B/R NFL 1000 2013: Top 75 Safeties
If every NFL roster were blown up and you had to start a team over from scratch with the goal of winning right now, which two safeties would you want?
That’s the idea behind the NFL 1,000 series. We’re not ranking players based on tackles, interceptions or Pro Bowls. Sure, those things factor in, but this is a scouting exercise. Our team of experienced scouts and I have watched film on the top 85 safeties in the NFL last season and narrowed that list down to give you the top 75 players in the league from the 2012 season.
Safeties were evaluated on four weighted criteria—coverage (40 points), run defense (15), tackling (20) and speed (25).
In the case of ties, I have asked myself, "Which player would I rather have on my team?" and set the rankings accordingly. Subjective? Yes. But ties are no fun.
The following scouting reports and grades are the work of months of film study from our team.
75-71. Griffin, Allen, Silva, Coleman, Hagg
Coverage: 14/40, Run Defense: 4/15, Tackle: 8/20, Speed: 21/25
A former first-round pick, Michael Griffin didn’t live up to those expectations in 2012. Griffin struggled in man and zone coverage, allowing too many yards in the passing game, missing too many tackles and surrendering too many scores. His four interceptions don’t hide the fact that he was overmatched by the demands of the job.
Last year's ranking: 25.
Coverage: 17/40, Run Defense: 4/15, Tackle: 7/20, Speed: 19/25
Nate Allen struggled in 2012 to make plays in coverage or make tackles when beaten for a catch. He missed too many tackles with poor effort and bad angles in pursuit. Allen simply didn’t show the cover skills or playmaking ability to be a starting free safety. He has a lot of developmental work to do in reading and recognizing plays and moving on time to impact the offense.
Last year's ranking: 19.
Coverage: 21/40, Run Defense: 5/15, Tackle: 6/20, Speed: 16/25
A big, physical safety, Ricardo Silva was a sometimes-starter for the Lions in 2012 and showed promise, but a lack of awareness and experience hurt his play. Silva struggled to read and react in the run game and lacks the speed to recover if he's late in his reads. Silva was average in coverage, but he showed promise in man coverage thanks to his size and reach. There’s potential here, but Silva remains a developmental prospect.
Last year's ranking: N/A.
Coverage: 21/40, Run Defense: 5/15, Tackle: 7/20, Speed: 16/25
A part-time starter in 2012, Erik Coleman saw a drop-off in his range and in his ability to make an impact in the run game. Coleman has versatility to play both free safety and strong safety, but he missed far too many tackles last season while giving up too many yards per catch. Coleman still shows good instincts in coverage, but he doesn’t have the speed to keep up in man coverage or to patrol a deep zone.
Last year's ranking: N/A.
Coverage: 22/40, Run Defense: 6/15, Tackle: 5/20, Speed: 16/25
The Cleveland Browns rolled Eric Hagg out as a free safety, strong safety and cornerback in 2012. He started and played in reserve. That versatility is valuable for this developing player. Hagg didn’t show himself to be an overly strong tackler, missing on attempts and struggling to get into position for others. He was average in coverage, as he lacks the speed to run with receivers. Hagg will give up a high number of completions, but he does a good job in limiting big plays.
Last year's ranking: N/A.
70-66. Black, Dahl, McCray, Giordano, Rolle
Coverage: 25/40, Run Defense: 4/15, Tackle: 8/20, Speed: 14/25
A small free safety with limited range, Ahmad Black doesn’t bring much pop in the run game or as a tackler. Black does well in coverage if he’s in a zone, but when put in man coverage, he’s not big enough or fast enough to make positive plays. Black will limit scores and does a good job securing tackles when in position. There’s upside here for Black as a backup safety.
Last year's ranking: N/A.
Coverage: 22/40, Run Defense: 4/15, Tackle: 7/20, Speed: 18/25
Missed tackles were a problem for Craig Dahl last season, as he struggled to maintain contact and bring down ball-carriers. Dahl didn’t show up in run support and was a weak link there too. Dahl does have above-average speed and can track the ball in coverage. He allowed just one touchdown in coverage, but he was beaten up underneath for catches and yards after the catch. Dahl didn’t surrender big plays over the top, but opposing quarterbacks picked him apart for chain-moving plays.
Last year's ranking: N/A.
Coverage: 20/40, Run Defense: 5/15, Tackle: 6/20, Speed: 21/25
A starting strong safety for Dallas throughout much of the season, Danny McCray had his ups and downs. As an athlete, there’s potential here. McCray shows good speed in getting from Point A to Point B in coverage. He doesn’t show great reaction time to the run and can struggle with identifying where the ball is. McCray isn’t a strong tackler, and he will give runners a second chance with missed tackles.
Last year's ranking: N/A.
Coverage: 21/40, Run Defense: 5/15, Tackle: 7/20, Speed: 20/25
Raiders safety Matt Giordano has very good speed and range for the position, but he gets caught up in the fundamentals of the game. Giordano isn’t a strong tackler. He’s able to fly into the box to make plays, but he doesn’t have the tackling skills to bring down runners. In coverage he’ll allow a lot of receptions when targeted. Giordano is a player who gives up too many scores for the number of times he’s matched up against in coverage.
Last year's ranking: 29.
Coverage: 17/40, Run Defense: 8/15, Tackle: 8/20, Speed: 20/25
Giants fans will tell you that Antrel Rolle wasn’t used right in 2011 and 2012. But in both seasons, we saw an overrated player struggling in coverage (man or zone) and in run support. Rolle allowed over 72 percent of passes thrown his way to be completed, giving up over 10 yards per catch. Add in the yards after catch due to his many missed tackles, and it’s easy to see why Rolle has ranked so low in each NFL 1,000 series.
Last year's ranking: 63.
65-61. Prosinski, Allen, Gomes, Williams, Lynch
Coverage: 19/40, Run Defense: 5/15, Tackle: 6/20, Speed: 23/25
A speedy prospect at safety entering his third season, Prosinski didn’t show the awareness to be an asset in coverage. He’s quick enough to stick with receivers and tight ends, but his change-of-direction skills aren’t there. In the run game, Prosinski missed too many tackles and took himself out of plays too often with poor angles to the ball-carrier.
Last year's ranking: N/A.
Coverage: 23/40, Run Defense: 6/15, Tackle: 6/20, Speed 19/25
The former Ohio State product hasn’t developed into a quality starter, and his 2012 season saw him step into a role as a reserve at both free safety and strong safety. Allen rarely makes stops in the run game, with most of his tackles on the year coming as clean-up tackles and assists. He played mostly in a loose zone coverage last season and was a passing-down-only type of player outside of his special teams work. That’s likely his role moving forward.
Last year's ranking: N/A.
Coverage: 25/40, Run Defense: 5/15, Tackle: 6/20, Speed 19/25
It’s fitting that all three of Washington's safeties are ranked low, as this is the team’s biggest need. As the team’s reserve strong safety, Gomes is a young player with potential and good athletic ability. But missed tackles and invisibility against the run keep his score low. He does show the most promise of any safety the Redskins carried in 2012.
Last year's ranking: N/A.
Coverage: 23/40, Run Defense: 5/15, Tackle: 7/20, Speed 20/25
A savvy veteran safety, Madieu Williams was hurt by poor play around him in the secondary while in coverage. But on running downs and when asked to tackle, he was on his own and struggled still. Williams missed as many tackles this season as any safety we charted, highlighting a big problem in the Washington secondary.
Last year's ranking: N/A.
Coverage: 24/40, Run Defense: 7/15, Tackle: 7/20, Speed 17/25
With two interceptions on the year, Corey Lynch made positive plays. It was his missed tackles and struggles to limit deep passes that kept him in a reserve role with the Chargers. Lynch is a good third option at safety, but he won’t be making a push into the starting lineup until he can better lock up tight ends in coverage.
Last year's ranking: N/A.
60-56. Doughty, Bell, Landry, Sensabaugh, Crocker
Coverage: 22/40, Run Defense: 6/15, Tackle: 13/20, Speed 15/25
A backup safety thrust into a starting role in 2012, Reed Doughty doesn’t have the speed to be fluid or versatile in coverage. While he does show up as a good open-field tackler, Doughty made most of his stops after allowing a catch. He wasn’t a factor in the run game and looks to be a better No. 3 safety than starter.
