Earl Thomas' 2016 season was cut short by a broken leg, the first significant injury of his NFL career, and being away from the game had an impact on the Seahawks' All-Pro safety. Thomas briefly even contemplated retirement, but he returned for the 2017 season with a renewed passion for the game.
"I got my full love back," Thomas said before the start of last season. "I love it even more. It's hard to find words for it."
With his "full love back" and a healthy leg, Thomas was back to being one of the best players in the NFL, earning Pro-Bowl honors for the sixth time in his career as well as second-team All-Pro honors, marking the fifth time he has been named an All-Pro. On Monday, Thomas added another individual honor, checking in at No. 42 on this year's NFL Network Top 100 Players list. This marks the seventh straight season that Thomas has been on the Top 100 list (No. 30 in 2017; No. 66 in 2016; No. 21 in 2015; No. 17 in 2014; No. 66 in 2013; and No. 66 in 2012).
In 14 games last season, Thomas recorded 88 tackles, seven passes defensed, two interceptions and a forced fumble. He was responsible for two of Seattle's biggest defensive plays of the season, a 78-yard interception return for a touchdown in a win over Houston, and a forced fumble at the goal line in a win at Los Angeles.
"It's just another phenomenal statement about the guy's will to win, his grit, his competitiveness," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said after Thomas’ big play helped secure a win over the Rams. "He will just never let up. He keeps on battling. It is who Earl is, so I love that he has had those moments where he has illustrated in such unique fashion that he can do those type of things. He's just an extraordinary player."
And as has been the case throughout Thomas' career, his value showed not just in big plays such as the touchdown he scored against the Texans and the one he prevented against the Rams, but also in the big plays that didn't happen because of his presence on the back end of Seattle's defense.
"It's enormous," Carroll once said of Thomas’ role in Seattle’s defense. "It's an extraordinarily significant role. Post routes and seam routes, those happen in football a lot and, you don't see it happen much over the years. You can probably count them on one hand if there's that many. That's because he's been so disciplined and so strict about it… He has been really phenomenal. It's very subtle because you don't get any points for that, but when they just don't happen and they don't happen, it's a big deal."
Here's the full list of players unveiled this week:
50. Deshaun Watson – Houston Texans, QB
49. Darius Slay – Detroit Lions, CB
48. Cameron Heyward – Pittsburgh Steelers, DE
47. Ryan Shazier – Pittsburgh Steelers, LB
46. Harrison Smith – Minnesota Vikings, S
45. Davante Adams – Green Bay Packers, WR
44. David DeCastro – Pittsburgh Steelers, OG
43. Mark Ingram – New Orleans Saints, RB
42. Earl Thomas – Seattle Seahawks, S
41. Keenan Allen – Los Angeles Chargers, WR