1996.

Even as a die-hard Miami Dolphins fan it’s easy to criticize a lot of decisions the team has made, particularly in the last decade or so. As a fan myself for over 25 years now, it’s been a frustrating ride to say the least. A lot of that frustration can be pointed to some of the draft selections they have made.

Let’s be honest, if you’re going to build a contender, it has to be done through the draft. Free agency and off-season signees create a lot of buzz, but it’s the draft that helps build your dynasties. This is where Miami has missed out quite a bit in recent years.

They’ve made some decent finds along the way, but not like they did prior to the turn of the century. I profiled Jason Taylor as one of their best finds back in 1997, but another great addition for them happened just a year prior – Zach Thomas.

Thomas was one of those late-round additions (5th round – 154th overall) that blossomed into one of the best Dolphins players of all time. While the knock on Taylor during his selection process was that he came from a small school, the opposite was true for Thomas. Texas Tech isn’t exactly known as a powerhouse by any stretch, but the reason Thomas was overlooked by so many was because of his size.

Even to this day, teams are hesitant to take on smaller players. You can only imagine how they felt in 1996. Not even six feet tall, barely weighing 225 lbs., teams wanted their linebackers with much more size. The Dolphins took a chance on him, however, with their fifth round selection, and he absolutely ran with his opportunity.

The majority of rookies, regardless of where they are drafted, need some time to develop their game. Thomas, on the other hand, looked like he had been a veteran for years right from the very start.

He finished the season with 118 tackles, starting 15 of 16 games. Thomas earned NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month honors that October. Not quite being selected, Thomas was a Pro Bowl alternate in 1996, and named to the All-Rookie team. He would go on to win AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year that season.

Thomas would spend the first 12 seasons of his career as a Dolphin. As the vocal leader of the defense, he earned numerous honors along the way, including being selected to the Pro Bowl seven times. In 2007, his season was cut short after a combination of suffering a concussion in game, and being involved in a car collision that October. Both cases led to Thomas suffering migraine headaches that would eventually lead him to be placed on injured reserve.

Miami cut ties with Thomas after 2007. He spent the 2008 season with Dallas on a one-year deal. The following year, he signed a contract with Kansas City, but after suffering a concussion in training camp, the Chiefs elected to cut him. Thomas made his decision to retire shortly after. He signed a one-day deal with Miami in order to officially retire as a Dolphin.

Thomas finished his career with 1,090 tackles (1,720 combined), 20.5 sacks, and 17 interceptions. In 1996, there were 17 linebackers taken ahead of Thomas in the draft. Many of them fell out of the league within a few years. Only four others had ever been selected to a Pro Bowl. Among them, only Ray Lewis was selected to more than Thomas.

In February 2018, Lewis was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Alongside him was Brian Urlacher, both entering on their first years of eligibility. The announcement of Urlacher created quite a stir from Dolphins fans. There are many who believe that Thomas belongs in the Hall of Fame, and rightfully so.

Urlacher’s numbers are quite similar to those of Thomas. Urlacher completed his career with twice as many sacks as Thomas, but that’s about it. Thomas finished with more tackles, and by a large margin if you count in combined tackles, and creating turnovers is practically a wash between the two.

It’s been over a decade now since Thomas last played, and he continues to wait by the phone to hear that he’s been inducted. Hopefully, it’s sooner rather than later we get to hear his name added to Canton. It would be well deserved for one of the best linebackers to ever play the game.

Next: Dolphins Draft History - Jason Taylor