The question on which safety earns the title of "Best in the NFL" comes down to only two players. While many can make an argument for rising stars such as Nick Collins, proven veterans like Adrian Wilson, or veterans that may or may not be passed their prime which can include the likes of Darren Sharper or Brian Dawkins. The two players that immediately come to mind however when the term safety comes up are Ed Reed of the Baltimore Ravens, and Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
These two players have proven time and time again that big plays are possible on defense. Ed Reed seems to constantly come up with the ball as if he were the intended target on the play for the quarterback, only the team that threw him the ball doesn't get the points. Sadly as well, the quarterback gets scolded instead of praised for a terrific touchdown pass. Reed the only player in the league that truly can own the title of a "Ball Hawk", or in this case a "Ball Raven". Even in Reed's days at the legendary U, you thought that the opposing quarterbacks playing down in south beach still saw all the smoke that comes from the entrance of the Hurricanes with how many turnovers Ed would force. The Ravens defense has been a staple of dominance with Reed leading the defensive backfield, but for as good as he is we all know what he does. He just gets the ball back for his offense.
Troy Polamalu on the other hand doesn't rest his talents on one aspect of his game alone. He is the all around safety fans look to watch when the Steelers play on prime time television. How many times can we ask ourselves that we have seen Troy make one handed interceptions? How many times can we be shocked by the heavy hit that he delivers in the backfield on some of the fastest and toughest backs in the NFL. Some say that Chris Johnson is too fast to catch in the backfield, but Troy has done it on multiple occasions. The best shot was when he did exactly this in the opening game in Heinz Field against the Titans after they had won the Super Bowl. It was a toss play to Chris' left, a play the All Pro running back has scored on multiple occasions. Only this time the Polynesian Predator got to the back before he had a chance to even think about cutting up field.
Both players have a great track record to have in the world of defensive football. Ed and Troy are also the two defenders week in and week out that offensive coordinators seem to fret about the most. As their game is not one that will hurt you physically, but it will kill you mentally. Reed will sit in the same zone the whole play and not move an inch but you'll still miss him in the fray and throw an easy pick for the man. Troy will move around the entire field and still end up where you can't have him be.
Ed Reed is still in his prime shockingly, being at what can be considered the old age in football at 32 years. He has spent ten years in the league and has spent all of them in the surprisingly scary purple and black that is the Ravens helmet. He has only had one year in his career where he had only a single interception, back in 2005. After that his next lowest total is 3, which he had in 2009. Over his ten year career, the man has six touchdowns, and twice has taken it back the entire length of the field with 107 and 106 yard returns. He is a former Defensive Player of the Year back in 2004, which was only his third year in the league, showing that he could make a huge difference immediately out of the gate. There has been no better Free Safety in the league since '02 then number 20 for the Baltimore Ravens.
However, as good as Ed Reed is, Troy Polamalu might outweigh him in almost all those categories but interceptions. Troy is the total package in the strong safety position. He is a tackler, having a career mark of 515 tackles through nine seasons. Troy defends the pass, with a total of 71 batted balls in his career, only 15 shy of Ed Reed's total. While he doesn't pick the ball off as often as Ed, he does have 27 picks. His most impressive ability though is his adept knowledge of how to attack the offense's blocking scheme. Not only does number 43 do well in hitting running backs behind the line, he also sacks the quarterback better then any other safety in the last few years. Brian Dawkins had this same ability, and he was an outstanding force at it. Troy has 8 of these quarterback take downs, as compared to Ed who only has 5. The 2010 Defensive Player of the year makes his case as one of the best strong safeties in the game today, and maybe when its all said and done be the best of all time at his position.
This rivalry of the best safety only intensifies when you see them face off against each other twice, sometimes three times during the season if we as football fans are lucky. The Ravens-Steelers rivalry is one that we all can sit down and enjoy, as these two teams play the game we all want it to be played. There aren't flags for illegal hits being thrown during these games, less you have some of the best defensive players get in your face for making the call as a referee. The score at the end of the game allows bragging rights to the fans of the winning team until they meet up again, and both fan bases hold their breath when the last play of the game happens. With these two teams, the old adage truly does hold true. Defense wins games.
The best safety in the NFL is quite honestly a tie in my eyes. I lean more towards Polamalu because he isn't a specialist, but an overall player who gets dirty and does the true hard work most defensive backs wouldn't dream of doing. Ed is a great player, a future hall of famer, and one heck of an athlete. I would love to have both of these players on my team, but if I could only choose one, it would be the Samoan Head Hunter. And to those who have read this article to see my choice and would like to dispute it, allow me to make an analogy. You are the owner of a cell phone company, and you have one position open for a supervisor. Two people come in for the job. The first person is an absolute genius in the economic standpoint, and would do great in getting your product out for the company. The second person isn't as talented in the economies of the job, but skilled at it. He also brings to you great organization, understand company relationships and can handle disputes between co-workers as a mediator, and can also create a good schedule that fits his employees so that they perform at their highest. Which would you rather hire? The master of one, or the one that is skilled in all? I would pick the one skilled in all, because in the end, he gets more of the job done.