It almost didn't happen, and if the chips had fallen the way everyone expected them to, there's a decent chance that the Seattle Seahawks aren't the champions of Super Bowl 48. All it would have taken was a little bit more sensibility from the Philadelphia Eagles, but thankfully general manager Howie Roseman hadn't found his senses yet, and Andy Reid's may have been long since passed.
And that's the only reason I can think of that the Eagles selected situational pass rusher Brandon Graham over All-American safety Earl Thomas.
Philly fans are sick of hearing about the pick, but that's only because of how monumental that decision turned out to be. The Eagles were in need of a safety and when they traded up by sending the Denver Broncos a first and two thirds (the first turned out to be Dez Bryant while the two thirds were Ed Dickson and Eric Decker) most people expected them to be taking the sterling safety from Texas, but Roseman and Reid were enamored with Graham. As much as people want to say that they can tell when a player is going to live up to his potential or fail miserably, the truth is that nobody really knows, and nobody could've known for sure on that day how far Graham and Thomas have drifted apart as players.
So I'm not just here to harp on the team that passed on Thomas, but I am here to remind everyone that he's exceeded even the wildest expectations and Philadelphia should have absolutely taken him. The Eagles made the boldest move of the 2010 draft and if they had taken Thomas, then Pete Carroll doesn't get his high-impact, elite deep safety that he's harped on needing over the majority of his career.
There wouldn't have been a time when Carroll and John Schneider could have simply rested on their laurels for a few years until the right player had come along, like Russell Wilson did in 2012, because you only get one chance to get an Earl Thomas, if you ever do at all.
He is the only player in the NFL that can do what he can do, he is the premier free safety in the league, and he's still three years younger than Felix Hernandez and about six months younger than Wilson. There is only one Earl Thomas and Carroll almost missed his chance to blow.
When it was announced that Philadelphia had traded up from 24 to 13, one spot ahead of Carroll and the Seahawks, one can only imagine the thoughts of draft day dread and terror that ran through his head at that moment. Probably some of the most unspeakable cuss words that have ever crossed Pete Carroll's mind, like:
- "Ah shoot"
- "Well, darn it then."
After all, Seattle probably had an opportunity to trade up ahead of spot 13 just to guarantee that they'd get Thomas; the Miami Dolphins traded down from 12 with the San Diego so that the Chargers could take running back Ryan Mathews. There would have been many interesting names left on the board if the Eagles had taken Thomas, like Bryant, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Derrick Morgan, but do any of those players give you the confidence in a championship four years later like Thomas does?
Much like Super Bowl 48, it's not even a contest.
- Thomas's 39 career AV per ProFootballReference is the third-highest from the 2010 draft after NaVorro Bowman and Ndamokung Suh. It's higher than classmates like Geno Atkins, Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Gerald McCoy, and Daryl Washington.
- His 15 interceptions is tied with Devin McCourty for most in the 2010 draft class, ahead of players like Joe Haden and Eric Berry, who were both picked ahead of Thomas. "But Berry missed a whole season" you say?
- Earl Thomas has started 64 of a possible 64 games, plus seven of seven postseason games. "Not getting injured" isn't a negative, it's a positive.
- One of 42 safeties in the post-merger era to record at least 15 interceptions through his first four seasons. (The NFL record of 24 is held by former Seahawk Kenny Easley, while former Seahawk John Harris is tied for second with 22.) That's kind of impressive but it's even more impressive when you consider the next bullet point.
- Courtesy of our own Danny Kelly giving insight in this pre-Super Bowl Earl Thomas piece for SB Nation, the Seahawks defense faced the least number of deep middle attempts in the NFL over each of the last two seasons: 15 in 2012 and only eight in 2013. Thomas is almost always the lone wolf in the deep middle, but quarterbacks feel as hopeless going to deep center as batters did against Ken Griffey Jr.
To have a player really control the defense in the way that Carroll dreams of, you need a safety that is half genius, half athletic God, half psychic, and if that math seems impossible, that's because it should be. Imagine if Miss Cleo were an astronaut and maybe you're starting to get an idea of how special and unique Earl Thomas is. He defies logic in the same way that JJ Watt does, that Percy Harvin does, that Vernon Davis does. In the criminal justice system you are innocent until proven guilty but in the NFL there are just certain players that enter the league with such unique talent and gifts that you are basically a Hall of Famer until proven disappointing.
The separation between a player like Thomas and a player like Taylor Mays isn't necessarily where they were at as players during the 2010 draft -- though most agreed that Thomas was the better prospect, many of those same experts believed Mays had a ton of potential and was uniquely gifted -- it's about what they've done since. Thomas has shown that he continues to be an all-world athlete and player, while Mays has shown that Carroll made the right decision at pick 14 when Seattle opted to select Thomas over him after the Texas safety had unexpectedly slid down the board.
Carroll stated after the draft that the team was basically expecting to pick Mays because none of them thought a player of Earl's caliber would drop past the top 13 picks. Thankfully for Carroll, the Seahawks, and the city of Seattle, Howie Roseman and the Eagles preferred Brandon Graham.
You don't build the best secondary in NFL history without a little bit of luck, and a lot of Earl Thomas.