A few weeks away from the first pre season game, let’s try to review some of the best safeties of the league.
The safety is the last man standing between the offense and the goal line. The last barricade.
The emergence of players like Earl Thomas, Eric Berry and Tyrann Mathieu have changed the way teams think about how to play with the secondary.
Lately, teams are putting great emphasis on finding play-making safeties. Those players are usually very versatile being able to cover slot receivers and tight ends on passing downs, but they also act as “box defenders” against the run. They usually have great communication skills and must see the big picture to anticipate any action from the offense.
So, without any further ado, here are the 10 top safeties coming into the 2019 season, in casual order so you can make your own ranking.
What is there to say about this player? He’s just crazy good. The Vikings have one of the biggest defensive weapons on their team to begin the 2019 season. His elite game against the Packers last season celebrated him as a true “team killer.” He did not have in 2018 the kind of ridiculous season he had in 2016, but still the level is very high. On 36 targets, Smith allowed 24 receptions for 336 yards, 90 yards after the catch, one touchdown, three interceptions, two pass breakups and an opponent passer rating of 71.1.
His versatility and athleticism along with his understanding on the field make him one of the most valuable assets of this 2019 Vikings team.
Earl Thomas III:
This fresh new Ravens safety was the most coveted safety during the offseason. The six-time Pro Bowler will have to stay healthy this year though if he wants to make a real impact in Baltimore. Coming off a broken leg with his former team, the Seattle Seahawks, Thomas signed a big four-year contract with the Ravens to bolster their defense.
It’s a relatively safe bet based on performance, as Thomas still has the intensity, field awareness and out-of-this-world speed to shut down just about any intermediate-to-deep route and the acceleration to negate shorter passes and runs.
Thomas is already on the practice field and has declared himself 100 percent ready. It will be exciting to see him do his magic on the field.
In his third year in the league, the LSU alum has become the center point of the Jets defense. In 2018, he allowed 24 catches on 48 targets for 291 yards, 122 yards after the catch, one touchdown, one interception, six pass breakups and an opponent passer rating of 67.3. He also had 94 tackles, 44 stops and three forced fumbles.
Adams made big improvements in coverage throughout the years, learning how to lock down opposing tight ends and other targets. And his improved ability was fully displayed last season against the Patriots, when he lined up against and completely shut down Rob Gronkowski.
What’s even more impressive is that Adams took a leadership role in the locker room at such a young age. Between his on-field performance and locker room leadership, Adams proved last season that he can be an elite player and so much more.
Jackson had an okay rookie season in 2017, but things really came together in 2018, when he became one of the best NFL’s best safeties. Last season, he allowed just 24 receptions on 44 targets for 256 yards, 158 yards after the catch, three touchdowns, six interceptions, eight pass breakups and an opponent passer rating of 54.9. He also had 45 tackles and 18 stops.
Jackson has a great intuition for the ball in intermediate and deep coverage, which allows him to often anticipate throws and routes.
Jackson is a real ball magnet in the secondary with superb instincts, awareness and range. He had eight interceptions in his first two NFL seasons, with three pick-sixes and a pair of scoop-and-score touchdowns.
Byard’s eight-interception season for the Titans in 2017 was remarkable, and even one-of-a-kind.
He followed up an impressive 2017 campaign with four more picks in 2018. He’s already acknowledged by the league to be one of the best safeties out there.
In 2018, Byard allowed 21 catches on 30 targets for 172 yards, 83 yards after the catch, one touchdown, two pass breakups and an opponent passer rating of 55.8. No one-trick pony, he also registered a sack, seven total quarterback pressures, 62 tackles and 17 stops.
Byard brings every possible attribute you want in a deep safety to the field. His speed and range are his best assets but he also has an impressive ability to read quarterback intentions and receiver routes. This gives him an edge as he is very athletic and he gets very close to the ball or receiver.
Signed this offseason by the Kansas City Chiefs, Tyrann Mathieu is a special player, combining excellent instinct and coverage skills. He can play as a rover near the line of scrimmage or patrol the deep half of the field. He can cover tight ends, running backs or wide receivers.
The Chiefs hope Mathieu’s football smarts and athletic ability help the team’s pass coverage, one of their weaknesses last year. In fact, Kansas City finished next to last in total defense and pass defense, even though it tied for the NFL lead in sacks. So they had to rethink completely their defense changing pretty much the whole staff.
And in 2019, at the center of this new rebuilt defense is Tyrann Mathieu.
Derwin James said he was going to be the best safety in the game before he was even drafted No. 17 overall by the Los Angeles Chargers in 2018. That is a whole lot of confidence.
Last season, James allowed 44 catches on 62 targets for 364 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions in his rookie campaign (with six pass breakups and an opponent passer rating of 76.3), but there is more to the story.
He is the total package. Young, productive, and impressive. The 6-foot-2 safety couldn’t have had a better rookie season in 2018. And still, he’s got lots of room to grow and figures to be the centerpiece of Los Angeles’ defense for years to come.
With the Buffalo Bills, Hyde played 201 snaps in the box last season, 120 snaps at slot defender and 523 snaps at free safety. Wherever Hyde lined up, he didn’t give much away — he was targeted 30 times, allowing 20 receptions for 179 yards, 58 yards after the catch, two interceptions and three pass breakups.
After a harsh beginning in the NFL with the Packers playing cornerback, he completely exploded as a safety with the Bills.
Hyde’s work at the back end of the Bills’ defense has quite simply been the best in the league over the last two seasons since Hyde’s overall grade of 91.6 at the position beats out a number of safety superstars, players like Earl Thomas, Eddie Jackson and Kevin Byard.
Safeties like Hyde who excel at two or three positions give their defensive coordinators new and rare flexibility in deploying their other defenders. It’s a priceless set of skills.
With three Pro Bowl nods to his name, Landon Collins, freshly landed in Washington, is a star player.
Collins struggled in his rookie year but immediately followed up with a champion sophomore year producing an elite 92.5 grade in 2016. Collins delivers against both the run and pass, and is the only safety in the NFL who can claim to have produced a PFF grade of 80.0 or higher in each of the past two seasons both in coverage and in run defense.
Great numbers in 2018 plus a thirst to get “revenge” against his former team, the New York Giants, could bring him to the top of the safety rankings by the end of the 2019 season.
The Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins has improved dramatically when he joined Philly in 2014. His ability to play safety and cover from the slot helped him to excel at his position.
It should be noted that the 31-year-old has seen virtually no drop-off in his play. Jenkins suited up for all 16 regular-season games in 2018 and his 97 total tackles were the second-highest mark of his career. In addition, Jenkins’ 10 total tackles in the playoff loss to New Orleans led the entire team. He was also a force to be reckoned with in stopping the run last season.
Even if he’s not the youngest guy on this list, Jenkins sure is very talented and has a few more good years to come.