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Every year at this time, a new class of NFL Hall of Famers is enshrined in Canton, Ohio. This year’s illustrious group includes Troy Aikman, John Madden, Harry Carson, Warren Moon, Rayfield Wright and the late Reggie White. When a new class is inducted, debates naturally arise about which players deserve consideration in the future. Out of the current players in the NFL, which players will get the chance to except their place among the greatest players to have ever played the game?
So far we’ve considered the offensive positions during our last two segments. In this our third and final segment we will look at the defensive side of the ball.
Without further ado, here is the sure fire Hall of Famers by position:
(Note: This is not based on a first ballot criterion. Also, the players who are chosen would make the Pro Football Hall of Fame if they ended their careers today).
Simeon Rice (Arizona Cardinals 1996-2000, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2001-present): Rice went from perennial bottom feeder to Super Bowl champion after he moved from Arizona to Tampa Bay in 2001. Since joining the Buccaneers, Rice has been a consistent pass-rushing force. He has achieved 11 sacks or more in every season he has been with the Bucs, and has logged double-digit sacks in seven of his past eight seasons overall. In terms of active players, Rice’s 119 sacks ranks second all-time behind Michael Strahan. Rice also has the distinction of being the second fastest player in NFL history to record 100 sacks. And despite his age, he has not slowed down. Rice is adept at taking the right angles coming out of his stance, and uses an array of moves to defeat the left tackle. Rice also has the long arms to bat down passes at the line-of-scrimmage.
Michael Strahan (New York Giants 1993-present): In terms of longevity, few defensive players can compare to Strahan. Since recording 14 sacks in 1997, he has not looked back since. Aside from a season which was cut in half due to injury, Strahan has registered at least 9 sacks for nearly a decade. He is the quintessential left defensive end of this era. Unlike smaller, speedier players like Rice, Strahan used his timing, instincts, power and moves to get to the quarterback. He is equally as solid at holding his ground against the run as he is breaking down the pocket. Strahan has the ability to fight through double and sometimes even triple teams to make a key defensive stop. His greatest achievement was sacking the quarterback 22.5 times in 2001, which set the all-time single season record. Strahan also recorded seven sacks in a single game, which is the most for any defensive end. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl seven times.
Derrick Brooks (Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1995-present): Brooks will be remembered for helping to change the way a linebacker plays defense. Unlike some of the other great linebackers in NFL history, Brooks is light and is not known for taking on blocks, but he uses his speed, body control and quickness to stop plays. Playing in defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s Cover 2 scheme, Brooks handled a multitude of responsibilities as the weak-side backer, including dropping into zone coverage and read and reacting to stop the run or chase the quarterback. Brooks is perhaps the greatest cover linebacker of all-time. He returned three interceptions for touchdowns in 2002, which is an NFL record. In the same season, he won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award and helped guide Tampa Bay to its first Super Bowl win, winning the game’s MVP award. Brooks has been named to the All-Pro team seven straight times and is a nine-time Pro Bowl performer.
Ray Lewis (Baltimore Ravens 1996-present): Much like Brooks, Lewis redefined the position he played. As an insider linebacker, Lewis combines old school tenacity, toughness and intimidation with new school speed and coverage skills. Lewis is terrific at chasing the ball carrier sideline-to-sideline and he rarely misses a tackle. In terms of diagnosing plays and making the right reads, few are as good as No.52. Lewis is a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year recipient, in addition to a Super Bowl MVP. The former Miami Hurricane led the 2000 Baltimore Ravens defense, regarded by many experts and historians as among the top three defenses of all-time. He has been named to the Pro Bowl seven times in his illustrious career.
Ty Law (New England Patriots 1995-2004, New York Jets 2005-2006, Kansas City Chiefs 2006-present): For a span of three or four seasons during New England’s dynasty run, Law was regarded as the best cornerback in the NFL. He especially dominated in postseason play, picking off Peyton Manning three times in the 2003 AFC Championship. Law is at his best in man-to-man coverage situations. He is tough, uses his hands well to disrupt routes and he has incredible instincts. Through film study and preparation, Law generally understands how to play his defensive role depending on what formation the offense is in. With the Patriots, Law won three Super Bowls. Last season with the New York Jets, Law snagged 10 interceptions and returned one for a touchdown against his former team. He is also a five time Pro Bowler.
John Lynch (Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1993-2003, Denver Broncos 2004-present): If someone had to define what a strong safety looks like, that person would likely show some film of Lynch. Lynch is one of the most vocal and respected leaders in the NFL. He hits hard and enforces the middle of the field, is a great blitzer and tackles flawlessly. In fact, Lynch plays the safety position like a linebacker, but he also has the ability to drop into zone coverage and stay at his landmark. With Tampa Bay, Lynch was a key stabilizing force in deep coverage support against the pass. Lynch helped Tampa Bay win the Super Bowl in 2002 using his intelligence and film study to predict all of Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon’s moves and play calls at the line-of-scrimmages. After moving to Denver, Lynch has prospered and was named to the Pro Bowl last season. All in all, he has made the Pro Bowl five different times, including four years in a row (2000-2003) with the Buccaneers.