Friday, August 25, 2017

2018 Pro Football HOF Contributer Nominee: Bobby Beathard

By John Turney

Though we would have preferred George Young, the choice of Bobby Beathard by the contributor committee of the Hall of Fame is perfectly sound and Beathard should have no problems getting the 80% of the votes of the total committee needed for induction this coming February.

Really, the only reason we preferred Young is that he was voted the NFL Executive of the Year five times to twice by Beathard. However, there is still a good chance Young could be one of the two nominees next year so we won't fret one bit.

Beathard's greatest work was with the 1980s and early 1990s Redskins teams that appeared in three Super Bowls, winning two (though plenty of his players were still with the team when they won another Super Bowl in 1991). He was named the General manager of the Redskins in 1978 and served through 1988 in that capacity.

Prior to that, he was a scout for the 1960s Chiefs and also for the Falcons from 1968-71. After that, he was named the director of player personnel for the Dolphins and he had a hand in the Dolphins championship run there.

After his time with the Redskins he became the General Manager with the San Diego Chargers where they appeared in their first Super Bowl in 1994.

The only thing we don't like is that one of the advisors (the committees always have advisors in the room when choosing contributors and senior nominees) this year was Charley Casserly. Not for nothing but that seems like a conflict of interest to us. Casserly was an assistant to Beathard in Washington for taking over the GM job when Beathard left.

Of course, Casserly didn't have a vote. He was likely asked questions and asked to explain his views on Beathard and Young and the owners and/or the officials who were on the ballot. So his influence is limited and likely the HOF officials have been in this situation before over the years, we just usually didn't know who the advisors were for the committees. However, in this situation, the optics are not good.

Via Twitter we've asked Charley Casserly about the charge of a conflict of interest, we will let you know if we get an answer.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Senior Committee Nominees Are: Jerry Kramer and Robert Brazile

By John Turney
Credit: George Bartell
The Senior Committee of the Pro Football Hall of Fame met this morning and narrowed a list of twenty-some names down to two. The two names are Jerry Kramer and Robert Brazile.

Kramer has been a finalist many times before, most recently 1997, when he didn't get the required 80% of the votes of the full committee to gain induction. No one really knows why.

He was voted as the guard on the NFL's Official 50th Anniversary Team, was voted the 1960s All-Decade Team, was a Five-time First-team All-Pro and a Second-team All-Pro two additional times and was a starter on five NFL Championship teams, and was a key player on the Packer's key play: the Lombardi Sweep.

He should easily get the 80% of the votes come January.
Credit: Chuck Ren
Brazile is also a fine choice. He was a weak-side linebacker in a 3-4 defense who had good coverage skills and was a good blitzer (48 career sacks). He totaled 920 career tackles and 51.5 of them were stuffs (a tackle behind the line of scrimmage).
 He was a Five-time First-team All-Pro and three of those were consensus selections (making the majority of the recognized All-Pro teams) and was voted to seven Pro Bowls.
Brazile, along with Kramer, should easily garner the 80% of the votes of the HOF Selection Committee when they meet in February. Congratulations to both.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A Convivial Suggestion for Roger Goodell—Play Only Division Rivals in Preseason

By John Turney
Roger Goodell is in favor of shortening preseason to three games. We agree. As long as they don't extend the NFL season to 17 or 18 games.

But how to shorten the preseason is the question. How about this:  Have each team play its division rivals for the preseason on a round robin basis. One year a given team would have two home games and the next year one.

The benefits are many. First, since rivalry games are now closer to the end of the season teams would be able to get a good look at their division rivals early in the season and could potentially help them better prepare for the late-season games and stepping up the competition slightly.

Next, often these teams are in the same time zone. Last week the Vikings returned to Minneapolis at 6 A.M. after their trip to Seattle. What purpose does that serve for a preseason game against a non-division rival?

The next point is related, not only the travel time but the travel costs would be reduced. Since owners would be losing a game of revenues they could make up for it by reducing the costs for the remaining three games.

Fourth, the fans who do not have season tickets could be able to see division rivals live since often the late-season rivalry games are sold out.

Fifth, the level of competition may be slightly higher, giving the fans in the stadium and those watching on television or their devices a better product. Yes, it will still be preseason football and many backups would be playing the majority of the games, but when playing a division rival perhaps the vets would stir up the competitive juices of the youngsters and the games would be a bit more competitive. Yes, we know, that's a stretch but hey, it's just an idea.

