Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas checked in at No. 66 on "Top 100: Players of 2012" rankings, joining teammate Marshawn Lynch (No. 94) on the list and further validating a key decision head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider made early in their inaugural season at the helm of the franchise.
Selecting the diminutive Thomas (5-foot-10, 202 pounds) with the 14th-overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft came as somewhat of a surprise as draft analysts frequently linked the Seahawks to Taylor Mays, a 6-foot-3, 231-pound safety from Mercer Island, Wash., who had spent the previous four seasons playing for Carroll at USC. Thomas' range and instincts on the football field would trump local roots and an expired USC scholarship and allow him to make immediate impact in Seattle.
As a 16-game starter, Thomas had five interceptions -- including two of Philip Rivers, the No. 61 player on this year's list -- in a Week 3 win over the San Diego Chargers during his rookie season. Meanwhile Mays, a second round pick by the San Francisco 49ers, struggled for playing time in 2010 and was ultimately shipped to the Cincinnati Bengals last August. Thomas' interception numbers decreased in 2011, but he made more plays at or behind the line of scrimmage, while emerging as a leader of a secondary that placed three players (including Thomas) in the Pro Bowl last season in an aggressive defense that ranked fourth in interceptions (22).
Coming in at No. 66 on the Top 100 players list is a deserving and impressive debut for Thomas, who is just scratching the surface of what he can do on a football field. Increased exposure in prime time and/or a return to the playoffs for the Seahawks should move him up on the list in 2013.