Now that the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame class has been enshrined in Canton, let's look ahead to 2019. The greatest ball-hawk of all-time, Ed Reed, will likely be inducted next year as a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. If you missed it, Reed sat down for an interview on AUDIENCE Network's “Undeniable with Joe Buck,” opening up about his life growing up in Louisiana and his illustrious football career. Check out a clip below.
Safeties are stealthy. They don't draw assignments with No. 1 receivers like cornerbacks. Instead, they're a modest branch of the diva defensive back family who often line up 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage, read the play from afar, adjust their positioning on the field pre-snap, swoop in where they can and shut down large swaths of the field depending on how much ground they can cover. Reed’s Hall of Fame-worthy career deserves to be exalted and be examined on two levels. On one hand, Reed was instrumental in revolutionizing the safety position. The secondary impact he left was on the record books where he stands out as a statistical anomaly.
Over the course of his 12-year NFL career, Reed’s unparalleled ball skills and preternatural ability to anticipate throws bordered on a sixth sense. Among the pantheon of great NFL safeties, Reed’s ability to track down the football and constrict opposing offenses was second to none.
Reed's skills were apparent early on at Miami, but he also developed an unrelenting resolve and winning focus as a lynchpin of one of the greatest teams ever that continued into his NFL career. True to his brand, Reed's 21 interceptions remain atop the Hurricane’s career list. Drafted 27th overall by Baltimore in 2002, Reed’s unheralded arrival was pilloried in some local circles. However, he would quickly become buzz-worthy by forming a legendary pincer attack, roaming the secondary behind Ray Lewis. Overshadowed by the bombastic personality of Lewis, he was anything but inconspicuous.
By 2004, Reed earned Defensive Player of the Year honors, but it may not have even been his best season. In 2010, Reed played only 10 games and led the entire league in interceptions. No full-time safety picked off more passes than the 64 throws Reed intercepted during the 12 seasons he played. To put his production into perspective, the two players above Reed on the career list snagged one more interception than him and played at least 200 games while Reed retired after 160 games. Rod Woodson, whose 71 interceptions rank him third on the list, plucked seven more passes in 80 more games. Not to mention Reed's 9 career playoff interceptions, tied for the most all-time.
Few players were as adept as Reed was in the dark arts of transmogrifying defense into offense. The field position Reed was often able to supply the Ravens was the sustenance for their anemic offense. He was Robin Hood: Taking from rich offenses to give to the poor.
During the first half of his tenure in Baltimore, the impact of his post-interception jaunts could be registered on the Richter scale. He was a virtuoso in generating seismic plays. That thievery made many quarterbacks wary of throwing deep and placed an unofficial dome over the top of Baltimore’s defense. In the 2011 AFC Championship Game, Tom Brady wrote "Find 20 on every play" on his wristband. If Tom Terrific was scared of #20 (Reed's number), then every other QB was shaking in their cleats.
Athleticism and hand-eye coordination weren’t the primary tool in his utility belt. He could also be downright Machiavellian. Reed possessed an innate ability to trick quarterbacks into thinking they’d looked him off and most certainly outsmarted him. On multiple occasions he forced turnovers by drifting towards a specific sector of the field, waited for the quarterback to turn his head, and before the passer would set his feet to throw, Reed was already darting in the direction of the new intended target.
If you've ever seen Minority Report, the 2002 sci-fi thriller revolving around a pre-crime division that prevented crimes before they occurred with the aid of pre-cogs, you have a general idea about what separated Reed from the rest – he instinctually knew exactly where to be, and when.
"Like I told Ray [Lewis], sometimes I can feel the heat of the ball. I love being around that ball, and I know where it's going. So if I have any clue that a quarterback is going to throw that ball to the right side, that's where I'm going," Reed explained to The Baltimore Sun as a rookie. "It could still be in his hand but if he shows any key, that's where I'm going. You can see it on the film. I'll be somewhere, and I'm not supposed to be there. I feel that heat."
Among his glutton of NFL records, Reed is in possession of the all-time interception return yardage mark. As the turnover maestro on a defense that held the Ravens upright for over a decade, he was the unofficial 12th man for their offense. Once he got his mittens around the football, the cat-and mouse game was reversed. Reed would palm the ball with one hand and immediately transform into one of the NFL’s most elusive ball carriers, even taking it the distance 106 yards and 108 yards on separate occasions.
He wasn’t afraid of contact; he just preferred to dispense it as a tackler. Reed’s perfectly timed – and clean – hits would regularly jar balls loose from the possession of ball carriers or would-be receivers.
Perhaps the greatest testament to Reed’s impact is the current free safeties who are basing their play off of his design.
Lining up well beyond the line of scrimmage, safeties have historically been expected to cover deep and serve as the last line of defense if a wideout demoralizes a poor cornerback who gets stuck on an island. But only the elite, Ed Reed-class of safety can do it all – cover wide receivers and tight ends, step up in run defense, blitz the weak side, tattoo receivers who come across the middle and also quarterback the defense. Reed's influence is apparent in the way NFL scouts search for defensive talent and in the current generation of safeties.
Malik Hooker Represents the Next Generation of Ed Reed Facsimiles
Indianapolis Colts safety Malik Hooker only played five games as a rookie in 2017, but it may only be a matter of time until he’s the next standard-bearer for the position. Built like the late Sean Taylor, at 6'2", 212 pounds, he ball-hawks like Reed, securing three picks during his abbreviated season. Prior to the draft, NFL Network scouting guru Mike Mayock and a slew of analysts noticed the remnants of Reed’s code in his film. Separated in age by nearly two decades, they even shared the same college defensive coordinator in Greg Schiano.
Eric Berry Is The Playmaker
Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry’s playmaking ability has been a centerpiece of Kansas City’s “bend, but don’t break defense” for nearly a decade. He’s a few notches below Reed’s level in manifesting turnovers, though, raking in only 14 interceptions since 2009. However, he’s already scored five defensive touchdowns in 87 career games.
Earl Thomas Is The Big Hitter and the Ballhawk
Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas is the NFL's best all-around safety and by no coincidence, the most accurate 3-D printed replicate of Reed. Thomas, the final remnant of Seattle’s Legion of Boom, played on a Super Bowl-winning defense, backed by a sleepy offense. He wins the battles for 50/50 balls and he obliterates opposing passers. Yet those superlatives only underscore how special Reed was. Thomas has only intercepted 25 passes in eight seasons, however he has a penchant for forcing goal-line fumbles.
The numbers don’t encapsulate Reed, but they do speak volumes. Reed was a motivating locker room influence, never strayed into a wayward path, remained diligent in his weekly preparation and was always in game shape. Few safeties provided an experience like the one Reed did. The safety position has often been undervalued and overlooked, but that should never be the case for No. 20, Ed Reed.