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B/R NFL 1000: Top 75 Safeties

Matt MillerNFL Draft Lead WriterMarch 20, 2014

B/R NFL 1000: Top 75 Safeties

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    Editor's note: This is the 10th installment in Bleacher Report's NFL 1000 for the 2013 season. This signature series runs through April 24, with NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller ranking the best players at every position. You can read more about the series in this introductory article. See the NFL 1000 page for more rankings.

    The safety position continues to evolve in the NFL. With each evolution, the men playing as the last line of defense become more and more important.

    Need to stop the read-option? Get yourself a free safety with range and tackling ability. Need to slow down Calvin Johnson? Bracket coverage—a safety over the top and a cornerback underneath—is your only hope. No matter the offensive system, the best recipe for stopping it usually involves a great safety.

    So who is the best safety?

    You might prefer a rangy, athletic player like Earl Thomas. Or maybe you want a crushing hitter like Donte Whitner. No matter your preference, when you put them all together, it’s fascinating to see just who comes out on top. That’s what the NFL 1000 aims to identify. Throw out the narratives and the fantasy football stats, and dig into the film. Then we’ll see who is the best.

    The B/R 1000 metric is based on scouting each player and grading the key criteria for each position. The criteria are weighted according to importance, on a 100-point scale.

    Potential is not taken into consideration. Nor are career accomplishments.

    Safeties are judged on coverage (40 points), run defense (15), speed (25), tackling (20) and all of the technique, athletic ability and football intelligence needed to play the position.

    In the case of ties, our team asked, "Which player would I rather have on my team?" and set the rankings accordingly.

    Subjective? Yes. But ties are no fun.

    Each player was scouted by me and a team of experienced evaluators, with these key criteria in mind. The following scouting reports and grades are the work of months of film study from our team.

    All statistics from Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Players' heights, weights and seasons from NFL.com.

75. Patrick Chung, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

     

    Coverage

    23/40

    Patrick Chung (5'11", 210 lbs, five seasons) moved between strong safety and free safety for the Eagles in 2013. He is better in coverage when he lines up closer to the line of scrimmage and can drop into an underneath zone. He doesn’t possess the physical talent or awareness to play man coverage and is a liability playing deep. Not only does Chung lack range, but he also doesn’t consistently show awareness or good technique.

    Run Defense

    9/15

    Chung is quick to move forward when he diagnoses the play. He fills gaps well and consistently plays with aggression to get to the football. However, he is easily blocked out of plays and his closing speed isn’t impressive.

    Tackle

    8/20

    Chung isn’t a punishing hitter or a consistent tackler. When he plays with good technique, he is able to tackle all kinds of players, from bigger running backs to quicker receivers.

    Speed

    20/25

    He’s an all-around average athlete who doesn’t stand out for his fluidity or straight-line speed.

    Overall

    60/100

    As the Eagles found out this past season, if Patrick Chung is starting for your defense, your secondary is at least one starter away from being an adequate starting unit.

74. Andrew Sendejo, Minnesota Vikings

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    Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

     

    Coverage

    26/40

    Andrew Sendejo (6'1", 200 lbs, four seasons) needs to show more control and composure in coverage. He is a frenetic mover who doesn’t make quick decisions because he never appears to be settled in his assignment. Sendejo isn’t a phenomenal athlete, so that is likely why he tries to overcompensate at times.

    Run Defense

    10/15

    He’s quick to react and takes good routes to the ball, but he’s a poor tackler who is a liability against better running backs.

    Tackle

    10/20

    Sendejo missed too many tackles in 2013. For a player of his size, he tries to hit players too often instead of focusing on wrapping them up.

    Speed

    15/25

    Sendejo has enough speed to be successful at this level, but not enough speed to compensate for weaknesses in other areas. If he showed better awareness in coverage and made quicker decisions, he might have been effective enough to be considered a potential long-term starter.

    Overall

    61/100

    Mike Zimmer may be able to turn his performances around, but right now it doesn’t look like Sendejo will be a contributor for the Vikings in 2014. That is, unless Harrison Smith is injured again.

73. T.J. McDonald, St. Louis Rams

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    Tom Gannam/Associated Press

     

    Coverage

    29/40

    T.J. McDonald (6'2", 217 lbs, one season) is an aggressive safety who was asked to do a lot by the Rams during his rookie season. McDonald is best suited to line up in the box instead of beginning coverage plays from deep. When he does play deep, he can aggressively break in front of routes, but he doesn’t have the range or discipline to be consistently successful there. When he lines up in the box, McDonald can cover tight ends or read the quarterback underneath. He needs to improve in man coverage to be reliable against slot receivers and quicker tight ends, but he showed potential at this early stage of his career.

    Run Defense

    6/15

    McDonald’s aggressive approach hurts him in the run game. He needs to develop better discipline so he doesn't run himself out of plays.

    Tackle

    9/20

    Because he is a big safety with long arms, McDonald has a tendency to tackle too high. He needs to hunch down and drive through defenders with his shoulder more often. Furthermore, with his long arms, he should be better at wrapping up players than he was in 2013.

    Speed

    17/25

    For a player of his size, McDonald shows good straight-line speed and fluidity. It’s his athleticism that will give the Rams hope for the future.

    Overall

    61/100

    It wasn’t a great rookie season for McDonald, but he showed potential as a raw prospect adjusting to a new team and higher quality of opposition.

72. Duke Ihenacho, Denver Broncos

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    Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

     

    Coverage

    22/40

    Duke Ihenacho (6'1", 207 lbs, two seasons) had an inconsistent 2013 season. He played better in the first half of the season before seeing his role reduced during the second half. In pass coverage, Ihenacho proved to be a versatile player who could carry out a variety of roles. However, his footwork limited how good he good be. Too often Ihenacho took unnecessary steps and stumbled over his own feet while changing direction.

    Run Defense

    10/15

    Ihenacho is an inconsistent read-and-react player, but he plays with the effort needed to make plays close to the line of scrimmage.

    Tackle

    10/20

    Ihenacho missed too many tackles because of sloppy technique. He is big enough and athletic enough to take down any kind of offensive player, but he needs to be consistent with his technique.

    Speed

    19/25

    Although he is not exceptionally quick and his footwork at times slows him down when changing direction, Ihenacho has enough straight-line speed to be effective in deep zones.

    Overall

    61/100

    The 2013 season was Ihenacho’s first with extended involvement on the field. He is entering his third season in 2014 and will be hoping to iron out the inconsistencies in his game.

71. Malcolm Jenkins, New Orleans Saints

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    Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Spor

     

    Coverage

    28/40

    New Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan asked a lot of Malcolm Jenkins (6'0", 204 lbs, five seasons) in 2013. He is a versatile player who can play as a single-high safety and cover tight ends or receivers in man coverage underneath. Jenkins has impressive range but below-average ball skills. He was asked to blitz the quarterback a lot in 2013.

    Run Defense

    6/15

    Jenkins overruns plays and takes bad angles to ball-carriers. He can be quick to react to the run from a deep position, but his effort is very inconsistent.

    Tackle

    8/20

    If you lack discipline in your technique and you lack effort to bring down ball-carriers, you’re going to be exposed in the NFL. Jenkins was in 2013.

    Speed

    19/25

    Jenkins is an impressive athlete. His acceleration and straight-line speed allowed him to be effective as a pass-rusher and run defender. His fluidity and quickness allowed him to cover a lot of ground in a hurry.

    Overall

    61/100

    A stereotypically flawed free safety, Jenkins, who recently signed as a free agent with the Eagles, has all the athleticism to be an outstanding player, but his inconsistency in coverage, limited ball skills and complete unreliability against the run overshadow his physical talent.

