Earl Thomas is not the 66th best player in the NFL. No offense to the other players NFL.com put into their annual Top 100 Players list, but Earl Thomas is easily among the elite. Yet, as is often the case, a Seahawks defender is penalized for being surrounded by so many talented teammates.
Earl Thomas is perhaps the best safety in the NFL. In 2015 he was the Sporting News All Pro, Pro Football Focus honorable mention for All Pro, and was named to the Pro Bowl. He lead the Seahawks with five interceptions which, along with his nine passes defensed, tied his career highs. He is a 5-time Pro Bowler, 3-time first team All Pro, and has a Super Bowl ring to boot.
On the field Earl Thomas is, to use the cliché, a true center fielder. His speed allows him to run sideline to sideline, and his sharp football IQ allows him to move decisively and with conviction. He is at top speed at nearly all times during a game. He throws his body around with near reckless abandon, often delivering crushing blows to players much larger than he. Despite this, Thomas has never missed a game in his professional career.
Thomas is also the key cog that makes the Seahawks defense a historically great unit. Since Thomas joined the Seahawks their defense has lead the NFL in scoring defense four consecutive years. Since Thomas joined the team they have won 3 NFC West Titles, 2 NFC crowns, and 1 Superbowl. He’s lauded as a leader on and off the field, and often cited by incoming rookies as the Safety they most want to emulate.
The Seahawks, under Coach Pete Carroll, run primarily an old school Cover 3. They frequently divide the back half of the defense into thirds, with two corners playing press and Earl Thomas in the middle. Strong Safety Kam Chancellor drops into the box, playing a role more like that of a linebacker. This gives the defense a numbers advantage versus the run.
This succeeds because of Earl Thomas. He has responsibility over the middle of the field, and freedom to roam to where he believes the ball to be headed. The amount of ground he is able to cover is greater than a normal free safety, and is the key reason the Seahawks defense can play in a run oriented defense and still dominate on passing downs. His closing speed also allows him to be heavily involved in running plays, and is evidence from the fact that he has been among the top 5 leaders in total tackles among Free Safeties three times in his career.
Yet despite this the NFL Top 100 Players ranking has him below such players as Marcus Peters, Reshad Jones, and Blake Bortles. And there’s still 50 player yet to be named! This is a drop of 45 spots from his rank of 21 last year. He ranked as high 17 in 2013.
Earl Thomas has the career accolades and recent success to merit a top 20 rank among the best players in the NFL. In addition, his contributions on the field are uniquely important and a key reason why this defense has been so good over the last several years. Earl Thomas is an elite player amongst elite players, and this should be reflected in a ranking much higher than he has received. Earl Thomas has a reputation for taking slights such as this and using it to further stroke is competitive fire. This is good news for Seahawks fans, and highly worrisome for the rest of the league.