This week in true NFL offseason fashion, ESPN came out with a list of the best defensive players at every position in NFL history. The list was comprised of votes from 50 experts, reporters, and analysts with the goal to eventually narrow down to the G.O.A.T. player at every position.
Some of these defensive icons include Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders and legendary edge rusher Lawrence Taylor, each of who’s flash and style were on display weekly as they ruined quarterbacks afternoons and introduced phrases like, “look good, feel good, play good” and “let’s go out there like a bunch of crazed dogs”.
The Baltimore Ravens were frequents on the list as they boasted one player selected and two nominees, not bad for a franchise established as recently as 1996. As a surprise to no one, Ray Lewis was voted as the NFL’s G.O.A.T. linebacker. Rightly so, he received 23 of 50 votes, as his 228 games, 2,050 tackles, 41.5 sacks and 31 interceptions still boggle the mind of NFL analysts and experts alike. Lewis is the only player in NFL history to compile 40 sacks and 30 interceptions, and led the Ravens in tackles 14 of his 17 seasons in Baltimore. In his fifth season, Lewis was the heart and soul of a 2000 Ravens defense who brought Lombardi trophy back to Baltimore and “still holds the 16-game record for fewest points allowed in a season and fewest rushing yards allowed (970)”. The Lakeland Florida native came a long way, being the second ever pick by the organization in 1996 at 26th overall. Today, Lewis’ statue watches over M&T Bank Stadium, as a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, two-time Super Bowl Champion, and now G.O.A.T. NFL Linebacker
Now for the snubs. When Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Bill Belichick all call you the greatest safety to ever play the game odds are they are probably right. The most head scratching decision on the list was the ‘experts’ decision to rank Ronnie Lott ahead of Ed Reed as the NFL’s best safety. Lott received 27 to Reed’s 15 votes. More of a strong safety than free safety, Lott’s tackle statistics and Super Bowl titles (4) on Joe Montana’s 49ers helps Lott’s case. For Reed, his instincts and ball hawking abilities are like no other before or since. Reed had 13 career TDs, and the most interception return yards in NFL history (1,590) to go along with his 64 career interceptions. Reed was as smooth as a running back with the ball in his hands, as seen in the longest interception return for a touchdown in NFL history (109).
Quarterbacks became restless trying to plan how they would avoid Reed. Often times their efforts weren’t enough as Reed’s impervious attention to detail got the best of opposing quarterbacks time and time again. This is best seen by Bill Bellichick as he describes the “best play” he has ever seen a free safety make. I will take the coach’s word, Reed is the best to ever patrol the back end of a defense.
Justin Tucker was the last Raven to be snubbed from the list as he just narrowly lost to Adam Vinatieri, 22 to 21 votes. Right now Vinatieri’s playoff success and NFL Leading 2,673 points all time gives him the edge, but for the most accurate kicker in NFL history Justin Tucker is on the precipice of NFL lore. Entering his 11th season after making the team as an undrafted free agent out of Texas in 2012, Tucker has an NFL leading 91.1% field goal rate in his career, ranking best all time.
Tucker has been voted as an All-Pro five times already to Vinatieri’s three. Vinatieri played 24 years, if Tucker can add another five to ten more years of accurate seasons to his resume the G.O.A.T. NFL kicker will be as much of a debate as who has the best state flag and crabs. Tucker is losing no steam, evidenced by his 66-yard game-winning kick against Detroit last season.
It will be a sad day in Baltimore when the opera singing Tucker decides to hang it up. Until that day, the kicker has plenty more game winners and hopefully a few more Super Bowl titles to add to his resume to eventually become the NFL’s all-time G.O.A.T. kicker.