When thinking about safeties, it's a reasonable bet that the first names that come to mind are Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed. That's perfectly understandable, in fact if those weren't the first names to pop up than the conversation is probably heading for a disastrous dead end.
That's just being realistic.
But, there's one guy that sparks a whole new debate, and I think he deserves to be in the conversation.
I'm of course talking about Adrian Wilson. Wilson is the starting strong safety for the Arizona Cardinals and he has manned that same position since his rookie year in 2002. While in his first season, he did show the signs of the safety he would later turn out to be.
Wilson is a tackling machine. He registered back-to-back 100 tackle seasons in '04 and '05. That's unheard of at the strong safety position. That may be due to the way the Cardinals use him as well, and due to poor linebacker play, but the result still stands.
We also have to play in the fact that Wilson is a genetic freak. He stands at 6'3 and weighing 230. That's a very large strong safety with perfect height to defend the pass and solid enough to take on the run, which is one of Wilson's specialties.
Take a look at his production. In his seven seasons as a starter, Wilson has averaged 82 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and two interceptions yearly. Those are outstanding numbers. Complete flexibility. Everything you could possibly want in a strong safety and then some.
Wilson was finally recognized for his long overdue production by receiving his first Pro Bowl nod in 2006. Wilson has continued to perform at a high level his entire career and should be getting a very large contract in the near future.
Wilson holds some remarkable statistics in terms of NFL records. In 2006 he returned both a fumble and an interception for touchdowns at 99 yards a piece. In 2005 he recorded eight sacks in a single season, setting the record for defensive backs in a season.
As for athleticism, there are few that compare. Just look him up on youtube and witness his 66 inch vertical lead. Amazing. There are no other words to describe it.
Now before we throw Wilson in with Reed and Polamalu, in their defense we should take a look at their numbers.
Reed has started every game of his career dating back to 2002 where he was a first round pick by the Ravens. He's been named the Defensive Player of the Year, and has had countless Pro Bowl appearances.
Did I also mention that Bill Belicik has a man crush on him, if that tells you anything.
Absolutely no holes in his game. A power hitter and yet a finese defender. A true ball hawk, his numbers are outstanding. He averages 59 tackles, .7 sacks, and six interceptions per year. Those are hall of fame numbers where Reed already has a reservation.
As for Polamalu, what else is to be said. A first rounder out of Southern California, Polamalu hit the ground running. An instant fan sensation for his long hair and ruthless play. Not a dirty player by any mean, Polamalu fits the profile of a head hunter. Easily the hardest hitter of any defensive back.
Polamalu has also been a regular on the AFC Pro Bowl roster for the past couple of years and he's also a two time Super Bowl Champion. He's the heart and soul of the Steeler defense and was recently rewarded the largest contract in Steeler history for a defensive player.
Now to the number. Polamalu averages 72 tackles, 1.1 sacks, and 2.8 interceptions a year. Very impressive stats.
So after evaluating all of this information and dissecting the numbers, how can Wilson not be mentioned in the argument for best safeties in the league.
We have to look at the big picture. Reed has Ray Lewis and some amazing surrounding players as well as Polamalu. Both of these safeties are fit into a perfect cast on some of the top defenses in the league.
Wilson is on one of the worst defenses in the league. Is that why his numbers are so good? Is it because he's the only line of defense?
Of course not, each player has a role and Wilson's is the captain. The leader. Wilson means just as much to his team, if not more than any other safety in the league.
He has exceeded all expectations. Being a third round pick out of North Carolina State, the Cardinal organization could have only dreamed of the production they were about to receive after selecting him.
All bets aside, if I'm going to pick a strong safety for my defense I'm taking Wilson every time.