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The Hall of Fame case for Clay Matthews

Clay Matthews deserves one of these.

NFL: Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Tackling is becoming a lost artform in the NFL today. Just ask the Cleveland Browns.

Long ago, the Browns did have an all-star linebacker, a man who mastered the art of tackling – Clay Matthews.

The 19-year NFL veteran has been named a semifinalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as the organization recently announced.

This marks the second time Matthews has reached this stage since he became eligible in 2002. The first time occurred in 2012. Matthews must now wait until January, when voters will narrow the field to 15 “Modern-Era Finalists,” one “Senior Finalist” and two contributors.

Full disclosure – I am too young to have seen Matthews play in person. However, from watching him play on highlight films and NFL Films features, and from talking to many who saw him play, there’s no doubt in my mind that Matthews should be in the Hall of Fame.

Since I don’t have the “eye test” to go on, I’ll rely on stats (courtesy of Pro Football Reference). Let’s take a dive into them.

  • Matthews stands at third overall in NFL history in tackles. Matthews finished his lengthy career with an eye-popping 1,561 tackles. That’s an impressive figure.
  • In his career, Matthews played 278 games. That figures to 5.62 tackles per game. A comparable Hall of Famer, Junior Seau, recorded 1,522 tackles in 268 games, notching 5.7 tackles for game. Seau is one spot behind Matthews in career tackles.
  • Matthews was a durable player. He played 19 seasons, two more than Ray Lewis, and far above the league average. Matthews missed just 26 games in 19 years, with 14 of those coming in 1982. In his other 18 seasons, that’s 12 missed games.
  • Matthews was a reliable playmaker, someone to turn to in the clutch. Matthews finished his career with 27 forced fumbles, 14 fumble recoveries, and 16 interceptions, solid numbers for a linebacker.
  • Though Pro Football Reference does not have sack stats before 1982, Matthews’ sack numbers are impressive. From 1983-1996, Matthews had 69.5 sacks. That’s an average of 4.96 sacks per season. Matthews also notched 6.5 sacks at age 40 for the Falcons in 1996, an unheralded number for a veteran at the end of his career.
  • Matthews also provided one of the best linebackers in recent years, his son, Clay Matthews III. The six-time Pro Bowler has been a stalwart for the Packers since he entered the league.

Of course, as a Browns writer, I may be a little biased. And from not seeing Matthews play in person, I can’t make the argument as definitively as someone who has. However, I believe the numbers speak for themselves.

What do you think? Should Matthews be in the Hall of Fame? Let us know your thoughts below!