Last year's ranking: N/A.
Coverage: 23/40, Run Defense: 5/15, Tackle: 10/20, Speed 18/25
Yeremiah Bell really struggled last season giving up big play after big play. He doesn’t have the range or closing speed to make up for his plays where he is out of position. Bell is a good but not great tackler and will whiff on too many attempts. He is a little slow to react but will make more big plays in the run game than he will against the pass.
Last year's ranking: 29.
Coverage: 20/40, Run Defense: 8/15, Tackle: 12/20, Speed 16/25
Allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 75 percent of their passes in his area, Dawan Landry lacks the speed and reaction time to be effective against the pass. Landry is a solid tackler who does a nice job of finishing most of his tackles but will let the occasional one get away. He is much more comfortable in the box against the run or blitzing off the edge than he is in pass coverage.
Last year's ranking: 61.
Coverage: 24/40, Run Defense: 4/15, Tackle: 7/20, Speed 21/25
Lacking any sort of big-play ability last season, Gerald Sensabaugh finished the year forcing only one fumble and came away with zero interceptions. He has great speed for the position, but he lacks ideal instincts and will too often be out of position. Sensabaugh is a solid tackler, though he doesn’t always show good form, which leads to a lot of missed tackles.
Last year's ranking: 13.
Coverage: 24/40, Run Defense: 6/15, Tackle: 8/20, Speed 18/25
One of the the better zone-coverage safeties in the league, Chris Crocker relies on his read-and-reaction skills to protect the back end of the Bengals defense. His ability to be in the right place makes up for his lack of speed and quickness. Crocker isn’t the kind of safety who is going to make a lot of plays in the run game. He tries to make too many arm tackles instead of wrapping up and driving the ball-carrier to the ground.
Last year's ranking: 47.
55-51. Conte, Godfrey, Brown, Gregory, McMillian
Coverage: 24/40, Run Defense: 5/15, Tackle: 8/20, Speed 19/25
Chris Conte improved in his coverage skills last season, but he still lacks the speed and agility to be a major factor against the pass. Conte can make plays in the box, but he tends to struggle a little when he tries to make tackles in space. Conte is the type of player who can make the average play, but he isn’t going to do anything remarkable.
Last year's ranking: 54.
Coverage: 22/40, Run Defense: 3/15, Tackle: 9/20, Speed 22/25
Charles Godfrey possesses great speed for a safety, but he lacks the instinct and awareness to consistently make big plays. Godfrey shows good recognition skills and does a decent job of reading the quarterback’s eyes. He misses too many tackles and will try to go for a big hit instead of wrapping up. His poor tackling makes him a liability against the run.
Last year's ranking: N/A.
Coverage: 26/40, Run Defense: 5/15, Tackle: 7/20, Speed 19/25
An average athlete who doesn’t show up in run support or when tasked with making open-field tackles, Stevie Brown is a coverage free safety who struggled in coverage while racking up eight interceptions on the year. Outside of those eight plays, Brown didn’t perform well, allowing over 65 percent of passes thrown his way completed. Missed tackles hurt Brown’s overall score and kept him ranked among the bottom of all safeties.
Last year's ranking: N/A.
Coverage: 25/40, Run Defense: 6/15, Tackle: 7/20, Speed 20/25
A safe pickup for the Patriots last season, Steve Gregory is versatile enough to play as a starting free safety or strong safety. His above-average speed and awareness make him a tough player to beat in zone coverage. When asked to play man-to-man, he was exposed in 2012. Gregory is ideally a better fit as a nickel- and/or dime-package safety.
Last year's ranking: 26.
Coverage: 25/40, Run Defense: 6/15, Tackle: 6/20, Speed 21/25
A reserve safety in Green Bay as a rookie, Jerron McMillian played well for a first-year guy thrown into the mix. The key with McMillian is potential and development—and some patience. He got beat up in coverage last season for high-percentage completions by playing too far off the man. He closes on the ball well, though, and has the size to bang in man coverage underneath once he gets his technique cleaned up. Don’t let the grade get you down too much; McMillian had a good rookie season for a player who needed development.
Last year's ranking: N/A.
50. Haruki Nakamura, Carolina Panthers
A solid coverage free safety, Haruki Nakamura did limit targets and receptions last season in coverage, but he allowed big yards when throw at. Nakamura was largely matched up in zone coverage and not specifically targeted by the opposition, but his placement in that zone dictated what quarterbacks could do. And opposing quarterbacks didn’t struggle against Nakamura or Carolina’s pass defense.
Nakamura wasn’t an impact against the run from a scouting perspective. He was on the field often in run situations but was a pass-first read who didn’t show good instincts to read and shut down the run.
Too many missed tackles showed up on film from Nakamura, especially compared with the tackles he did make. Nakamura doesn’t show the ability to be a consistent tackler in space.
While not a burner, Nakamura has enough speed to be a positive player in space. He won’t catch top-end guys from behind, but he’s quick enough.
A better fit as a No. 3 safety moving forward, Nakamura shows strong open-field tackling skills and can be good in zone coverage. He’s hitting his peak as a player, though, and doesn’t have much room to grow.
Nakamura was not ranked in last year's B/R 1,000.
49. Tom Zbikowski, Indianapolis Colts
An injury carved out five weeks of Tom Zbikowski’s 2012 season, but not before he had his best year yet. Zbikowski plays more like a strong safety, but he was pushed into a free safety role in Indianapolis. He would be better off playing down in the box and less in deep coverage, where his overaggressive style of play can create mistakes. Zbikowski doesn’t show the range to plant and run across the field to make plays on the ball.
Zbikowski should be a better run defender than his tape showed, but he was naturally put out of position at free safety to make a play on the ball. As a pass-first read, Zbikowski was backpedaling instead of attacking the alleys to stop the run.
A punishing tackler, Zbikowski has a tendency to go for big hits instead of a safe tackle.
A lack of speed doesn’t hurt Zbikowski, but he can be stiff when asked to change directions. His straight-line quicks are good enough for him to be a player in pursuit.
A physical, tough safety who is much better suited to be down in the box, Zbikowski was miscast in the Indianapolis defense in 2012. His future is as a No. 3 safety and stud special teams player.
Zbikowski was not ranked in last year's B/R 1,000.
48. Antoine Bethea, Indianapolis Colts
In 17 games during the 2012 season, Antoine Bethea didn’t surrender a touchdown or intercept a pass. In the Colts defense, Bethea wasn’t often matched up in man coverage, which limited targets. When targeted, catches were largely completed for big yards (16.8 yards per catch). Bethea employed a bend-but-don’t-break coverage technique last season.
A weak defender against the run, Bethea didn’t make positive plays on the ball in the games we scouted. Bethea shied away from contact when runners were coming at him and overall took poor angles to the run.
As poor as he was in run support, Bethea made a lot of tackles in the passing game. He just wasn’t efficient underneath. Missed tackles did add up for Bethea, but he was productive in space.
Bethea has speed; it just doesn’t always show up on film. He has to learn to be more aggressive and pull the trigger on plays. Trusting his reads and attacking the ball would do well to showcase his athletic ability.
A likely starter for Indianapolis in 2013, Bethea really struggled last season. He has ability, but soft coverage led to too many catches. An almost nonexistent run support kept his ranking lower than he should be.
Bethea was ranked No. 19 among all safeties in last year's B/R 1,000 (the position was split into free safeties and strong safeties).
47. Quintin Demps, Houston Texans
A reserve safety who saw plenty of time in Houston’s nickel and dime packages, Quintin Demps struggled at times in coverage. When asked to match up and change direction on routes, Demps would get lost. He gave up too many big plays in coverage for a reserve safety with limited targets. Opposing quarterbacks picked on Demps when he was on the field.
Effort goes a long way in the run game, and we didn’t see it from Demps. While primarily on the field in passing situations, Demps didn’t show the read-and-recognition skills to stop the run.
Missed tackles weren’t a big problem for Demps, but he didn’t wow on film either. Demps is too often an arm tackler and must learn to put a body on the ball.
A very good overall athlete, Demps has the straight-line speed to be an asset in coverage. There are few tight ends or wide receivers who can match up with him in a sprint.
A versatile No. 2 at both free safety and strong safety, Demps doesn’t look like starter quality at this point in his career. Poor tackling and average coverage must improve.
