It’s All About Defense

1980’s- Lawrence Taylor: The 80’s row is stacked with iconic defensive players. Ronnie is one of the greatest safeties to play this game and Reggie White was known as the “Minister of Defense”. You just can’t ignore the man known as “LT”. You all know the rule by now: You better have game if you have two first names and Lawrence Taylor is the definition of that saying. He’s the greatest defensive player in the history of this game. Before Ray Lewis, Aaron Donald, J.J. Watt, Brian Urlacher and Troy Polamalu, there was Lawrence Taylor. He simply changed the position of outside linebacker from a read and react position to more of an attacking position. He had a rare mix of size, speed, strength and power. He was always the guy who you had to zoom in on him because he had that knack for destroying your entire offensive game plan. When I think of football players who played with that “bully mindset”, number 56 will always come to mind. He’s been described as one of the most feared and intimidating players in NFL history. From a defensive standpoint, he’s had the biggest impact out of any other player in the history of the NFL. He changed the way defense is played, the way you rush the passer and how offenses must block linebackers. Lawrence Taylor is a ten-time Pro Bowler, a nine-time first-team all pro selection, a three-time defensive player of the year winner, a two-time Super Bowl champion and he’s the only defensive player ever to be named the league’s most valuable player.

1990’s- Deion Sanders: The greatest cornerback ever to step on a football field. The first shutdown corner and many after him followed. You always hear the term of cornerbacks shutting down an entire side of the football field and making quarterbacks throw the ball the to the opposite side, Prime did that on a consistent basis. He would always make quarterbacks think twice about throwing it in his direction and would shut down the opponent’s top receiver. He was drafted in 1989 by the Atlanta Falcons and bounced around quite a bit in his NFL career. After Atlanta, he signed with the 49ers and had the best year of his career in San Francisco. He recorded six interceptions and returning them for an NFL-best and a then-NFL record 303 yards and three touchdowns. Two of his interceptions were returned for a gain of at least 90 yards, making him the first player to do this in NFL history. He also won his first Super Bowl with the Niners and was awarded the NFL’s Defensive MVP. He also won a Super Bowl with the Cowboys. He was primarily a defensive player, but he also took snaps with the offense and returned punts. He had that versatility factor in him, and he was effective no matter where he was. When he signed with the Baltimore Ravens at the tail end of his career, he was known for wearing the number 21 but when he got to Baltimore, he wore the number 37 and he was okay with that because he stated he wanted the receivers he covered to know how old the guy was that shut them down. He was inducted into the college football hall of fame and Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.

2000’s: Ray Lewis– The greatest middle linebacker I’ve ever seen play this game. You think of those stingy Baltimore Ravens defenses; he was always in the middle patrolling things. The Ravens were always considered to be one of the best defenses in the league for years and you couldn’t see this unit flowing as consistently as they did without number 52. A middle linebacker is the “quarterback of the defense”, that was Ray. He simply bought out the best in everyone around him. Ray was a guy that led vocally and by example. When he talked, people listened and followed him. Wherever the football was, you saw Ray in the area. He knew every look an offense was showing, he dropped back in coverage and as he got older, he added onto his game which allowed him to play at a high level even at an advanced age. Ask Dustin Keller about going over the middle of the field on Ray Lewis, I think he can tell you it’s not the best idea. Although he was considered undersized, he was always showing that it was never about the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog. He’s a two-time Super Bowl champion, a two-time defensive player of the year recipient, a Super Bowl MVP and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.