During the 1980s, the National Football League could be considered a time where both the defensive side of the ball was as lethal as the offensive side that we see in today’s game. The 1981 NFL draft class included seven Hall of Famers. Including defenders such as Lawrence Taylor, Ronnie Lott, Howie Long, Mike Singletary and 2017 Hall of Fame Class member Kenny Easley.
With the 4th overall pick in the 1981 draft, the Seattle Seahawks selected Strong Safety Kenny Easley out of the University of California Los Angeles. Before being selected fourth by Seattle, Easley was a three-time Defensive All-American. During his rookie season with the Hawks, he became an immediate impact in the secondary as a starter.
He would tally up three interceptions for 155 yards and a touchdown while winning the AFC Defensive Rookie of The Year Award. The following season he would win the AFC Defensive Player of The Year Award by recording ten takeaways. In 1984, he would secure the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award and become the first safety to achieve this feat since Dick Anderson in 1973. Upon finishing the 1984 season, Easley would receive a five-year contract making him the highest paid defensive player at the time.
Easley would retire four years later due to being diagnosed with a severe kidney disease called idiopathic nephrotic syndrome. 15 years later Easley would receive the call from Gary Wright, the Seahawks publicity director at the time, delivering the message that Paul Allen wanted to induct him in the Ring of Honor. In 2017, Easley was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the Seahawks officially retired the Enforcer’s Jersey.
When you talk about the standard at the safety position, look no further than Kenny Easley, the original Enforcer on defense. Since then Kam Chancellor has assumed the nickname as the Enforcer in Seattle’s secondary.
When asked about a defensive player ever winning the Heisman Award Kenny Easley said, “If you look at our draft class and examine how many numbers one picks and then go look at the all-decade team of the 80s. Finally, research the Pro Football Hall of Fame. If none of those players in our draft class didn’t win the award then no one on the defensive side of the ball, in my opinion, will ever win it. If there was such a thing as the NFL’s version of the Original Dream Team, the 1981 draft class was it.”Easley told me.
After the interview was finished that statement really caught my attention and I decided to reach out to Ronnie Lott, another member of the 1981 draft class, to see if he shared that same sentiment.
“I think that if you look at the athletes that are in the Hall of Fame, then you must look at that class. Comprised of a remarkable group of players, that class was in pursuit of not only being football players but sought to be great football players. The collective group of athletes in that class defined the way they played the game.” Said Lott.
Lawrence “L.T.” Taylor who was taken second by the New York Giants in the 1981 draft is one of the most feared individuals in NFL history If you do not believe me just ask Joe Theismann. He suffered a career-ending leg injury due to being hit by L.T. Mr.Taylor can also be credited with changing the way opposing offenses ran their schemes, and formations. Some of his career accolades include leading “The Big Blue Wrecking Crew” to two Superbowl victories in Superbowls XXI and XXV. Also, winning three Defensive Player of the Year Awards and the NFL MVP award in 1986. One of two defensive players to win the MVP award the other was Alan Page in 1971. He is one of seven members from that draft, who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“Take Lawrence Taylor for example; he is someone that changed the game and had an incredible impact on the game. Take Kenny, for instance, you can see how the safety position was played, or Singletary’s leadership and capability contributed to the game. If you take other members of that 1981 class like Rickey Jackson, there is an argument to be made that this class is possibly one of the best to ever be drafted into the national football league.” Said Ronnie Lott.
Lott continues to say, “Given that it produced so many players inducted into the Hall of Fame. It was an incredible run. A lot of those players were not just players who played eight to ten years most of them played substantially longer than individuals before or after them. Having the staying power that came with that group of athletes in the 1981 class, there was something in the water, which inspired a group of athletes to perform at a high level for an extensive amount of time.”
Kenny Easley only had the opportunity to play seven seasons, but if you look at all the things that he was able to accomplish from 1981 to 1985, you’ll see how great he really was before suffering a knee injury versus the San Diego Chargers in 1986 ending his season.
“Kenny’s career, unfortunately, was cut short. Even though the time was limited, anyone that knows the game, knew it was already defined by what he accomplished early on in his career. Being the Defensive Player of the Year, All-Pro, and being a Pro Bowl player, his mark was left early. So, you had a lot of talent that went on to heights others have not seen since. I do not know of a class, or if there is one out there that you can compare to that 1981 draft class as it was pretty prominent.”
During the interview, I mentioned the 1983 draft class that featured quarterbacks such as John Elway, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, Todd Blackledge and Gary Kubiak. Other members of the 1983 Draft include Hall of Famers Eric Dickerson, Bruce Matthews, Darrell Green and Richard Dent.
“If you look at the class that featured Dan Marino and the others that came out in the 1983 draft, they were an amazing class of quarterbacks, but you would also have to look at the body of work between both classes. I think there is some value in that the whole 1981 draft class did very well. This draft had incredible prominence in how the game was played, especially during the turn of the 80s, where the game became more prolific with television presenting more avenues to watch the game.” Said Ronnie Lott.
Lott has a point. Each class has been able to send seven Hall of Famers to the Hall in Canton after Kenny Easley was inducted into the Hall of Fame last year. Lott would give praise to the city of Seattle for what they have been able to accomplish with the Legion of Boom during their great run over the past seven years which saw two Superbowl appearances, three Division titles, and six playoff appearances.
The Seahawks are currently in the midst of rebuilding its team that just receive the news that Kam Chancellor has decided to walk away from the game due to a career-ending neck injury. In addition, they let All-Pro Cornerback Richard Sherman walk away and sign with their division rivals the San Fransico 49ers, and they are going to have to figure out what to do with Earl Thomas. He is currently holding out looking for a new contract with one year left on his present deal.
“Seattle has some great players playing in the secondary. I know this as a fan, referencing the Legion of Boom, they still have a guy that is the measuring stick. With me being a fan of all the group, and someone I consider one of the best if not the best, ever safety. It is great to watch all these incredibly gifted athletes play the game of football. Seattle should be very proud of what these athletes have been able to accomplish in the game of football.
Take Kenny, for instance, you can see how the safety position was played, or Singletary’s leadership and capability contributed to the game. If you take other members of that 1981 class like Rickey Jackson, there is an argument to be made that this class is possibly one of the best to ever be drafted into the national football league.” Said Ronnie Lott.