Tunnell Vision Awards 1943-2017

Named in honor of the first great pure safety, Emlen Tunnell, the Tunnell Vision Award goes to the league’s most outstanding safety each season. The caveat here, of course, is that defensive back play can be quite inconsistent from year to year, and player’s with a higher baseline level of ability will often not have better seasons than players with a lower “true” talent level who happen to experience positive variance for a season. There are also different types of safeties: primarily, I’m referring to range safeties and box safeties. Because of this, naming just one to receive the award requires me to make a pick based on style preference. This means that the top free safety may not get the Tunnell Vision Award because I went with the top strong safety, or vice versa. It’s not an exact science, and there’s always room for disagreement, but the names I have below are the ones I have settled on after countless hours of research.1

Tunnell Vision Award Winners

The table below lists every Tunnell Vision Award winner since 1943. Read it thus: In 1943, playing in the NFL, Sammy Baugh of Washington won his first Tunnell Vision Award.

1943NFLSammy BaughWashington1
1944NFLHowie LivingstonNew York Giants1
1945NFLBob WaterfieldLos Angeles Rams1
1946NFLBill DudleyPittsburgh Steelers1
1946AAFCKen CasanegaSan Francisco 49ers1
1947NFLFrank ReaganNew York Giants1
1947AAFCNed MathewsSan Francisco 49ers1
1948NFLEmlen TunnellNew York Giants1
1948AAFCEddie CarrSan Francisco 49ers1
1949NFLEmlen TunnellNew York Giants2
1949AAFCPete LaydenNew York Yankees1
1950NFLSpec SandersNew York Yanks1
1951NFLEmlen TunnellNew York Giants3
1952NFLEmlen TunnellNew York Giants4
1953NFLJack ChristiansenDetroit Lions1
1954NFLJack ChristiansenDetroit Lions2
1955NFLBobby DillonGreen Bay Packers1
1956NFLYale LaryDetroit Lions1
1957NFLJack ChristiansenDetroit Lions3
1958NFLJimmy PattonNew York Giants1
1959NFLJimmy PattonNew York Giants2
1960NFLJerry NortonNew York Giants1
1960AFLGoose GonsoulinDenver Broncos1
1961NFLJimmy PattonNew York Giants3
1961AFLCharlie McNeilSan Diego Chargers1
1962NFLRichie PetitbonChicago Bears1
1962AFLGoose GonsoulinDenver Broncos2
1963NFLRosey TaylorChicago Bears1
1963AFLFred GlickHouston Oilers1
1964NFLPaul KrauseWashington1
1964AFLRon HallBoston Patriots1
1965NFLWillie WoodGreen Bay Packers1
1965AFLGeorge SaimesBuffalo Bills1
1966NFLLarry WilsonChicago Cardinals1
1966AFLJohnny RobinsonKansas City Chiefs1
1967NFLWillie WoodGreen Bay Packers2
1967AFLTom JanikBuffalo Bills1
1968NFLLarry WilsonChicago Cardinals2
1968AFLDick AndersonMiami Dolphins1
1969NFLMel RenfroDallas Cowboys1
1969AFLDave GraysonOakland Raiders1
1970NFLJohnny RobinsonKansas City Chiefs2
1971NFLKen HoustonHouston Oilers1
1972NFLJake ScottMiami Dolphins1
1973NFLDick AndersonMiami Dolphins2
1974NFLJake ScottMiami Dolphins2
1975NFLPaul KrauseMinnesota Vikings2
1976NFLCliff HarrisDallas Cowboys1
1977NFLBill ThompsonDenver Broncos1
1978NFLCliff HarrisDallas Cowboys2
1979NFLMike ReinfeldtHouston Oilers1
1980NFLDonnie ShellPittsburgh Steelers1
1981NFLNolan CromwellLos Angeles Rams1
1982NFLKenny EasleySeattle Seahawks1
1983NFLKenny EasleySeattle Seahawks2
1984NFLKenny EasleySeattle Seahawks3
1985NFLDeron CherryKansas City Chiefs1
1986NFLRonnie LottSan Francisco 49ers1
1987NFLJoey BrownerMinnesota Vikings1
1988NFLDeron CherryKansas City Chiefs2
1989NFLTim McDonaldPhoenix Cardinals1
1990NFLJoey BrownerMinnesota Vikings2
1991NFLSteve AtwaterDenver Broncos1
1992NFLHenry JonesBuffalo Bills1
1993NFLLeRoy ButlerGreen Bay Packers1
1994NFLEric TurnerCleveland Browns1
1995NFLMerton HanksSan Francisco 49ers1
1996NFLLeRoy ButlerGreen Bay Packers2
1997NFLLeRoy ButlerGreen Bay Packers3
1998NFLLawyer MilloyNew England Patriots1
1999NFLBrian DawkinsPhiladelphia Eagles1
2000NFLRodney HarrisonSan Diego Chargers1
2001NFLBrian DawkinsPhiladelphia Eagles2
2002NFLBrian DawkinsPhiladelphia Eagles3
2003NFLEd ReedBaltimore Ravens1
2004NFLEd ReedBaltimore Ravens2
2005NFLTroy PolamaluPittsburgh Steelers1
2006NFLKerry RhodesNew York Jets1
2007NFLBob SandersIndianapolis Colts1
2008NFLTroy PolamaluPittsburgh Steelers2
2009NFLDarren SharperNew Orleans Saints1
2010NFLTroy PolamaluPittsburgh Steelers3
2011NFLTroy PolamaluPittsburgh Steelers4
2012NFLEric WeddleSan Diego Chargers1
2013NFLEarl ThomasSeattle Seahawks1
2014NFLDevin McCourtyNew England Patriots1
2015NFLTyrann MathieuArizona Cardinals1
2016NFLLandon CollinsNew York Giants1
2017NFLHarrison SmithMinnesota Vikings1

A few things.

Tunnell and Troy Polamalu lead all players with four awards apiece. The former was far and away the best of his era, and the latter was a great playmaker who who some awards because I liked his style.

The three-timers. Jack Christiansen was one of the greatest range safeties ever to play.2 Jimmy Patton, who had a short but incredibly high peak, was a terrific ball hawk who picked up big chunks of yardage after picking off passes. Kenny Easley and LeRoy Butler flew around all over the field making plays in coverage and at the line of scrimmage. Brian Dawkins may be the most well-balanced safety ever to play. He was adept when covering deep, intermediate, or short, he was solid against the run, and he was a deft blitzer.

It will probably surprise readers to see that two of the greatest safeties in history – men who I would put on my personal Rushmore of safeties – have little representation here. Ed Reed makes two appearances, and Ronnie Lott makes just one. In both cases, it is a matter of the two players never having down years and always playing consistently great, but also having an onslaught of competition from other safeties. During his prime, Lott consistently had to fend off Easley, Deron Cherry, Joey Browner, Leonard Smith, Tim McDonald, and Carnell Lake. He also faced great seasons from Michael Downs, Wes Hopkins, Vann McElroyStacey Toran, and Mark Kelso, just to name a few. Reed, for his part, overlapped both Polamalu and Dawkins, as well as Rodney Harrison, Kerry Rhodes, Bob Sanders, and a guy who I’ll leave unnamed.

So it’s not that I think Lott and Reed weren’t amazing. On the contrary, I think they are arguably the two best ever to man the safety position. It’s just that being the best doesn’t always mean having the most standout season. Don’t infer what isn’t implied.


  1. Even after working hard to name award winners, I am open to changing my mind based on new evidence.
  2. Along with, in my opinion, Nolan Cromwell, Ed Reed, and Earl Thomas.