Sunday, July 17, 2016

Will This Be Randy Gradishar's Year for Induction to the Hall of Fame?

By John Turney
Credit: Cliff Spohn
The Talk of Fame Network does a tremendous job of profiling Hall of Fame-worthy players on their website and radio talk show. It is hard to really augment what they do, but we will take a shot in the case for Randy Gradishar. Rick Gosselin wrote a fine piece in December 2014 on Gradishar making the case on how deserving he is for induction to the Hall of Fame.

Gosselin mentioned Gradishar's hitting ability:
"Said Dan Hampton, "One time I asked Walter Payton who gave him the hardest shot in his career. He told me one name—Gradishar. He was well-respected in Chicago.”

Tony Dorsett said, "I ran a pass pattern and was wide open but Danny White did not see me,” Dorsett said. “I go back to the huddle and tell Danny I’m wide open. I ran the same route again, but this time I was almost decapitated. My eyes were only partially open when I hit the ground. Trainers and doctors came running on the field. They thought I was dead. Hey, I thought I was dead, too.”

Of the few things we want to add to the discussion is the number of votes Gradishar received for the AP Defensive Player of the Year and the frequency of how often he got those votes and see how it compares to others who are already inducted to the Hall of Fame.

There are two caveats: In 1985 the AP did not release the votes. So, we had to estimate how many votes Mike Singletary, Howie Long, and Andre Tippett received. We think it was likely not the kind of landslide Lawrence Taylor received in 1986, but more like 1983, 1984, and 1987, the nearest seasons, So, we guesstimated it was around 25, which is kind of in the middle of what those other votes totaled for the winners. We did the same for Long and Tippett.

Also, there are times at the end of the articles that went across the AP wires that said something akin to "also receiving votes". We estimated those as 1.5, after looking at the other years we felt that usually meant one or two votes, so we split the difference. It's not scientific but for the purposes here it does not affect anything since all three are in the Hall of Fame.

Here are the totals:
As can be seen, Gradishar fares well. He won the DPOY in 1978 and was third in the voting in 1977 and in two other seasons he received votes. There are quite a few HOFers who didn't show as well.

Some other HOFes that didn't make the chart: Ronnie Lott, Charles Haley, Chris Doleman, Derrick Thomas, Fred Dean, Curley Culp, and Andre Tippett. Certainly this one data point isn't the only thing, just as other stats or honors, alone, don't make a case, but it does show that Gradishar was not only regarded as the best 3-4 inside linebacker, he was also regarded as one of the best defenders, regardless of position and it wasn't just for one year, as might be said about Bryce Paup.

One other aspect of Gradishar's game was the unusual coverages that he was asked to perform. Coach T.J. Troup drew these out based on his film-watching of Gradishar.
Another diagram shows Gradishar covering the "Y-flat", that is covering a tight end man to man in the flat when the LBer next to him blitzes. According to Mike Giddings, of Proscout, Inc., Gradishar and Lambert were the only two LBers who could do that regularly and do it well.

Giddings' file had these other notes on Gradishar:
Proscout, Inc. Annual Player Rankings—Gradishar was one of Top Ten NFL Linebackers - Seven times in 10 years.

Best All-Time ILB at the combination of neutralizing and operating in space. Played like a DE vs. run and pass or a baseball player who had power and speed, Gradishar was best at this.

What made Gradishar Unique, and the Best ILB ever:

Blue in Neutralize, (Blue is our top rating)
"Can cover the Y-Flat"  (Only other ILB who could do that was Lambert)

"AAB" Always Around Ball
90% tackler every season, including last (Blue is 85% efficiency and above)
Blue in Diagnosis, fit in action
Zone stop curl---Broncos asked Gradishar to do what no other ILB could do. No one!
Averaged 16 tackles in 20 plus "looks".  Remember "Eye in the Sky does not lie"
1982—Blue Pursuit
1982—Active, still attacks guard
10/30/77 leverage: Blue, Neutralize: blue. Athletic: Blue, (Ranks at top. Could have been Fullback in NFL)

"30 defense is a hell of a lot harder on ILB than 40 defense. Ray Lewis got hurt 1 year into the transition from 40 to 30 defense. Lambert- 2 years. Carson-1 year. Gradishar did not get hurt in 9 years at ILB"

Joel Buchsbaum was the ultimate in collecting information from coaches and scouts and often listed his findings in the "Best in the Business" article that appeared in Pro Football Weekly and elsewhere.

