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Vince Wilfork retires as the best run defender of his generation, but what are his chances at the Hall of Fame?

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The Patriots nose tackle was one of a kind.

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Vince Wilfork entered the NFL at an interesting time. After the New England Patriots dispatched Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in the 2003-04 playoffs, the league decided to pay special attention to the contact made by defensive backs on opposing wide receivers. This opened up passing attacks around the league and marked a clear shift in offensive tendencies.

Only three quarterbacks exceeded 100.0 passer rating prior to 2004 (min. 500 attempts): Dolphins QB Dan Marino in 1984, 49ers QB Steve Young in 1998, and Rams QB Kurt Warner in 2001. From 2004 onwards, quarterbacks have exceeded 100.0 passer rating a whopping 28 times.

But even as the league was turning its focus towards the air, Wilfork and the Patriots dominated the ground. Over Wilfork’s 11 seasons with the team, New England ranked 6th in rushing yards allowed and 3rd in rushing touchdowns allowed.

“Wilfork arguably laid the template for the prototypical run stuffing nose tackle,” Pro Football Focus writes. “In fact, no defensive interior player was better from 2006 to 2010. During those years Wilfork dominated against the run, leading all defensive interior players in run stops with 137, and in run stop percentage at 11.3 percent (min 850 run defense snaps).

“Wilfork graded in the top five of his position in four of those five seasons, including ranking first overall twice. His 2006 top-ranked overall grade of 86.8 was the highest mark of his career.”

Wilfork’s undeniable ability led me to post an interesting question on twitter: Where does Wilfork stand with regards to defensive tackles of his era? For simplicity, I considered Wilfork’s peers to be those that started their careers in the decade spanning from 2000-09.

My first takeaway is how the talent of players from 2000-09 seems vastly different from those from the earlier 1990-99 decade and those from the 2010-present. The 1990s has Hall of Fame players like Warren Sapp and Cortez Kennedy and John Randle, along with the likes of Ted Washington, La’Roi Glover, Bryant Young, and Kevin Carter. The 2010s has the likes of J.J. Watt, Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, Geno Atkins, Aaron Donald, and so many more.

Perhaps recency bias plays a part, but the defensive tackles from the 2000s seem to lack the same luster. For defensive tackles that started from 2000-09, there’s:

  • Shaun Ellis (2000-11). No All Pros.
  • Richard Seymour (2001-12). 3x first team All Pro, 2x second team All Pro.
  • Casey Hampton (2001-12). No All Pros.
  • Justin Smith (2001-14). 1x first team All Pro, 2x second team All Pro.
  • Kevin Williams (2003-15). 5x first team All Pro.
  • Vince Wilfork (2004-16). 1x first team All Pro, 3x second team All Pro.
  • Haloti Ngata (2006-present). 2x first team All Pro, 4x second team All Pro.
  • Kyle Williams (2006-present). 1x second team All Pro.
  • Calais Campbell (2008-present). 2x second team All Pro.

Beyond these players, there’s the likes of Albert Haynesworth, Darnell Dockett, Kris Jenkins, and...Jay Ratliff? How many of these players are in contention for the Hall of Fame?

Ngata (6x), Seymour (5x), Williams (5x), Wilfork (4x), Jenkins (3x), Smith (3x), Haynesworth (2x), and Campbell (2x) are the only defensive tackles that started their careers from 2000-09 to earn multiple All Pro nods during their careers; compare that to the seven players from the 2010-present with multiple All Pros on their resume (Watt, Suh, McCoy, Atkins, Donald, Wilkerson, Cox) and those that are likely to earn their second in the coming years (Harrison, Short, Dareus) and the quality difference is pretty apparent.

All Pro nods aren’t a perfect measure of a player’s contributions on the field, but it’s certainly a reasonable measure of a player’s chances of making the Hall of Fame; the same people that vote for one are voting for the other, and they would all likely consider the top defensive tackles from 2000-09 to come up short in comparison to those from 2010-present- and it’s hard enough for a defensive tackle to reach the Hall of Fame.

If I were a Hall of Fame judge, I would argue that Wilfork joins Seymour, Williams, Ngata, and Smith as the top five defensive tackles of the generation. I would also argue that he should be in the top three of that group with Seymour and Williams- but I don’t know if that would be enough to warrant him a selection into the Hall of Fame.

Poll

Should Vince Wilfork be enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame?

This poll is closed

  • 88%
    Yes
    (587 votes)
  • 11%
    No
    (80 votes)
667 votes total Vote Now

I’m curious to see how Richard Seymour’s Hall of Fame candidacy fares this upcoming season alongside Ty Law’s because I think that will represent a similar pathway for Wilfork. Seymour, Law, and Wilfork represent the best Patriots defenders of the Bill Belichick era and one player’s success or failures in the voting booth could indicate the projected trajectory for the others.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Wilfork was a finalist for a few years before he made the Hall because I don’t think he’s a first ballot player. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Wilfork ultimately came up short if players like Watt and Suh retire and become eligible before Wilfork makes the Hall.

What do you think?