70. Brandon Meriweather, Washington Redskins

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

     

    Coverage

    26/40

    Brandon Meriweather’s (5'11", 197 lbs, seven seasons) reputation takes the focus away from his coverage ability. From a physical perspective, he could be a very good player. He changes direction easily, has an initial burst and enough long speed to cover a lot of ground. He is strong enough and aggressive enough to play man coverage underneath. Meriweather’s problem is his lack of control. He is too often dragged out of position in zone coverage and can’t mirror tight ends or slot receivers in man coverage.

    Run Defense

    6/15

    Meriweather is actually quick to read and react to the running game after dropping into coverage. But his inability to locate the ball and finish tackles is a major problem.

    Tackle

    8/20

    Meriweather was suspended for a game in 2013 because of his recklessness as a tackler. He missed too many tackles in space.

    Speed

    21/25

    Single-high safeties are coming more into focus because of Earl Thomas’ success in Seattle. Meriweather isn’t Thomas, but he has the kind of athleticism that allows him to comfortably cover enough ground to fit in that role. Not that anyone should want to put him there.

    Overall

    61/100

    Sometimes players are unfairly mislabeled. Meriweather isn’t one of those players. His recklessness and lack of discipline take away from his physical talent.

69. James Ihedigbo, Baltimore Ravens

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

     

    Coverage

    25/40

    Veteran James Ihedigbo (6'1", 214 lbs, six seasons) is a disciplined and consistent player in coverage, but he is physically limited. Ihedigbo fits as a strong safety who can play man coverage against some tight ends and intimidate receivers over the middle of the field with his presence. Ihedigbo is at his best when he keeps the game in front of him and isn’t asked to turn from a deep starting point.

    Run Defense

    14/15

    It’s no surprise that with his strength and discipline, Ihedigbo is able to fill gaps correctly and fight through blocks to tackle running backs. However, it’s his energy that stands out. Ihedigbo plays with the intensity of a linebacker when he sees the opportunity to get to the ball.

    Tackle

    9/20

    Ihedigbo missed too many tackles in 2013. He is a strong player who can be effective in the box, but his lack of lateral quickness often puts him at a disadvantage against players in space.

    Speed

    14/25

    Although he can close on the ball quickly in a straight line, asking Ihedigbo to turn at all in any situation is normally a problem.

    Overall

    62/100

    Ihedigbo is the type of player who brings a stability to the secondary for a short stretch, but he will ultimately need to be replaced. He wasn’t supposed to be the long-term option for the Ravens, but Michael Huff’s failure forced them to move forward with Elam and Ihedigbo as a pairing.

68. Darian Stewart, St. Louis Rams

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

     

    Coverage

    30/40

    Although Darian Stewart (5'11", 214 lbs, four seasons) isn’t versatile enough to play as a lone deep safety, he is effective in the right situations. As part of a Cover-2 shell, Stewart is able to make good, quick decisions, and he has the athleticism to take advantage of them. When he is dropped into an underneath zone, he is less consistent with his decision-making but is still an effective player. Stewart has all-around physical talent, but asking him to play man coverage against anyone isn’t ideal.

    Run Defense

    8/15

    Regardless of where he initially lines up, Stewart doesn’t consistently get off blocks and takes too many bad angles to the football.

    Tackle

    6/20

    Everyone loves an aggressive safety, but there always needs to be a balance. Stewart was too aggressive in space when trying to tackle players in 2013. He missed too many tackles because of his frenetic movement.

    Speed

    18/25

    Stewart has enough quickness and straight-line speed to be effective at this level, but he’s not an incredible athlete by any measure.

    Overall

    62/100

    He was expected to be a full-time starter in 2013, but he eventually fell behind Rodney McLeod and T.J. McDonald on the depth chart. Stewart has enough talent to still be a valuable contributor in a limited role, but his play will need to be more consistent on a snap-to-snap basis.

67. Bacarri Rambo, Washington Redskins

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

     

    Coverage

    25/40

    A sixth-round pick in 2013, Bacarri Rambo (6'0", 211 lbs, one season) was thrust into a starting role during his rookie season. It was clear he wasn’t ready. This was most obvious when he was in coverage. Rambo was very tentative making decisions, and he often appeared to be slightly out of position when he first dropped into his zone.

    Run Defense

    8/15

    During the first two weeks of the season, when Rambo was a starter, he showed an aggressive approach to run defense. He attacked blockers and was quick to move toward the line of scrimmage. However, he lacks the ideal size as a run defender and missed too many tackles.

    Tackle

    10/20

    Rambo missed 10 tackles on 340 snaps in 2013. However, at least three of those misses came in space against Jamaal Charles in the snow.

    Speed

    19/25

    What makes Rambo an appealing player is his athleticism. He is a fluid player who can turn and accelerate to different areas of the field with ease. He needs to develop better situational and positional awareness to get the most out of his athleticism.

    Overall

    62/100

    Rambo was put in an unfair situation his rookie season. He was asked to start when he needed time to develop. He could still turn into a good player, but he needs time.

66. George Iloka, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

     

    Coverage

    32/40

    While only 23 years old, George Iloka (6'4", 217 lbs, two seasons) enjoyed somewhat of a breakout season in coverage last year. He is 6’4” with incredible length, but he moves fluidly and breaks quickly on the ball. Iloka is comfortable playing in space deep down the field or dropping closer to the line of scrimmage to battle tight ends. He has the athleticism and body control that suggest he could continue to develop into an even better cover safety.

    Run Defense

    8/15

    Iloka needs to spend the offseason watching Kam Chancellor of the Seattle Seahawks. Chancellor has a similar frame and excels at taking on blockers close to the line of scrimmage. Iloka isn’t as thick as Chancellor, but he could be a lot more effective if he took the same aggressive, controlled approach and played lower to the ground.

    Tackle

    8/20

    Iloka was a high-volume tackler in 2013, but he needs to be more consistent with his approach. He made a number of impressive plays because of his quickness to attack the ball-carrier, but he also allowed his upper body to drag him off-balance at times. Iloka needs to trust his own athleticism and ability to adapt in space.

    Speed

    15/25

    With his length and size, Iloka doesn’t need to be exceptionally fast. He has enough speed to complement his size and fluidity, which is what makes him so flexible.

    Overall

    63/100

    Iloka could easily develop into a star safety. He still had his issues in 2013, but the overwhelming physical talent and the growth he has shown over his first two seasons can’t be ignored.

65. Dashon Goldson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

     

    Coverage

    26/40

    Physically, Dashon Goldson (6'2", 200 lbs, seven seasons) could be an effective defender from a strong safety spot. However, that’s not how the Buccaneers used him. Goldson was asked to be the last line of defense, and he simply doesn’t have the discipline to do that effectively. His natural instinct is to move forward to attack receivers over the middle of the field.

    Run Defense

    10/15

    Much like his coverage, Goldson’s impact against the run was hindered by how he was used. He missed a lot of tackles because he played in space more. Goldson wants to knock players out, and he’s big enough to punish running backs, so having him closer to the line of scrimmage gets the most out of his skill set.

    Tackle

    10/20

    For such an aggressive tackler, Goldson actually does a decent job with his consistency. Because of his approach, he's always going to be a player who misses his fair share of tackles.

    Speed

    17/25

    He has decent range and is a good all-around athlete. He is fast enough to be an effective single-high safety, but he would need a more suitable skill set to go with that speed. Goldson’s speed is best used when he quickly closes on receivers and is able to explode through contact.

