Over the past three decades, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has watched safeties Ronnie Lott, Troy Polamalu, Joey Browner, Tim McDonald, Lawyer Milloy and Lonnie Young combine for 33 Pro Bowls, 25 All-Pro berths and eight Super Bowl championships.
Still just 24 years old, Earl Thomas already is in that class of safeties.
"Earl is as good as any of the (safeties) I've ever coached," Carroll said, via the Seahawks' official team website. "All those guys are different, and Earl is more like Troy because of his extraordinary speed and his size and all that. But there's no end to the potential that Earl has, because he's so fast and he's so tough. But more than that, he's just so driven to be great."
Thomas is an example of a player viewed differently by the analytics crowd than by the NFL. Despite back-to-back Pro Bowls and a first-team All-Pro selection in 2012, ProFootballFocus.com ranked Thomas as the 34th-best safety in the league last season.
NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell has called Thomas the league's best coverage safety and arguably the most complete safety in the NFL. Thomas is one of the few safeties capable of patrolling the back end of the defense, timing blitzes well and making plays in the run game. He's the fulcrum on which Carroll's physical press-man defense rests.
Follow Chris Wesseling on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.