Chicago’s defense fits prominently into the NFL’s top story lines for 2012. The unit intimidates passers, devours backs, and scores points. CB Charles Tillman is a favorite for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, but the Bears' linebacking corps serves as the base of the unit.
For 10 seasons, Lance Briggs has been the other guy from that base — the outstanding linebacker not named Urlacher. Brian Urlacher is more known, more public, but many acknowledge that Briggs has often been every bit as good, and when Urlacher’s career began to slide a few seasons ago Briggs picked up the slack.
Quietly, Briggs has compiled a very impressive career. Bring up his name, and everyone will nod in approval of his excellence. But ask an average fan to name the current defenders destined for Canton, and rarely is Briggs part of the discussion. To be fair, let’s have a look at how his résumé stacks up …
Statistics: It is difficult to fully appreciate Briggs through his numbers, although he does have a nose for the football (15 career interceptions, five returned for touchdowns, including two pick-sixes this season). Briggs has only 11½ career sacks, and he has reached the 100-tackle mark just twice, the last time coming in 2006. Chicago positions him to be more disruptive than productive, and his true value to the Bears' scheme is invisible to statisticians.
Success: The Bears have a 85-68 record during Briggs’ time with the team, a won-lost record he can take his fair share of credit for. This team long has been built around its defense, and that unit has been built around the LB corps. Although he has not won a Super Bowl, Briggs was part of the Bears' team that represented the NFC in Super Bowl XLI against Indianapolis. The Bears' "D" has been ranked among the league’s top five units for points allowed in four of Briggs’ 10 seasons.
Accolades: Beginning in 2005, Briggs has been named to seven consecutive Pro Bowls and there is a strong possibility he will make it eight this season. He was a first-team All-Pro selection in 2005, and was named to the second team by a number of publications the following season.
HOF comparison: Jack Ham
Similar to Briggs, Ham had to escape the long shadow of teammate and fellow Hall of Fame LB Jack Lambert. But there are some who believe Ham was the better player, and over his 12-year career in Pittsburgh he was named to eight Pro Bowls and six All-Pro teams.
Intangibles: Briggs made waves more than once in the offseason over his contract situation. It seems silly to think business would affect a player’s candidacy for the Hall of Fame, but voters have been accused of short-changing worthy nominees in the past over personality flaws. On the other hand, Briggs’ candor is refreshing in a time when most players hide behind clichés.
First-ballot candidate: No
HOF probability: 50 percent
The credentials (i.e. Pro Bowls) are there, but the question is: Will Briggs’ name be big enough when he is considered? He has never been a marquee player with a national presence, just a very steady playmaker who is appreciated by Chicago fans. One thing that will help Briggs’ case is that he is not from a linebacker-rich era. Aside from Ray Lewis, Urlacher and several edge rushers (deserving of a separate category) there are not a lot of linebackers from the 2000s who will flood the gates to Canton. For this reason, Briggs will get his due recognition, but fans should expect it to take time.
Mike Beacom is a pro and college football writer whose work has appeared in numerous print and online sources. He is also the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Football (Alpha, 2010). Follow him on twitter @mikebeacom.