    Overall

    63/100

    When the Buccaneers signed Goldson, it was unclear how he would fit because he is similar to Mark Barron. With Darrelle Revis at cornerback, they could have limited the territory each safety had to patrol. But Greg Schiano didn’t use his defensive pieces that way. Goldson isn’t the type of player you’d expect new coach Lovie Smith to love, but Smith is a smarter defensive coach than Schiano and Goldson does have talent.

64. Thomas DeCoud, Atlanta Falcons

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

     

    Coverage

    25/40

    Giving up big plays was a big issue for Thomas DeCoud (6'2", 192 lbs, six seasons) in 2013. His awareness of his positioning on the field and his recognition of the ball in the air limited what he could do in space. DeCoud showed his versatility when he dropped down and played man coverage at times. But his inability to cover receivers or tight ends and his lack of interceptions made him a liability for the Falcons.

    Run Defense

    9/15

    DeCoud is quick to read running plays and is aggressive attacking contact. However, he is an underwhelming athlete who is too easily redirected by tight ends or offensive linemen. DeCoud also missed too many tackles in 2013.

    Tackle

    9/20

    DeCoud missed 12 tackles on 907 defensive snaps. He isn’t an imposing player, so he can be overwhelmed by bigger players. He needs to play with consistent technique to drag down opposing players.

    Speed

    20/25

    DeCoud has active feet and is able to change direction quickly. His straight-line speed is decent if unspectacular, and he is lacking the acceleration needed to break on the ball.

    Overall

    63/100

    DeCoud will be 29 before the start of the 2014 season. His spell as a starter may have already come to an end.

63. E.J. Biggers, Washington Redskins

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

     

    Coverage

    23/40

    E.J. Biggers (6'0", 185 lbs, four seasons) plays under control in space and works to the football well when he recognizes receivers in space. However, he is too often drawn toward underneath receivers when he is the deepest player in coverage. He is a fluid mover who is able to recover in those situations, but he lacks a burst to break on the ball.

    Run Defense

    8/15

    Biggers is quick to read the run and fills gaps well from deep starting points. He is notably willing to make the extra effort to push a pile backward, even as another defender has engaged with the running back. This is a minor thing, but it reflects his aggressive attitude. Of course, aggression can only do so much because his size works against him as a run defender.

    Tackle

    8/20

    Biggers missed nine tackles on the season. Seven came in around 150 snaps against the Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos. Biggers’ length and strength limit his contributions against the run.

    Speed

    24/25

    A fluid athlete who has no trouble running with receivers down the field, Biggers is only missing a short-area burst that would allow him to break on the ball in front of receivers with more regularity.

    Overall

    63/100

    It says a lot about Biggers’ limitations that he spent most of the season as a bit-part contributor for Washington.

62. D.J. Swearinger, Houston Texans

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    Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

     

    Coverage

    28/40

    D.J. Swearinger (5'10", 208 lbs, one season) is somewhat of a tweener who doesn’t perfectly fit as an in-the-box strong safety or a deep free safety. He has impressive quick feet and plays very physical coverage. He can be too aggressive at times and grab tight ends in man coverage. But his willingness to locate and attack the ball is a positive. Swearinger is a little too slow to recognize situations at this stage of his career, but the physical talent is there.

    Run Defense

    10/15

    It’s clear that Swearinger relishes all the physical aspects of playing football. He is quick to react to the run and willingly looks to initiate contact with blockers on his way to the football. Swearinger tries to impact anyone he meets on the field as opposed to just getting past them.

    Tackle

    10/20

    A hard-hitting safety who spent a lot of time in a linebacker role for the Texans, Swearinger did miss a number of tackles, but that is likely to always be a part of his game because of his preference to punish people. When he used his hands to wrap up, he was an effective tackler.

    Speed

    16/25

    Swearinger doesn’t have free-safety range. He does turn quickly and is precise with his footwork. But he is best suited to play in the box and cover more athletic tight ends. He has the potential to be very good in that role because of his short-area burst and fluid movement.

    Overall

    64/100

    Swearinger wasn’t expected to play a full-time role as a rookie. But injuries and Ed Reed’s futility forced him onto the field early. He clearly has physical talent and needs to develop, so patience will be needed here.

61. Quintin Mikell, Carolina Panthers

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    MIKE MCCARN/Associated Press

     

    Coverage

    30/40

    At 33 years old, Quintin Mikell (5'10", 205 lbs, 11 seasons) brought a veteran calm to the Carolina Panthers defense in 2013. Mikell is a smart player who understands how to best position himself and read plays as they develop. He plays the ball relatively well in the air and has quick feet. His coverage ability is limited by his athleticism. He isn’t exceptionally fast and doesn’t have imposing size to outmuscle receivers or bait quarterbacks.

    Run Defense

    7/15

    Mikell is a small player who reads the game well and understands where to be, but his size and speed make him easy to block or evade in space. Unless Mikell gets into position quickly or uses his short-area quickness to get around bigger players, he is unlikely to have a positive impact against the run.

    Tackle

    10/20

    He is a reliable, consistent form-tackler, but again his impact is limited by his physical talent. At 33 years old, it’s hard to consistently make tackles on a weekly basis. Players are simply too athletic nowadays.

    Speed

    17/25

    He’s still a fluid player who changes direction and accelerates quickly. However, his lack of speed over longer distances is obvious at this stage.

    Overall

    64/100

    Considering the circumstances, Mikell did a solid job in Charlotte, but the strength of that defense was clearly on the defensive line. He showed that he could still play without his athleticism last season, so the only question that remains is this: Can he fill a role for anyone, or will younger, more athletic players push him out of contention?

60. William Moore, Atlanta Falcons

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

     

    Coverage

    30/40

    Although he is not exceptionally big or fast, William Moore (6'0", 221 lbs, five seasons) has a decent combination of speed and size that allows him to line up in a variety of spots. He has good enough range to be a deep safety in Cover 3, but he isn’t fast enough to be trusted in Cover 1 all the time. Moore plays the ball relatively well in the air and has enough closing speed to recover from bad positions.

    Run Defense

    8/15

    He is not a physically imposing player and doesn’t consistently recognize the run quickly. Moore misses too many tackles and plays too tall to consistently beat or get around blocks.

    Tackle

    8/20

    Moore missed an incredibly high 17 tackles in 2013. He needs to get lower and tackle with his shoulder before wrapping up with his arms. Moore doesn’t have the physical bulk to knock receivers to the ground with a big hit.

    Speed

    18/25

    He is a fluid mover who has an impressive short-area burst. His range is decent, but not incredible.

    Overall

    64/100

    Moore can’t afford to be such a liability in run defense. He also could improve in coverage, but his run defense is the primary concern.

59. Matt Elam, Baltimore Ravens

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    Coverage

    24/40

    Matt Elam (5'10", 210 lbs, one season) is a good all-around athlete with a decent combination of range and size. He isn’t exceptionally fluid and the game appeared to be moving too fast for him as a rookie. Elam didn’t show great awareness of the receivers around him or how plays were developing. In terms of coverage, Elam would be better suited to play closer to the line of scrimmage.

    Run Defense

    10/15

    He is an inconsistent run defender who was at times too slow to read pass and other times too easily faked out by play action. When Elam uses his hands against blockers, he can be effective, but he needs to be more aware of his surroundings when approaching the line of scrimmage.

    Tackle

    11/20

    A decent tackler who made some plays in space. Elam has an aggressive streak that isn’t always evident, but he will throw his weight into gang-tackles on occasion.

