December 27, 2013

Rookie of the Year: Derrick Thomas, 1989

Linebacker, Kansas City Chiefs



Age: 22
College: Alabama
Height: 6’3”   Weight: 234

Prelude:
Thomas received the 1988 Butkus Award after recording a NCAA-record 27 sacks in 11 games. The Chiefs, who as a team had compiled just 23 sacks in 16 games and were in need of help at outside linebacker, chose him in the first round (fourth overall) of the ’89 NFL draft. He moved directly into the starting lineup and had an immediate impact.

1989 Season Summary
Appeared and started in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Sacks – 10 [20, tied with four others]
Most sacks, game – 2.5 vs. LA Raiders 9/17
Multi-sack games (2 or more) – 2
Interceptions – 0
Fumble recoveries – 1
Forced fumbles – 3
Tackles – 75

Awards & Honors:
NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year: AP, PFWA
AFC Rookie of the Year: UPI
1st team All-AFC: UPI, Pro Football Weekly
Pro Bowl

Chiefs went 8-7-1 to finish second in the AFC West while leading the conference in fewest yards allowed (4293) and fewest passing yards allowed (2527).

Aftermath:
Thomas followed up his outstanding rookie year by leading the NFL with 20 sacks in 1990, including a record seven in one game. He also forced six fumbles and received consensus first-team All-NFL honors for the first of two consecutive seasons. With great speed and athleticism, opposing offenses were obliged to double-team him and he was at his best rushing opposing passers. Thomas was chosen to the Pro Bowl for nine straight years, through 1997 when a torn triceps cost him four games. He played two more seasons but died of complications from severe injuries sustained in an auto accident after the 1999 season at age 33. Overall, Thomas had 125.5 sacks, reaching double figures seven times, and forced 41 fumbles over the course of 11 seasons and 169 games, all played with Kansas City. The Chiefs retired his #58 and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2009.

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Rookie of the Year Profiles feature players who were named Rookie of the Year in the NFL (including NFC/AFC), AFL (1960-69), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press – Offense or Defense, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, or the league itself – Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year). 

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