Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Best linebackers and defensive backs ever

Today we’ll wrap up the best ever discussion by profiling the best ever linebackers and defensive backs.

LB-There are two backers who stand head and shoulders above the rest and are undoubtedly two of the best players in NFL history.

Dick Butkus played middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears from ’65-’73 when his brilliant career was cut short by knee injuries. For the eight years he played Butkus was the most feared and dominant defensive player in the game. His ferocious, take no prisoners style was reflective of the fact Butkus admittedly played every game as if it were his last. He was named to eight straight Pro Bowls and was an All Pro six times. Enshrined in Canton in ’79 Butkus was also named to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team in ’94. The former two-time All American from Illinois has been generally regarded as the best middle linebacker in NFL history for the last thirty years.

Lawrence Taylor terrorized the NFL for thirteen seasons. His vicious no-holds-barred style revolutionized the way the position was played. In his career Taylor amassed 1,088 tackles, 132.5 quarterback sacks (and 9.5 unofficially in ’81), and 33 forced fumbles. He made 10 Pro Bowls, was All Pro in each of his first nine seasons, and was named part of the 75th Anniversary Team. Taylor also won Defensive Player of the Year honors three times and won two Super Bowls. This maniacal defender cut a path of destruction through the NFL and his intensity was undeniable. Joe Montana, one of the best QB’s ever, once admitted Taylor was the only player he genuinely feared. Every quarterback who ever played against him can attest to Taylor’s ferocious nature. Just ask Joe Thiesman.

Honorable mention-Mike Singletary, Jack Hamm, Jack Lambert, Ray Nitzke, Willie Lanier, Ray Lewis, Derrick Thomas.

CB-there are several worthy candidates for the best corner back ever.

As an undrafted free agent Willie Brown’s career was nearly over before it even got started when he was cut by the Houston Oilers in ’63. Fortunately, the Denver Broncos gave him a shot and he didn’t disappoint. Blessed with size, 6’1” and 195 pounds, Brown was a fast, tough, smart, and savvy defender. He was named either All-AFL or All-NFL seven times, played in nine AFL and AFC title games and two Super Bowls, and scored on a 75 interception return in SB XI. Brown also had 54 career interceptions and was one of the most aggressive and intense CB’s in league history. Bronco fans cringe at the thought that the team traded away its best player to the hated Oakland Raiders in ’67 where he became a super star.

Deion Sanders is and has always been “Prime Time”. One of the most flamboyant and quotable players ever Deion was constant fodder for the highlight reel. His kick and punt return ability is the stuff of legend as is his cover ability. Sanders has been continually labeled as a soft player but opposing quarterbacks rarely, if ever, threw in his direction. So far in his career Deion has 51 interceptions and 19 combined kick/punt/int/fumble return touchdowns, an NFL record. The seven time Pro Bowl player was part of two Super Bowl champions, the 49ers in (4 and the Cowboys in ’95. Sanders is perhaps the greatest “shut down” corner back in league history.

At 5’9” and only 184 pounds soaking wet many league observers felt Darrell Green was too small to play in the NFL. Not only did he make it he played for the Washington Redskins for 20 years. Green made seven Pro Bowls, was the NFL’s fastest man four times, and has two Super Bowl wins under his belt. He had 54 career interceptions and 129 pass deflections. One memorable moment came on a Monday night when Green caught Eric Dickerson, one of the best and fastest running backs ever, from behind. Green, who is truly one of the classiest players ever, continues to shine off the field as well as he heads several charitable organizations and he was recently selected to serve as Chair of President Bush’s Council on Service and Civic Participation.

The verdict-Because football is a physical game and tackling is part of being a great defensive player Willie Brown is the best CB ever. Now I would never deny Deion’s cover skills but Brown was the more complete player.

S-there really is only one player who’s worthy in this category…Ronnie Lott. The only defensive back to earn All Pro honors at three different positions Lott was a tenacious defender who instilled dread in opposing receivers. The eight time All Pro also played in ten Pro Bowls. Lott grabbed 63 career interceptions and had over 1,000 career tackles. Lott was named to the 75th Anniversary Team and played on four Super Bowl Champs. The most defining moment in Lott’s career came when he injured his pinky and was forced to choose between season-ending surgery and having the tip of his finger cut off. Lott chose the latter.

Honorable mention CB & S-Rod Woodson, Steve Atwater, Mel Blount, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Mike Haynes, Ken Houston.