Here is a sampling of his thoughts on Gradishar:

Pro Football Weekly's List of Top NFL Linebackers of All-Time
1A   Dick Butkus (MLB)
1B Lawrence Taylor  (OLB)
3 Ray Lewis  (MLB)
4 Bobby Bell (OLB)
5 Dave Wilcox (SLB)
6 Mike Singeltary  (MLB)
7 Jack Ham (OLB)
8 Ray Nitschke (MLB)
9 Jack Lambert (MLB)
10 Randy Gradishar  (ILB)

"Randy Gradishar may be the smartest and most underrated (Linebacker) ever. Had rare instincts, was faster than Lambert and very effective in short-yardage and goalline situations. The fact that he is not in the Hall of Fame is a shame and may be attributed to the fact he was a sure tackler but not a lights-out hitter or look-at-me type of player."  Pro Football Weekly

Pro Football Weekly in June 1979 in which Gradishar was rated #1 inside LB in NFL (Lambert was 4th) 

"Gradishar isn't the flashiest player in the league but I have seen enough film of him to know he's the best" . . . "Take him out of the Orange Crush and it would be the Orange Fizz" 

Pro Football Weekly, November 19, 1979, Again, Gradishar is #1 in NFL 
Superior diagnostician with exceptional strength, balance, tackling form and very good lateral mobility. Not as flashy or brutal as some ILBs but means almost as much to Denver's defense as Walter Payton does to Chicago's offense. 

September 7, 1980 “Randy Gradishar is the most valuable defender in football. As good as Dick Butkus ever was, but not as brutal. Steve Nelson is similar to Gradishar but not as great. Harry Carson is the most talented but the least consistent. Lambert is excellent but the Steelers defense is predicated on the middle linebacker making all the plays”

November 3, 1980  "Is the most dominant defender in AFC when healthy. Although not as brutal as Butkus or Bergy, he's strong at the point of attack, does a superb job of playing off blocks and getting to the ball, gets good depth on his pass drops and is consistently excellent" 

November 5, 1980 “Even with a broken rib and a flak jacket, he’s super”.

December 29, 1982 “While not as physical is Lambert he has good range and uncanny anticipation and is superb in goalline situations”

August 1982 “Perhaps the most instinctive linebacker in football, he has great anticipation and feel”

December 27, 1983 “Made his last season one of his best. Gradishar was always Johnny-on-the-spot and played as though he was in the opposition’s huddle

Additionally, here are a few samples from other publications:

1979 Sport Magazine
Randy is named one of top 5 hitters in NFL
"The chance for a really good shot comes very seldom, but when it's there I take full advantage of it."

The Truly Great, by Rick Korch
"Gradishar was extremely strong against the run, he was the kind of player who often overlooked but always seemed to make the tackle. He had good lateral movement and was quick enough to get back into pass coverage. Gradishar was a very intelligent player with the mobility of a middle linebacker."

The Complete Handbook of Pro Football
"Not as nasty as Butkus doesn't snarl like Lambert, but Gradishar makes all the plays. Hey, he can hittoo. Just ask Saints' Henry Childs, after Gradishar knocked his helmet off. "It was the first in my career like that, in the open field. It looked worse than it was"    

"The NFL's outstanding player in 1978, regardless of what Earl Campbell or Terry Bradshaw did. Linebackers don't get noticed but Gradishar has a year  Dick Butkus of Ray Nitschke would have admired. So instinctive he beats the blocker and the runner to the hole"                                                    

Pro Football Preview
"Feel" is a word football coaches use instead of instinct. Some players have it, some don't. Randy has an overload.  A mobile diagnostician who takes good angles in pursuit, he makes plays all over the field."

"A notch below Lambert in taking on a guard and the run head-on, no one's had better instinct than this all-time great. He processes plays with computer-like efficiency.  Always in the right place at the right time, he has his angles of pursuit down to rudimentary geometry and measures up to any back, anywhere on the field."

Gordon Forbes, 1978, “Quickest inside linebacker in the league. Leader of the Broncos Orange Crush flow to the ball, won’t be denied played hard on every down which distinguishes him from the good ones."

Gordon Forbes, 1980, “Struggled with injuries in 1980, he was awesome in 1981 averaging 10 tackles and 5½ assists for the AFC’s best defense."

