There are few debates between fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens that rage greater than that of the question of who is the greatest safety to ever play in the AFC North: Troy Polamalu, for the Steelers, or Ed Reed, for the Ravens?
Both of them were first-ballot Hall of Famers. Both were on the 2000s All-Decade team, though Reed was listed as first-team with Brian Dawkins, and Polamalu was listed on the second-team unit with Darren Sharper. Reed was also named to the All-Time Team; Polamalu was not.
Recently, certain personas from the NFL Network were asked to rank their top five safeties of all time. While all four of them included both Reed and Polamalu in their top five, all of them included Reed above the Steeles great. One of them listed the safeties ‘in any order’, yet featured Reed as the highlighted player. This commentator, DeAngelo Hall, also included Rod Woodson on his list.
Our talent ranked their Top 5 Safeties All-Time.
Who is in yours? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/LTOnjYhTbA
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) April 13, 2020
All four of the lists also included Ronnie Lott among their top five, often at the top—in fact, of the three who ranked theirs, Lott was at the top. On each of those ranked lists, Reed was also ranked second behind Lott. Polamalu was ranked third on one list and fourth on the other two, once behind Dawkins and once behind Emlen Tunnell, who was on two of the five lists.
Fans of both the Steelers and the Ravens are going to be highly biased when it comes to weighing in on this discussion. It would be extremely hard to find a Ravens fan who thinks Polamalu was a better player than Reed, and equally hard to find a Steelers fan who would say the same about Reed over Polamalu.
For one thing, the fact that the two of them played different positions—Reed was a free safety, Polamalu a strong safety—makes one-for-one comparisons difficult to make. Still, on the outside, there does seem to be a general consensus that slightly favors Reed as the better player over Polamalu.
Is there anybody here who would admit to thinking Reed was the better player? If you could trade one for the other, straight up, would you have done it?
One thing is for sure, which is that neither team has had a lot of immediate success at the position since parting with said players. The Ravens had some success with Eric Weddle as a free agent signing, sure. The Steelers seem to have now found their true heir apparent in Minkah Fitzpatrick, though time will tell on that, and he’s also a free safety rather than strong.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter who was better, even if there is an actual answer to the question. They were both among the best to ever play the game and have been rightfully recognized for it—though Polamalu was snubbed from the All-Time team. But facts are facts: there’s not a lot else to talk about right now, is there?