So, if the NFL is set on reducing the preseason to three games, we think this is a great idea to preserve some of the integrity of the product.

Friday, August 18, 2017

New Football Book: Walter Lingo, Jim Thorpe and the Oorang Indians

A Must Read
By John Turney

Here is a short exert from the new book Walter Lingo, Jim Thorpe and the Oorang Indians: How a Dog Kennel Owner Created the NFL’s Most Famous Traveling Team. Written by Chris Willis this new book tells the story of a unique and fascinating part of NFL history. In 1922, Walter Lingo, a dog kennel owner from tiny La Rue, Ohio (population 800) joined forces with his good friend and hunting buddy Jim Thorpe, also the country’s greatest athlete, to create the Oorang Indians. Willis recounts how Lingo used the football team, the star attraction of Thorpe, and the all-Native American football team to help advertise his kennel and sell dogs.

One of the more genius ideas of Walter Lingo when running the Oorang Indians was taking promotional photos of his squad. He hired a photographer, named Adam Bauer, from nearby Marion, Ohio to create these great images.

 Book Excerpt:


    Adam Bauer was born on May 9, 1873, in Big Island Township in Marion (Ohio) County to Philip and Mary Bauer. The family moved to Marion when Adam was just three years old. At an early age, Adam learned to become a machinist. Later on, he attended night classes at the Y.M.C.A and studied mechanical drawing which led to his employment as a mechanical draftsman at the Marion Steam Shovel Company. But it was photography that was Bauer’s passion.
Adam Bauer
    After a few years at the Marion Steam Shovel Company Bauer left in 1917 to open his own photography business. His store, called “Bauer’s Studio,” became well known in town at 126 and half South Main Street in Marion. He advertised himself as a commercial photographer- “Anything-Anywhere-Anytime.” He would go on to shoot thousands of photos in his shop and around Marion. He shot landscape, buildings, weddings, baby shots, and much more. If you want to visually see the history of Marion, Ohio today, you will see it through the camera lens of Adam Bauer. On almost every photo he took his name “Bauer” appears at the bottom, usually at the bottom right. The Marion Daily Star once wrote about Bauer:

    “Mr. Bauer has shown himself the master of the details of commercial photography, and has given Marion a fine service in this respect, for Marion products go all over the world and the use of the camera with good judgment is a big help in selling them.” 16

    Oorang Indians owner Walter Lingo contacted the 49-year old Bauer to see if he would come to La Rue and shoot photos of his newest promotional project- a pro football team made up of entirely Native Americans. One afternoon Bauer drove with his camera the fifteen miles to La Rue and just after practice Lingo had the whole squad stop what they’re doing to have Bauer take photos of the team and players. Bauer took a team photo with the whole team wearing their new jerseys. Then each player posed individually with their jerseys and helmet on. Some had their pictures taken without their helmet.
1922 Oorang Indians Team Photo, by Adam Bauer (photo stamped)
    Lingo would use Bauer’s photos to promote his team in the newspapers of the towns they would be visiting. Throughout the 1922 season, these photos would make their way into newspapers across the country. Almost ninety years later these photos show a special team, at a special time. These photos show what the NFL was like in the first couple of years in existence.  At this time not every NFL team made the investment of shooting a series of photographs (team and individual), to help promote their team. Maybe they took a team photo, but Lingo made sure everybody had their photo taken wearing the new Oorang jerseys. Bauer would help contribute to Lingo’s promotional plan.
Jim Thorpe, Oorang Indians, taken by Adam Bauer

Nick "Long-Time Sleep" Lassa (on left); Joe Guyon (on right)

Sherman "Eagle Feather" Pierce (on left); Xavier Downwind (on right)

The book is available on Amazon

Chris Willis is the Head of the Research Library at NFL Films and is a member of the Professional Football Researchers Association (PFRA). 

He graduated from Urbana (OH) University with a B.S. in Physical Education—while playing four years on the Urbana football team as a wide receiver and then attended the Ohio State University Graduate School and earned an advanced degree in Sports History.

Willis has put his Graduate degree to tremendous use with his work at NFL Films and authoring five previous books prior to this current volume.