Demps was not ranked in last year's B/R 1,000.
46. M.D. Jennings, Green Bay Packers
An undrafted free agent from Arkansas State in 2011, M.D. Jennings has improved to a point where he’s a viable No. 3 safety in the Green Bay defense. Jennings didn’t surrender many catches, but we did note him giving up too many scores among those catches. Jennings has the range to limit long plays and did a great job keeping the ball in front of him. While not exactly a ball hawk, Jennings has decent hands.
Jennings was a bit of a liability in run defense last season. His angles to the ball were generally off and slow in reaction time.
When Jennings makes contact, he’s not letting go or giving up positive yards after contact.
Jennings has enough speed to attack the edge. We’d like to see this speed translate better to coverage.
A young safety with big upside, Jennings hasn’t completely won us over as the team’s free safety in 2013, but he’s definitely in contention for the starting job.
Jennings was not ranked in last year's B/R 1,000.
45. Louis Delmas, Detroit Lions
An injury kept Louis Delmas off the field until Week 6, and even then he was slow to bounce back to his previous form. As a coverage safety, Delmas hasn’t been able to get back to his 2010 form. His knee injury could have slowed his ability to get to receivers and affect passes, but Delmas continues to gamble too often on the ball and badly mistimes his breaks on the ball.
A good run defender at times, Delmas is a player who lets the ball come to him too often. He needs to be more aggressive at taking on blocks and getting to the football.
A big hitter, Delmas will attack anything that moves. That can lead to some blown tackles as he goes in for a big hit, but there’s no doubting Delmas’ ability as a tackler.
Not a true speed player, Delmas does a good job getting from coverage to the ball, but he can be a liability when matched up in coverage against slot receivers.
Delmas had a down year in 2012. That was partially due to poor cornerback play outside of him and taking too many risks in coverage. He has the tools to bounce back in 2013. His future is likely at strong safety.
Delmas was ranked No. 31 among all safeties in last year's B/R 1,000 (the position was split into free safeties and strong safeties).
44. Adrian Wilson, New England Patriots
A prototypical strong safety, Adrian Wilson has been a top-level player for years, but his 2012 season was lacking. Wilson still isn’t targeted much in coverage, but when quarterbacks do come his way, he’s giving up more catches. Wilson’s range and ability to close on the ball has regressed.
A tough strong safety who lives in the box, Wilson is great at finding his keys and making a read on the offensive line. He’ll cut through traffic and can make stops in space. Lack of range is the problem here.
A well-known tackler, Wilson has strength to make a pop on ball-carriers. You won’t see Wilson missing many tackles, but his overall tackling production and ability did drop off last season. There were few big plays for Wilson as a tackler.
Wilson’s lost a step or two over the years, and it shows when he’s asked to run in coverage or help across the field. Wilson is still tough, but his speed is going.
Age has started to take its toll on Wilson, and the 2012 season was perhaps his worst. How much gas he has left in the tank remains to be seen. Wilson wasn’t as much of an impact in 2012 as you might expect when you hear his name.
Wilson was ranked No. 5 among all safeties in last year's B/R 1,000 (the position was split into free safeties and strong safeties).
43. Isa Abdul-Quddus, New Orleans Saints
A big, physical safety, Isa Abdul-Quddus surprised with strong play down the stretch in 2012. The former Fordham product did well in man coverage against tight ends and has the range to make plays in space. He’s quick in plant and go, and he does a good job keeping the ball in front of him in coverage.
The run game was a weakness for Abdul-Quddus last season, but he has the size to get better here. The game moved faster than Abdul-Quddus, and his awareness and reaction time were below average.
With the size to be a hitter, Abdul-Quddus has to be better at coming through the ball-carrier and making plays. Keeping his head up will dramatically improve his tackling ability.
With 4.4 speed, Abdul-Quddus can keep up in coverage when matched up in man situations. Abdul-Quddus doesn’t run through ball-carriers well, but his speed definitely shows up when asked to track the ball in coverage.
Abdul-Quddus was just a spot player until the end of the season. Down the stretch, he showed promise as a versatile safety with the coverage skills to become a bigger part of the defense.
Abdul-Quddus was not ranked in last year's B/R 1,000.
42. Dwight Lowery, Jacksonville Jaguars
A natural free safety, Dwight Lowery has the skill set to play center field and keep passers in check. His range was limited in 2012 due to injury, but he’s talented enough to limit targets and keep completions down. Lowery stays in good positioning to erase yards after the catch and isn’t a player who allows defenders to get behind him in coverage.
Lowery struggled to get to the ball last season, especially earlier in the year when struggling with a foot injury. He’s a solid tackler when in position, though.
Missed tackles show up on film, though not at an alarming rate. Lowery wraps up well and has good range, but he too often has trouble keeping his feet and completing the tackle.
For a good coverage safety, Lowery doesn’t have top-level speed. He’s quick, but his straight-line speed leaves something to be desired.
Ankle and foot injuries kept Lowery from making more plays in 2012. Fully healthy, he’s closer to a top-20 safety.
Lowery was ranked No. 34 among all safeties in last year's B/R 1,000 (the position was split into free safeties and strong safeties).
41. Tashaun Gipson, Cleveland Browns
A part-time starter for the Cleveland secondary, Tashaun Gipson played well for an undrafted rookie free agent. He lacks awareness in coverage to consistently make plays, and he too often found himself out of coverage and struggling to recover. Limited targets left us wanting to see more of Gipson in man-to-man defense.
The tackling skill is here for Gipson to be a stud run defender one day. He has to get faster at making reads, but once his mind catches up, he could be dangerous.
A very strong open-field tackler, Gipson’s best asset is his ability to stop runners in space. He’s not exceptionally fast closing on the ball, but he has good power and is a wrap-up tackler with good form.
Gipson doesn’t show the speed needed to keep up with inside or outside receivers. He’ll struggle if left in space to cover.
An intriguing player with potential, Gipson was under the radar as an undrafted free agent. He’s ready to be a contributor as a special teams player and potential No. 3 safety.
Gipson was not ranked in last year's B/R 1,000.
40. LaRon Landry, Indianapolis Colts
A limited player in coverage, LaRon Landry is a run-defending player who is more linebacker than safety. When matched up in coverage, Landry can be a liability. He doesn’t run well in coverage and is stiff-hipped at times when changing directions in space. There’s good potential for Landry as a zone-cover man, as he can be physical and close on the ball in a hurry.
An inconsistent run defender in 2012, Landry was left cleaning up messes and too often took a poor angle to the ball. When he’s in place, Landry can deliver big hits, but he takes himself out of plays.
A big, powerful tackler who can intimidate receivers over the middle, Landry is like a powerful boxer—he’s going to miss, but when he connects, it’s a knockout punch.
One of the best pure athletes at the position, Landry has plenty of speed for a physical safety. He’s lost a little of his burst due to injury, but he still has very good speed.
Landry had one of his best seasons with the New York Jets in 2012, and you could see he was close to being "back" by season's end. Landry is a big hitter and an in-the-box safety. That’s his game, and he’s good at it. If used properly, Landry can be better than his rating.
Landry was ranked No. 44 among all safeties in last year's B/R 1,000 (the position was split into free safeties and strong safeties).
39. Joe Lefeged, Indianapolis Colts
With limited reps in coverage we had to dig deep to scout Joe Lefeged, but our team came away feeling good about his potential. When in zone coverage, Lefeged looked good. He’s clean in his drops and has good awareness, but he can be stiff to attack passes underneath. Teams didn’t target Lefeged’s man much in coverage, which is something he can feel good about. He’s big enough to be physical with receivers and tight ends and quick enough to keep pace throughout the route.
Lefeged was willing and aggressive, but he took himself out of plays by taking a poor angle and overrunning the ball. He has to learn to come in controlled and make a play on the body.
Lefeged showed up as an ace special teams tackler and did well in coverage tackles too. He limited yards after the catch both against his man and when coming off to help other defenders.
Faster than you might think, Lefeged has very good range to run deep. Lefeged uses his speed well to get back in coverage but can be timid running to attack the ball in front of him.
Largely a spot player in 2012, Lefeged showed potential in coverage while struggling a bit against the run. He’s a tough tackler who fits the Colts’ philosophy of having a big hitter at safety. He’ll have to get better in coverage to see time as the team’s free safety in 2013.