Merlin Olsen, NBC Sports, "I really think Gradishar anticipates and reacts to the ball carrier better than any linebacker in the league." 

Olsen added "I never saw a linebacker who made so many initial stops. It seemed like he was always first to the ball and was a solid hitter."

The Orange Crush Defense also fared well. 
It was not as dominating as the Steel Curtain but also look at the surrounding cast Jack Lambert had. Denver had fine players like Lyle Alzado, Louis Wright, Bill Thompson, Tom Jackson, and Bob Swenson. But with Hall of Famers and near-HOFers like Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Mel Blount, L.C. Greenwood, Donnie Shell, the numbers for the Steelers are generally better, but it was a different style of defense.

Also, Denver didn't move to a 3-4 defensive full-time until 1976, though they used it part of the time in both 1974 and 1975.
Orange Crush Defense Rankings
Combined Rankings (1975-83)

Category                                                         Broncos Ranking in NFL

  • Rushing yards Allowed—3rd
  • Yards per rushing attempt—2nd
  • Fewest Rushing TDs allowed—6th
  • Fewest passing TDs allowed—1st
  • Fewest TDs from scrimmage allowed—2nd
  • Fewest Totals Yards Allowed—7th
  • Fewest Points Allowed—4th
  • Lowest Opponent Passer Rating—6th
  • Most Interceptions—7th
Since Gradishar's career covered the same years, save for 1984, as Jack Lambert it may be useful to look at their personal stats. Here are their career stats along with Carson the only 3-4 ILBer in the Hall of Fame in that era:

To make sure we compare apples to apples both of the charts above use tackle data from the play-by-plays. When the Broncos coaches evaluated films and credited Gradishar with assists to tackles, his career total is over 2,000. But since we don't have the Steeler or Giants coaches data we used play-by-plays for all.

About tackles, Merlin Olsen said, "I never saw a linebacker made so many initial stops. It seemed like he was always first to the ball and was a solid hitter, too. Some linebackers would sometimes fall on the piles and get their number called but in the games, Dick (Enberg) and I did it was always "Randy Gradishar on the tackle" and they'd get up and he'd be the last one getting up".

The "testimonials" don't stop there, said Steve Largent, "Randy Gradishar absolutely should be in the Hall of Fame. Frankly, I'm surprised he is not in already."

"Randy was a great linebacker, and he certainly belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame," said coach Chuck Knox. "He was tough, smart, and played every down all out." Knox coached the Bills and the Seahawks after being with the Rams in the NFC up to 1977, so he was very familiar with Gradishar. 

Quarterback Joe Theismann added, "When I think of Hall of Fame athletes, Randy Gradishar fits that mold. Linebackers are the heart and soul of every defense. Randy Gradishar was a prototype inside linebacker. The Orange Crush defense carried the Denver Broncos to great records and their first Super Bowl. And the heart and soul of that great defense was the seven-time Pro Bowler, Randy Grandishar."

Steve Sabol, of NFL Films, commented this way, "Randy Gradishar was selected All-NFL or All-AFC for seven straight years and was the leader of one of the NFL's best defenses in the late '70s. His range separated him from others at his position, A sure and determined tackler, he was also an excellent pass defender. He had special qualities in terms of intelligence, preparation, and athletic ability, and his play anticipation was the best in football. He had a great ability to square his body into the ball carrier at the moment of impact, which made him an incredible performer on third or fourth and short."

Finally, a look at the "Alls" the All-Pros, the All-AFC selections, the DPOY Awards compared to the other inside/middle linebackers already inducted. Again, taken in conjunction with all the other things, the "Alls" or awards are a useful tool in gauging how effective a player was in his era and how that compares across eras.
(Click to enlarge)
One caveat, we cannot confirm Richter's 112 starts, we are going by anecdotal evidence that states Richters never missed a start. However, records are sketchy from that era and we cannot be 100% sure. The same goes for Huff and Schmidt. We think Huff may not have started his first game, but again, it has been written that he started from day one.

1 comment:

  1. ...sam huff did NOT start the first two weeks of his career in '56, went from back-up defensive tackle to starting middle linebacker due to injury. Gradishar would be able to play today, and not be taken out on obvious passing downs due his ability to play both man and zone coverage. a deserving HOFamer.....