There have been 23 men enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the last three classes, but only one was a defensive back. That was safety Kenny Easley, who was a senior candidate in the Class of 2017. The last modern-era defensive back elected was Aeneas Williams in the Class of 2014.
So it’s logical that another defensive back is due for enshrinement. But who? That’s our poll question this week at the Talk of Fame Network – of the seven defensive back semifinalists for the Class of 2018, who is most deserving of a bust? There are plenty of quality candidates, including three cornerbacks and four safeties. Here are your choices:
Steve Atwater, safety. A first-team all-decade choice for the 1990s. Atwater played 11 seasons, went to eight Pro Bowls and won two Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos. As a strong safety, he was more invested in the front end of the defense than the back. He finished his career with 1,074 tackles and 24 interceptions. He had five 100-tackle seasons. He has been named to the University of Arkansas all-century team and has been enshrined in Denver’s Ring of Honor.
Ronde Barber, cornerback. A second-team all-decade choice for the 2000s. Barber played 16 seasons, went to five Pro Bowls and won a Super Bowl with the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He led the NFL with 10 interceptions in 2001 and finished his career with 47 of them. He turned cornerback into an offensive position, scoring 14 touchdowns in his career on eight interceptions, four fumbles and two blocked kicks.
LeRoy Butler, safety. A first-team all-decade choice for the 1990s. Drafted out of Florida State as a cornerback, the Packers moved Butler to strong safety, where he played 12 seasons and went to four Pro Bowls. He intercepted 38 career passes and won a Super Bowl with the 1996 Packers. He became the first defensive back in NFL history to join the 20/20 club with 20-plus interceptions and 20-plus sacks (20 ½). Butler also recovered eight fumbles.
Brian Dawkins, safety. A first-team all-decade choice for the 2000s. Dawkins played 16 seasons and went to the Pro Bowl in nine of them. He became the 10th member of the NFL’s 20/20 club, intercepting 37 career passes and sacking 21 quarterbacks. He also forced 32 fumbles and was named to the 75th anniversary team of the Philadelphia Eagles. The franchise also retired his jersey number 20. Both Butler and Dawkins are from Jacksonville, Fla.
Ty Law, cornerback. A second-team all-decade choice for the 2000s. Law went to five Pro Bowls and won three Super Bowls with the Patriots. He led the NFL in interceptions twice, once with the Patriots in 1998 (nine) and again with the Jets in 2005 (10). Law ranks 24th all-time in career interceptions with 53, which ties him on the list with Deion Sanders. He returned an interception of Hall-of-Famer Kurt Warner 47 yards for a touchdown in the 2002 Super Bowl to send the Patriots off on their 20-17 upset win.
John Lynch, safety. Played 15 seasons and went to nine Pro Bowls. Lynch has been named to the Ring of Honor of both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Denver Broncos. He won a Super Bowl with the 2002 Buccaneers and is now the general manager of the San Francisco 49ers. He intercepted 26 passes, forced 16 fumbles and recovered eight more fumbles. Lynch also was drafted in baseball by the Florida Marlins as a pitcher and threw the first pitch in the organization’s history as a member of the Erie Sailors in 1992. His jersey from that game is already in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
Everson Walls, cornerback. The only cornerback in NFL history – and one of only two players – to lead the league in interceptions three times. Safety Ed Reed is the other, and he pencils in as a first-ballot Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible for the Class of 2019. Walls ranks fifth all-time among pure cornerbacks with 57 interceptions. That’s as many as Hall-of-Famer Mel Blount and more then Deion Sanders, Darrell Green or Charles Woodson. He went to four Pro Bowls with the Cowboys but won a Super Bowl with the Giants. Walls has never been a finalist for the Hall of Fame and is now in his 20th and final year of eligibility.