    Speed

    19/25

    Elam doesn’t have one standout trait. He changes direction, accelerates and sustains speed well. He is a good all-around athlete without a great trait to rely on.

    Overall

    64/100

    Elam was thrust into a starting role that he wasn’t ready for. Michael Huff’s quick fall from grace in Baltimore forced John Harbaugh’s hand more than anything.

58. John Cyprien, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Coverage

    22/40

    If Gus Bradley drafted John Cyprien (6'0", 217 lbs, one season) to fill the Earl Thomas role in his defense, he may have found the right fit. That’s not to say that Cyprien will be as good as Thomas, but he showed the same range and comfort at times in that role. Cyprien is better at playing deeper and keeping receivers in front of him as opposed to lining up close to the line of scrimmage and dropping into a zone underneath. His size and body control limit what he can do in man coverage.

    Run Defense

    10/15

    With his quickness, it’s no surprise that Cyprien is able to close ground to the line of scrimmage quickly and slide past blockers in space. However, he needs to play with more control to avoid missing so many tackles.

    Tackle

    12/20

    Cyprien’s size is a concern against running backs, and he can come in out of control at times. He may never bulk up, but he will have to play with more body control to improve his tackling technique.

    Speed

    20/25

    He backpedals with speed and changes direction with ease. Cyprien’s range is good enough that he could be featured as a single-high safety on a snap-to-snap basis. He has some development to do in the rest of his game, but his speed is not a concern at all.

    Overall

    64/100

    Cyprien didn’t have a great rookie season. Fortunately for the Jaguars, he has specific issues that can be addressed.

57. M.D. Jennings, Green Bay Packers

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    David Kohl/Associated Press

     

    Coverage

    24/40

    M.D. Jennings (6'0", 187 lbs, three seasons) is an energetic player with the range to be successful as the deep safety in Cover-3 defenses. He displays impressive fluidity when changing direction and has a quick backpedal. Jennings’ positioning is good, but he doesn’t locate the ball well in the air or break on it when it arrives to receivers. His awareness of receivers around him is also questionable.

    Run Defense

    9/15

    With great energy and effort as opposed to recognition, Jennings consistently reacts to run plays. However, he too often gets lost on his way to the football and takes himself out of the play.

    Tackle

    11/20

    Jennings is an aggressive tackler who squares up to running backs and attacks them low to offset their size advantage.

    Speed

    20/25

    Jennings’ energy is impressive. He has quick feet and enough long speed to cover a lot of ground. He doesn’t have a great burst, however, and that was exemplified by his inability to get his hands on the ball at all in 2013.

    Overall

    64/100

    Jennings, who recently signed as a free agent with the Bears, clearly wasn’t the worst safety in the league last season, but he is now entering his fourth season. The odds are against him being a starter again.

56. Ed Reed, New York Jets

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    Coverage

    27/40

    Ed Reed (5'11", 205 lbs, 12 seasons) has always been a smart, versatile player who likes to take risks. He is still that player at this stage of his career, but he has lost his range. At 35 years old, Reed doesn’t have the speed to be a free safety and didn’t show the quickness to be overly effective working from the box. He still has outstanding ball skills, but those aren’t as valuable when you can’t get to the ball.

    Run Defense

    10/15

    He is an aggressive run defender who takes on blocks and understands where to be. However, the combination of his age and his injuries has seemingly diminished his strength.

    Tackle

    15/20

    Reed had a shoulder issue in 2012 that made him miss a huge number of tackles. Back then, he wasn’t playing with good technique and couldn’t get players to the ground with heavy hits. In 2013, he played with better discipline and was fully healthy, so he was much more consistent.

    Speed

    12/25

    It’s somewhat sad to watch a Hall of Fame player fall so far. Reed can’t cover enough ground to be a free safety anymore. That was repeatedly exposed in 2013, both in Houston and in New York.

    Overall

    64/100

    Reed decided to come back after the Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl victory in 2012, but he doesn’t seem capable of competing at this level anymore.

55. Ryan Clark, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Coverage

    30/40

    Ryan Clark (5'11", 205 lbs, 12 seasons) is still one of the smartest, most technically sound players in the NFL. The Steelers had more miscommunications on the back end in 2013 than in previous years, but that wasn’t all on Clark. He shows excellent awareness of the receivers around him and reads the game as well as anyone.

    Run Defense

    10/15

    Everything about Clark’s game is still good from a technical point of view, but he just lacks the physical ability to execute. He was noticeably a step slower at times when reacting to running plays, and he didn’t show the same resilience against blockers.

    Tackle

    11/20

    The hard-hitting safety missed too many tackles in 2013 and wasn’t the same intimidating presence as he has been in previous seasons.

    Speed

    13/25

    At 34 years old, it’s no surprise that Clark has slowed down. It’s the main reason for his recent struggles. He doesn’t have the same range that he once had, and the burst to break on the ball simply isn’t there anymore.

    Overall

    64/100

    Clark is still a good player, but he simply doesn’t have the legs to be a full-time starter at this level anymore. At least, not in the same role he has played for the Steelers in recent years. If he lands behind a good pass-rushing defensive line (such as the one in Carolina) and he moves to strong safety, he could still be a valuable addition for a team.

54. Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings

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    Coverage

    25/40

    Harrison Smith (6'2", 214 lbs, two seasons) is a big safety with impressive range when playing from a deep position. Because of his size, he can drop down into the box and cover bigger tight ends in man coverage. However, Smith isn’t an exceptionally fluid athlete, so he struggles when trying to stick with tight ends coming out of breaks or when changing direction to react to receivers running deep.

    Run Defense

    10/15

    Smith reads the game well and is aggressive attacking the line of scrimmage. His size and strength allow him to withstand hits and blocks from receivers and tight ends when he is on the move.

    Tackle

    12/20

    Because of his length and athleticism, Smith is an impressive tackler when he uses good technique. But he missed a lot of tackles in 2013 because his technique wasn’t consistent.

    Speed

    18/25

    Although he is a bigger safety, Smith still has good range as a free safety. He isn’t as fast as John Cyprien or Brandon Meriweather, but he has enough speed to complement how quickly he reads the game. He fits best in Cover 2 opposed to playing as a single-high safety in any defense.

    Overall

    65/100

    Smith missed a large portion of 2013 because of injury. It wasn’t a great season for him, but his physical talent is obvious. He should rebound under new head coach Mike Zimmer.

53. Da'Norris Searcy, Buffalo Bills

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    Coverage

    30/40

    Da’Norris Searcy (5'11", 216 lbs, three seasons) isn’t a great athlete. He doesn’t have great size, and his feet are somewhat slow when changing directions. His range is limited and his burst isn’t exceptional. Because of that, he fits best as an underneath zone defender who can read the quarterback and react to receivers around him. He is a smart player who understands positioning and how to give help to those around him.

    Run Defense

    7/15

    He’s not a notably intense run defender and doesn’t appear to relish contact. Searcy isn’t a big player, and he doesn’t have the speed to close ground quickly. He also missed too many tackles in 2013.

    Tackle

    10/20

    Searcy missed nine tackles on 754 defensive snaps. His underwhelming athleticism is the primary reason.

    Speed

    18/25

    Searcy has enough speed to be effective at this level, but his speed is definitely not a major strength. He is better suited to playing in tight areas underneath as opposed to being the last line of defense deep.

    Overall

    65/100

    Searcy played more in 2013 than he did in any of his two previous seasons in the NFL. At 25 years old, he can still develop into a reliable starter. But for now he appears to be a role player at best.

