Ed Reed is the greatest NFL thief of all time

This is an easy week to glorify quarterbacks after an NFL-record four of them topped the 400-passing yards mark to start the season, including the 517 from New England's Tom Brady (notes) on Monday night.

However, it would be an awful oversight to not take a few hundred words to glorify Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed (notes) , who might be the best ever when it comes to taking the ball from those great throwers. Yes, best ever. Better than Paul Krause and his 81 picks or Emlen Tunnell and his 79. Better than Rod Woodson and his 71 from two different positions.

On Sunday against Pittsburgh, Reed led the way for the Ravens with two interceptions against Ben Roethlisberger (notes) . Reed came within a diving drop of getting a third pick, but still finished with multiple interceptions for the 12th time in his career. That's the most of any player since the start of the Super Bowl era, breaking a tie with Ronnie Lott. Reed has 56 picks in his career and moved into a tie for 16th with Lem Barney and Pat Fischer on the all-time list. By the end of the season, Reed has a chance to move way up. There's currently a five-way tie for the next spot at 57 and Emmitt Thomas is 10th with 58. After that, it jumps to Dick LeBeau and Dave Brown with 62 each and Lott and Darren Sharper (notes) at 63.

In contrast, Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu (notes) , considered the best safety not-named Ed Reed of this era, is tied for 246th with 27 interceptions.

But the raw numbers only begin to tell the story. Understand that Reed has gotten there faster than just about anyone, getting those interceptions in only 129 regular-season games. That is the fewest of all but one (Bobby Boyd) of the 18 players with 56 or more. Barney played in 140 games, Johnny Robinson (57 interceptions) played in 164 and Tunnell played in 167.

Others took a lot longer to compile their impressive pick total. Krause, for instance, played in 226 games and Woodson played in 238. Eugene Robinson, who is among those just ahead of Reed with 57 picks, played in nearly twice as many games (250) as the Baltimore safety.

Furthermore, Reed is playing at a time when it's harder than ever to get an interception. While the NFL is much more of a passing league, a big reason is that throwing is safer than ever.

In 1960, when Tunnell was playing his second-to-last season, the NFL averaged one interception every 15 throws (there were 274 interceptions on 4,114 attempts for the season). By 2010, that rate dropped to one interception every 33.8 throws (511 interceptions in 17,269 attempts). The reasons are ample, from the greater use of spread formations and short passing to the improvement in quarterback play. Bottom line, getting a pick takes much greater skill today than ever.

"What distinguishes Ed is that I think he understands concepts and reads quarterbacks better than just about anyone," said former NFL quarterback and current NFL Network analyst Kurt Warner (notes) , who played one full game against Reed and Baltimore in his career in 2007. "Even when I knew where I was going to throw, I had to always use my eyes &helip; give a little extra to Ed to make sure he didn't anticipate where I was going."

Warner also talked about Reed's ability to jump routes faster than most others. Fellow former quarterback Chad Pennington (notes) got a taste of that in the 2008 playoffs when Reed nabbed two of his throws in a victory over Miami. The second was a lightning-fast move by Reed across the face of the defense in the red zone.

"He shut the window like this," Pennington said as he snapped his fingers. "It was like he was running the route, not the receiver. When somebody gets on top of a route that fast, you really shake your head and say, ‘How did he do that?' "

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