COMMENTARY| With all the controversy and negativity swirling around the New England Patriots in recent weeks, it's important to keep in mind the positive aspects of the team. In particular, defensive tackle Vince Wilfork has quietly put together a Hall of Fame-caliber career while representing the franchise in an exemplary manner on and off the field.
As strange as it sounds, the 6'2" and 325-pound Wilfork has often flown under the radar during his time with the Patriots. About to enter his 10th season with the team, he is now closer to the end of his career than the beginning. Despite his quiet ways, he has set himself up with a good chance at being enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio once his career is over.
Wilfork was a first-round pick in 2004 out of the University of Miami. He started six games as a rookie but has never come off the bench since. He has also been durable; missing just six total regular season games, and none since 2009.
Wilfork's numbers won't blow anyone away. He has totaled 460 tackles, 16 sacks and two interceptions during his nine seasons. He has never had more than 66 tackles or 3.5 sacks in any one season. It must be said that as a defensive lineman a lot of his work won't show up in the stat sheet. He is quite literally at the center of the Patriots' defense; clogging up the middle and typically causing a major disruption to the opposing teams.
The true value of Wilfork is the way the big man draws multiple defenders and opens up his teammates to make plays. NESN.com's Luke Hughes marveled how the 31-year-old "is still one of the most dominant interior linemen in football and he demands multiple blockers on nearly every snap."
The impactful play of Wilfork may sometimes go unnoticed to the casual observer, but he has racked up five Pro-Bowl and five All-Pro selections during his career.
Wilfork is not simply a human mass who takes up space. He has also lined up at end and rushed the passer as needed. His leadership skills, including being co-captain for a number of seasons, have been integral to the team.
Quarterback Tom Brady explained to The Boston Globe's Peter Abraham how Wilfork evolved into a team stalwart. "He's been a great leader for this team since he got here. When he first got here as a young guy, he was surrounded by a lot of veteran players that brought some great leadership qualities to him, and he's really taken that over.''
NFL.com's Adam Schein recently listed Wilfork as one of the 10 most indispensable defensive players in the league. That value is reflected not only in his skill, but also how he has continued to increase his number of snaps played with each passing year.
The stellar play of Wilfork has contributed to consistent team success. The Patriots have averaged over 12 wins per year during his nine seasons. They have also finished first or tied for first every year, while appearing in three Super Bowls, and winning the sport's biggest game in 2004.
Wilfork has made an equally large impact off the field. He is heavily involved in charitable work, including supporting diabetes research. He has used his public status to help raise money and bring awareness to various causes by starting his own eponymous foundation.
Signed through the 2014 season, Wilfork is primed to continue his run of excellence with the Patriots. Given what he has already accomplished, it's becoming increasingly likely a spot will be waiting for him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame once he finishes his career.
In addition to the Yahoo! Contributor Network, Andrew Martin has written for Bleacher Report and a number of print publications and websites on the topics of history and sports. He also produces his own blog and has appeared on various sports talk shows and podcasts.
You can follow Andrew on Twitter @historianandrew
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