Saturday, December 31, 2022

Dwight Freeney—Hall of Fame Pros and Cons

 By John Turney 
It is hard to imagine a scenario where Dwight Freeney does not make the Pro Football Hall of Fame Final 15 list next week. And that is even considering the fact that fellow Colt edge rush Robert Mathis, who is on the Semifinalist list of 28, possibly competing with votes. There are too many pros to his career for him to not make it to the next round.

But, by the same token, it is also hard to imagine any scenario that includes Freeney as a first-ballot Hall of Famer by being voted in when the voters meet in a Zoom call in January. There are too many cons for him to make it this soon.

The pros are despite his atypical size for a defensive end (6-foot-1, 270 pounds) he was a three-time First-team All-Pro selection and also a Second-team selection. He was voted to seven Pro Bowls and was a First-team All-Decade pick for the 2000s. And, oh, by the way, has a Super Bowl ring.

Freeney also has the intangible of having influenced the game. We don't say changed the game since so few players have actually done that and there are so many claims of players having done so that all of the claims cannot possibly be true. But, in Freeney's case the popularization of his signature move, the inside spin move, has filtered down to today's generation. He thinks he changed the game with the move and with blocking patterns devised to slow him but greater minds than ours would have to make that call. It is enough that it was something that was a big, big influence.

The spin move was not invented by Freeney, it can be seen by pass rushers in previous generations from time to time but it was not a staple, not as the main counter move as it was with Freeney and they did not do it nearly as well. 

Back in the day turning one's back to the quarterback was not encouraged, in fact, it was frowned upon. Too many things, it was thought, could happen and a defensive lineman who did it could lose contain or lose track of the quarterback up the middle even. The risk was not worth the reward.

Freeney changed that. He was so fast (4.48 forty-yard time) enough to get the edge on a tackle and when the tackle would overset to the outside, when at the proper depth, Freeney would spin inside and could get to the quarterback fast enough that he could keep contain well enough to make the reward worth the risk. 

His speed and knowing the proper depth to turn in limited the risk to a great degree. He turned the move into an iconic one. One that was copied and one that can be seen every Sunday. 
He also turned it into a devastating move that was highly successful. In his eleven years (2002-11) as a Colt, he averaged ten sacks a season and four forced fumbles a year. He ended his 16-year career with 125.5 sacks and forced 47 fumbles leading the NFL in sacks in 2004 with 16.0 and in forced fumbles in 2002 with nine.

Now for the cons.

Freeney's candidacy will likely be slowed because of the edge rushers who have been on the Final 15 already—DeMarcus Ware and Jared Allen. Not only are both of them ahead of him in line, having retired first they were All-Pro more often and have more career sacks. Ware has a ring, Allen does not but that credential or "box" does not matter as much for players other than quarterbacks so it is not going to hurt Allen. So, Freeney will likely have to wait.

Further, as great a pass rusher as Freeney was, he was not known as a complete defensive end. He was not a guy who was particularly conscientious about playing the run. In this era, if a defensive end is going to be one-dimension he needs to be sure that one dimension is rushing the passer because it's the more valued skill but when evaluating the best of the best, the elite players worthy of the Hall of Fame the voters may consider looking at all aspects of a career. 

Remember a player is not just being compared to other edge rushers, he is being weighed and measured against all players and the question is if a one-dimensional rusher is more valuable than say, a complete linebacker, tight end, cornerback, and so on. 

In Freeney's career, he made just 39.0 stuffs, which are tackles for loss other than sacks. For comparison upcoming defensive end Julius Peppers had 62.5 stuffs. Jason Taylor had 76.0, Jared Allen had 72.0. DeMarcus Ware, 67.5. Terrell Suggs who becomes eligible in a few years had 100.5 to go with his 139.0 sacks. So Freeney's total of 39.0 is low compared to his peers. 

This will be an interesting case to see how deep of a dive the voters will take in the case of a player who was great, really, at one thing and that one thing was extremely important in this era of football. 

We have predicted Freeney will make the Final 15, and we will find out next week if we are right, and we think he will be cut in the first elimination round and not make the Final 10, and we will find out if we are right about a month after that. 

We'll see.


  1. From Brian wolf ...

    I think Freeney will get voted in by 2026.

    His spin move inside was not just for pass rushing but blowing up blocking schemes and causing havoc in a backfield. The Colts had speed on defense but not size. Their defense was designed to preserve leads, not dominate opponents.
    Freeney's importance in their defense, along with Mathis and often-injured Sanders, allowed for many victories.

  2. I didn't put it together that Suggs had just gotten over the threshold for the 100/100 club, impressive!

    1. that last year got him there - 100.5

    2. Hey John, how about that Matthew Stafford for MVP?

    3. John, can you update the 100/100 club again and Nick is there a 100/100 listing going back to say, 1980 or even 1970? I know thats a lot to ask ...

    4. I think it would still just be:
      Deacon Jones -> Bruce Smith -> Terrell Suggs -> JJ Watt in order of completion.
      But I too would be curious if any older plays have slowly accumulated enough through gamebooks and film to join them, or who might be close enough that if missing data fell their way they are in.

    5. From Brian wolf ...

      Thanks Pierce. You would think Karras, Page and Ed Jones would be close ... I would be happy to see a 80/80 club ... Haha

    6. Smith, Watt, Jones, Sighs and Alan Page, with some stuffs found on film. Calais Campbell is the closest active but the plays are coming slower these days. If Donald plays 3-4 more years he'll get there too.

    7. Matt Stafford MVP!

  3. Thanks for a very informative summary of his career.