Who’s the best safety not in the Hall of Fame?

Photo courtesy of the Seattle Seahawks
NFL Historical Imagery
(Kenny Easley photo courtesy of the Seattle Seahawks)
(Johnny Robinson photo courtesy of the Kansas City Chiefs)

Talk of Fame Network

The most overlooked position in the Pro Football Hall of Fame is safety.

There are only seven pure safeties enshrined in Canton — and none since Paul Krause was inducted in 1998. He’s the NFL’s all-time leader in interceptions, and it still took him 14 years to get on.

The last safety who actually played and has been enshrined was Ken Houston, who retired from the Washington Redskins after the 1980 season. So the Hall-of-Fame selection committee has not found a pure safety worthy of induction in the last 36 years.

Ronnie Lott was not a pure safety. Neither was Rod Woodson nor Mel Renfro. All were multi-time Pro Bowl cornerbacks before moving to safety. The seven pure safeties enshrined in Canton are Jack Christiansen, Houston, Krause, Yale Lary, Emlen Tunnell, Larry Wilson and Willie Wood.

There are 11 all-decade safeties eligible for the Hall of Fame, and eight of them have never even been discussed as finalists, including all four pure safeties from the 1980s. So who is the best safety eligible for Canton but not yet enshrined? That’s the question we pose to listeners and readers in this week’s poll of the Talk of Fame Network. Note: Ed Reed is not yet eligible for Canton.

Here are your options:

Steve Atwater. One of two safety finalists for the Class of 2016. Atwater played 11 seasons, went to eight Pro Bowls and was named to the 1990s’ all-decade team. He won two Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos.

Kenny Easley. A kidney ailment ended his Easley’s career after seven seasons – but what a seven seasons they were. Easley was voted to five Pro Bowls, led the NFL with 10 interceptions in 1984 and was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. He was voted to the 1980s’ all-decade team.

John Lynch. One of the two safety finalists for the Class of 2016. Lynch was not named to an all-decade team but has more Pro Bowl selections – nine — than any eligible candidate at the safety position. Lynch played 15 seasons, winning a Super Bowl with Tampa Bay and losing one with the Broncos.

Eddie Meador. One of three NFL safeties selected to the 1960s all-decade team but the only one not enshrined in Canton. Meador went to six Pro Bowls in his 12 seasons with the Los Angeles Rams and still holds the franchise record for most career interceptions (46) and blocked kicks (10).


(Eddie Meador photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Rams)

Johnny Robinson. One of only six AFL players named to the 1960s’ all-decade team but the only not enshrined in Canton. Robinson played for 12 seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, won three AFL titles and went to six Pro Bowls. His 57 interceptions are tops among eligible safeties not in Canton.

Darren Woodson. Woodson was among the first of the NFL’s “cover” safeties, used by the Cowboys in the coverage of slot receivers during the run of three Super Bowls in the 1990s. He played 13 seasons and went to five Pro Bowls, but was passed over for the 1990s’ all-decade team.

Defensive back Darren Woodson of the Dallas Cowboys looks into the backfield in the Pittsburgh Steelers 15-14 win over the Dallas Cowboys at Heinz Stadium in Pittsburgh, PA on 08/21/2003. ©James D. Smith/NFL Photos

(Darren Woodson photo courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys)
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  1. Dave Meador
    February 18, 2016

    Thank you for this terrific insight! I am a big fan of the idea of taking all the guys who are Hall-worthy (as you’ve done in this article), and getting them enshrined—- starting with the guys who’ve waited the longest and are aging or declining faster than the numbers will allow. Let’s get Eddie Meador and Johnny Robinson in there before they aren’t able to experience the highest honor possible for their excellence in the NFL. We have seen too many sadly-too-late inductions like the Les Richters, Kenny Stablers, Bob Hayeses, etc. All of these guys are Hall-worthy, but Meador and Robinson have now “wandered in the Wilderness of wondering for over 40 years; it’s time they get in to the Promised Land.”

    • February 20, 2016

      Couldn’t agree more, Dave. Both belong. Way overdue.

      • February 23, 2016

        Means an awful lot, Mr.Judge, coming from someone of your caliber. Thank you so much for the kind comment. I know I’m little biased, but doggone it, it’s just time. Thanks again.

        • February 24, 2016

          It’s not time, Dave. It’s PAST time. Thank you for your interest, and here’s hoping it happens sooner rather than later.

  2. bachslunch
    February 20, 2016

    This list is a good start, but there are several HoF worthy safeties. Will list them, including the names mentioned above. Senior eligibles first:

    Bobby Dillon
    Jimmy Patton
    Johnny Robinson
    Eddie Meador
    Cliff Harris
    Donnie Shell
    Kenny Easley
    Deron Cherry
    Joey Browner (will almost certainly drop into the pool next year)

    All would be worthy to elect.

    Regular candidates:

    Steve Atwater
    John Lynch
    Leroy Butler
    Darren Woodson

    All are worthy, and if they approach this with a bit of care, they could elect all of these as well as the upcoming Ed Reed, Brian Dawkins, and Troy Polamalu.

  3. Steve
    February 22, 2016

    When a guy like Ronnie Lott cites Jack Tatum as his role model at safety, perhaps he merits inclusion on this list? Most intimidating safety of his era, hands down.

  4. Rasputin
    February 23, 2016

    That an article on most deserving safeties not yet in, written by the Dallas HoF representative, fails to even mention Cliff Harris, the 1970s first team All Decade safety who made 6 Pro Bowls, played in 5 Super Bowls, was a key figure in the Doomsday defense, whose retirement contributed to that unit’s decline, was described by HoF S Larry Wilson as “the finest free safety in the business today”, and who is widely credited with changing the game with his ferocious hitting style, illustrates part of the problem with getting deserving Cowboys enshrined, and why Dallas is so underrepresented in Canton given its success on the field over the decades. I’ve seen more than one list by non-Cowboys fans in the media over the years cite Harris as the most deserving player at ANY position not yet in Canton. But Gosselin doesn’t think he rates inclusion on this list. Wow.

  5. Anonymous
    February 25, 2016

    Cliff Harris was first name on my list.

  6. bachslunch
    March 6, 2016

    I don’t see how Jack Tatum even belongs in this discussion. His postseason honors of 0/3/none pales next to every safety mentioned in my post above, not to mention folks like Nolan Cromwell, Dick Anderson, and Jake Scott, all of whom I’d enshrine first. In fact, Tatum isn’t even the best Raider DB not in — that would be Dave Grayson followed by (assuming you give him a pass on stickum use) Lester Hayes.

  7. Buzz
    July 9, 2016

    I bleed Green! BDawk! Can’t honestly assess with all the above mentioned great safeties who should go in first! Not even familiar with some of the older guys! But I saw BDawk most every game, and he was a Beast!

  8. […] There have been eight career safeties inducted. In all of NFL history. Two in the last 26 years. One is Paul Krause, and all he ever did was retire as the league’s […]

  9. August 5, 2017

    Without a shadow of a dounbt the biggest snub here is easily Joey Browner! Players all agree he must be enshrined. The late Rams/USC great Gary Jeter said this…”Any one who played with Joey Browner and Ronnie Lott know that Joey Browner was the absolute best DB/SAFETY we had ever seen.

  10. binoy
    September 7, 2017

    Atwater should be in the HOF: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7Cv5UmQvG4

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