By Zach Berman The Philadelphia Inquirer
RENTON — Earl Thomas still hears from Philadelphia Eagles fans on Twitter. And they keep bringing up Brandon Graham.
Thomas, an All-Pro safety for the Seattle Seahawks, remembers draft day in 2010. The Eagles traded to acquire the No. 13 pick. Safety Brian Dawkins signed in Denver a year earlier and the team was still looking for a replacement. There was widespread speculation that the Eagles moved up to take Thomas, a star at Texas.
“They said Earl Thomas right here, and I’m like, ‘OK, the Eagles, Philadelphia,’” Thomas said Wednesday as he recalled the coverage of the draft. “And then they said, ‘Brandon Graham.’ And then I got this call from Seattle.”
The Seahawks selected Thomas one pick after the Eagles took Graham, a defensive end at Michigan. Thomas has been an All-Pro in each of the last three seasons and is a candidate for Defensive player of the Year.
Graham moved to outside linebacker and has yet to emerge as the type of pass rusher the Eagles envisioned. Safety Nate Allen, drafted by the Eagles in the second round that year, has been inconsistent. Neither Graham nor Allen is ensured of a roster spot with the Eagles next season, while the 24-year-old Thomas looks like he’ll be among the league’s elite safeties for the foreseeable future.
Judging from Thomas’ Twitter feed, Eagles fans do not need to be reminded.
“A lot of people from Philly are like, ‘oh, my God! Every time we see him, he could be in our uniform,’ or if they see me in the Pro Bowl or something, they say he’s a Pro Bowler,” Thomas said.
He will continue to haunt Eagles fans for at least one more week. On Sunday, the Seahawks will host the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game.
Seattle’s defense is anchored by the NFL’s top safety duo. Safeties are difficult to find. Eagles general manager Howie Roseman and Seahawks general manager John Schneider both admitted as much. The Seahawks hit on two safeties in the 2010 draft — fifth-round pick Kam Chancellor has also developed into a Pro Bowler.
Those safeties play between a stable of touted cornerbacks, including all-pro Richard Sherman. The Seahawks have the NFL’s top-ranked passing defense, limiting opponents to 172 yards per game. They led the NFL with 28 interceptions, with Sherman’s eight the league’s best and Thomas’ five ranked second among all safeties.
In front of every defensive back’s locker is a welcome mat that reads “Legion of Boom” with the number of each player in the secondary.
Their physical style receives attention, but Sherman said they play defense the way the game was designed. Thomas said the defensive backs like it when they see opposing coaches complain about defensive holding.
Like Eagles coach Chip Kelly, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll likes big players in the secondary. Of the 13 defensive backs on the Seahawks’ roster, eight are at least 6 feet tall. Thomas does not fit that mold at 5-foot-10 and 202 pounds.
“I made him change his mind about me because I bring so much to the game,” Thomas said.
Defensive backs coach Kris Richard said the team liked Thomas’ explosiveness and how he played with an absence of fear. The safety’s skill set compensated for the lack of size, he said.
“If you had his heart in half of the guys in the NFL, there would be some pretty special people out there,” Richard said.
“I believe I’m the first of my kind,” Thomas said.
He described his play as a combination of Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu, two of the best safeties in NFL history. And the frightening part is that Thomas insisted he was still only “up-and-coming.” That means his production will continue reminding Eagles fans about the 2010 draft — and they will continue reminding him.
“Everything in my mind is about being the best to ever do it,” Thomas said. “Everything in my mind is separating myself from every defensive player in the league.”