Lefeged was ranked No. 36 among all safeties in last year's B/R 1,000 (the position was split into free safeties and strong safeties).
38. Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs
Coming off an ACL injury in 2011, Eric Berry had a slow transition in getting back to his former self. The 2012 season was rough for Berry in coverage, as he allowed too many completions and too many touchdowns compared to his one interception. Not all safeties make big plays, but those who do not should limit receptions. NFL tight ends routinely beat up on Berry, as he struggled too often in 2012. He was starting to get back to his old self by season’s end, but it was apparent that Berry struggled with speed, awareness and transitions in space last season.
An active defender with top-level range, Berry made up for his coverage woes with good run defense for an undersized strong safety. He takes on blocks well and can force runs in from the edge.
Missed tackles added up quickly for Berry in 2012. He was often lunging at plays he would have made previously. Taking on bigger tight ends in the open field was a struggle.
A top-tier athlete, Berry didn’t show his usual speed early in the year after coming off a knee injury in 2011. By season’s end, he was back to his normal self, showing some of the best range in the NFL.
One of the most talented raw athletes at the safety position, Berry has a lot of work to do in order to live up to his lofty draft positioning. He struggled to recover after missing most of 2011, but he showed flashes toward the end.
Berry was not ranked in last year's B/R 1,000.
37. Tavon Wilson, New England Patriots
Inconsistency plagued Tavon Wilson last season as a free safety and strong safety. We noted a three-game stretch (Weeks 6-8) where Wilson was really beaten up in coverage. When playing against tight ends, he gave up position too easily. Wilson allowed big plays in coverage by guessing on routes and peeking back at the quarterback in deep coverage.
A tough defender, Wilson’s biggest obstacle is learning where the ball is. His read-and-react times weren't ideal in 2012. The positive is that Wilson is aggressive and willing to be a player in the box.
We had a lot of fun watching Wilson making tackles—mostly because he rarely missed in space. Wilson isn’t a big hitter, but he’s very efficient and one of the more consistent tacklers at the position.
Wilson wasn’t known for his speed in the 2012 draft class. He’s not below average, but we’re talking about a player with legitimate 4.5 speed.
A surprise pick by the Patriots in the 2012 NFL draft, Tavon Wilson has loads of potential, but he’s a player still in development. A better strong safety moving forward, Wilson looks like a starter.
Wilson was not ranked in last year's B/R 1,000.
36. Danieal Manning, Houston Texans
Danieal Manning can play either safety position and even cornerback, but his coverage skills were just above average in 2012. Manning’s play dropped off late in the season, especially in coverage, as teams attacked the Texans downfield more frequently. Manning didn’t give up big yardage but did allow too many completions in soft coverage.
An average run defender, Manning has the size to make tackles in space but struggles to come out of the safety position and attack the line of scrimmage.
Manning shows good strength to make tackles in the open field. He does a good job coming up to make tackles and can throttle down to attack players in space.
Manning has the speed to be a coverage guy in the slot and when picking up tight ends and wide receivers deep. He’s quick in transitions and can accelerate to make plays.
Manning emerged as one of the more dependable players in the Houston secondary in 2012. He could be better in coverage, but his tackling and playmaking talent are valuable.
Manning was ranked No. 31 among all safeties in last year's B/R 1,000 (the position was split into free safeties and strong safeties).
35. Don Carey, Detroit Lions
A starter for the final six games of the season, Don Carey has a future in the Detroit secondary. Overall awareness and recognition were lacking from Carey to be a long-term starter, but there’s talent for him to contribute in zone coverage as a nickle or dime player.
Run defense could be a strength for Carey. He is a good tackler, but his recognition skills were lacking in 2012. There’s potential here, but he has to get more comfortable in space.
A tough tackler with good strength to attack ball-carriers, Carey doesn’t miss tackles when he’s in range.
A high 4.4 guy coming out of college, Carey has the speed to run alleys and make plays in front of him. His speed isn’t as noticeable when asked to turn and run with receivers or get deep.
Only a player over the second half of the season, Carey came in hot and showed promise as a keeper in the secondary. Carey has potential as both a strong safety and free safety, giving the Lions flexibility in their alignment as a No. 3 safety.
Carey was not ranked in last year's B/R 1,000.
34. Major Wright, Chicago Bears
With four interceptions on the year, Major Wright had a good overall season when asked to make plays on the ball. In basic coverage, Wright was solid. There weren’t big plays with Wright in coverage, but he did allow a high number of catches. He limited touchdowns and big plays when matched up in man coverage.
An average run defender, Wright shows a willingness to come up and make plays, but his timing can be off from his initial read. Average speed can keep him from pursuing outside runs if his angle is off.
Missed tackles kept Wright from a higher score. He has good strength and can make an impact, but his ability to complete tackles was lacking last season. Wright can be overaggressive at times.
The Florida product has speed. Wright won’t get beaten deep due to a lack of speed when asked to turn and run. He has the burst to cover the field well and come up to make tackles.
Wright made strides in 2012, showing the promise to develop into a long-time starter at strong safety.
Wright was ranked No. 42 among all safeties in last year's B/R 1,000 (the position was split into free safeties and strong safeties).
33. Jamarca Sanford, Minnesota Vikings
A starter in 2012 as both a free safety and strong safety, Jamarca Sanford’s strength was his coverage ability. Sanford isn’t a playmaker at either safety position—you won’t get interceptions from him, but you will get solid coverage. Sanford does a good job maintaining position with receivers to limit attempts thrown his way.
Being a good run defender is as much about angles as anything, and Sanford’s biggest area to improve in 2013 will be his pursuit angles in run support. Coming from the safety position, he will go around traffic instead of through it, which leads him out of the play.
An average tackler, Sanford did have trouble taking on and bringing down players in space. Missed tackles added up, as did poor angles that kept Sanford from being a part in plays he otherwise could have been in on.
While not a speed player, Sanford has decent range and explosive ability when closing on the football. If matched up in a one-on-one situation, he can be exploited with a lack of speed.
A solid safety with developmental potential, Sanford’s versatility as a free safety or strong safety plus his above-average coverage skills make him a valuable piece of the Minnesota secondary.
Sanford was ranked No. 51 among all safeties in last year's B/R 1,000 (the position was split into free safeties and strong safeties).
32. Glover Quin, Detroit Lions
An interchangeable safety who can play free or strong, Glover Quin can struggle in coverage. Breaking down his film, our team saw Quin allowing too many touchdowns and too many yards after the catch due to poor positioning in coverage. Quin isn’t a ball-hawking safety who creates turnovers, but he is solid at getting his hands on the ball.
Quin is active if not always consistent in the run game. He has a quick read-and-react and will snuff out tosses and sweeps. Missed tackles weren’t a problem in the run game, but poor angles to the ball did plague Quin’s season. Overall, he did better than expected in run support.
A stout run defender, Quin has the strength to step in and make plays on the ball. He’s not the type to miss tackles once he makes contact, but he will whiff on arm tackles at times.
Quin doesn’t show the speed of the fastest players at the position. He’s not slow, but Quin can be beaten in deep coverage and isn’t someone who can correct for mistakes with speed.
Quin was a hot target on the free-agent market. Based on his 2012 season alone, he projects as a slightly above-average safety with good upside—though only decent coverage.
Quin was not ranked in last year's B/R NFL 1,000.
31. Rahim Moore, Denver Broncos
Forget the one bad play in the AFC divisional round. Rahim Moore was good in coverage in 2012. Moore didn’t create turnovers, with just one interception on the season, but he did a good job limiting targets and not giving quarterbacks an outlet. We wanted to see better play from him when asked to break on the ball and create drops.
Run defense was the weakest part of Moore’s game. He has to fix the looping angles he started taking to the ball. When he gets in position, he’s a sound tackler.
Moore went through a rough patch of games midseason with too many missed tackles and poor angles. That’s not a good representation of his entire season, but it was a concern in scouting his play.
Moore can struggle if not on top of his coverage. We all remember him mistiming a jump in the playoffs due to getting beat deep. Moore doesn’t have the speed to turn and run.
Rahim Moore had a good year. There’s plenty of potential here for Moore to be a star in 2013 and the long-term free safety in Denver.
Moore was not ranked in last year's B/R NFL 1,000.
30. Mike Adams, Denver Broncos
A 17-game starter at strong safety, Mike Adams had his moments in 2012 as a coverage safety. One thing we continually noticed in scouting Adams were the touchdowns he allowed. Too many of them, to be exact. Adams limited catches at an average rate, but a lot of those catches turned into touchdowns. His ability to cover in the red zone really broke down.
A better-than-average run defender, Adams doesn’t have the size to be a box safety, but he will throw himself into the mix against the run. He’s a good tackler when in position to make a play.
Adams showed a good ability to seal the deal on tackles, letting few runners get away once he made contact. An underrated tackler, Adams made plenty of one-man stops when runners broke free of the front seven.
Adams doesn’t have the speed to make big plays in space or recover is beaten deep. He’s much better playing the ball in front of his face as opposed to being forced to turn and run.
A solid starter, Adams can be rough to watch in coverage at times. He won’t make many big plays—he had zero interceptions on the year—but his value as a run defender shows up on film.
Adams was ranked No. 22 among all safeties in last year's B/R 1,000 (the position was split into free safeties and strong safeties).
29. Ed Reed, Baltimore Ravens
When asked to play in zone coverage during the 2012 season, Ed Reed showed great instincts hindered by slower legs than he’s used to. In man coverage, Reed struggled. Being able to take away receivers in man coverage is a liability for Reed, but you ideally want him playing a deep zone and letting him spy the quarterback to make plays on the ball in flight. He still has amazing hands and is an inexplicable magnet for the football.
Reed has never been a great run defender, but he will jump into rushing lanes and at least create havoc. As for making tackles against the run, that’s not what Reed does.
We didn’t see a starting safety miss more tackles than Reed when charting games last season—especially when you look at the missed opportunities in the playoffs alone. Reed’s ratio of made-to-missed tackles was stunningly bad.
No longer the fluid athlete he once was, Reed has clearly slowed down over the past few seasons.
A surefire future Hall of Famer, Ed Reed didn’t have his best season in 2012. It’s clear the great one has lost a step, but he somehow is still good for a game-changing interception right when a big play is needed.
Reed was ranked No. 3 among all safeties in last year's B/R 1,000 (the position was split into free safeties and strong safeties).
28. Abram Elam, Kansas City Chiefs
The 2012 season didn’t see many turnovers generated by Abram Elam and did see too many completions that led to scores. As a part-time starter, he wasn’t targeted often. But when he was thrown at, the result wasn’t good. Elam can limit attempts with good coverage, but he doesn’t close on the ball well and can be a liability there.
A weak link in run support, Elam doesn’t have the instincts needed to read and react to impact the play. Elam has the size to be a good run-supporting free safety, but the ability to read and flow aren’t showing up.
It’s interesting that Elam is such a good tackler for someone who really doesn’t show up in run support, but his open-field game is good. Elam secures stops and doesn’t let runners slip away.
Elam isn’t limited by his speed, but he doesn’t always use it to his advantage either. The ability is here for Elam to be more of a playmaker in coverage.
Elam can be maddening at times, but he’s also dependable when asked to make tackles as the last line of defense. His coverage could use work, but better play from the cornerbacks will help with that.
Elam was not ranked in last year's B/R 1,000.
27. Usama Young, Cleveland Browns
A player not often targeted in coverage, Usama Young can be a liability at times when tested. Young will give up catches underneath in soft coverage, but he’s good at maintaining position to challenge and contest passes. He’s the type of player who keeps quarterbacks from targeting him due to good placement.
A feisty run defender, Young will get blown up at the point of attack if he comes up to meet a blocker, but he can make tackles to stop the run in the open field. He shows good angles to the ball on sweeps and tosses.
Young is not a very active tackler, so don’t expect huge numbers from him, but he is solid when in place to make a play. He missed very few tackles on the year and shows good, solid form as opposed to the big-hit mentality of today’s defender.
Young has speed to track and attack the ball. He’ll turn and run with receivers and can keep the pace. His speed is his best asset.
A solid player at free safety, Young has good ability as a nickel player or even as a stopgap starter. He’ll do enough to contribute, but he isn’t a big-play free safety.
Young was not ranked in last year's B/R 1,000.
26. Mark Barron, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The first-round pick at safety had an up-and-down season but seemed to hit his stride late in the year. Mark Barron allowed too many completions and too many scores in comparison to the positive plays he made. Already a top-level run defender, working on coverage should be his priority over the offseason.
Barron plays the run like a safety should—active, aggressive and aware. He closes on gaps quickly and is physical enough to take on blockers and still be an impact.
A crushing tackler in the open field and against the run, Barron will put ball-carriers on their backs. He did a good job securing tackles last year and not just going for a highlight-reel hit.
Not the fastest open-field runner, Barron has very good quickness and burst.
We all know that Barron is a big hitter, and he’s a consistent tackler underneath, but his cover skills weren’t up to par in his first season. There’s unlimited potential for Barron to continue to improve.
Barron was not ranked in last year's B/R 1,000.
25. Thomas DeCoud, Atlanta Falcons
With six interceptions on the year, Thomas DeCoud enjoyed a very good season against some of the game’s best quarterbacks. His consistency, though, wasn’t as exceptional. DeCoud will struggle with completions and generally gives up high-yardage catches when targets are converted. DeCoud didn’t allow many scores, but he did allow catches and yards that led to points.
There were games where DeCoud was lights-out against the run, but he also struggled at times against power-rushing teams. He’s good against mobile quarterbacks in his ability to chase and even mirror the edge to keep them contained.
DeCoud made a lot of stops last season, but he also missed quite a few tackles—notably in the NFC championship game.
DeCoud has plenty of closing speed to attack the ball and get in on tackles. He shows up in coverage by reading the quarterback and having the quickness to adjust to the ball in flight.
If you look at interception numbers, DeCoud was one of the best in the game in 2012. But when you factor in coverage, run defense and tackling, he comes out above average but not quite elite. That talent is there, though.
DeCoud was ranked No. 44 among all safeties in last year's B/R 1,000 (the position was split into free safeties and strong safeties).
24. Ronde Barber, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The days of Ronde Barber racing across the field in coverage are gone, but he’s still got solid technique and is a sneaky fast player in the open field. Barber has good hands and will make plays on the football. He doesn’t show the speed these days to help in coverage as a recovery safety and will get beaten deep in matchups. Barber did improve as the season went on and he got more comfortable at the safety position.
It was an obvious adjustment for Barber to be covering the entire field as a run defender as opposed to his edge as a cornerback. He struggled early in the season with angles on outside runs and shied away from tough inside runners at times.
Barber flashed several times on film as a tackler, but he also missed his share of tackles. Barber doesn’t have the strength needed to take down runners in the open field and can be a bit of a liability as the last line of defense.
Barber’s age has limited his speed and range. Barber still has good agility and instincts, but he’s clearly lost a step.
An impressive veteran who is somehow still productive after so many seasons, Barber started to show signs of slowing down in 2012. He could be moved to a nickel- or dime-package role in 2013.
Barber was ranked No. 54 among all safeties in last year's B/R 1,000 (the position was split into free safeties and strong safeties).
23. Patrick Chung, Philadelphia Eagles
A situational player and sometimes-starter in 2012, Patrick Chung played free safety and strong safety for New England in various coverage packages. He was targeted often, considering his time on the field, but did a nice job limiting catches and breaking up passes. His two interceptions on the year both came against Chad Henne in Week 16, but Chung shows a good ability to break on the ball and can be a factor in coverage against errant passes. Angles aren’t Chung’s friend, though, and he’ll get turned around when asked to change direction and make a play with his back to the quarterback. A more natural strong safety, Chung needs to play with the ball in front of him.
He's an above-average run defender who has the size and strength to come into the box and take on blockers. Chung doesn’t record a ton of stops in the run game, though, and needs to be more controlled at the point of attack.
Chung is a strong tackler who can be an intimidator over the middle. He’ll fly in too aggressive and reckless at times, which leads to missed tackles. But overall, he's efficient and consistent when making contact.
Chung is a physical player who likes to bang in the run game, but he’s faster than you might think. He timed in the high 4.4s when coming out of Oregon in 2009 and still moves at a good clip.
A backup by the end of the season, Chung fell out of favor in New England in 2012. He’s a physical safety who tackles well and has solid cover skills. A new environment may be all he needs to build on his strengths in 2013.
Chung was ranked No. 54 among all safeties in last year's B/R 1,000 (the position was split into free safeties and strong safeties).
22. Devin McCourty, New England Patriots
A part-time cornerback and safety, Devin McCourty is much more at home playing free safety. He’s better with the ball in front of him than when asked to turn and run on the edge. McCourty shows very good awareness when he can see the ball and has the speed to break on the pass and make a play for it. McCourty has shown good ball skills in his ability to not only track the ball but convert plays to interceptions.
Not a strong run defender, McCourty comes in as an average player on rushing downs. His ability to stop runners isn’t his strong point.
Despite being a smaller safety, McCourty makes plays as a tackler. He’ll fly in too high at times and let runners bounce off his pads, but he’s active for a player who was a cornerback originally.
A speedy safety with very good range, McCourty can fly from side to side and make plays. While his speed doesn’t always show up in man coverage, McCourty won’t be outrun by most offensive stars.
McCourty’s value comes in his versatility and in his playmaking skills. He gets thrown at a lot at both positions but does a good job limiting receptions and can bring big plays to the defense.
McCourty was ranked No. 63 among all safeties in last year's B/R 1,000 (the position was split into free safeties and strong safeties).
21. Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings
Coming out of Notre Dame’s quarters coverage, Harrison Smith had to adjust a bit in his first NFL season. He did just fine. As a versatile safety who can play well in either a free or strong alignment, Smith is a natural in zone coverage. Smith wasn’t targeted often, but when quarterbacks did go his way, he limited receptions and yards after the catch. Smith needs to work on angles when receivers manage to get away from him in coverage and learn how to use technique to get past speed limitations.
Smith’s lone weakness in 2012 was in run support. He is quick to pull the chain and come up, but his recognition skills were a bit slow throughout the year. This is something that can and should develop in his second year.
Smith was one of the best safeties we graded at making a tackle after the catch to keep receivers from getting away.
Smith wasn’t known for his speed at Notre Dame, and that was true in his rookie season too. What Smith lacks in straight-line speed, he makes up for with good reaction time and acceleration.
Smith didn’t wait around to make an impact in his first season. The first-round pick showed promise in coverage and run support. Look for his second year to be even better as Smith becomes more comfortable in his role.
Smith was not ranked in last year's B/R 1,000.
20. Morgan Burnett, Green Bay Packers
A versatile player who can play free safety or strong safety, Morgan Burnett quietly had a very good season in Green Bay. The Packers didn’t get big plays or turnovers from Burnett, so he didn’t see much national attention, but his ability to limit yards was key. One issue we had with his play was allowing too many catches underneath. Burnett was targeted often and allowed more completions than he should have.
Teams ran at the Packers often, putting Burnett into many run-defending situations. As a strong tackler, he made an impact against the run. But he doesn’t bring much ability against blockers and can take poor angles to outside runs.
A very active tackler who comes down to play the run well, Burnett’s made-to-miss ratio was exceptional in games we charted. He has good power and can wrap up in the open field. Burnett can bring power to his tackles too.
Burnett isn’t a speed guy, but that doesn’t mean he’s slow. The Packers safety has good range and can explode into space to make plays on the ball.
A good all-around strong safety who can move around in a pinch, Burnett has high-level cover skills and is a force in the run game.
Burnett was ranked No. 26 among all safeties in last year's B/R 1,000 (the position was split into free safeties and strong safeties).
19. Bernard Pollard, Baltimore Ravens
Bernard Pollard is an in-the-box safety who is at his best coming up to make plays on underneath passes. If matched up in deep coverage, Pollard would struggle. The Ravens did a nice job in 2012 of not putting Pollard into matchups where he would be asked to turn and run with a receiver.
Pollard is a Mack Truck against the run. His best asset is his ability to come up from the safety position and lock down the run game. He’s like an extra linebacker on the field.
Pollard delivers punishing hits left and right, but due to his freight train-like approach to tackling, he also misses a few tackles. Wrapping up better instead of just delivering shoulder shots would improve his tackling.
Pollard doesn’t have great speed, but he does have great burst. Few players in the NFL are as good as he is at sticking a foot in the ground and accelerating toward the football.
A hard-hitting safety with limited coverage skills, Pollard is an excellent fit in an aggressive defense that wants a sledgehammer against the run but can live with average coverage skills.
Pollard was ranked No. 23 among all safeties in last year's B/R 1,000 (the position was split into free safeties and strong safeties).
18. Dashon Goldson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
A Pro Bowl safety, Dashon Goldson has benefited from playing on a league-leading defense with an unbeatable pass rush. That’s not to say Goldson is bad; he’s not, but he is overrated. A solid ball hawk, Goldson can create and force turnovers, but his turnover-to-touchdown ratio is even. A positive for Goldson is his ability to limit yards after the catch in coverage. He’s always close by and can limit big plays in the open field.
An average safety in run support, Goldson will make jaw-dropping hits and then miss an easy open-field tackle. When focused and in position, Goldson can be very good, but he has to keep his eyes up and run through ball-carriers.
Goldson will ring your bell, but he also misses tackles that look like sure things. He hasn’t been a consistent tackler, and that’s a concern. He can bring the lumber and knock guys down and out. Goldson is a big-play hitter.
Goldson lacks the speed to recover if beat in coverage, something that shows up on film too often. He’s quick enough to change direction and cover underneath.
I’ve been an outspoken critic of Goldson’s for a number of reasons. His penalties and inconsistent cover skills outweigh his locker-room presence and leadership. The 49ers agreed when they let him hit free agency this offseason.
Goldson was ranked No. 15 among all safeties in last year's B/R 1,000 (the position was split into free safeties and strong safeties).
17. William Moore, Atlanta Falcons
William Moore is an opportunistic strong safety with big-play potential in coverage. Moore had four interceptions last season and showed up biggest against top quarterbacks (Drew Brees, Peyton Manning) in big spots. Moore was inconsistent at times, though, giving up yards and touchdowns too often. The key for Moore is to limit his risks, but that’s also part of what makes him a ball-hawking safety. You’re going to get big plays and give up some big plays with Moore.
Moore doesn’t attack the run like a conventional strong safety, but he does a good job taking on the outside and will force runs back inside. The biggest thing we noted was Moore's activity around the ball and the way he impacts the run game as a tackler and as a threat in space.
You’ll see runners bounce off Moore when he comes up to make tackles in the run game, but in the open field, he does a good job of bringing down runners if he can get square on them to hit. Moore does give up more yards after the catch than you’d like to see
More fluid than fast, Moore doesn’t have exceptional straight-line speed, but he’s able to jump routes and make plays on the game thanks to his quickness and burst.
Moore will frustrate you over the course of the season, but he makes up for poor plays with big plays under the spotlight. A well-rounded strong safety who brings value in his ability to create turnovers, Moore has incredible potential to move up the rankings in 2013 with another strong showing.
Moore was ranked No. 19 among all safeties in last year's B/R 1,000 (the position was split into free safeties and strong safeties).
16. Tyvon Branch, Oakland Raiders
When thrown at, Tyvon Branch is likely to give up a completion, but he does a good job limiting that completion and not allowing big yards after the catch. Some safeties give up big-yardage plays, but Branch doesn’t. Teams may pick him apart underneath in coverage, but he’s good when asked to turn and run downfield.
Branch isn’t much of a factor in run support. He’s a coverage strong safety who makes the majority of his plays in coverage. He’ll come down and take on the edge to force plays back inside, but his efficiency in stopping the run is average
Branch had more missed tackles than expected but does a good job making stops in the open field. He’s not a sure thing, but Branch is a wrap-up tackler who can make an impact.
One of the fastest players in the NFL, Branch has world-class speed. It’s no surprise that Al Davis fell in love with this burner, who timed at 4.31 at the NFL Scouting Combine.
A top-level athlete at the position, Branch was often asked to do too much in a secondary that featured very poor cornerback play.
Branch was ranked No. 7 among all safeties in last year's B/R 1,000 (the position was split into free safeties and strong safeties).
15. Reggie Nelson, Cincinnati Bengals
A strong coverage safety, Reggie Nelson was able to prevent big plays and touchdowns in coverage. Matched up in zone coverage mostly, Nelson showed good range to read and close in on passes. Nelson not only limited targets, but he limited scores by keeping the ball in front of him. If there were a score for blown coverages, Nelson would grade out as one of the best.
