Ed Reed is expected to be a lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame next year at this time, but the Baltimore Ravens safety will have to break a long drought to do so.
Reed would become the first pure safety in 33 years to get voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. The last one to reach on the first ballot was Ken Houston in 1986.
It would be fitting for Reed to be the one to break the trend. As Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said in 2003, Reed made safety a glamour position again. In 2004, he became the first safety in 20 years to win the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.
The true measure of Reed's impact as a playmaker is this: He averaged one interception every 2.5 games (including playoffs) over his 11-year career.
It's not just the amount of interceptions, it's what Reed did when he got the ball in his hands that was so special. Reed owns the two longest interception returns in league history. In 2004, Reed set an NFL record by returning an interception 106 yards for a touchdown against the Cleveland Browns. Four years later, he broke his own record with a 107-yarder against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Reed's other NFL records are for the most interception return yards for a career (1,590) and most career playoff interceptions (nine, tied with three others). He led the NFL in interceptions three times, including in 2010 despite missing the first six games because of injury.
"Can't say I've ever coached against anybody better than Ed Reed in the secondary," New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick said in 2012.
The most overlooked position in the Pro Football Hall of Fame is safety. There are only nine pure safeties (ones who didn't play cornerback at some point in their careers) enshrined in Canton: Houston, Jack Christiansen, Paul Krause, Yale Lary, Emlen Tunnell, Larry Wilson, Willie Wood, Kenny Easley and Brian Dawkins. Ronnie Lott and Rod Woodson started their careers at cornerback. The only two pure safeties voted into the Hall in their first year of eligibility were Houston and Wilson.
Reed finished with 64 interceptions, which rank No. 7 all-time in the NFL and are more than all the pure safeties in the Hall beside Krause (81) and Tunnell (79). Reed was voted to nine Pro Bowls and was named first-team All-Pro five times.
"There are good players, but then there are also players that are a game-changers," Newsome said. "Whenever we knew it was time for a play to be made, we would all say to ourselves, 'It's Ed Reed time.'"
If Reed makes the Hall of Fame next year, he would follow offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis as Ravens draft picks who reached Canton. Ogden and Lewis both made it in their first year of eligibility.