Talk of Fame Network
Safety is considered the last line of defense in the NFL. So a defensive coordinator better have someone he trusts at the back end of his defense.
So who was the most trustworthy player ever to provide that last line of defense? That’s the subject our Talk of Fame Network poll this week — who was the NFL’s greatest safety of all time? We offer eight options, seven Hall-of-Fame safeties and an eighth who is a Hall-of-Fame finalist for the Class of 2017. Here are your choices:
Kenny Easley. A member of the 1980s’ NFL all-decade team. The 1984 NFL Defensive Player of the Year when he led the NFL with 10 interceptions. The fourth overall pick of the 1981 draft, Easley played only seven seasons before being forced to retire with a kidney disease. Another of his seasons was shortened by six games because of a knee injury. But what a seven-year career he enjoyed. Easley was a five-time Pro Bowler and a four-time first-team All-Pro. He intercepted 32 career passes and was named to the Seahawks 35th anniversary team. He also dabbled with punt returns for the Seahawks and averaged 11.6 yards on his 26 returns. Easley is the senior nominee for the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2017.
(Easley photo courtesy of the Seattle Seahawks)
Ken Houston. A member of the NFL’s 75th anniversary team. Also a member of the 1970s’ NFL all-decade team. A ninth-round draft pick out of Prairie View, Houston signed with Houston as a college free agent and spent his first six seasons with the Oilers, going to the Pro Bowl five times, before a trade to Washington. He went to his final seven Pro Bowls in the NFC. His best season was 1971 with the Oilers when he returned four of his nine interceptions for touchdowns and also scored on a 71-yard fumble return. Houston intercepted 49 career passes and was a two-time first-team All-Pro. He also returned 51 career punts, scoring once on a 58-yard return with the Redskins.
(Houston photo courtesy of the Washington Redskins)
Paul Krause. The NFL’s all-time interception leader with 81. A second-round pick of the Redskins in 1964, he spent his first four seasons in Washington before his trade to the Minnesota Vikings where he spent his final 12 seasons. Despite his short stay in Washington, Krause led the NFL with 12 interceptions as a rookie in 1964 and was named to the Redskins’ 70th anniversary team. He went to two Pro Bowls with the Redskins and six more with the Vikings. He also intercepted 10 passes in 1975 with the Vikings and returned them for a league-leading 201 yards. Krause went to eight Pro Bowls and played in four Super Bowls. He was a three-time first-team All-Pro. He also spent 12 seasons as a holder on placement kicks with the Vikings and threw a TD pass on a fake field goal in 1977.
(Krause photo courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings)
Ronnie Lott. A member of the NFL’s 75th anniversary team. Also a member of the NFL all-decade teams for the 1980s and 1990s. The NFL’s eighth all-time leading interceptor with 63, although only 44 came at safety. The other 19 came at cornerback. Lott was a walk-in starter as a corner with the 49ers in 1981 and went to four Pro Bowls there. He moved to safety in 1986 and went to his final six Pro Bowls there. Lott won two Super Bowls at cornerback and two more at safety. He led the NFL in interceptions twice — 10 with the 49ers in 1986 and eight with the Raiders in 1991.
(Lott photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers)
Ed Reed. A member of the 2000s’ NFL all-decade team. The 2004 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. One of only two players ever to lead the league in interceptions three times (along with Dallas CB Everson Walls). The NFL’s seventh all-time leading interceptor with 64. He also intercepted nine passes in post-season play. Reed helped turn the safety position into an offensive weapon. He scored 14 career touchdowns on interceptions (8), blocked punt returns (3), fumble returns (2) and a punt return (1). He also blocked four kicks. Reed went to nine Pro Bowls and was a five-time first-team All-Pro.
(Reed photos courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens)
Emlen Tunnell. A member of the NFL’s 50th anniversary team. Also a member of the 1950s’ NFL all-decade team. The NFL’s second all-time leading interceptor with 79. Undrafted out of college, Tunnell hitchhiked from Iowa to New York to ask Giants’ owner Tim Mara for a tryout in 1948. Fourteen years later, Tunnell retired with two championship rings and nine Pro Bowl appearances. A former college quarterback, Tunnell also returned kickoffs and punts. His best season as a defensive back was in 1949 when he intercepted 10 passes. His best season as a returner was 1951 when he returned three punts and one kickoff for touchdowns. Tunnell went to nine Pro Bowls and was a five-time first-team All-Pro.
(Tunnell photo courtesy of the New York Giants)
Larry Wilson. A member of the NFL’s 75th anniversary team. Also a member of the NFL all-decade team for both the 1960s and 1970s. The NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1966 when he led the league with 10 interceptions. Wilson scored seven career touchdowns on fumble and interceptions returns, including a 96-yarder with an interception and an 88-yarder with a fumble. He intercepted 52 career passes and recovered 14 career fumbles, amassing 973 return yards. But his greatest contribution to football was the innovation of the safety blitz in the early 1960s. Wilson was an eight-time pro Bowler and a five-time first-team All-Pro.
(Wilson photo courtesy of the Arizona Cardinals)
Rod Woodson. A member of the NFL’s 75th anniversary team. Also a member of the 2000s’ NFL all-decade team. The league’s third all-time leading interceptor with 71, although only 24 came at safety. The other 47 came at cornerback. The NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1993. Like Lott, Woodson was a first-round draft pick but did not start until his second season. He spent his first 12 seasons as a corner and went to seven Pro Bowls. He moved to safety in 1999 and went to his final four Pro Bowls there. He led the NFL twice in interceptions at safety in 1999 and 2002 and won a Super Bowl with the Ravens in 2000.
(Woodson photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers)