B/R NFL 1,000: A Scout's Guide to Grading Safeties

Matt MillerNFL Draft Lead WriterMarch 23, 2012

When scouting a safety, be it free or strong, you have to take into account the scheme each team is running and then adjust for their needs. It's one of the more fun parts of the job, matching scheme with ability.

To play strong safety in the NFL you need to be, well, strong. A free safety often drops back into deep coverage, away from the action of the run game. A strong safety is coming up to lay the wood against running backs, while a free safety is generally more athletic and better at tracking the ball.

What are we looking for in a safety? Here's a breakdown of each trait. Check out the B/R NFL 1,000 to see our rankings of today's NFL strong safeties and of the free safeties. Keep in mind that while some players move between the two positions from year to year or even game to game, we are ranking them according to which position they played more of in 2011.



A safety must have the quickness and balance to change direction as a runner, tackler and coverage man. 


Run Defense

Put simply, how well the player attacks the run, taking on blockers and bringing down the ball carrier.



A ranking not of how often a player blitzes, but what he does when asked to bring down the quarterback.



A judge of how well the player moves in space. Closing on the ball in the air and taking the right angle to the ball when it's on the ground.



A combination of man and zone coverage, we are looking at how well the safety does at preventing quarterbacks from throwing to the man he's covering.



This one is simple—not how many tackles does the safety produce, but how well does he tackle when asked to do it.


Ball Skills

A grade of the player's ability to create turnovers (interceptions, fumbles) and defend the ball in the air.



Burst, acceleration and speed all rolled into one handy category.


Completion Percentage

Similar to coverage, but this looks at how well the safety defends the ball when it's thrown to the man he's covering (while coverage is how well the safety does at preventing attempts). 



A player's 2011 injury status. Not only looking at actual injuries, but time missed due to injury.



The cumulative score of the 10 traits above, all wrapped up in one score. This sets the player's place in the position ranking and, ultimately, in the B/R NFL 1,000 ranking across all positions.