I highly recommend buying this book and adding it to your football library. Willis's prose is detailed and informative and paints a compelling picture of the precursor to what became the National Football League.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Frank Cope Knocks ‘Em Down

By Nick Webster

Frank Cope was a star defensive tackle and a two-way player for the New York Giants in the late 1930s and early 1940s. His play earned him great accolades, he was named to the 1930s All-Decade team by the Hall of Fame despite debuting as a rookie in 1930 and he was named All-Pro as late as 1945 for his sustained greatness. But in 1943 and 1944 Cope pulled off a feat that may have never been done in the history of the game—and if he’s alone today, he’ll certainly remain there.

It’s October 17th, 1943, and Cope’s Giants are playing just across town against Brooklyn. George Cafego of Brooklyn drops back to punt from the 30 but Cope breaks through to block it, the ball is recovered in the end zone by Giant Charley Avadisian for a Giant touchdown.

Then, a week later the WWII creation the Phil-Pit Steagles rolled North to take on the home-standing Giants. The Steagles roster was, of course, a bit of a hodgepodge with an aging out-of-shape HOFer in Bill Hewitt trying to hang on and a young Al Wistert of Eagle fame showing his wares as a rookie. Like most teams of the era, the Steagles made use of the quick kick and had many different players, typically QB’s, punt for them in a typical season. Steagle Roy Zimmerman dropped back to punt from the Steagle 43 only to have Cope rush through and block his attempt which bounded into the arms of Giant O’Neal Adams who returned the effort for a Giant Touchdown. Then, when Jack Hinkle dropped back to Punt Cope again broke through and blocked the punt which Al Blozis recovered and returned for yet another New York Giant touchdown.

Two weeks – three Cope blocked punts, all for touchdowns. Certainly, it couldn’t happen again the following week—and it didn’t.  

But, as the weather turned cold the Giants invaded Washington for their final tilt of the season on December 13th and this time as Cope broke through again on no other than Slingin’ Sammy Baugh; his punt was blocked.  A fourth different Giant—Steve Pritko, the happy recipient of the blocked punt in the end zone, for another Giant touchdown.

Returning the following season—the only one where he’d earn All-Pro accolades—Cope pulled it off one more time. In the first game of the season with his Giants visiting the Boston Yanks, Cope again blocked a punt, this one recovered by Giant Vic Carroll, for a Giant touchdown.

Finally, again feasting again on a WWII Frankenstein Team, this time the Cards-Steelers on October 22nd, Cope blocks another punt off the foot of Joe McCarthy. As the ball rolls into the end zone, in a near-miss, the improbable streak comes to an end. McCarthy jumps on the ball in his own end zone and alas, rather than a 6th straight Punt block for a TD, the Giants must settle for a mere Safety.

This unusual feat—a 13-game time-horizon had Cope blocking 6 Punts (4 in a single season), 5 directly resulting in Touchdowns and the 6th in a safety, can never really be duplicated in today’s NFL.

Ted Hendricks in his storied 1974 blocked 7 kicks, but this was in a 14-game season, only 3 of these blocks over the 14-game span were punts and only one resulted in a score; a safety off a Herman Weaver punt against Detroit.

Over a decade later, in 1986, in a 16-game season, the Kansas City Chiefs recognized CB extraordinaire Albert Lewis as having blocked 4 punts; but on closer inspection one was a partial block with the punt being downed past the original line-of-scrimmage. Of the 3 true punt blocks by Lewis, only one resulted in a touchdown when teammate and backfield mate Deron Cherry recovered it for a touchdown against the Steelers and Harry Newsome (renowned for having his punts blocked as it was).

Finally, in more modern times only Ed Reed has come anywhere near this feat, in 2003 in two different games Reed blocked a punt, in each case recovering his own block and in each case sailing into the end zone for six. Great accomplishments all, though none matching the performances nearly 70 years ago of the great Frank Cope.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Eddie Meador & The 1966 Los Angeles Rams

By T.J. Troup

There has been more than one defensive back that began his career as a corner and later played safety while earning enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Today on his birthday let us take a close in-depth look at a man that should deserve the utmost consideration by the senior's committee to be enshrined.

Eddie Meador joined the Rams in 1959 with most observers believing after the strong season in 1958 they would be contenders for the Western Conference under Sid Gillman. The eight-game losing streak cost Gillman his job and plummeted the Rams to the basement of the Western Conference.
Displaying hustle, toughness, and a willingness to improve Meador started at right corner his rookie year. His second year he is moved to left corner and earns a Pro Bowl berth on a losing team; which we all know is not easy. Though he intercepts only once in 1961 he receives All-Conference recognition from the Sporting News, yet again the Rams play inconsistent, losing football.
Meador though has proven he is a top notch strong-side corner, adept in man coverage, and stopping wide running plays. The bottom for the Rams occurs in 1962 as they win only once and another coaching change in Los Angeles as Bob Waterfield is out, and young inexperienced Harland Svare is in. The young talent on the Ram offense has strong moments during the years of 1963-65, yet there is no real direction.

The defensive line is named the "Fearsome Foursome", and is the envy of many teams, but the linebacking corps and secondary struggles in every aspect of quality defense. Eddie Meador has been moved from left corner to right safety for the 1964 season, and again earns a Pro Bowl berth with a losing team.

The three top-flight teams in the Western Conference are lead by Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, and George Halas. Los Angeles is again hiring, and this time management gets the right man for the job in former Bears defensive coordinator George Allen. Allen takes over a team that has won just 25 of its previous 94 games. Can he change the culture, and of course improve the roster?

Allen's staff in 1966 includes four men who are in their first year with the Rams; receivers coach Howard Schnellenberger, offensive line coach Ray Prochaska, offensive coordinator Ted Marchibroda, secondary coach Tom Catlin. The holdover is defensive line coach Jack Patera. Every one of these men are not only excellent teachers—they all have success in their coaching careers.
Allen, of course, is the defensive coordinator ably assisted by veteran linebacker Bill George (acquired from the Bears). Prochaska's offensive line is a work in progress; especially since they give up 54 sacks during the year. The run blocking is adequate with starting tackles Carollo and Cowan. Center Ken Iman and right guard Joe Scibelli work well in tandem during the campaign. Don Chuy begins the year at left guard; is replaced by veteran Ted Karras for a couple games, and finally, the best rookie guard in years takes over in future Hall of Famer Tom Mack. This group has a very bright future.

Billy Truax is a capable blocker at tight end and catches the ball well. The wide receivers are veteran Tommy McDonald coming off a splendid 1965 Pro Bowl year and young Jack Snow. Tommy still has excellent hands and can run every route, but he is not the deep threat he once was. Snow on the other hand still has much to learn but is faster than most corners realize and shows vast improvement over the year. There is virtually no depth at the receiving position.

Dick Bass gained over 1,000 yards in 1962, and the "scooter" knives, spins, and bounces his way to another 1,000-yard season in 1966. Jim Stiger earns his letter at halfback(also a fine punt return man), but the usual starter is Tom Moore. His season in 1966 has gone virtually unnoticed over the years, that is until now—while he is a pedestrian back with no speed or moves; he catches 60 passes. That is right; SIXTY! Offensive coordinator Ted Marchibroda is under strict orders from Coach Allen to not turn the ball over and maintain possession. The best way is with the short passing game with men who don't drop passes and running the ball well.

Roman Gabriel is on the pathway to stardom, yet his game needs refinement. He holds the ball too long, still wants to rifle the ball into coverage due to his cannon right arm, and run over defenders. He is being taught by a master in Ted Marchibroda, and Gabriel shows he can do the job for years to come. Being decisive and accurate is the key, and Roman will demonstrate these traits in the coming years.

Rosey Grier is at the end of the line at defensive right tackle, yet he still is a load to block at just under 300 lbs. Lamar Lundy is athletic and strong at right defensive end and his dominant performance in the victory over the Bears in September demonstrates he is a force to be reckoned with.

How many teams in league history can claim a better left-side duo than David Jones and Merlin Olsen? Jones has gained weight for this season and still has his moments due to his physical gifts. Thi, however, is not his best year, while Olsen has become without question the best defensive left tackle in football.

George Allen after viewing the film of the defensive disaster of 1965 made the astute trades to put savvy veteran talent in the back seven. Jack Pardee is talked out of retirement and though rusty can still play the left side linebacker position. Dan Currie spells him in some games. Myron Pottios earned Pro Bowl berths with the Steelers at middle linebacker but plays very little due to injury and the rejuvenation of "the General"—Bill George. He is in his 15th season, and has seen it all. Allen learned the Clark Shaughnessy defense in Chicago, and refined that confusing, cutting edge alignment.
Can Bill George still play the run, pursue, blitz, and drop into coverage as injuries and age have taken a toll on him? While he does not play as he once did, he still has enough strength and moxie to be effective. No doubt the Ram defense in 1966 is called correctly. Why the Eagles traded such a fine weak side linebacker like Maxie Baughan is a mystery but boy oh boy can he play. By far the best the Rams have ever had.

Irv Cross also comes in a trade with Philadelphia and handles the right corner post with intensity and smarts. He can play man, zone, and come up and tackle. The most improved player on the Rams if not the entire league is left corner Clancy Williams. Adequate against the wide run, he has the speed and instincts to handle man coverage, and also is learning the subtle adjustments to the Allen zone concepts. Williams intercepts 8 times during the campaign. Chuck Lamson has his best season ever at left safety.

Los Angeles won four of their first five, but have now lost three in a row as they travel up the coast to Kezar on a rainy day to play the high-powered 49ers. San Francisco is in a pro left formation and traps Olsen with hard running John David Crow lugging the leather for 7 yards. The tackle is by free safety Eddie Meador as he quickly diagnoses the play, and takes John David down.

Later in the drive, it is 1st and five at the forty-nine and again the Niners are in a pro left formation. Flanker Kay McFarland looks to be open on his skinny post, but Meador cuts in front of the would-be receiver and intercepts down on one knee.

Los Angeles loses to San Francisco to fall to 4-5 (the only time George Allen was ever under .500 as a head coach), but down the stretch, the Rams demonstrate they are not the Rams of old as they win four of their last five. The offense struggles to score touchdowns, but Bruce Gossett who had kicked 15 field goals in the first 10 games, kicks 13 in the last 4 to put enough points on the board. The Marchibroda offense reaches fruition in the Giant game in the Coliseum when they set a league record for first downs in a game, but the key to Ram success is the defense—led by captain Eddie Meador.

 Eddie played the entire season in this manner; a never miss take down tackler in the open field, patrolling deep zones in the Allen "mystical" coverages, and even taking the back out of the backfield man to man. Meador does it all and is rewarded with his 3rd consecutive Pro Bowl berth. During the decade of the 1960's in the Western Conference you have seven teams and as such to many it would seem much easier to earn a Pro Bowl berth in comparison to today's game with 16 teams in each conference.

A closer look at the safeties in the western conference during the '60s shows that one of the best free safeties ever resided in Green Bay. Willie Wood goes every year from 1964 through 1969. How many safeties are chosen each year? Usually three. Future Hall of Famer Yale Lary in his last year is chosen in 1964. 1965 sees Jerry Logan of the Colts chosen, and in 1966 Richie Petitibon of the Bears returns to Los Angeles after a two-year absence from the Pro Bowl. Petitibon again earns a berth in 1967, but the new kid on the block is also chosen—rookie Rick Volk of Baltimore is selected (four safeties that year).

In 1968 Wood & Meador are joined by the under appreciated Rosey Taylor of Chicago in one of his best years. Meador is voted as All-Pro in 1969 but does not go to the Pro Bowl as Minnesota's Paul Krause; another future Hall of Famer is joined by Wood and Volk.

Meador earned All Decade honors, and led a Ram secondary that ranked at or near the top in the key defensive passer rating from 1966 through 1969. The loss in Minnesota in December of 1969 is a dark day in Ram history, yet Eddie played a terrific game, and even intercepted to foil one Viking drive.

His last year of 1970 the Los Angeles Rams are in contention for a Wild Card berth till the last day of the season, but the victory over the Giants is for naught. How much value do we put on statistics in evaluating a players career?
Eddie Meador is still the Ram record holder for interceptions in a career. Los Angeles never lost a game when Eddie returned an interception for a touchdown. He held for kicks and put points on the scoreboard as he threw and ran for touchdowns from this formation. Sure-handed Meador even returned punts in 1967 & 1968. When you study film there is no doubt this man is deserving of every consideration from the senior's committee. The following offer stands—I will put the film on, and the coffee, and I make damn good coffee, and the senior's committee can come to Louisville, KY, to
watch Eddie Meador play.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Corners on the Hall of Fame Market

By John Turney
Credit: F. Vella
Yesterday we took a look at some recent NFL safeties comparing their statistics and honors. Today we do the same with the better cornerbacks of recent decades. While not an exhaustive list we think it captures the major figures that are in the Hall of Fame and who are eligible or who will be eligible soon.
Note on statistics:  This data for tackles, assists, passes defensed is gathered from play-by-play data and much of it is original research. We do not use coaches statistics for tackles and assists because they vary from team to team. So, for consistency, we use the play-by-plays (often called gamebooks). Therefore, it sometimes will differ from various websites like NFLGSIS, Pro Football Reference (who we do use quite often), Fox Sports and ESPN.

Ty Law is a personal favorite. He twice led the NFL in interceptions and was twice an All-Pro twice to go with six Pro Bowls and earned three Super Bowl rings. He didn't get as many post-season honors as some of his peers but his play was just as good in our view. In terms of man coverage, he was right up there with the best, even though the Patriots were not always in man. Belichick's scheme was using man, zone and combo coverages as complex as anyone's, in not more.
In some of the recent pass defense metrics, he always seemed to fare well, such as in the defensive passer rating against which was singling out a player and tracking pass completion percentage, yards per attempt, interception percentage and touchdown percentage as using the NFL passer rating to smooth them into a single figure. It may sound like mumbo jumbo but it is a useful stat and Law was usually very good in that department.
Ronde Barber is quite4 different than Ty Law. Barber spent his career in the famed Tampa-2 system, playing zone corner on the right side (except a couple of years he had to fill in on the left). He played less man coverage as a result of the scheme. It also afforded him some more opportunities to make plays on and around and behind the line of scrimmage. He had 28 sacks and 63 run/pass stuffs. Both numbers are impressive and the latter is only 0.5 behind Warren Sapp had 65.5 such plays).

He was a three-time All-Pro, though none were consensus and was voted to five Pro Bowls and led the NFL in picks in 2001 and earned a Super Bowl ring in 2002 and including playoffs scored 13 defensive touchdowns and a safety.
Charles Woodson is not eligible for the HOF until 2021 but he fit in with this group so we included him. He was a four-time All-Pro (three of them consensus) and a Second-team All-Pro three more times and a nine-time Pro Bowler. He led the NFL in interceptions twice (2009 and 2011) and scored 11 touchdowns on pick sixes and two more on fumble recoveries. He ended his career as a safety like Rod Woodson did and played well there. 

He has an excellent chance to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer though it is never a sure thing but Woodson we'd say has a 99% chance of being one. 
Champ Bailey was quite fun to watch. He'd set receivers up as well as anyone to go for a pick. He was a five-time All-Pro (three of them consensus) and a Second-team All-Pro twice to go with his dozen Pro Bowl selections. He led the NFL in interceptions in 2006.
Peanut Tillman is one of T.J. Troup's favorites of the past decade and a half. His man coverage was top notch and would challenge receivers like few others would. He was only All-Pro once and a Pro Bowler twice but he really deserved more. He also could pry footballs loose from receivers totaling 44 forced fumbles including an incredible 10 in 2012. He also had nine defensive scores, eight from interceptions.

For some reason, Albert Lewis gets overlooked when looking at articles about great cornerbacks. He's Hall of Fame-caliber. As a rookie, he was a great nickel back and slid into the starting lineup the next year, and made plays for the Chiefs over the next decade. He also is one of the great kick blockers of all time, being credited with 10 blocked punts and kicks in his career and he deflected two others and tackled a punter once.
Aeneas Williams was the textbook corner. Solid in all areas, run forces, zone coverage, man coverage, instincts, ball skills. He also missed his first game in his twelfth season. He scored twelve defensive touchdowns and led the NFL in interceptions in 1994.
Everyone knows about Deion Sanders and many consider him the G.O.A.T. though some Night Train Lane fans would have something to say about that. He excelled in man coverage and it is not myth that he could take one receiver all over the field and essentially take that player out of the game.

He was an eight-time All-Pro (seven of them consensus) and an eight-time Pro Bowler and the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1994. The only knock on him was his tackling, he wasn't, as he says, "paid to run tackle" and that he spent too much time playing baseball. Anywhere from 2 to 4 or even five times a season you had to start your nickel back because Sanders was on a baseball diamond for the first month of the football season.
The NFL's fastest man in the 1980s was Darrell Green. He was a fine cornerback as well being named All-pro three times (once consensus) and voted to seven Pro Bowls in his 20 seasons. He had over 1000 tackles and just under 300 passes defensed. He was a part of three Super Bowl winning teams (1982, 1987 and 1991) and was a starter at cornerback for an incredible 17 seasons.
A six-time All-Pro (five consensus) and an 11-time Pro Bowler Rod Woodson did all you could on a football field. He was a good blitzer and was excellent in man coverage and zone coverage and had great football instincts. He wasn't as fast as Darrell Green but he was likely faster than everyone else other than Green in his prime. He moved to safety at the end of his career and led the NFL in picks in 1999 and 2002 at that position. He ended his career with 71 interceptions (returning twelve for touchdowns) and 17 defensive fumble recoveries (one for a score).

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Safety Dance: A Look at Some of the Better Safeties of the Last Three Decades

By John Turney
Credit: Jordan Spector
Hall of Fame voter Rick Gosselin has written that safeties are underrepresented in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and that seems to be true. Three extremely strong candidates are up or will be up soon. Brian Dawkins is eligible now, Ed Reed will be in 2019 and  Troy Polamalu is eligible in 2010. All three should get in soon, in fact, Reed and Polamalu are likely first-ballot types, Reed especially.

John Lynch is also eligible but his credentials, while fine, are not in the class of Reed, Dawkins, and Polamalu. But he, too, should get in. However, there are quite a lot of fine safeties that have played since the late-1978 and while not all are HOFer, some are members of the Hall of Very Good and others likely will be in the near future.

Here is a chart (cling to enlarge) showing a basic comparison of the honors won by a select group of safeties.
Note on statistics:  This data for tackles, assists, passes defensed is gathered from play-by-play data and much of it is original research. We do not use coaches statistics for tackles and assists because they vary from team to team. So, for consistency, we use the play-by-plays (often called gamebooks). Therefore, it sometimes will differ from various websites like NFLGSIS, Pro Football Reference (who we do use quite often), Fox Sports and ESPN. 

The following is the career stats of the players in the chart—
The only knock on Dawkins, and it is not much of one, is that he didn't pick off a lot of passes—relatively speaking. He never had more than four in a season and finished with 37 career picks. However, he could do it all, cover, blitz, tackle, had great range. The key stats to us are the 26 sacks and 36 forced fumbles which are huge for a safety as is his 47.5 tackles for loss (stuffs). Were we to guess we think Dawkins gets voted into the Hall of Fame this upcoming February with the Class of 2018.

We think Ed Reed is the best free safety of all time, though some would disagree. He had such range and instincts and made so many plays that the case is there for him being the G.O.A.T (greatest of all-time) but we will see in two years is the Hall of Fame selection committee agrees by making him one of the few safeties voted in on the first-ballot. At that point, the debates can begin.

John Lynch has been close to getting into the Hall of Fame having been on the Final 15 list a few times. Lynch pickod off 26 passes (low for a safety) but had 44.0 stuffs which is excellent and add in 13.0 sacks to that for a total of 57.0 plays behind the line of scrimmage.

However, since it is unlikely that more than one safety would be voted into the HOF in any given year it seems likely that Lynch will have to wait until Dawkins and Reed get in. Lynch did go to nine Pro Bowls, though the last two seem a bit dubious, perhaps based on reputation. Nonetheless, we'd expect that Lynch will get into the HOF in 2020 or soon thereafter.

Carnell Lake's career is haLake is hard to evaluate since he was so versatile and spent about two-and-a-half years as a cornerback and was a good one at that. He was generally an in-the-box-safety, making plays around the line of scrimmage. He was a First- or Second-team All-Pro five times and got post-season honors in seven seasons and was voted the the1990s All-Decade team as one of the Second-team safeties. He was certainly a fun player to watch since he was around the action so much.

Like Carnell Lake, LeRoy Butler could to a lot from his strong safety position. Also like Lake, Butler played some cornerback and again, like Lake he made a lot of plays around and behind the line of scrimmage. In addition, though, Butler picked off passes (38). Not quite the number of Donnie Shell the record holder for strong safeties, but still, a goodly number.

No offense to Ronnie Lott but he didn't belong on the 1990s All-Decade Team, even if it was a Second-team selection. A better choice would have been Darren Woodson. Lott only played have he decade and his years with the Jets were average, at best. Woodson was right there with Butler and Lake as a playmaking strong safety and was part of the Cowboys championship runs. He was also a noted special teams player.