52. Duron Harmon, New England Patriots

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    Coverage

    31/40

    Duron Harmon (6'0", 205 lbs, one season) doesn’t have great range, but he does have fluid hips that allow him to turn and backpedal into good positions at the snap. He reads the game well once he has settled into a deep zone, but his initial burst and long speed limit how effective he can be. Harmon is good because of his intelligence, but the Patriots won’t be looking to give him the most difficult assignments.

    Run Defense

    7/15

    Harmon doesn’t bring great intensity to run defense. He is timid working through contact when receivers look to block him and often makes bad decisions when trying to run around them.

    Tackle

    9/20

    Harmon didn’t miss a large number of tackles in 2013, but he has a bad habit of just throwing his body low at a runner to take him down. His tackling form needs to improve for him to get a better grade.

    Speed

    18/25

    Harmon’s ability to flip his hips and maintain good body control while on the move keeps his speed rating up. He doesn’t have the burst to break on the ball or recover when beaten early in a route, and he doesn’t have the long speed to cover a huge amount of ground on a given play.

    Overall

    65/100

    The rookie out of Rutgers had a decent first season, but it’s unclear how high his ceiling really is.

51. Roman Harper, New Orleans Saints

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    Coverage

    28/40

    It’s clear that Roman Harper (6'1", 200 lbs, eight seasons) has limitations in coverage. Rob Ryan asked him to blitz a lot. Harper blitzed on 12 percent of the pass plays he was on the field for in 2013. Harper blitzed a lot because he didn’t have the speed to play in space and wasn’t capable of matching up to receivers or tight ends in man coverage. He is best suited to play zone coverage underneath, where his positioning and awareness allow him to be effective.

    Run Defense

    8/15

    Although he is a strong defensive back, Harper is too easily blocked out of plays, and he doesn’t close ground to the ball-carrier quickly.

    Tackle

    17/20

    Harper’s tackling efficiency wasn’t spectacular in 2013, but his ability to tackle more powerful opponents in one-on-one situations boosts his grade.

    Speed

    13/25

    A lack of all-around speed is Harper’s biggest issue. He couldn’t be effective in Ryan’s defense because he can’t play man coverage. He doesn’t have enough range to be an effective deep safety.

    Overall

    66/100

    Harper was let go by the Saints because he is a liability in coverage. He found a spot on the Panthers' roster as a situational strong safety, but he won’t be guaranteed playing time.

50. Barry Church, Dallas Cowboys

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    Coverage

    29/40

    Barry Church (6'2", 218 lbs, four seasons) is an athletic safety with the length to move closer to the line of scrimmage and match up to tight ends. He has good range with a 10-yard burst that allows him to quickly close on underneath plays. However, his body control and decision-making need to improve. Too often Church lost his balance or too easily bit on a fake.

    Run Defense

    9/15

    Church is quick to get into a good position when the opponent runs the ball, but he is reckless at times. He doesn’t keep his head up to beat or run around blockers and lunges through piles too often.

    Tackle

    13/20

    While he isn’t a terrible tackler, Church still missed too many tackles in 2013. He would improve a lot in this area with improved upper body strength.

    Speed

    15/25

    An initial burst and decent quickness allow him to be effective moving forward and turning, but prolonged speed is an issue. Church doesn’t have great range.

    Overall

    66/100

    Church is the kind of player who would be valuable in the right situation. If you had a flexible cast of defenders around him who would allow you to limit his assignments, he could become very productive. Unfortunately for him, the Cowboys don’t have that.

49. Jeff Heath, Dallas Cowboys

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    Coverage

    27/40

    The first thing you notice when watching Jeff Heath (6'1", 209 lbs, one season) on tape is his size. He is a tall player who carries impressive bulk for a safety. Heath moves fluidly and backpedals quickly with perfect body control at the snap. He makes good, quick decisions more often than not, but his footwork when changing directions appears to slow him down in space.

    Run Defense

    7/15

    Heath made a number of impressive plays in space against the run, but he was inconsistent with his effort and aggression against blocks. Heath’s size and hand usage allowed him to quickly slide off blockers at times, but that didn’t happen often enough.

    Tackle

    9/20

    He missed a few too many tackles. Heath has a tendency to tackle opponents high instead of lowering his shoulder and wrapping up with his arms. It negates his size advantage.

    Speed

    23/25

    Heath is fluid in turning and has the acceleration to break on the ball at times. He plays with good range as the deep safety. However, there are many times when he looks to plant his foot to change direction and elongates his step. That appears to unnecessarily slow him down.

    Overall

    66/100

    Heath doesn’t look like your typical undrafted rookie. He obviously has physical talent, but he needs a bit of work if he is ever to become a reliable starter. At just 22 years old, he has plenty of time to develop.

48. Quintin Demps, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Coverage

    28/40

    Quintin Demps (5'11", 208 lbs, six seasons) has hesitation issues. He appears to recognize plays developing, but he takes a split second before jumping to action. Even though he is a fluid athlete who can quickly turn and change direction, Demps doesn’t have the burst or long speed to make up for so many mental lapses.

    Run Defense

    6/15

    Demps is quick to read run plays and has enough speed to get in position quickly. However, his intensity is inconsistent once he is in position, and his size becomes an issue when working against bigger offensive linemen. Demps gets trapped out of plays too often.

    Tackle

    9/20

    Although he’s not the biggest safety in the game, Demps can deliver a strong hit on receivers when he lines them up well. The problem is that he didn’t consistently do it in 2013.

    Speed

    23/25

    Demps has the speed to be trusted as the lone deep safety on a regular basis. His fluidity allows him to flip his hips and change direction with ease, while his acceleration and long speed are both above average.

    Overall

    66/100

    Demps, who recently signed as a free agent with the Giants, is 28 years old and 2013 was his best season so far. He will likely always be fighting for his spot as a role player.

47. Jahleel Addae, San Diego Chargers

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    Coverage

    32/40

    Jahleel Addae (5'10", 195 lbs, one season) was a rookie in 2013, but he showed the comfort of a veteran. Addae was rarely caught out of position and routinely made quick, smart decisions. The 24-year-old is an above-average athlete who plays with great intensity. Addae was asked to do a variety of things by the Chargers, and he proved capable in every area.

    Run Defense

    8/15

    Addae is quick to read running plays and plays with good effort. He plays under control so he never takes himself out of plays, but he doesn’t have the physical size or aggression to consistently get to backs.

    Tackle

    11/20

    He’s a consistent tackler who will make plays in a variety of situations. Addae isn’t a big hitter or an impact player who scares receivers in space, and sometimes he appears too eager to try to be that. But for the most part, he plays with the requisite balance of control and aggression.

    Speed

    16/25

    A good, not great athlete who succeeds more because of his ability to read the game than his athleticism, Addae has great footwork and positioning that allow him to turn quickly in space or in tight areas. He is fast enough to be the sole deep safety or line up in man coverage against tight ends.

    Overall

    67/100

    Addae became a more important piece for the Chargers defense as his rookie season progressed. He played like a veteran and should be able to improve his all-around game.

46. Morgan Burnett, Green Bay Packers

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    Coverage

    27/40

    Morgan Burnett (6'1", 209 lbs, four seasons) was used in a variety of ways by Green Bay last season, but he doesn’t appear to be comfortable as the deep safety. Burnett looked his best when he was responsible for an underneath zone that allowed him to feel receivers movements around him while keeping his eyes on the quarterback. He lacks the size to cover tight ends in man coverage.

    Run Defense

    8/15

    Burnett isn’t an imposing player. He is too easily blocked out of plays and doesn’t understand how to consistently work around blocks or read how plays are developing.

