NFL Any Era: Ed Reed

A classic matchup of rivals: the Steelers' Lynn Swann vs. the Ravens' Ed Reed. MATCHUP GALLERY ESPN.com Illustration

ESPN.com is unveiling its "Any Era" team this week which features 20 current players with the toughness to play in any period of NFL history. The team was assembled by votes from 20 Hall of Fame players (here's a full explanation of the project).

Coming in at No. 13 on the Any Era Team is Ravens safety Ed Reed. He isn't a ferocious hitter like Ronnie Lott or Jack Tatum. He just strikes the same amount of fear into opponents. Reed's mental toughness is what will stand the test of time.

He gets into the heads of quarterbacks, baiting them into mistakes. He understands the minds of offensive coordinators, frustrating them by being precisely where they never expect him. ESPN's John Clayton says he thinks of those old ball-hawking defensive backs Dick LeBeau and Paul Krause when he watches Reed.

Here's a full story on why Reed's brain and athleticism would put him among the best safeties in any era. Here are explanations from three Hall of Fame players on why Reed made the cut:

KELLEN WINSLOW: “Ed Reed studies the game and knows what to do in the fourth quarter. That’s mental toughness. Some guys get tired and stop focusing and just think about getting their breath back for the next play. It takes a great deal of mental toughness to perform in the fourth quarter when the game is on the line.”

JERRY RICE: “I picked Ed Reed because of his awareness on the football field and is a ball hawk, but he can also deliver the blow in the secondary.”

JAMES LOFTON: "I think he could play in any era and play at any skill position, too. He could be a great running back. He could play wide receiver. He could play corner. He could play safety. He is phenomenal. The fact that he plays the game a little differently, where most safeties line up at 12 yards and back up, here's a guy who lines up at 25 and comes forward. He's a puzzle. And I say that about his physical ability, but I think his greatest ability is that he's smarter than a lot of other players. A lot smarter. And smarter than a lot of other coaches, too. You watch him and ask, "What the heck is he doing?" His ability to anticipate where the ball is going and where the quarterback wanted to go with the ball ... and then keep the quarterback away from there. Then, he has that ability to burst and make a play."

Reed is the second AFC North player to make the list, but there are more division players to come. The AFC North blog will post every time a division player makes the Any Era Team.