NFL Cornerstones: Free Safety

Cornerstone players will be a recurring theme on Second Look Sports where I look at each position in a certain sport and I choose a cornerstone player to build my franchise around. I have a couple of parameters for this selection though. I will factor in age, potential, injury history, experience, reputation and production. I think this should be a fun and interesting topic to discuss on here. I hope you all agree.

The selection: Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks
Honorable mentions: Rahim Moore, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Harrison Smith, Devin McCourty, Tashaun Gipson

If speed kills, strength intimidates and Earl Thomas has both. The Seattle free safety is a bullet flying around in the secondary, simply wreaking havoc. Thomas is a dominant defender on one of the best defenses in NFL history. That right there should speak volumes about his play. There are several other talented players at the free safety position but comparatively, none of them bring the incredible cumulative skill set that Thomas does.

Thomas has some of the most important attributes to playing safety in the NFL, but he has some other traits that set him apart. Thomas is still young, at just 25-years old and 5 years played in the league. His youth spells years of elite production to come. And he can be counted on to stay on the field. Since joining the Seahawks in 2010, Thomas has yet to miss a game, starting every single one of them. He has dependability and consistency, something many of the other players considered do not. Thomas’ biggest competition came from a fellow member of the 2010 draft class.

Devin McCourty burst onto the scene in his rookie season with 7 interceptions and 17 passes defended. He has yet to ever match that kind of productivity. Not that anyone every really expected him to based on the absurd level at which he played. Over their careers, McCourty and Thomas have posted very similar stats in their respective five-year span. It makes the decision between the two very difficult.

As a pass defender, McCourty does have a slight advantage. He has recorded 17 interceptions in his career to Thomas’ 16. That is very close but McCourty blows Thomas out of the water when it comes to disrupted passes with the split standing 58 to 38. However, that could also mean that McCourty is thrown at more. Either way, McCourty has topped Thomas in two of the most important categories for free safeties. The question remains how does Thomas get selected? Well…

Thomas is a far superior tackler than McCourty. Thomas has racked up 442 tackles or 88 per season. His Patriot counterpart has only 388 or roughly 77 a year. Thomas is all over the field, getting involved in as many plays as he can. Not that McCourty doesn’t but Thomas certainly does it better. In terms of making things happen when they make the tackle, the two once again are inseparable. Both have forced eight fumbles in their career. Thomas has a slight advantage here though with his four fumble recoveries to McCourty’s one. Both have almost identical run stopping numbers as well with 13 run stuffs for McCourty and 11 for Thomas.

It is near impossible to separate these two based on statistics alone. However, based on their skills there is a bit of a gap. McCourty and Thomas have very similar body types, both measuring in at 5 foot 10 inches. Thomas does weigh slightly more at 202 pounds compared to McCourty’s 195. However, Thomas’ blazing speed, impeccable awareness and superior strength set him apart. You can argue that Thomas has better running mates than McCourty but McCourty’s surrounding talent is Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. Not to mention that McCourty benefits from playing under one of the best defensive coaches of all-time.

Simply stated, this is a very close call. However, I like Thomas’ tenacity and speed. Those two things make him a dynamic player, not to mention that they are traits that you cannot coach. On top of that, Thomas is two years younger than McCourty, giving him hopefully a little bit larger window to play at an elite level. Either one would be great to build at defense around, but Thomas’ physical tools make him the better selection.

For more Cornerstone selections, click here.


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