    Tackle

    13/20

    His missed-tackle-to-snap ratio isn’t bad, and Burnett often brings an aggression to contact that isn’t typical of most safeties his size. He has the ability to be a more consistent tackler, but he’s not necessarily a bad tackler as is.

    Speed

    19/25

    He’s not one of the few free safeties in the league who stand out for their speed, but Burnett has good range and the ability to flip his hips with ease. He has enough speed to break on the ball.

    Overall

    67/100

    Burnett isn’t the Packers’ biggest problem, but he also shouldn’t be assured of his job.

45. Danieal Manning, Houston Texans

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    Coverage

    30/40

    Danieal Manning (5'11", 212 lbs, eight seasons) is a smart, versatile safety who fits better in the box. He has decent length and understands how to use it in tight coverage. Manning isn’t a great man-cover safety, but he has the burst and quick feet to break on the ball when tight ends run underneath routes.

    Run Defense

    6/15

    Manning has the ability to take on blocks and make good tackles on running backs, but he doesn’t do it consistently. He also needs to be quicker and get in position earlier when reacting to the run.

    Tackle

    11/20

    He has good strength and didn’t miss many tackles in 2013. However, Manning’s small sample size during a shortened season must be taken into account.

    Speed

    20/25

    Manning has impressive short-area burst and quickness to change direction. He doesn’t have great range, though, because he doesn’t sustain his speed for longer stretches.

    Overall

    67/100

    Manning was a consistent but limited player for the Texans in 2013. His absence was felt after his season ended prematurely in Week 6.

44. Antonio Allen, New York Jets

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

     

    Coverage

    24/40

    Antonio Allen (6'1", 210 lbs, two seasons) has heavy feet for a safety. He appears to play on his heels too often, and that makes him slow to react to receivers running down the field. More importantly, his heavy feet affect his fluidity. He takes bigger-than-necessary steps too often, and that prolongs his movement. Allen has good size, but he doesn’t use it well against bigger receivers or tight ends.

    Run Defense

    12/15

    Because of his good size, Allen is able to fight through traffic to get to the ball-carrier. He isn’t quick to read run plays or advance to the line of scrimmage, but that size and his reliable tackling make him a good fit in Rex Ryan’s run defense.

    Tackle

    16/20

    Allen missed five tackles in 550 snaps. He was a high-volume tackler who finished the year with 63 tackles despite not being a full-time starter.

    Speed

    16/25

    Allen isn’t a rangy player. He has decent straight-line speed for his size, but he lacks ideal burst. He needs to improve his quickness by playing on his toes.

    Overall

    68/100

    There is some talent here, but Allen’s ceiling may be as a third safety who plays mostly in the box.

43. Will Allen, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Coverage

    29/40

    In a perfect world, Will Allen (6'1", 203 lbs, 10 seasons) would be a special-teams player. In the real world, Allen played a prominent role as a safety for both the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers in 2013. Allen has the athletic ability to play in the box or deep in space. He has the physicality to fight with tight ends and enough quickness to cover receivers. He is a consistent player but has a limited impact regardless where he is used.

    Run Defense

    12/15

    Allen is quick to recognize running plays. He has enough athleticism to get to the line of scrimmage quickly, and he has the strength to fight through traffic to the ball-carrier.

    Tackle

    8/20

    Even though he didn’t play a huge amount, Allen still managed to miss too many tackles. His lateral quickness is an issue, and his form needed to be more consistent.

    Speed

    19/25

    Allen has good range. He turns well in space and has enough sustained burst to close on the ball. In tighter situations, his quickness is less impressive. He struggled to move laterally without conceding space or losing his balance.

    Overall

    68/100

    Allen is a veteran player who entered the 2013 season as a starter. He proved to be an inadequate starter for the Cowboys. He may get another opportunity to start in Pittsburgh in 2014, but it’s unlikely that he will be an option for the long term.

42. Jamarca Sanford, Minnesota Vikings

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    Coverage

    31/40

    Jamarca Sanford (5'10", 200 lbs, five seasons) had a rough start to the 2013 season, but he recovered in the second half of it. Sanford shows off impressive awareness of the receivers around him, and he breaks on underneath passes very quickly. He isn’t a special athlete, but he combines good athleticism with a quick mind to be an underappreciated player in coverage.

    Run Defense

    8/15

    Sanford is quick to react to the run and plays with great effort. However, he doesn’t have great spacial awareness and his strength to fend off blocks is inconsistent. Sanford also missed too many tackles in 2013.

    Tackle

    10/20

    Sanford doesn’t always tackle with perfect technique, but he is able to effective in space because he squares up to defenders and closes quickly. He has decent power and is able to knock tight ends and receivers to the ground.

    Speed

    19/25

    Sanford’s speed becomes obvious when he’s closing on underneath routes and passes into the flat. He has enough fluidity to turn and run in space, but his range is hampered by his average long speed.

    Overall

    68/100

    Sanford should be considered a breakout candidate under defensive-minded head coach Mike Zimmer. He may not be the star safety in Minnesota. That title belongs to Harrison Smith, but he does have enough talent to be an above-average starter in the right situation.

41. Charles Woodson, Oakland Raiders

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

     

    Coverage

    31/40

    Despite turning 37 during the 2013 season, Charles Woodson (6'1", 210 lbs, 16 seasons) was still comfortable as the Oakland Raiders’ deep safety. The Raiders didn’t cater to him and give him easy assignments every week, either. Woodson is in incredible shape for a player of his age, and he still has the intelligence to read plays as they develop.

    Run Defense

    9/15

    His effort was questionable at times. Woodson didn’t play with the same intensity against the run as he did during his prime. If there is one area where he has fallen off because of his age, this is likely it.

    Tackle

    9/20

    Woodson forced three fumbles but missed 16 tackles in 2013. This is essentially what Woodson has always been. He sacrifices efficiency by focusing on trying to create turnovers.

    Speed

    19/25

    He’s still a fluid mover who can turn and run to cover ground. His range is impressive for his age, but it’s clear that his burst isn’t what it used to be, and he is slightly slower than he was during his prime.

    Overall

    68/100

    It wouldn’t be a major shock if Woodson was a starter again next season, a season that would be his 17th in the league. He may not be a good or even average starter, but still just being there at this point is an achievement.

40. Michael Mitchell, Carolina Panthers

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    Coverage

    33/40

    Michael Mitchell (6'0", 210 lbs, five seasons) is a perfect fit with the Carolina Panthers defense. That is because he is a very decisive player. Mitchell doesn’t always make the right decision, but he doesn’t hesitate to put himself in no-man’s land. He is a quick, fluid athlete with the speed to close on the ball from deep positions.

    Run Defense

    7/15

    Mitchell is a tall safety, but he doesn’t carry much bulk. This hurts him when trying to play the run as he is too easily affected by traffic. Furthermore, Mitchell is slow to react to running plays, which contributed to him missing a lot of tackles in 2013.

    Tackle

    7/20

    Mitchell missed 18 tackles on 983 snaps. Mitchell would improve his tackling if he targeted opponents lower on their bodies. He isn’t strong enough to consistently tackle opponents around their chests.

    Speed

    21/25

    The 26-year-old has enough quickness to comfortably change direction, and he has the acceleration and long speed to cover vast areas of space. He is at home playing free safety in the NFL.

    Overall

    68/100

    There is no doubt that Mitchell, who recently signed as a free agent with the Steelers, benefited from playing behind one of the best front sevens in the NFL. But his own individual ability shouldn’t be overshadowed because of that.

