The numbers for Clay Matthews will jump off the page and sack your ass.
The stats make a compelling case for Cleveland Browns superstar linebacker Clay Matthews in the Hall of Fame. The buzz on Matthews is that “sure he has great stats, but it is just because he played longer than everyone else, so of course he was bound to pile up some impressive numbers.”
Matthews of course played an amazing 19 years, and at a position requiring speed and power. It’s hard enough to survive in the NFL kicking field goals, but playing linebacker is probably the most demanding position on the field.
But it’s not true that Matthews stats are due only to longevity. In this case, the Dawg Pound is indebted to Browns fan Nick Santoro, who carried out his own spreadsheet analysis of internet memes ultimately drawn from the numbers from Pro Football Reference, and compared Matthews’ per-game stats to other contemporary superstars such as Mike Singletary, Junior Seau, Derrick Brooks, and Brian Urlacher.
This author contacted Mr. Santoro and after some discussion, we decided to add Lawrence Taylor to the list, since he is one of the absolute greatest linebackers of our generation. We also found some glitches in the memes that have previously circulated on the internet. One of the most important omissions by the meme-meisters is that sacks were not counted as official NFL stats until 1982, so Taylor and Matthews are getting ripped off.
It doesn’t make any sense to say that Matthews played 61 games with zero sacks just because they were not recorded. Similarly, Taylor played in 16 games in 1981 with zero recorded sacks. So in computing sacks per game, those games before 1982 should not count.
Santoro used the stats of tackles, sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, and impact plays to rank each player. Then we decided to rank each player. Santoro’s original spreadsheet assigned points, but I decided to go with average ranking as more meaningful. That is, low is good.
This is not a super-scientific weighing scheme, and you could argue whether interceptions are better than sacks and by how much. Moreover, everybody recognizes that stats are scheme-dependent, vary from season to season, etc. So by themselves, the stats are not decisive and have to be taken with a healthy grain of salt.
Nevertheless, the results are surprising and call into account the narrative that Clay Matthews’ main attribute is longevity rather than on-the-field production. This is not true.