While the 2021 NFL season is still a few months away, it’s never too early to look ahead. Fanbases will argue day and night about who has the better team. Instead of debating the entire roster, why not debate positions? In the 10th part of a 12-part series, I will rank each team’s safety position. These rankings are a combination of what the player has done over the entirety of their career, how they performed last season, and projecting how they will play this upcoming season.
Be sure to check out all of Moran’s NFL Positional Rankings.
1. Buffalo Bills
Entering 2021, the Bills have the best safety duo in football. In 2017, the Bills signed both Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer as free agents. Hyde and Poyer have been everything that the Bills could have asked for. They are interchangeable safeties. Both have been instrumental in turning the culture of the Bills around. They are each top-caliber safeties and Pro Bowl level talents. Hyde and Poyer are big reasons why the Bills have a great chance this year.
2. Green Bay Packers
In the 2019 offseason, the Packers completely overhauled their defense. Two safeties were crucial in that. The team signed Adrian Amos to a four-year contract in free agency. Later on that offseason, the Packers selected Darnell Savage in the first round of the draft. Both Amos and Savage have been great for the Packers. As a tandem, they are right behind Hyde and Poyer. In 2021, Amos and Savage will continue their great play and help the Packers’ defense.
3. Seattle Seahawks
Jamal Adams is a top-caliber strong safety. At free safety, Quandre Diggs has been very good the past few years. Adams and Diggs make for a strong duo. In 2021, Adams does need to play better. This seems doable as he is a special blitzer, athlete, and is very physical. Diggs, meanwhile, has been exceptional for the Seahawks since they acquired him in a trade. Several positions on the Seahawks are currently very concerning. It will be important for Adams and Diggs to be reliable contributors to this unit.
4. New York Giants
The Giants have four players at safety who should all have roles. Logan Ryan was a great addition for the Giants late last offseason. He brings coverage ability to this unit. Since being added through a trade, Jabrill Peppers has been solid for the Giants. He brings speed, athletic ability, and versatility to this secondary. It will be exciting to see Xavier McKinney healthy. He is a talented prospect who should help. Julian Love is a good defensive back. He brings versatility with his ability in coverage. These four make for a great group.
5. Cleveland Browns
Entering the 2021 season, the Browns have three safeties who should contribute. The team made a great signing in free agency in John Johnson III. He is an elite safety and a complete player. Johnson will greatly improve this Browns defense. Last year, the Browns added Ronnie Harrison Jr. in a trade. Harrison is a solid safety. The Browns will be getting their second-round draft pick from last year back healthy. Grant Delpit did some great things in college and should bring something to this unit in 2021.
6. Denver Broncos
The Broncos have arguably the best safety in the NFL, Justin Simmons. After playing last season on the franchise tag, the Broncos made the right decision to re-sign Simmons to a four-year contract. Simmons has great length and speed as a free safety. The team also brought Kareem Jackson back this offseason. He is older, but Jackson is still a good player and very physical. Rookie draft picks Jamar Johnson and Caden Sterns provide depth.
7. Washington Football Team
Washington has a very strong one-two punch at safety. Landon Collins was a big free-agent signing recently for the team. This season, the talented safety will be back healthy, which will help the defense. As a rookie seventh-round draft pick, Kamren Curl had a very good year. This season, expect Curl to continue to improve. Collins and Curl should both be great for Washington this season.
8. Indianapolis Colts
Going into 2021, the Colts have two talented and young safeties. Julian Blackmon was selected in the third round of the draft last year and had a Defensive Rookie of the Year-caliber season at free safety. Expect Blackmon to continue to ascend into one of the best free safeties in the game. Entering his third year with the Colts is strong safety Khari Willis. Willis is an underrated football player. Blackmon and Willis complement one another well. They should continue to build on what they have already done as young players.
9. Pittsburgh Steelers
Minkah Fitzpatrick is potentially the best safety currently in football. He has all the tools one could ask for in a free safety. Fitzpatrick possesses length, speed, and ball skills. He makes a ton of plays in the secondary. Former first-round draft pick Terrell Edmunds is a solid player at strong safety. He did not have his fifth-year option picked up this offseason. That could lead to a more motivated Edmunds and possibly his best play yet. Fitzpatrick and Edmunds combined should make for a top-caliber safety duo.