39. Dawan Landry, New York Jets

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    Coverage

    27/40

    Dawan Landry (6'1", 212 lbs, eight seasons) is more like a linebacker than a safety. He is decent in coverage because he reads the game well and begins his movement from good positions, but he isn’t a great athlete. Landry is a stereotypical strong safety who can be exposed in space, but he is a reliable tackler and run defender.

    Run Defense

    12/15

    Landry is a stocky player who plays with an aggressive streak that allows him to fight through traffic. He is a good tackler and reads the game well. Closing speed is his only notable issue.

    Tackle

    14/20

    Landry missed just eight tackles in 1,110 snaps. He is a valuable run defender whose only negative is his lack of quickness.

    Speed

    16/25

    The 31-year-old has enough speed to not be badly exposed at this level, but he is a player who opposing offenses would like to target. He isn’t quick enough in short areas to cover tight ends underneath, and he lacks the long speed and fluidity to be anything more than an average deep safety.

    Overall

    69/100

    Landry is a veteran starter who won’t dramatically hurt your defense, but he’s no more than an affordable fallback option for when you can’t find a high-quality starter.

38. Robert Lester, Carolina Panthers

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    Coverage

    32/40

    Undrafted rookie Robert Lester (6'1", 215 lbs, one season) didn’t have a full-time role for the Panthers, but he was impressive when he did see the field. He is a versatile player who can line up all over the field and carry out a variety of assignments. His range isn’t great, but his quick feet and fluid hips allow him to be effective in space, while he consistently has good awareness of the ball.

    Run Defense

    8/15

    Lester needs to play with greater control against the run. He doesn’t read running plays well and is often too aggressive. Lester didn’t directly miss many tackles in 2013, but he did miss opportunities by being in the wrong position and taking bad routes to the football.

    Tackle

    13/20

    Lester missed just two tackles on 336 snaps in 2013. When he locates the ball quickly, he plays with good technique and has the strength to consistently bring ball-carriers to the ground.

    Speed

    16/25

    With greater long speed, Lester could be a sure-fire NFL starter. He doesn’t have that, though, so he needs to use his quickness and intelligence to be effective in coverage.

    Overall

    69/100

    Coming in as an undrafted free agent stacked the odds against Lester, but he landed in a good spot and played relatively well during his first season.

37. Louis Delmas, Detroit Lions

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    Coverage

    34/40

    Louis Delmas (5'11", 202 lbs, five seasons) is a frustrating player. He has all the physical talent to be one of the best safeties in the NFL, and for stretches during games, he shows that talent. However, too many bad decisions led to inconsistent play during the 2013 season. Delmas’ grade is high because of his versatility and ability when he is playing well, but he needs to reduce his mistakes.

    Run Defense

    8/15

    A very aggressive player who quickly gets to the football, Delmas doesn’t have great size, so he needs to rely on his speed in space to make plays against the run.

    Tackle

    8/20

    Delmas missed too many tackles in 2013 because of poor technique. He wants to knock players to the ground instead of wrapping them up and pulling them down.

    Speed

    19/25

    With his fluidity and straight-line speed, it’s no surprise that Delmas can be effective in any area of the field. He isn’t on Earl Thomas’ level, but he does have excellent range.

    Overall

    69/100

    If Delmas, who recently signed as a free agent with the Dolphins, were a rookie, he would be a very promising player. However, he will turn 27 before next season and hasn’t developed a huge amount over his five seasons in the league. His propensity for making mistakes may prevent him from ever being a high-quality starter.

36. Earl Wolff, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Coverage

    23/40

    There is a hesitation in Earl Wolff’s (5'11", 210 lbs, one season) game that isn’t uncommon for rookies. Wolff appears to be unsure of himself when deciding to attack the football or change position to cover a receiver deep. When he does make a quick decision, he has excellent closing speed to recover.

    Run Defense

    9/15

    Wolff is inconsistent in how he reacts to running plays. Sometimes he is very quick to close on the ball, while other times he is caught on his heels. With more time on the field, he should become a much more effective reader of the game.

    Tackle

    15/20

    He missed a handful of tackles in 2013, but not a large number in relation to the snaps he played. Wolff made a number of impressive tackles in space and showed good strength for his size.

    Speed

    22/25

    This is where Wolff’s potential is born. He has exceptional recovery and long speed, with above-average quickness.

    Overall

    69/100

    Wolff has the potential to be valuable in today’s pass-happy league, but the signing of Malcolm Jenkins suggests that the Eagles want some competition at the position next season.

35. J.J. Wilcox, Dallas Cowboys

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    Coverage

    24/40

    J.J. Wilcox (6'0", 217 lbs, one season) was a raw player as a rookie. The 2013 third-round draft pick showed off impressive athleticism and versatility for the Cowboys, but he needs to refine his positioning and improve his awareness. Wilcox has the length, fluidity and speed to either cover tight ends in man coverage or play as a deep safety in zone coverage.

    Run Defense

    12/15

    Wilcox is quick to react to the run and closes on the line of scrimmage quickly. He isn’t exceptionally strong and can be affected by offensive linemen, but he is effective in space.

    Tackle

    14/20

    He is an impressive tackler who combines good athleticism with consistent technique.

    Speed

    19/25

    Wilcox has impressive range and is a very fluid mover for someone who is more than 6’0” tall. He is able to break on the ball quickly and use his acceleration to quickly get to the line of scrimmage.

    Overall

    69/100

    Wilcox clearly has talent; it was just too early for him to be consistently effective during his first season.

34. Keith Tandy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Coverage

    33/40

    Keith Tandy (5'10", 205 lbs, two seasons) is a disciplined safety who was asked to do a variety of things for the Buccaneers in 2013. Tandy is naturally a free safety, but he doesn’t have great range and comes across as being overly cautious in coverage. When he drops into the box to cover tight ends or read plays in zone coverage, he can be quite effective. Tandy is a consistent and disciplined cover safety who lacks the physical talents to be a full-time starter or big-impact player.

    Run Defense

    6/15

    He’s too often slow to react and isn’t exceptionally quick closing to the line of scrimmage. Tandy needs to speed up his feet so he can plant and accelerate more fluidly.

    Tackle

    12/20

    Tandy has a tendency to tackle receivers high, but he was an efficient tackler who made plays in space and in tight situations.

    Speed

    19/25

    It’s obvious that Tandy is fast enough to be an effective free safety in the NFL. However, he does have his flaws. His long speed is good, not great, and his fluidity changing direction leaves a bit to be desired. Improved footwork and balance would noticeably improve his range.

    Overall

    70/100

    He may be a limited player who shouldn’t be in a starting role for prolonged periods, but it can’t be denied that Tandy was effective when called upon in 2013.

33. Steve Gregory, New England Patriots

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    Coverage

    29/40

    Veteran Steve Gregory (5'11", 200 lbs, eight seasons) has been a fixture in the New England Patriots secondary for two seasons now. Gregory is a versatile and smart player. He has good range as a free safety and is capable of playing assignment-sound football when he lines up in the box. Gregory lacks the ideal size and short-area quickness to play man coverage against tight ends, while his inability to consistently locate the football is a problem in all situations.

    Run Defense

    10/15

    Gregory diagnoses run plays quickly and was a high-volume tackler for the Patriots. He doesn’t have the bulk to knock receivers backward or consistently get off blocks. Gregory is more of a clean-up tackler who always knows where to be.

    Tackle

    11/20

    Gregory finished the season with 69 tackles, but he missed 12. As a high-volume tackler, he showed good and consistent technique, but his underwhelming strength was an issue.

