Ed Reed: The Best Safety in NFL History?

Bleacher Report Senior Writer IMarch 10, 2009

We NFL fans consider Ed Reed to be a ballhawk. It's almost a given that he scores a touchdown or gets some kind of defensive takeaway each game. Since being drafted in 2002, he has made five Pro Bowls, won the Defensive Player of the Year once, has 43 interceptions and has scored 11 touchdowns. Is he the greatest safety in the history of the NFL? Let's see how it started.

Reed, 30, was born in St. Rose, Louisiana. Reed showed his athleticism at Destrehan High School. As a senior, he had 83 tackles and 12 passes deflected while also seeing action as a running back and quarterback. Oh by the way, he was an All-District pitcher and also lettered in basketball, track and javelin. Reed earned a scholarship to the University of Miami. For Miami, he was phenomenal. He had 21 interceptions, a school record, and also blocked four punts. Reed was especially dominant in 2001, when he led the Hurricanes to a National Championship while totaling nine interceptions and 209 return yards. The dominant season obviously helped.

In the draft, the Ravens picked him up with the 24th overall pick. Reed showed his playmaking abilities as a rookie, as he totaled 85 tackles, five interceptions and 159 return yards. While fellow Miami graduate Ray Lewis is the team's vocal leader, Reed is also a player the team rallies around. He was the leader at Miami and is the co-leader for the Ravens, of sorts. After the dominant rookie season, Ravens fans, players and coaches knew they had drafted a special player. He was a great hitter, was great in coverage and don't even get me started on his play making abilities.

In 2003 and 2004, he totaled 145 tackles, 16 interceptions and two touchdowns. Oh by the way, he set an NFL record by returning an interception 106 yards. After winning the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2004, the expectations for Reed were sky high in 2005. The expectations were not even close to being met. He missed six games due to an ankle injury and in the 10 games he did play, he had just one interception.

The Ravens were just 6-10 in 2005, but it was looking up. They had a healthy Reed coming back for 2006 and the team had all the talent in the world. In 2006, due to the defensive contributions from Ray Lewis and Reed, the Ravens finished 13-3. Lewis had 103 tackles and five sacks while the Reed Ravens fans knew returned, as he finished with 70 tackles, five interceptions, one touchdown and one fumble recovery. However, the two Miami stars weren't able to lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl, as they lost to the Colts in the Divisional Round, 15-6.

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Again, the expectations for the Ravens and Reed were very high for 2007. The expectations for Reed were met, but that didn't matter one bit considering the Ravens finished the season 5-11. Reed had 39 tackles, seven interceptions and 132 return yards. The Ravens then drafted quarterback Joe Flacco and hired John Harbaugh to become the third head coach in franchise history and the whole attitude of the team changed. The practices weren't dominated by the defense as much as it had been for so many years.

Flacco would rally the offense and was able to sometimes lead the Ravens offense down the field. The Ravens turned it around in 2008, winning 11 games and going to the AFC Championship. Reed had a phenomenal year, with 41 tackles, nine interceptions and three touchdowns. He again broke the interception return yards record, returning a Kevin Kolb pass 108 yards for a touchdown. To this day, I haven't heard a valid reason why Ed Reed didn't win Defensive Player of the Year.

He impacted a game so much more than any other player on defense and even had a two-interception, one touchdown game against the Miami Dolphins in the Wild Card Round. Reed made the good quarterbacks look quite foolish. He picked off Tony Romo twice, Chad Pennington twice, and Jason Campbell twice. After seasons like this—and this is not out of the norm for Reed—people ask: Is Reed the greatest safety of all time?

ESPN writer Scoop Jackson presented the same argument I am? Is Ed Reed the greatest safety ever? My short answer: yes. In 2004, Reed won Defensive Player of the Year, only the third safety to do so. Reed had nine interceptions during the regular season and could have had a lot more, but knowing his abilities, for about seven weeks, people didn't throw his way. From Week Four to 11, he seemed invisible, as he had just 18 tackles and no interceptions. Quarterbacks were literally scared to death of the possibilities of what could happen when they threw near him. Seeing his inactiveness, quarterbacks fears lessened. In Week 12, he finally returned.

He did so in a big way, recording two interceptions for 150 yards, one for 107 yards and a touchdown. Reed recorded two more interceptions two weeks later against the Washington Redskins and also recovered a fumble and ran it back for a touchdown. Two weeks later, he picked off Tony Romo twice and on the last game of the season, intercepted David Garrard two times. Reed's roll towards the end of the season is undeniable. He was player of the month in December, with six interceptions and two touchdowns.

The safeties NFL fans argue have an edge on Reed are Ronnie Lott and Rod Woodson. While interceptions isn't all safety is about, Lott had 38 interceptions after seven years in the NFL while Reed has 43. He hadn't scored a touchdown yet while Reed has scored 11 times. Now, I realize safety isn't all about interceptions and touchdowns. But I don't think we can even compare Lott and Reed considering the fact that from 1981 to 1985, Lott was the 49ers left cornerback, not free safety. Lott was a phenomenal safety. Ridiculous.

But, he didn't instill fear in quarterbacks like Reed did. The one thing safeties and corners don't want to have: tackles. If you have tackles, that means they're throwing near you. If they're throwing near you, they're not scared. In his first seven seasons, Lott had 552 tackles while Reed has just 342. While they have completely different styles, Reed was the better all-around player. That brings us to Rod Woodson. We Ravens fans love Woodson, but he doesn't even qualify as a safety to me. He played safety for only five years of his career while he played cornerback for 12 years. Woodson was phenomenal as a safety, with 24 interceptions, but no touchdowns. So, Woodson averaged 4.8 interceptions per year as a safety.

In his first five years in the NFL, Reed averaged 5.2 interceptions a season and scored seven touchdowns. Now, there is no doubt Reed is the best playmaking safety of all time. He seems to consistently find the ball even when he shouldn't be. Quarterbacks tend not to throw his way and coaches don't want them to: “I won’t go to his side of the field,” says one AFC offensive coordinator. “I know what he can do and I’ve seen it too many times. I’m not that stupid that I’m going to continue to challenge him. It just doesn’t make sense.”

Very well put. I'm not about to take anything away from Lott or Woodson. They were fantastic players and both deserving of their Hall of Fame plaques. However, Woodson and Lott didn't even play safety full time and to compare Reed and Lott is very hard, but Reed had better playmaking ability and while Lott was a ferocious hitter, Reed actually instills just as much, if not more—fear. If Reed can continue this mad pace he is on, he can become the best ever without the comparisons. People call Reed a liability as a hitter. Oh really?

Is he the next Lott as a hitter? No. But he's not a liability and his playmaking ability launches him past the ones before him.


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