Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Dons of Linebacker Interceptions—Don Shinnick and Donnie Edwards

By John Turney
Starting in the 1980s NFL linebackers transformed from basic all-around players who stopped the run, dropped into coverage and would dog (blitz) the quarterback. Hall of Fame linebackers like Dave Robinson (22 sacks, 27 Interceptions), Jack Ham (25½ sacks, 32 INTS), and Bobby Bell (40 sacks, 26 INTS) represent that kind of linebacker as do Chuck Howley (26½ sacks, 25 picks) and Isiah Robertson (25½ sacks, 25 INTs).

After that, most, but not all HOF linebackers were rushbackers like Lawrence Taylor who had 142 sacks and 9 interceptions or Kevin Greene who had 160 sacks and 5 interceptions and many others.

However, there have been exceptions, Junior Seau and Derrick Brooks possessed all-around skills and were rewarded with Hall of Fame Gold Jackets.

In the history of the NFL a linebacker has intercepted 5 passes or more in a season 94 times (courtesy of Pro Football and sixteen linebackers have recorded that feat twice in their career. But only two have achieved that 5-interception mark three times in their careers—Don Shinnick and Donnie Edwards.

Shinnick is also the modern NFL's all-time leader in interceptions among linebackers with 37. He was a starter from 1957-68 for the Colts as an outside linebacker (though he played in the middle in 1958, the year the Colts won their first World Championship). He even led the NFL in interceptions in 1959 with seven. Even so, he was never a Pro Bowler or garnered other post-season honors.
Edwards played as an inside linebacker, outside linebacker and middle linebacker in his career. He ended his career with 1490 tackles and 28 interceptions (four were pick-sixes), 23.5 sacks and 75.5 run/pass stuffs and recovered 11 fumbles (two were scoop and scores). He achieved his five-interception seasons in 1999, 2002 and 2004.

Despite those impressive all-around numbers, Edwards was never a First-team All-Pro, though he was Second-team All-Pro in 2002 and 2004 and a Pro Bowler in 2002. We can't help but think that if a player put up these kinds of numbers year-in and year-out in the 1960s or 1970s that he might have been a multi-year Pro Bowler. From our own "eye test" if you will, Edwards passed. He was always in the thick of things on the field and stepped where Junior Seau left off in the Chargers defense.

Here are his career numbers:
One interesting factor is the NFL/AFL interception rate for the 1960s was 5.7% and for the NFL in the 1970s it was 5.3%. When Edwards played, from 1996-08 the interception rate was 3.2%, meaning interceptions were rarer in the more recent years and it would be harder for players to amass them and thus the 28 picks Edwards had would translate to far more if adjusted for era—perhaps around 40.

We wouldn't advocate Hall of Fame bona fides for either of these players, but they do deserve some credit for pulling off the 5 picks in a season trifecta. For a linebacker doing it once is impressive, twice, great, three times, well it's a charm, we suppose.

Again, courtesy of Pro Football here are the top intercepting linebackers in NFL modern history.


  1. Charley Brock had 20 officially and nine in his rookie year I believe for a total of 29. Bulldog turner led the league with eight one year, nearly half of his career total of 17. Mel hein only had 10 officially, but his 1930s picks are not included.

    1. All very true, for this piece we decided to use Pro Football Reference as a source for modern era LBers, and while sometimes two-way players get omitted in search results we decided to use PFR anyway, and included only modern-era platoon players. Hopefully, one day someone will put together a better list than includes more two way players.

      Also, in this case, we wanted to try and feature the LBers who picked off 5 or more passes three times, marking consistently.

  2. love the site and the information you have on it. this topic brings me to ask why isn't chuck howley in the hof and dave wilcoxs , chris hamburger are in ? his stats are better , he was always on a winning team some really good defences he was on and again stat wise he is right up with I think the best 4-3 old and first old inducted into the hof bobby bell and chuck did just as much as dave robinson . your thought please .

    1. I think Chuck Howley should be in the HOF

    2. Do you personally know Dallas selector rep Rick Gosselin? And if so, do you know if HE thinks Howley should be in the HoF? I can't get a straight answer out of the guy on his Talk of Fame site. He's always cagey or deflects. It's like pulling teeth. Which I guess is a terrible sign for Howley's chances. My hope is that he refuses to publicly disclose his opinion for some strategic reason while behind closed doors he's aggressively pushing Howley's case, but it'd be reassuring if he'd at least say something as simple and clear as you did here, that he thinks Howley should be in the HoF.

    3. I do know Rock and he is behind Howley. I think he may prefer Drew Pearson, but he's for Howley.

  3. Donnie edwards should def be in the HOF. His overall numbers are on par with and even better than Ray Lewis and Derrick Brooks. Imagine if he had played on good teams in large markets.