Steve Atwater gets a lot of HOF notice and for good reason. He is aided by having a signature play which is his hit on Christian Okoye of the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football September 17, 1990. However, our personal favorite was his point-blank interception, of Jay Schroeder in 1989. Shroeder fired a pass and Atwater instantly put both hands up an stabbed the ball at what looked to be a distance of five or so yards. To us, that is his second "signature play".

He only picked off 24 passes and had only 5 sacks (low compared to his contemporaries but did have 38.0 which is a good number.

Darren Sharper is persona non grata for being sentenced to almost two decades in prison in a case in which he was accused of drugging and raping multiple women in multiple states. Although Hall of Fame by-laws prevent holding off-the-field actions against a candidate. That may be true, but Sharper won't ever get enough votes to be on the Semi-finalist list. There are just too many other good candidates to waste time with this guy.

Troy Polamalu was an exciting player, the epitome of an in-the-box safety who was the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2010 and his 2008 season was just as good. He should have no trouble being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Rodney Harrison is an interesting case. When you look at his numbers you ask why he wasn't All-Pro more. In 2000 he had 127 tackles, eight for a loss, six sacks and six interceptions (one going for a score) and defended 17 passes. It's hard for a strong safety to get more big plays in a season than that. And as a result, he wasn' as much as All-AFC or a Pro Bowler, much less a First- or Second-team All-Pro. Perhaps he had a reputation amongst voters for being a cheap-shot artist. True or not true, Harrison was a fine strong safety was solid in all aspects of the game.

Maybe the most underrated free safety of his era was Eugene Robinson. He didn't get many post-season honors but according to one pro scouting firm  thought he was the best free safety in the NFL in the 1990s.

Tim McDonald was All-Pro twice, though neither consensus, and got post-season honors eight times. He was not the classic in-the-box strong safety, playing deep as often as he moved down and was productive at both spots—totaling 49 stuffs and 40 interceptions.

 Lawyer Milloy was replaced by the Patriots by Rodney Harrison after quite a few very good seasons. With the Pats Milloy got post-season honors four times and helped them win their first Super Bowl, playing a part in slowing down the Rams Greatest Show on Turf.

Hanks had a short career and like Carnell Lake and LeRoy Butler played some cornerback. His peak was from 1994-97 when he picked off 22 passes in those four years and went to four Pro Bowls.

Mike Giddings has always stated that he does not have higher grades on any strong safety during his time than Donnie Shell. he was "always blue" according to them. Even after his All-Pro run, he was highly productive from 1983-86 picking off 19 passes. Early in his career he was a special teams demon and worked will in the Steelers sub packages in 1976 as a blitzing safety. He was a hard-hitting safety with lots of range.

Nolan Cromwell was on his way to the Hall of Fame until a knee injury in 1984 felled him. He came back in 1985 but was never the same playmaker that he had been from 1979-84. In those early years there likely has not been a free safety with more range, leaping ability, instincts and ball skills. He was a good hitter and even better tackler. Under Bud Carson's Cover-2 he was able to cover half the field with relative ease and in the sub-packages could play cornerback and run the routes better than the wide receivers he was covering. In 1983 he moved to strong safety and was Second-team All-Pro and made his fourth Pro Bowl. But, as Howard Cosell used to say "th-e kn-ee, al-ways th-e kn-ee".

Browner is yet another safety that began his career as a corner and special teams maven who moved to safety. Browner liked to tackle players by grabbing them with his extraordinary strong hands and throwing them to the turf in violent fashion.

Deron Cherry may have been the best ball-hawking safety of the 1980s, even including Ronnie Lott. From 1983-86 he snagged 30 passes. Our favorite year of his may have been 1988 when he picked off seven passes and covered six fumbles for a total of 13 turnovers.

Not much need be said about Ronnie Lott. A first-ballot Hall of Famer, an eight-time All-Pro (six consensus) and 10 Pro Bowls. he began as a corner from 1981-84, even though he was the corner in the base defense and would move to free safety in nickel and dime defenses. Later in his career he moved to strong safety with the Raiders and have a superlative season for them in 1991.

Easley was just inducted into the Hall of Fame. Even though he had a short career he was a dominant player. He was a hard hitter and had good range, in fact, he'd have likely been a HOF free safety had he been asked to play away from the tight end.