Ranking the best-ever NFL secondaries
Kam Chancellor’s announcement Sunday on Twitter that his neck injury will force him to stop playing football signals the end of an era in Seattle, home of the league’s most dominant defensive force over the past half-dozen seasons.
With that in mind, where does the Seahawks’ Legion of Boom — or vaunted LOB, if you please — rank among the game’s great secondaries?
Legion of Boom coming to an end
Earlier this offseason, Richard Sherman left Seattle for San Francisco
Now Kam Chancellor is announcing his retirement pic.twitter.com/vtiMkEG02C
— The Sports Quotient (@SportsQuotient) July 2, 2018
10. Lions (1960-64): Some good Detroit teams were overshadowed by epic Packers editions in the early ’60s. But a pass defense boasting Hall of Famers Dick “Night Train” Lane, Yale Lary and Dick LeBeau for five seasons can’t be dismissed.
9. Eagles (1999-2008): This represents Hall of Famer Brian Dawkins’ heyday. But he had a lot of help during a period when Philly reached five NFC Championship Games, corners Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, Lito Sheppard and Asante Samuel among the wingmen.
Brian Dawkins Highlights Pt 3
— Philly Bleed Green (@phillybldgreen) January 7, 2017
8. No Fly Zone Broncos (2014-17): About as good a bunch as you’ll find over a four-year run. Corners Aqib Talib and Chris Harris combined for seven Pro Bowls and safeties T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart also got all-star nods during a time when Denver won the Super Bowl (2015 season) and twice led the league in pass defense (2015-16).
7. Raiders (1983-86): They get a slight nod over the ’70s “Soul Patrol.” Hall of Famer Mike Haynes may have been the final piece to the ’83 Raiders’ championship puzzle, joining the team late in the season and, along with Lester Hayes, forming one of the top corner duos the NFL has ever seen. Pro Bowl safety Vann McElroy added an extra element in center field.
82 days until Aggie football
Couldn't find any college highlights (his jersey number), but Lester Hayes had the second most interceptions in A&M history and watching this you can see why
— Matt '15 (@Aggie_Matt15) June 9, 2018
6. Lombardi Packers (1961-69): A star-laden dynasty that won five championships in seven seasons boasted a pair of Hall of Fame defensive backs in corner Herb Adderley and safety Willie Wood, teammates for nine years who combined for 79 INTs during that stretch.
5. Deion Sanders in the 1990s: OK, we’re fudging a bit here. But how can we leave the best corner of all time — just ask him — off the list? Sanders helped the long downtrodden Falcons to the playoffs in 1991 playing alongside corner Tim McKyer and safety Brian Jordan. Prime Time teamed with Eric Davis, Tim McDonald and Merton Hanks on the champion 1994 49ers, who swiped a league-high 23 balls while allowing just 15 TDs. Teaming with all-pro safety Darren Woodson in Dallas for five years, Sanders won another ring … and so frightened the Steelers in Super Bowl XXX that Pittsburgh’s Neil O’Donnell mostly threw at corner Larry Brown, who wound up with two picks and the MVP award.
— 49ers on NBCS (@NBCS49ers) August 10, 2017
4. Buccaneers (1997-2003): Naysayers may take issue with the bend-but-don’t-break scheme. But anchored on the back end by strong safety John Lynch and cornerback Ronde Barber — both may eventually wind up with busts — did any team run the “Tampa 2” more effectively? Maybe that’s a better question for 2002 NFL MVP Rich Gannon, who was picked off five times by the Bucs in Super Bowl XXXVII, two apiece going to another pair of defensive backs, Dwight Smith and game MVP Dexter Jackson.
3. 49ers (1981-85): Joe Montana’s ascendance is largely tied to the Niners’ run of dominance, but the team’s secondary played a huge role, too. Future Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott, safety Carlton Williamson and cornerback Eric Wright all stepped into starting roles as rookies in 1981, the first year San Francisco won the Lombardi Trophy. They, along with Pro Bowl safety Dwight Hicks, combined for 23 interceptions that season. The same quartet was starting three years later when the 49ers won Super Bowl XIX as the league’s first 15-1 team.
2. Steel Curtain Steelers (1974-79): The common denominator was Hall of Famer Mel Blount, whose physical style outside eventually forced the NFL to alter its rules on pass coverage in 1978 to give receivers relief. Blount, fellow corner J.T. Thomas and safeties Mike Wagner and Glen Edwards were all Pro Bowlers on the 1976 squad, which was ultimately undone by injuries to the offense but is widely considered the premier defensive lineup of the Steel Curtain era. Safety Donnie Shell has a strong case for a gold jacket himself.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) April 3, 2018
1. Legion of Boom Seahawks (2011-17): Though Seattle’s DBs extended the “LOB” brand to the rest of the defense, it was the guys on the back end who earned the moniker with their play and collective persona. Chancellor, the strong safety, cornerback Richard Sherman and free safety Earl Thomas were the mainstays, though corners Brandon Browner, Jeremy Lane, Byron Maxwell and Marcus Trufant were key components at various times.
Sherman’s swagger imbued personality to the group, while his ranginess, receiver’s hands and size (6-3, 195) made quarterbacks leery of targeting him. His game-saving breakup of Colin Kaepernick’s pass to Michael Crabtree in the waning ticks of the 2013 NFC Championship — along with Sherman’s unforgettable post-game interview with Erin Andrews — forever cemented him and the LOB in Seattle lore.
Seahawks announced they have parted ways with CB Richard Sherman.
Sherman leads the NFL with 28 interceptions since 2012. pic.twitter.com/y8NW8ve3L7
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 9, 2018
Thomas, the lone holdover heading into the 2018 season — assuming his ongoing contract demands don’t get him traded — in the wake of Sherman’s release, is almost inarguably the league’s top free safety in the post-Ed Reed/Troy Polamalu era. Thomas and Sherman, who both have more time to add to their impressive resumes, are excellent bets to land in Canton one day.
But Chancellor was the heart and soul. At 6-3 and 225 pounds, he was massive for his position and an intimidating enforcer in the middle of the field. Perhaps none of his hits was more famous than when he leveled Broncos Pro Bowl receiver Demaryius Thomas early in Super Bowl XLVIII, a tone-setting play which helped launch Seattle to a massive 43-8 upset for what remains the franchise’s lone title.
The LOB has numbers, too.
The Seahawks allowed the fewest points league-wide every year from 2012 through 2015, an unprecedented streak during the Super Bowl era and at a time when free agency makes it so challenging to keep strong units together. Seattle’s defense also ranked in the top five overall five times during the LOB era. The 2013 team surrendered a league-low 172 passing yards per game — a ridiculous figure in the era of prodigious passing offense — while picking off 28 passes (and allowing just 16 TDs).
Recency bias? Hardly.