I began following the Seattle Seahawks in the mid-to-late 90s, so names like Anthony Simmons and Chad Brown definitely carry a lot of weight for me. They came after Eugene Robinson and Tony Wooden, before Lofa Tatupu, but it’s really those formative years of fandom that’ll always stick with you. I remember the hope that Brown brought as a marquee free agent signing in 1997 combined with the excitement of Simmons as the 15th overall pick in 1998 out of Clemson.
In ‘98, Brown was amazing, totaling 149 tackles, 7.5 sacks, an interception, and two touchdowns off of fumble recoveries as the Seahawks went a middling 8-8 under Dennis “If Jeff Fisher Was Fired When He Should Have Been Fired This Is The Career He Would’ve Had” Erickson.
In 2000, Simmons 147 total tackles, 4 sacks, 2 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles, a bright spot overshadowed by the fact that Seattle was no good in the second season under Mike Holmgren.
All in all, Brown has the second-most “solo” tackles by a Seahawks player in a single season, while Simmons has the third-most. I put solo in quotes because in 1994 record books changed to include assisted tackles as it’s own category, so total tackles is now the combined number between solo and assisted, rather than lumping them all in one. The franchise record for “solo” tackles is 141 by Tony Woods in 1988 (he also had five sacks) but who knows how many of those would have been counted as assists if they had done the same record-keeping back then.
That same year, 1988, safety Eugene Robinson had 115 tackles for Seattle, while Dave Wyman had 103. In 1995, linebacker Terry Wooden had 135 total tackles for the Seahawks. Then there’s Tatupu, who had 122 tackles in 2006, only to have a career that was clearly on a Hall of Fame trajectory, derailed by injuries in his fifth season.
A lot of readers are probably feeling quite nostalgic at this point, but let me snap you back to the eve of 2017 and hit you with this news: Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner leads the entire NFL in tackles right now with 146. He has totaled 75 solo tackles and 71 assists. (Such is a problem with tackle stats: ESPN has him with 74 solo tackles, ProFootballReference at 75.) Either way, Wagner has a substantial lead with two games to go, having five more total tackles than Sean Lee of the Dallas Cowboys, and 15 more tackles than Zach Brown of the Buffalo Bills.
As far as I’ve been able to calculate, the franchise record for tackles in a single season belongs not to Simmons, Brown, Robinson, Tatupu, Wood, or Wooden, but to Wagner himself; in 2013, Wagner had 89 solo and 65 assisted tackles, giving him a total of 154 tackles. That year he also had five sacks, seven passes defensed and two interceptions. The assisted tackles is easily a franchise record (Wagner has five of the top six seasons for assisted tackles in Seattle history), but he may very well overtake his own record by next Saturday against the Arizona Cardinals with one more game to go.
Making Wagner’s 2016 season even more interesting is that I don’t believe a Seahawks player has ever led the NFL in tackles. Again, this is a little harder to research because of certain disputes and counting “solo” vs “total” tackles, but as far as I can tell, it’s never happened and Wagner has an excellent shot to be the first.
But how much more significance could his tackles total have?
With 15 more tackles, Wagner would be at 160 for the season, which is a rare number to hit for anyone. Of the examples I’ve found are Ray Lewis (1997, 1999, 2003), Patrick Willis (2007), Victor Green (1996), Paul Posluszny (2013), Donnie Edwards (2003), Jonathan Vilma (2005), Winfred Tubbs (1997), Vontaze Burfict (2013), Jerod Mayo (2010), Luke Kuechly (2012, 2013, 2014), Jamie Sharper (2003), Zach Thomas (2006), D’Qwell Jackson (2010), London Fletcher (2011), and the player who is often noted as the single-season tackle record holder: Chris Spielman, linebacker for the Lions who had 194 tackles in 1994 (124 solo, 71 assisted).
That’s somewhat of a broad list, but it also includes a lot of NFL greats. Further consider that Wagner now has at least 130 tackles in four of his five seasons, the lone exception being last year when he missed three games. (In 2014, Wagner missed five games and still had 135 tackles.)
If Wagner managed 25 tackles in the last two games, he’d finish with 170 tackles, putting him in even rarer company that may put him with the fifth-most tackles in a single season ever*.
*as in, since tackles started being recorded at some arbitrary point that is still disputed to this day but really means the last 30 years or something
It brings about the question of whether or not Wagner will get Defensive Player of the Year consideration, to which I say: Of course, he’ll get consideration and in no way will he win it.
The case of Kuechly in 2013 will definitely be mentioned, as Kuechly won that year surprisingly over J.J. Watt, Robert Mathis, Earl Thomas, Robert Quinn, and Richard Sherman, but it was still surprising for a reason. One of the points against Kuechly in the 2012 draft is that while he was a tackling machine at Boston College (he averaged 177 tackles per year in college), that value only goes so far. Though everyone liked his ability to tackle, middle linebacker has “limited value” according to some old stigmas around the position. It’s certainly not on the same echelon as pass rusher or shutdown corner.
But Kuechly did win, so couldn’t Wagner?
He could, but I wouldn’t bet on it. In 2013, Kuechly had four interceptions, while Wagner currently has one. Kuechly had eight passes defensed, Wagner has only two. Wagner also has zero forced fumbles and zero fumble recoveries. He’s a great player, but to be considered the best out of literally every defensive player in the NFL this season, that may be more than can be proved in 2016 while Von Miller is still a thing, Vic Beasley leads the NFL with 14.5 sacks, Khalil Mack is fun, young, and interesting, and Landon Collins has a complete all-around resume.
Wagner is all of 26-and-a-half years old. He’s not Ray Lewis, but he’s almost certainly on the next level below that, which means he’s better than 98% of all linebackers to play the game and that’s pretty good. I don’t know what it means that he has 71 assisted tackles and perhaps could even set the record in that category (it’s currently 72!), but however you count tackles, Wagner should be among the most prolific. He’s arguably the best linebacker in Seahawks history and he might even have another decade left in him.
Let’s just hope that how they record stats doesn’t change too much by the end of his career. Unless they do. Which they probably will.