10. New England Patriots
Long-time Patriot Devin McCourty is still a very good football player. He is smart and capable of making impact plays in the secondary. Second-year player Kyle Dugger is an underrated breakout candidate. He has the talent and provides great versatility. This season, he will have a bigger role and be effective. Adrian Phillips is a solid veteran player who brings physicality. These three have the chance to be a very good group.
11. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals have a top-flight safety in football in Jessie Bates. Bates is right there with Simmons and Fitzpatrick as the best. He has length and great range at free safety. In 2021, Bates will make a ton of plays for the Bengals. Last offseason, the Bengals signed Vonn Bell to be their strong safety. Bell is a solid player who brings a physical aspect to their secondary. This offseason, the Bengals acquired Ricardo Allen. He projects to be their third safety and should make for a good one. Allen has a ton of experience in the league.
12. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have a great player at safety in Tyrann Mathieu. He is a tone-setter for their defense and is a physical player with great coverage ability. In 2021, expect another fantastic year from Mathieu. Entering his third year with the Chiefs is free safety Juan Thornhill, who has done some good things so far. This season, he should take the next step as a player. Daniel Sorensen is their third safety and gets a ton of playing time. This trio is a very good one.
13. Minnesota Vikings
Harrison Smith is a great safety who can do everything. He is a big player and physical. Smith can also create turnovers. In 2021, expect Smith to remain at the top of the safety position in football. This offseason, the Vikings signed Xavier Woods in free agency. Throughout his career, Woods has been up and down. Hopefully, he gives the Vikings a good year of production. The two have the potential to be an above-average tandem.
14. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers have a great safety in Jimmie Ward. Ward can do it all in the secondary with his versatility. He is best at free safety. Ward is a very sure tackler and good in coverage. This offseason, the 49ers re-signed Jaquiski Tartt to a one-year deal. Tartt is a physical player with good size. In the past, as a third safety, Tarvarius Moore has proven he can be effective. This offseason, the 49ers solidified their depth in both free agency and the draft by adding Tavon Wilson and Talanoa Hufanga. It will be interesting to see how the 49ers deploy Hufanga. in his rookie season.
15. Los Angeles Rams
Entering the 2021 season, the Rams have three young safeties who will all be expected to contribute. As a rookie, Jordan Fuller played exceptionally well. Fuller was a late-round pick who started right away. He made plays for the best defense in football a year ago. This year, expect Fuller to keep up his great play. Third-year player Taylor Rapp should get back to his rookie year form. Rapp is a talented player who is physical and can make plays around the line of scrimmage. In his second season, Terrell Burgess should get more reps. Burgess was drafted in the third round last year. Fuller, Rapp, and Burgess should help the Rams’ defense remain close to the best.
16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Antoine Winfield Jr. had a great rookie season. Winfield is a talented football player. In his first year, he had a role right away and made his impact felt for the Buccaneers. In his second season, anticipate Winfield continuing to grow. Jordan Whitehead is a solid player in the Buccaneers’ secondary. Winfield and Whitehead are two young players who have contributed and still have the potential to improve.
17. New York Jets
Last season, Marcus Maye was one of the better safeties in football. Maye was healthy and had his best season with the Jets. It will be interesting to see how he is utilized in this new scheme. Still, expect Maye to play great football for the Jets. In free agency, the Jets signed a versatile player in Lamarcus Joyner. Expect Joyner to bounce back now that he will be deployed where he is best at safety. He can also help in man-to-man coverage. In his second season, expect Ashtyn Davis to take on a bigger role. Davis has exceptional athletic ability. Maye, Joyner, and Davis could end up being a very good group.
18. Arizona Cardinals
Budda Baker is a great football player and ranks near the top of the safety position in the league. Baker is in his prime as a player. In 2021, expect another fantastic season from him. It will be interesting to see who ends up playing as the other starting safety. The competition looks to be between Jalen Thompson and Deionte Thompson. Playing alongside Baker will make it easier for either one.
19. Carolina Panthers
As a rookie, Jeremy Chinn had a phenomenal year. Chinn is a big player who provides positional flexibility. He has all the talent needed to be one of the best and should continue to grow in Year 2. Last offseason, the Panthers acquired Juston Burris as a free agent. Burris is a solid player who should work well with Chinn this season.
20. Los Angeles Chargers
Hopefully, Derwin James can remain healthy this season. James is a special talent and superstar when he is on the field. James has the length and athletic ability to be one of the best. This season, he will make a difference on defense. Nasir Adderley will start alongside James and likely play the free safety position. Adderley is a talented prospect heading into his third NFL season.