Nelson doesn’t show up big in the run game. He’ll struggle to take on blockers and isn’t physical enough to be an attacker against inside runs.
Nelson’s statistics looked good for tackles, but when we watched film, there were too many missed tackles or missed opportunities to stop receivers and runners. Nelson allowed too many yards after the catch due to poor tackling.
Nelson has enough quicks to keep up if matched up in man coverage, but he’ll get taken to the house if left inside on slot receivers who have better speed. His burst is better than his straight-line speed.
A versatile safety who can play both free and strong positions, Nelson’s value is in his coverage ability. He doesn’t pack much punch in run support or as an open-field tackler, but his speed and shutdown ability are top-notch.
Nelson was ranked No. 23 among all safeties in last year's B/R 1,000 (the position was split into free safeties and strong safeties).
14. Donte Whitner, San Francisco 49ers
A classic in-the-box strong safety, Donte Whitner can struggle in a two-deep coverage set. You’ll see Whitner get caught peeking at the quarterback and guessing on routes, which leads to him biting on fakes and giving up uncontested catches. Teams don’t beat Whitner deep—it’s one of his great positives—but he can be torn apart underneath. Whitner was far too often the man responsible for touchdowns scored against the San Francisco defense.
Sometimes we get caught thinking of big hitters as great run defenders, and sometimes that’s the case. But Whitner doesn’t fit that mold. He wasn’t an efficient tackler in 2012, as too many of his attempts resulted in positive yards after contact.
A hard hitter who will gladly lay the wood across the middle, Donte Whitner is known for his well-timed hits on receivers and tight ends. Those plays make the highlight reels, but what gets lost are the missed tackles from Whitner. He goes for the big hit on every play, which results in plenty of missed tackles when he bounces off receivers.
Whitner has the speed to patrol deep and make plays on the ball. He’s excellent at changing direction and flying forward to take on runners.
Whitner benefits from an excellent pass rush in front of him. To the casual observer, he probably seems better than he is. When isolated, Whitner allowed too many touchdowns and too many missed tackles to be viewed as elite. He’s good, and can be very good, but he's not elite.
Whitner was ranked No. 11 among all safeties in last year's B/R 1,000 (the position was split into free safeties and strong safeties).
13. Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers
Time and injuries have slowed Troy Polamalu down. This attrition shows up most in coverage, where Polamalu isn’t as quick or fluid in space. With a small sample size, it’s hard to look at Polamalu’s numbers, but when viewing his play, you see a safety who struggled when asked to track across the field and make plays. Polamalu was a matchup liability if receivers went deep.
An in-the-box safety who plays like an outside linebacker, Polamalu has always been at his best against the run. In 2012, he wasn’t as physical (likely due to injury), but he was still able to shut down outside runs.
A very active tackler when on the field, Polamalu is a natural hitter who is consistent and powerful upon impact. Polamalu has always been physical, and while that didn’t change last season, he wasn’t making the highlight-reel hits we’ve grown used to seeing.
Polamalu is no longer a great straight-line-speed player, but he’s known for his ability to close on the ball. He can be a liability in man coverage but is excellent at running alleys to make tackles.
One of the most respected safeties in the NFL, Polamalu has been slowed by injuries in the past. His 2012 season was limited to just seven games. In that time, Polamalu played well, but his speed and agility were affected, which hurt his other skills.
Polamalu was ranked No. 1 among all safeties in last year's B/R 1,000 (the position was split into free safeties and strong safeties).
12. Charles Woodson, Green Bay Packers
A move to safety saw Charles Woodson matched up less with outside wideouts and more with tight ends and slot receivers. His foot speed and short-area quickness are still good, but Woodson can struggle if asked to turn and run with players. He’s instinctive, though, and is able to create turnovers by reading the quarterback and recognizing the play.
In his seven games played, Woodson was effective against the run. He’s a smart defender who sees the play well and is able to come up and attack the edge to shut down outside runs. Woodson will get lazy and throw a shoulder at defenders instead of wrapping up.
Despite his age, Woodson can still be a big impact against the run. This was highlighted in 2012, as Woodson played closer to the line of scrimmage. His game against the Saints was a perfect example of his ability to attack and shut down the opposing offense with open-field tackles.
Woodson has lost a step since his Heisman Trophy-winning days at Michigan, but he’s still explosive in space once he makes a read. He’ll get burned deep if matched up one-on-one, but there’s good movement here.
Woodson played well when healthy in 2012, but how much juice he has left in the tank remains to be seen. Woodson could be on the verge of a big drop-off in 2013 or a Super Bowl run as a key contributor. No one knows right now how well Woodson will hold up.
Woodson was ranked No. 2 among cornerbacks in last year's B/R 1,000.
11. Kam Chancellor, Seattle Seahawks
A strong safety built like a linebacker, Kam Chancellor is an intimidator. When matched up in coverage, Chancellor can be a liability against faster players, as he lacks the agility and speed to be a factor in man coverage. As a zone-cover man, Chancellor is much better, as this allows him to read and react to the ball in the air. You won’t get turnovers from Chancellor—zero interceptions last season—but you will get solid, consistent coverage across the board.
The perception of Chancellor versus the reality of his play is a bit off. He is a big hitter, but his run defense doesn’t back up the mentality of him as a striker.
We all have this idea of Chancellor as a big hitter, and he is, but he’s not a consistent tackler. Too often he’ll go for the kill shot instead of wrapping up for a form tackle. That allows for missed tackles and a lot of extra yards.
Built like a linebacker, Chancellor runs like one too. He doesn’t show the speed in space to run with wide receivers, but he does have good closing speed on the ball.
If you love big safeties who can hit, Kam Chancellor is your guy. His cover skills were much improved in 2012 and showed that as the team around him improves, so does Chancellor.
Chancellor was ranked No. 7 among all safeties in last year's B/R 1,000 (the position was split into free safeties and strong safeties).
10. George Wilson, Tennessee Titans
A classic strong safety, George Wilson does well when matched up in man-to-man situations. Wilson was targeted rarely in man coverage but played primarily in zone coverage against tight ends and slot receivers. He’s physical enough to bang over the middle and knock players off their routes. Wilson guesses on routes and will get beaten deep at times.
Wilson is physical but can be overaggressive at times and will take poor angles to the ball. When his angle is clean, Wilson is a good tackler and a smart defender to take on the run.
One of the better tacklers at the position, Wilson does a good job limiting yards after the catch with solid tackling. He shows a strong explosion to make contact with ball-carriers and can be a punishing hitter.
Wilson can be a bit stiff in space and struggle to pull the chain and attack the ball. He’s quick, but he isn’t fast enough to keep up with faster skill-position guys.
A surprising cut by the Bills once free agency started, Wilson graded out very well for a strong safety. His coverage was well above average, and his run support was top-level. Wilson will be a nice addition in Tennessee.
Wilson was ranked No. 4 among all safeties in last year's B/R 1,000 (the position was split into free safeties and strong safeties).
9. Chris Clemons, Miami Dolphins
During the 2012 season, Chris Clemons allowed a passer rating of just 52.4. Clemons, playing free safety, was asked to play center field for the Dolphins. Due to the zone coverage being played, Clemons wasn’t targeted as often individually, but he was part of the help system in place for the cornerbacks. He showed good range when asked to flow to the ball and the closing speed to be deadly. It’s a credit to Clemons’ cover skills that he wasn’t targeted more.
Clemons doesn’t have elite size to be a hard-hitting safety against the run, but he does well when asked to come up and make plays. Clemons’ range is what makes him dangerous here, as he can pull the chain and get to outside runs from his center-field position and is fast enough to excel in pursuit.
Our team was impressed with Clemons’ ability to wrap and execute an open-field tackle. He’ll fly up to take on the run and is strong enough to make clean tackles in space.
Clemons has exceptional speed as one of the fastest defensive players in the NFL today. Clemons doesn’t always use that speed to his full advantage, but grading purely on open-field speed, he’s top-notch.
Casual fans might be surprised to see Chris Clemons ranked so high, but when looking from a scouting perspective on his 2012 season, it fits. Clemons ranked very well in all four categories, showing off the talent and ability we saw on film.
