January 20, 2023 12:00pm

The NFL and First-Ballot Hall of Famers

We Asked Power Poll NFL.

Photo of Rick Gosselin
NFL Correspondent

Cornerback Darrelle Revis and offensive tackle Joe Thomas hope to join a select fraternity of first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famers in the Class of 2023. Revis had the nickname – “Revis Island" – and Thomas has the Pro Bowls – 10 of them.

But don’t include them in the discussion of the greatest ever at their positions.

With the Class of 2023 looming, we asked in our weekly NFL Power Poll where Revis and Thomas would stack up among the all-time greatest at their positions. We put Revis on a list with the seven cornerbacks selected to the NFL’s 100th anniversary team and Thomas on a list with the six tackles on that same anniversary team.

And we discovered the latest is not necessarily the greatest.

In our first question, we asked our panel of former players, coaches, officials, talent evaluators, writers and broadcasters to identify the greatest cornerback of all time from our list. There were 198 votes cast and Revis received only one of them. Deion Sanders led the way with 91 voted, followed by Dick “Night Train” Lane with 42, Mel Blount with 34, Darrell Green with 16, Mike Haynes 12 and Willie Brown 2.

“Think of how many interceptions Deion would have had if teams threw to his side,” said Nick Pugliese, the sports editor of the Palm Beach Post. “And don’t forget he also was a returner.”

But there was strong support elsewhere, particularly for Lane who intercepted more passes (68) than any cornerback in history.

“Night Train was the NFL’s first true shutdown cornerback,” said Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “He revolutionized the position. The fact that his NFL record 14 interceptions in a single season in 1952 still stands 70 years later is amazing. And he did it in a 12-game season. At that same pace now in a 17-game season that equals 19.8 interceptions.”

Added Rick Telander, a sports columnist for the Chicago Sun Times, “There are so many variables for judging cornerbacks throughout history – tackling, defensive scheme (man-to-man, zone blitzing, interceptions, etc.) but most of all the rules. When you could bump-and-run and muscle a wide receiver all over the field nobody was better than Mel Blount at 6-3, 205 pounds. Well, maybe Night Train was – but even this old boy was too young to see the Train play. Best nickname, though, by a mile.”

Blount was indeed right there with Lane.

“Without question the best defensive back I played against was Mel Blount,” said Hall of Fame wide receiver Drew Pearson. “Those who think otherwise never lined up against him.”

The question wasn’t an easy one.

“This is hard to pick for me,” said Deron Cherry, an NFL all-decade safety in the 1980s. “I grew up watching Mel Blount and he was unbelievable. So was Mike Haynes in his era. And I cannot leave out Deion Sanders. It’s a toss up for me. All were great.”

The second question was a bit easier for the voters. Thomas fared better than Revis – he received 11 votes. But he still was toward the back of the pack. Anthony Munoz received 120 votes, followed by

Jonathan Ogden with 30, Art Shell with 15, Thomas, then Forrest Gregg with 10 and Rosey Brown and Walter Jones with six apiece.

“Munoz was the best offensive tackle,” said former Hall of Fame voter Vito Stellino. “But I think too many players in this era get in on the first ballot and that hurts players who have been waiting their turn. But I’d make an exception for Thomas, not Revis.”

Added Wayne Larrivee, the radio voice of the Green Bay Packers: “Joe Thomas played and dominated for years on bad Cleveland Browns teams. Because of that fact he should not be snubbed or made to wait on a call from the Hall. He could have played on any team in any era.”

There was another voice from Green Bay with another opinion.

“Vince Lombardi said Forrest Gregg was the finest player he ever coached,” said Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com. “Considering who else he coached, that’s not a nothing statement.”

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of significant key players in American sports today. It's member list draws on people from media, team management, and league management. It is not a scientific survey, but the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those who know most about the sport.

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