NFL.com senior analyst and longtime league executive Gil Brandt ranked Eagles legend Brian Dawkins No. 11 on a list of the greatest safeties of all time, which seems low. Honestly, Brandt is so far off base here, the list risks losing whatever credibility it might have.
Now, an inherent problem with lists such as these is they are by nature prone to some degree of subjectivity. Most people followed some teams and players more closely than others, not to mention aren’t old enough to have seen a lot of these guys play. The process of ranking athletes is further complicated whenever there are attempts to compare across different eras, and at the end of the day, there often is no right answer.
But there are wrong answers, and Dawkins No. 11 is pure fiction. Even if we were to concede to Brandt all of the safeties from previous eras – Emlen Tunnell (No. 1), Ken Houston (3), Ronnie Lott (5), Cliff Harris (6), Kenny Easley (7), Donnie Shell (8) and Steve Atwater (10) – there is a very simple mistake that detracts from the list’s legitimacy.
Dawkins played during the same time period as Troy Polamalu (2) and Ed Reed (4), and before Eric Berry (9) – who’s only played five full seasons by the way – and is measurably better than all of them.
That’s worth repeating. Dawkins is measurably better than Polamalu, Reed and Berry, while playing in the same era. To begin with, Dawkins is the only NFL safety in history to record at least 25 sacks, interceptions and forced fumbles in a career. He has more tackles than all three, more sacks, more forced fumbles, while only Reed betters Dawkins in interceptions.
When we go beyond numbers, Dawkins revolutionized the position and really paved the way for a lot of the safeties who followed, especially somebody like Polamalu. Dawkins was one of the first defensive backs who would line up everywhere and do a bit of everything, from playing centerfield to man-to-man coverage, from stuffing the run to blitzing the quarterback. The case could be made these guys owe their careers in some small part to Dawkins’ success.
During their playing careers, it always felt as though Dawkins was overlooked nationally compared to Polamalu and Reed. And after watching Dawkins get passed over on his first chance for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, with Polamalu and Reed on deck, there’s a legit concern it could play out that way in Canton.
That’s not even delving into Berry ahead of Dawkins, which is plain disrespectful.
Are some of those thoughts subjective, too? To an extent, of course. Yet, consider the source material. Brandt spent nearly 30 years in the Dallas Cowboys front office, so it’s certainly fair to wonder if there is some bias at work, whether intentional or not. He’s also 84 years old, and some of his previous lists have raised questions – such as how is a Hall of Fame left tackle one of the greatest centers of all time?
Ultimately, we arrive back at the original point that lists like these are subjective, even when objective points are being made. Dawkins is the only safety in NFL history with at least 25 sacks, interceptions and forced fumbles, so should that make him No. 1? To some people, maybe, but there’s typically a lot more going into it than statistics.
Still, Dawkins at No. 11 is fantasy, and if we were really taking Brandt’s list apart, he would easily leap several of the great safeties who came before him as well. Hopefully, Hall of Fame voters see things differently – that is to say correctly – in the next few years, because if guys like this had their way, he might be waiting quite awhile.