3 legendary NFL defenders who played in the wrong era

Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, NFL, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Washington Commanders

Nov 9, 2017; Glendale, AZ, USA; Seattle Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor (31) against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Due to various rule changes and cultural shifts in the NFL, some of the league’s most legendary players would have thrived even more in a different era.

NFL history has been shaped by its greatest players, which is why imagining them outside of their respective eras is a complicated thought experiment. These players not only shaped the past but they were shaped by the rules and expectations that influenced the game at the time.

Considering the contemporary shift to erode defensive impact by amplifying NFL offenses, it seems that it would be easier to imagine recent defenders faring better in the past than past ones thriving in the present. In some cases, this is true, especially for hard-hitting defenders who would have drawn much fewer flags for their brutal style of play. But conversely, there are some advantages to playing defense today, especially in the context of increased support for athletes. In the past, there were defenders who could have greatly benefitted from the leverage players wield today. It may have even recalibrated the trajectory of Hall of Fame careers.

While the thought experiment could be applied to many legendary players throughout NFL history, here are three who would have certainly thrived playing in a different era.

NFL defenders who played in the wrong era: 3. Kam Chancellor, S

The Seahawks’ short-lived “Legion of Boom” was embodied by no one more than hard-hitting safety Kam Chancellor. Evidenced by his “Bam Bam” nickname, Chancellor was celebrated for his uncompromising method of play, slamming into opponents and instilling fear throughout the league.

During his seven-year NFL career spent with the Seahawks, Chancellor excelled as one of the league’s leading strong safeties. A Super Bowl XLVIII champion who helped the team return to the championship the following season, Chancellor was a four-time Pro Bowler who made second-team All-Pro in 2013 and 2014. Despite this, Chancellor was flagged for some of his hits, enduring 12 personal foul penalties from 2011 until 2016, including eight for unnecessary roughness.

Before their Super Bowl appearance in 2015, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman insisted that Chancellor “damages people’s souls“, a haunting description of the league’s premier strong safety at the time. He also confirmed that if Chancellor had played in the 1970s, “some people wouldn’t be here today.”

“He plays in a dark place,” Sherman said. “We feed off of him all game long. He’s an intimidator, aggressive ball player, and he plays by the rules. I couldn’t imagine him playing in the ’70s. Some people wouldn’t be here today if he was able to play in the ’70s.”

While safeties such as Brian Dawkins and Troy Polamalu saw their livelihoods influenced by the league’s rule changes, they were still able to experience the NFL in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Nothing encapsulates this more than ESPN’s “Jacked Up!” segment, which was canceled in 2006 due to increased awareness about the devastating long-term effects of concussions.

If Chancellor did play in the 1970s, his playing style wouldn’t have been as unique, but it’s equally true that he could have knocked opponents out of the game as Sherman theorized.

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