Clemons was not ranked in last year's B/R 1,000.
8. Ryan Clark, Pittsburgh Steelers
Not known for his coverage, Ryan Clark did better in 2012 than you might expect. He held opposing quarterbacks to a rating of 48.5 on the year while allowing just 19 catches on passes thrown his way. Clark showed improved speed when tracking the ball and was more comfortable matched up in man coverage than previously seen.
Clark is at his best when playing up against the run, something of a rarity for a free safety. His ability to plant and explode up the field and stop the run is one of his strengths.
Clark showed that he’s one of the best tackling free safeties in the game. He isn’t always a sure tackler, but he can be an intimidator over the middle with powerful hits.
Clark isn’t known for his speed, but he’s quick enough to jump routes and is an attacking player when coming downhill to stop the run.
A physical safety who may not fit the NFL mold for much longer, Clark is a solid all-around free safety. His 2012 season ranked as one of the best we saw.
Clark was ranked No. 34 among all safeties in last year's B/R 1,000 (the position was split into free safeties and strong safeties).
7. Quintin Mikell, St. Louis Rams
Coverage wasn’t the strength of Quintin Mikell last season, but he had his strong points of the year in this area. Mikell is a classic strong safety who can take on the run and help as an extra defender in the box. If matched up or left alone in coverage, he can struggle. Mikell doesn’t defend well against slot receivers, as he’s not fast enough to be a threat there.
A tough defender against the run, this is where Mikell shines. He’s able to read and react quickly, keeping himself in position to make plays on runs inside and outside. Mikell’s only struggles came against Marshawn Lynch, as the power back bounced off his tackles and was able to pick up plus yardage.
Mikell struggled early in the year with missed tackles (see the Seattle game in Week 4) but was on point by the end of the season. Mikell struggled against power backs but was otherwise solid when asked to come up and make a play.
While not a speed player, Mikell has good burst and range for a strong safety. He can keep up with tight ends up the seam but can struggle if forced to play catch-up.
Take away his games against Marshawn Lynch, and Quintin Mikell was one of the best strong safety in the NFL last season. He showed improved cover skills and once again was a strong run defender and a tough tackler in space.
Mikell was ranked No. 14 among all safeties in last year's B/R 1,000 (the position was split into free safeties and strong safeties).
6. Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks
One of the more fluid coverage safeties in the NFL, Earl Thomas has the range that most free safeties would die for. Thomas is great at attacking the ball as a center fielder, showing off his ability to make plays outside the hashes. Thomas is at his best in zone coverage, where his range and speed are assets. If left in man coverage, Thomas can be a liability due to size and strength limitations.
Thomas isn’t a big safety, so when asked to come down and play the run, he can get caught up in traffic. He’s a good pursuit safety outside the tackle box, but he's not someone who is going to fly up and take on backs right out of the hole.
Thomas makes sound tackles in space. When you talk about fundamental tackling, Thomas can do it. Where he gets in trouble is with limited strength to make contact and follow through on the tackle.
Thomas has good speed for the position and can run with wideouts and tight ends out in coverage. His speed best shows up in his range, as he’s able to track across the field to make plays.
Thomas is one of the better free safeties in the NFL today. While he lacks prototypical size, Thomas makes up for that with excellent vision, range and fluid ability in coverage.
Thomas was ranked No. 9 among all safeties in last year's B/R 1,000 (the position was split into free safeties and strong safeties).
5. Kerry Rhodes, Arizona Cardinals
Kerry Rhodes allowed a passer rating of 64.5 in 2012, showing much-improved man and zone coverage with a pass rush in front of him. Rhodes does a good job flowing to the ball and has the speed to find his way to the football. He has the athletic ability to go up and contest jump balls and can turn errant passes into turnovers.
A better run defender in the Arizona scheme, Rhodes will come up to play the ball from his deep center position. He has the speed to close on the ball outside the tackles.
Rhodes was an active tackler with good ability to come up and play the ball. Where his grade takes a hit is in the eight missed tackles charted over that time period.
Rhodes has maintained his speed well throughout his career. While he’s no longer running down every receiver from behind, he plays with enough speed to track the ball all over the field.
Rhodes showed a ton of improvement in 2012 with a better supporting cast around him. He’s still an active, aggressive free safety who can close on the ball and make plays in the passing game.
Rhodes was ranked No. 57 among all safeties in last year's B/R 1,000 (the position was split into free safeties and strong safeties).
4. T.J. Ward, Cleveland Browns
T.J. Ward isn’t thought of as a coverage safety, but our film study showed better man and zone coverage than expected. Ward will get beaten up if left in single coverage, but he can get physical and limit routes and targets. He doesn’t show the length to challenge jump balls in coverage.
Ward’s best at making a play on the run. He’s physical and aggressive to fight through traffic and attack the play. His ability to plant and go after making his reads is elite.
A bone-crushing tackler who slams into ball-carriers and has the strength to jar the ball lose, Ward is a hitter first and foremost.
Ward shows good speed when planting and coming up to attack the ball, but he can be a bit limited in space if asked to turn and run. He’s much better playing forward.
Ward makes his impact on the game in run support and in intimidating receivers over the middle. What he lacks in pure cover skills or speed, he makes up for with big hits and consistent presence against the run.
Ward was not ranked in last year's B/R 1,000.
3. Reshad Jones, Miami Dolphins
A stout cover man, Reshad Jones can lock down slot receivers and tight ends from the strong safety position. He allowed a passer rating of just 38 last season. Basically, he held NFL quarterbacks to a rating worse than Tim Tebow had in Denver. Jones isn’t well known yet, but his cover skills are elite.
With good bulk and strength for the position, Jones is willing to throw himself into the ring and make plays against backs in the run game. He does a good job reading and reacting to the ball and is fast enough to close on the edge.
Jones played damn near every snap for the Dolphins last season. He’ll bounce off runners at times if he doesn’t properly wrap up, but he brings impact and force in his tackles. We’d like to see him clean up his angles at times, but his development was huge.
Jones has the speed to make plays from sideline to sideline and shows very good acceleration in space. He’s not a 4.4 sprinter in the 40-yard dash, but his speed is more than enough.
If you’re wondering who Reshad Jones is, do yourself a favor and find some 2012 Miami Dolphins games online. Jones was a beast all season, showing up as a cover man and run defender. He’s one of the NFL’s best up-and-coming players.
Jones was not ranked in last year's B/R 1,000.
2. Jairus Byrd, Buffalo Bills
Jairus Byrd comes in tied with our best coverage score for any safety—a perfect 40-of-40. When matched up in coverage last season, Byrd allowed a passer rating of just 56.9. He has elite skills in both man and zone coverage and has shown with his five interceptions on the year that he can convert coverage to interceptions.
Our scouting team loved Byrd in run defense last year. He’s active and aggressive in run support. Byrd can come up to close down rushing lanes and will get physical in the box.
During the games we charted, Byrd missed very few tackles and was recorded to have just four misses on the year by Pro Football Focus. Not only is Byrd an active tackler, he’s a consistent one.
Byrd is able to make plays all over the field despite not having great speed. He’s much more quick than fast in the open field.
Few safeties had the all-around year that Byrd did in the Bills defense. He’s a triple threat as a cover man, run defender and ball hawk who can create turnovers in the secondary.
Byrd was ranked No. 6 among all safeties in last year's B/R 1,000 (the position was split into free safeties and strong safeties).
1. Eric Weddle, San Diego Chargers
Eric Weddle is one of the NFL’s best cover safeties. He’s versatile enough to play in man or zone coverage, with enough speed to hang with receivers and tight ends if matched up.
The rare coverage safety who can also come up to stop the run, Weddle is aggressive upon making a read. He’ll fly into the box and is comfortable taking on blockers.
Weddle doesn’t have highlight-reel hits very often, but he’s a solid, consistent tackler who makes strong impact and can hang on for the finish.
Weddle isn’t the fastest player in the NFL, but he has very good speed for a safety. That speed and quickness show up in his range, which allows him to be one of the best ball hawks in the game.
Hands down, the best safety in the NFL when looking at coverage, tackling and run support. Weddle is a complete player who can thrive no matter the down and distance.
Weddle was ranked No. 2 among all safeties in last year's B/R 1,000 (the position was split into free safeties and strong safeties).
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