Karlos Dansby will put his numbers up with anyone's in NFL history

When it comes to tackles and the "20-40 club," Karlos Dansby is only eight shy of Brian Urlacher, whom he should pass next season. Jake Roth/USA TODAY Sports

Ponder some numbers for two players, both at the same position.

Player A played 13 seasons, had 1,229 tackles, 41.5 sacks and 22 interceptions, two returned for a touchdown. He went to eight Pro Bowls, four times was named first team All-Pro and once was named defensive player of the year.

In 12 seasons, Player B has 1,208 tackles, 41 sacks and 19 interceptions, six returned for a touchdown. He has not been to a single Pro Bowl and has never been first team All-Pro.

One other fact: If Player B gets one more interception, he becomes the fifth linebacker in the history of the league to have 40 sacks and 20 interceptions. And if he returns it for a touchdown he will have more touchdown returns than any linebacker ever (and as many TD returns as safety Ed Reed).

Player A is Brian Urlacher, considered one of the best middle linebackers in recent times and a future Hall of Famer.

Player B is confused, befuddled, perplexed and upset.
 He also plays for the Cleveland Browns.

"I don't understand what it takes to, I guess, be nominated to be a Pro Bowler or an All-Pro; I guess that's the right language," Karlos Dansby said this week. "My body of work speaks for itself. Now I'm embarking on a journey that only four men in the many years of football have been able to do.

"It's a blessing to be named with those men, but for them to be retired and I'm still playing -- that says a lot."

That journey would be to join what Dansby calls the "20-40 club" -- linebackers with 20 career interceptions and 40 sacks. Urlacher, Seth Joyner, Ray Lewis and Wilber Marshall are the only four NFL players in that club. Dansby is one interception away.

That's an element of pride for Dansby, who discussed his frustration at not being recognized in the vote by fans, coaches and players (one-third each) for the Pro Bowls and the media vote guided by The Associated Press for All-Pro. He couldn't explain it, and he didn't understand it. It was a discussion about perceptions, why some players are perceived certain ways and others not. It was about production. And it was about respect. At this point in his career, wouldn't he have earned one stinking Pro-Bowl nod?

The more Dansby talked, the more compelling his case became and the more sense he made.

When it comes to tackles and the "20-40 club," Dansby is 333 shy of Lewis, but only eight shy of Urlacher, whom he should pass next season. He has more than Joyner and Marshall.

Does this mean Dansby is better than Urlacher or Lewis? That's not his argument. His argument is that he doesn't understand what he has to do to be mentioned as one of the better linebackers in the league.

"You can't say I don't make plays, because my numbers say it," Dansby said.

His unashamed goal is to make the Hall of Fame (he does not lack for confidence). Some would say that is not realistic. But ProFootballReference.com rates players' careers and compares them to other players at the same position. Two of the players with careers comparable to Dansby's are in the Hall: Dave Robinson of Green Bay and Andre Tippett of New England.

Dansby hears that some say he has not been dominant. But in 2013 he was in the discussion for defensive player of the year when he had 135 tackles, 6.5 sacks and four interceptions (two returned for TDs) playing middle linebacker for Arizona.

He also points to consistency.

In his career, he has played the Will (weakside), Sam (strongside) and Mike (middle) linebacker spots. He had at least 100 tackles in eight of the past 10 seasons, missing 100 only when he missed games to injury. In 2012 in Miami he had 133 tackles playing with a torn bicep. From 2005 to 2010 he forced 14 fumbles.

In Arizona in a playoff win against Green Bay following the 2009 season, Dansby started the game by tipping an Aaron Rodgers throw that was intercepted, and then forced a Rodgers fumble. He ended it returning a Rodgers fumble for a touchdown.

This past season, he felt he was on track after the first few games for 140 to 160 tackles. But when the Browns had trouble covering the tight end early, coordinator Jim O'Neil went to Dansby and asked him to play man on the tight end on passing downs. The former safety at Auburn agreed.

He doesn't know what more he has to do to have his contributions acknowledged.

"How is it possible that I can have the same numbers and not have the same accolades?" he said. "That's what baffles me. But it's motivation in the same breath.

"That's what drives me to continue to play the game the way I play the game and respect the game the way I respect the game."

Dansby isn't noticed for big hits, demonstrative celebrations or long flowing hair. He focuses on preparation and detail. He calls it the game within the game, which he says all must respect.

"I'm trying to do something that only four guys have done in 50 years of football," Dansby said. "Don't disrespect these four guys who are in this class of elite players. Not recognizing what I do, that's disrespecting all four of them.

"I respect these four guys who have been able to do this thing because I know how hard it is. For me to set that goal and hit it, I'm so close to it, I've got to go get it.

"I can't give up now."