Is Arizona Cardinals' Safety Adrian Wilson Hall of Fame Worthy?

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Is Arizona Cardinals' Safety Adrian Wilson Hall of Fame Worthy?
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Adrian Wilson has been a staple of the Arizona Cardinals defense since he was drafted in Round 3 of the 2001 NFL draft. But is he a Hall of Fame candidate when he finally retires?

He is the Cardinals’ franchise record-holder with 25.5 sacks by a safety. No one else is remotely close—Leonard Smith recorded 11 from 1983-88.

Wilson also holds the NFL record for sacks by a safety in a single season. He notched eight in 2005 to break former Chicago Bears great Dave Duerson’s record of seven, set in 1986.

With 5.5 more sacks, Wilson will become the NFL’s sack king for safeties—Rodney Harrison recorded 30.5 from 1994-08.

The 12-year pro also needs 41 total tackles to become Arizona’s all-time leading tackler. His 892 are third behind Ronald McKinnon’s 930 (1996-04) and Eric Hill’s 932 (1989-97).

Last season, Wilson became the sixth player in NFL history to record 25 sacks and 25 interceptions for a career, joining Harrison, William Thomas, Ray Lewis, Brian Dawkins and Ronde Barber.

His career certainly has been a good one.

Though the on-field accomplishments of last season were a milestone of which he can be proud, Wilson was subjected to less playing time because former defensive coordinator Ray Horton felt a different base package was necessary to keep his defense competitive.

New defensive coordinator Todd Bowles would be wise to keep Wilson on the field as much as possible in 2013, and instead of using him to cover receivers—as was the case much of the time under Horton—Bowles must drop Wilson back into the box where he did most of his damage as a young up-and-coming safety.

He made his name stepping up into the box to help with the run game, covering tight ends man-to-man and providing zone coverage in the flat. Allowing him to play within his wheelhouse once more before he rides off into the desert sunset would benefit both parties greatly.

Wilson needs 4.5 sacks and three interceptions to become just the third player in league history to record 30 sacks and 30 interceptions for a career.

Whether Wilson has the ability to finish out the remaining three seasons of his contract remains to be seen, but if he does, he should join Harrison and Lewis in the 30/30 club. Even two good seasons can get him there.

To put into perspective what kind of career Wilson has had, look at the chart below that shows how other safeties from the 2001 draft class performed throughout their careers. Note that Wilson was not even the Cardinals’ first strong safety selected.

That’s right. Michael Stone out of Memphis University was taken 10 picks ahead of Wilson by Arizona. The Cardinals traded future Hall of Fame defensive back Aeneas Williams to the St. Louis Rams for the No. 54 and No. 123 picks in 2001.

Arizona took Stone’s Memphis teammate, defensive tackle Marcus Bell, with the fourth-rounder they received from the Rams. He played six seasons in the NFL for the Cardinals and Detroit Lions, recording 6.5 sacks, 168 total tackles and forcing three fumbles during his career.

No one from his draft class matched what Wilson has been able to accomplish.

But does that make him worthy of the Hall of Fame? Of the nine safeties enshrined in Canton—Jack Christiansen, Ken Houston, Paul Krause, Yale Lary, Ronnie Lott, Mel Renfro, Emlen Tunnell, Larry Wilson, Willie Wood and Rod Woodson—only three are without an NFL championship (Houston, Krause and Wilson).

Adrian’s career compares well to the men already there. Though his interception total is off the pace (Christiansen’s 46 INTs are the fewest among the HOF bunch), he has been every bit as impactful to his team. And he plays a different kind of safety than those mentioned above.

He is not the drop-into-coverage type. We all watched him prove that the past two seasons with Horton running the Cardinals’ defense. He is a down-in-the-box run-stuffer, a punishing tackler with enough range to cover the flat well and play the outside deep third when needed.

His career numbers are a virtual match to Dawkins, a presumed future Hall of Famer. The final chart to the right compares Wilson to Dawkins over their careers.

Based on those numbers, if Dawkins is a Hall of Famer, so, too, is Wilson.

And Dawkins played until he was 38 years old. If Wilson were to play four more seasons and match Dawkins’ years of NFL service, he would retire at 37. Does he have it in him?

Playing as hard and as violently as he does, that may be difficult to do. But if he believes he can do it, he should be taken at his word.

Disagreeing with a man of his stature is not wise.

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