Short of Canton: Leslie O’Neal

Should volume equate Hall of Fame induction? I briefly discussed this question when I wrote about Shaun Alexander, but I do not think there is a clear answer. I believe that it is a payer by player situation. So what about a player like Leslie O’Neal? O’Neal currently sits at 13th all-time with 132.5 sacks in his 13 year career. That puts him ahead of all-time greats and Hall of Famers like Derrick Thomas (126.5), Rickey Jackson (128), and Andre Tippett (100), and tied with probably the defensive G.O.A.T Lawrence Taylor. But is that enough to warrant consideration? Lets find out:

O’Neal vs. Sack Masters

I examined the top 15 players in the Hall of Fame with the most sacks, and compared Leslie O’Neal to them to see if he was in the same league. I used Pro-Football-Reference.com for my stats again. They only have sack statistics starting in the early 80’s so this is basically a comparison of the best pass rushers, regardless of position, from 1981 and on.

I looked at these 16 players and collected their sacks, sacks per year, and number of years with a sack. I graphed their data to better see the results. This graph pits their years played against their sacks per year. This seems a bit redundant, but it means that the farther in the top right corner meant they averaged more sacks for longer. Basically showing how it is one thing to average 10 sacks/year for a 5 year career, but it is another thing to average 10 sacks/year for a 10 year career. This graph shows us the difference.

O’Neal is right in the middle. Not on top, and not on the bottom. This doesn’t really help us make an argument any clearer. Sure, it is a good start to his case for candidacy, showing that he can run with the big boys, but it is not enough.

O’Neal vs. Contemporaries

So, I collected the same data from his contemporaries who are not in the Hall of Fame to see how he faired compared to them. If O’Neal is way better, or one of the best on this chart, then maybe he has an argument. But if he is still in the middle, then his case might be dead in the water.

O’Neal really stands out amongst them. He is not in the top right corner, but he averaged 1.1 sacks more per season than the next closest guy. Thats huge. Thats the same difference from number 2-7! O’Neal is far and away the best player of the group. He played the 4th longest out of the group, and had by far the most sacks per year.

Conclusion

Due to O’Neal’s dominance over his contemporaries, and is average ranking amongst Hall of Famer’s, he clearly belongs in the Hall. The only things holding O’Neal back are lack of a ring, and playing at the same time as some all time greats. But I mean c’mon O’Neal is just as good as those Hall of Famer’s.

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