21. Tennessee Titans
The Titans have had one of the better safeties in the game for some time now in Kevin Byard. He ranks near the top at the free safety position. Byard can make a ton of plays on the football in coverage. Entering his third season is Amani Hooker. This year, Hooker should take on his biggest role yet with the Titans. Expect Hooker to play well. Byard and Hooker should have productive seasons.
22. New Orleans Saints
This offseason, the Saints placed the franchise tag on their free safety, Marcus Williams. Williams is a very young player who can make plays and should have a stellar season. Malcolm Jenkins did not have a great season last year. He is older now so it will be interesting to see if he can bounce back. These two combined could be around an average tandem.
23. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars made a savvy free-agent signing in Rayshawn Jenkins. He is a physical player who will help this Jaguars defense. Jarrod Wilson is an underrated player who will contribute. In the draft, the Jaguars selected a true free safety in Andre Cisco. Cisco is a talented, young prospect. All three of these players will be counted upon. Combined, they should have fairly productive seasons.
24. Baltimore Ravens
Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott have proven they are capable of playing well for the Ravens. Clark is entering his fifth season with the team. He does not make a ton of plays on the football in the air but is a sure-tackler. Elliott will start at free safety. With a full offseason knowing he will be the starter now, expect Elliott to improve.
25. Chicago Bears
Eddie Jackson is a very good safety. This season, he will remain a core piece to this defense. Hopefully, his interception amount can get back to where it was in 2018. This offseason, the Bears re-signed Tashaun Gipson. Gipson has had a successful career. Last season, he was a solid contributor. Going forward, it will be vital for Jackson and Jackson to lead their young secondary.
26. Miami Dolphins
Entering the 2021 season, three safeties should have roles in this Dolphins secondary. The veteran of this group is a versatile defensive back, Eric Rowe. Rowe is effective in coverage. Over the last two drafts, the Dolphins have added Brandon Jones and Jevon Holland. Jones had an underrated rookie year and should continue to improve. Holland was drafted early in the second round this year. He should have an impactful role right away.
27. Houston Texans
The Texans added a ton of veteran depth across their roster this offseason as they prepare for a long year. However, safety was one position not addressed in any drastic way. The Texans’ safety tandem will feature Justin Reid and Eric Murray. Throughout his first three years, Reid has been a very good player for the Texans. It will be interesting to see how Murray plays this season.
28. Dallas Cowboys
It will be exciting to see Donovan Wilson have the opportunity to build on what he showed last season. Wilson proved he can be a good contributor to the Cowboys’ defense. This offseason, the Cowboys signed Damontae Kazee in free agency. Kazee has familiarity with the scheme as he makes this move with his former head coach, Dan Quinn. Just recently, the Cowboys added Malik Hooker. Hopefully, Hooker can remain healthy. If so, he can help. Hooker is a true free safety with his range.
29. Philadelphia Eagles
Rodney McLeod is an older player now. It will be interesting to see what he has left this season. The Eagles had a need with their other starting safety position this offseason. Later on in the offseason process, they signed Anthony Harris to a one-year deal. Harris had a great 2019 season so perhaps he can get back to that form. This Eagles’ secondary has a lot to prove.
30. Las Vegas Raiders
Entering his third year, Johnathan Abram might finally live up to his first-round draft status. Unfortunately, he had an injury in his rookie year. Last season, Abram was not a great asset to the Raiders’ defense. As a physical player, it would be ideal to simply put Abram in a position to maximize his skill set as a box safety. In the second round of the draft, the Raiders selected Trevon Moehrig-Woodard. He is a talented prospect who should be expected to contribute right away. The team also brought back Karl Joseph.
31. Detroit Lions
To this point, neither Tracy Walker nor Will Harris has proven to be much of a factor. Perhaps in a new scheme this season they can perform their best yet. The Lions also signed Dean Marlowe, who proved with the Bills that he can be an effective third safety. He should take on a sizable role. As a whole, this group has a lot to prove.
32. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons lost all three of their safeties from last year in the offseason. All three were with the team for many years. In the draft, the Falcons spent their second-round selection on Richie Grant. Grant is a talented prospect who should play right away. The team also acquired two veterans in free agency in Duron Harmon and Erik Harris. As of now, this group does not look like it will make a positive difference.
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