Being an undersized defensive tackle from a relatively unknown school contributed to John Randle going undrafted by the NFL. However, it could not stop him from a superb career for the Minnesota Vikings and a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame – with an interesting assist from Michael Jordan.
Being undersized couldn’t stop him on defense
Ervin Randle followed the conventional path to the NFL, playing linebacker at Baylor and joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a third-round draft pick in 1985. He started 48 games over six seasons there, then finished up with two years for the Kansas City Chiefs.
It was a roadmap that his younger brother couldn’t follow. At 6-foot-1 and 240 pounds even by the time he reached the pros, John Randle literally did not seem like a good fit as a defensive tackle. After growing up in Hearne, Texas, he started out at Trinity Valley Community College before transferring to Texas A&M-Kingsville.
Randle was a star at the Division II school, recording 20 sacks as a junior and 14 as a senior, but he attracted scant attention from the NFL. With his brother already established in Tampa Bay, Randle was given a tryout by the Buccaneers in 1990. That didn’t pan out, but the Minnesota Vikings picked him up as an undrafted free agent.
The Vikings liked Randle’s skills and agility, but they were rightly concerned that he wasn’t big enough to anchor the middle of the line over the grind of a 16-game season. Told to report to camp no lighter than 250 pounds if he wanted to make the team, Randle wore metal chains under his sweats at weigh-ins.
John Randle was a star Minnesota Vikings lineman
The chicanery at weigh-ins worked, and John Randle saw enough action to make 21 tackles as a Minnesota Vikings rookie. He moved into the starting lineup midway through the 1991 season and finished with 9.5 sacks. By the time he rolled up 11.5 sacks in 1992, Randle was recognized as a force to be reckoned with in the NFL.
Beginning in 1993, Randle earned first-team All-Pro honors six straight seasons. He piled up 74 sacks and 290 tackles while never missing a start. The Vikings made the playoffs five of those years, including a 15-1 mark in the 1998 season that ended with a 30-27 loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC championship game.
Randle stayed two more seasons with the Vikings before going to the Seattle Seahawks as a free agent in 2001. He lasted three years in Seattle, where he landed his seventh Pro Bowl invitation and retired after the 2003 season.
When Randle retired from the NFL, he left with 137.5 sacks to trail only fellow Vikings great Alan Page (148.5) for the most sacks in league history by an interior lineman. He earned induction into the College Football Hal of Fame in 2008 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010 as part of a stellar class that included Emmitt Smith, Jerry Rice, and Floyd Little.
John Randle credits Michael Jordan for some of his success
Being undersized his whole career, John Randle relied upon technique to get to the quarterback. Appearing on Morten Andersen’s podcast for VegasInsider.com, he spoke about tutoring younger defensive linemen like Tony Williams, who arrived at the Minnesota Vikings training camp in 1997.
“I was lucky enough to be around the great guys and I learned some stuff,” Randle said, “and I wanted to be able to carry on an NFL tradition, which makes it such a great game. It’s about teaching guys.”
Randle remembers teaching Williams about using leverage and pulling imposing offensive linemen off-balance to get around them. They were moves he copied from athletes as he watched them on TV.
“I would tell him, ‘You’ve got to be patient with this move. … You’ve got to put that hand out there and wait for him to touch your hand. When he does, push that hand and come back the other way.’ And I learned that move from watching Bruce Smith and watching Michael Jordan. I’d see Jordan on the basketball court — him and Charles Barkley working on a spin move, posting it up and coming off of it.“
Randle would memorize a move that he saw and then go out to his garage to work hours at a time to replicate it.
“I wanted it to become second nature,” he said.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.