    Speed

    20/25

    Gregory is fast enough to be a very versatile safety. He was asked to do a lot by the Patriots, and he is generally quick enough to play in space. He has good straight-line speed and fluidly changes direction when dropping backward into a deep zone. However, he struggles to close on the ball and change direction quickly when playing underneath.

    Overall

    70/100

    At this stage of his career, Gregory is going to be a reliable starter. However, in a perfect world, he would be a role player who comes in for specific situations. Gregory isn’t good enough to invest heavily in for the long term, but he is good enough that he should be assured of a roster spot somewhere for the next few seasons.

32. George Wilson, Tennessee Titans

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    Coverage

    30/40

    Although he is somewhat inconsistent, George Wilson (6'0", 210 lbs, eight seasons) has a lot of talent as a coverage strong safety. Wilson has the strength and quickness to run with tight ends before aggressively attacking the football. When asked to drop into underneath zones, Wilson shows good awareness and quickness. However, his all-around athleticism limits his range as a deep safety.

    Run Defense

    13/15

    Wilson isn’t quick to react to running plays and struggles to consistently get off blocks. He is able to close to the line of scrimmage quickly and gives good effort.

    Tackle

    12/20

    In his limited role, Wilson was a reliable tackler but not a big hitter.

    Speed

    16/25

    Wilson doesn’t have the long speed to be effective as a single-high safety. However, he does have the perfect amount of athleticism for the role he plays. He is fluid when changing direction and can pressure receivers with his burst when the ball arrives.

    Overall

    71/100

    Wilson didn’t have a great season, but the 33-year-old did enough to suggest that he can be a valuable contributor if he lands in the right role for the remainder of his career.

31. Rashad Johnson, Arizona Cardinals

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    Coverage

    33/40

    Rashad Johnson (5'11", 204 lbs, five seasons) has impressive range. He turns swiftly and has the speed to close on the ball from distance. Johnson is naturally fit as a free safety, but he also has the ability to play off-man coverage effectively. With a low center of gravity and the ability to not be overpowered by bigger players, Johnson has the talent to be a very versatile player.

    Run Defense

    8/15

    Johnson isn’t very big, so he can get lost in traffic when trying to locate the running back. In 2013, he was blocked out of too many plays by bigger tight ends and offensive linemen. He needs to show a better understanding of how to use his speed in space.

    Tackle

    12/20

    Johnson is an efficient tackler who excels against receivers and tight ends. He is less effective against running backs because of his underwhelming strength. Johnson missed just six tackles on 643 snaps.

    Speed

    18/25

    Although he doesn’t have one obvious, elite physical trait, Johnson has above-average quickness, burst and long speed.

    Overall

    71/100

    At 28 years old, Johnson has likely hit his peak as a player. He can be a valuable role player for the Cardinals.

30. Glover Quin, Detroit Lions

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    Coverage

    34/40

    The most impressive aspect of Glover Quin’s (6'0", 209 lbs, five seasons) play is his versatility. Because of his impressive athleticism, Quin has been able to play both strong and free safety effectively throughout his career. However, in 2012 his positioning was a problem. He gave receivers too much space and didn’t read the game well. That was less of an issue in 2013, so Quin’s all-around talent was able to be turned into consistent production on the field.

    Run Defense

    7/15

    Quin’s relatively small frame doesn’t help him as a run defender, but the primary concern is his lack of intensity. He doesn’t consistently work hard enough to close the space between himself and the running back.

    Tackle

    11/20

    He’s not a defender who will come up and knock running backs to the ground, but he is generally consistent at completing tackles when he squares up properly with his opponent.

    Speed

    19/25

    Quin doesn’t have exceptional straight-line speed. Because of that, he doesn’t recover from poor positions or break on sideline routes from the middle of the field. He is very agile and has good enough quickness to be effective as a deep safety; he just needs to stay disciplined with the mental aspects of the game.

    Overall

    71/100

    He may not be a superstar, but Quin is a valuable starter for the Detroit Lions.

29. LaRon Landry, Indianapolis Colts

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    Coverage

    31/40

    Although LaRon Landry’s (6'0", 226 lbs, seven seasons) size suggests that he should solely be a strong safety, but he has the range to play deep. He is a fluid athlete with the speed to cover a huge amount of ground and the strength to match up with tight ends in man coverage. He doesn’t effectively locate the ball, but he generally makes good decisions and is an intimidating presence to have patrolling the middle of the field.

    Run Defense

    8/15

    He is slow to read run plays and takes bad angles to the football.

    Tackle

    9/20

    Landry should be a very good tackler. He is strong and quick enough to play in space. However, he doesn’t show good body control and prefers to try to knock people out instead of taking them to the ground. He is reckless to a fault.

    Speed

    23/25

    Landry’s quickness and acceleration are impressive, but it’s his straight-line speed that allows him to close on the ball so impressively. He doesn’t always make the best decisions, but his physical talent can’t be denied.

    Overall

    71/100

    If Landry learned how to play under greater control and with better all-around technique, he could be a much better player. He has all the physical ability of the best safeties in the league, but physical ability can only take you so far.

28. Marcus Gilchrist, San Diego Chargers

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    Coverage

    24/40

    Marcus Gilchrist (5'10", 198 lbs, three seasons) converted from cornerback to safety in 2013, and it’s easy to see that he isn’t completely comfortable there just yet. Gilchrist has all the talent to be a good free safety who can come down and play man coverage against tight ends or slot receivers. However, he needs to make better, quicker decisions and not waste movement when playing zone coverage. Developing an understanding of how to locate the football from different positions will help a lot.

    Run Defense

    10/15

    Despite being a cornerback convert, Gilchrist is quick to react to running plays. He is an effective tackler in space, even though his size limits what he can do when working through traffic.

    Tackle

    16/20

    Gilchrist didn’t miss many tackles in 2013, but more importantly he showed off an ability to consistently make tackles in space with good technique.

    Speed

    21/25

    It’s Gilchrist’s speed that makes him most attractive in the safety spot. He easily changes direction and has excellent range because of his long speed. If he is lacking one thing, it’s that initial burst to close on the ball.

    Overall

    71/100

    The Chargers may need to be patient with Gilchrist, but if they are, he could develop into a good starter.

27. Yeremiah Bell, Arizona Cardinals

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    Coverage

    31/40

    Yeremiah Bell (6'0", 205 lbs, 10 seasons) is a versatile cover safety who can be effective in a variety of roles. He has the physical talent and body control to play man coverage against more athletic tight ends. He can also line up as a deep safety to read the route combinations as they develop in zone coverage or break on the ball to knock it free. Bell’s consistency is an issue. He doesn’t have the athleticism that allows him to recover from initial mistakes, so those he makes are magnified.

    Run Defense

    10/15

    Bell can be slow to react to run plays and struggles at times with misdirection. He doesn’t have the size or aggressive approach to fight through traffic or lay big hits on running backs.

    Tackle

    15/20

    He’s a consistent, high-volume tackler who focuses on trying to bring down bigger backs and has the ability to punish smaller receivers.

    Speed

    16/25

    Bell doesn’t have elite acceleration, agility or straight-line speed. He is an all-around average athlete.

    Overall

    72/100

    Bell was a decent starter in 2013, but he is now 36 years old. It would be a surprise if he could sustain his level of play from last season in a similar role for the Cardinals in 2014.

26. Ryan Mundy, New York Giants

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    Coverage

    29/40

    Ryan Mundy (6'1", 209 lbs, five seasons) is a long defensive back with decent range. He struggles to locate the football in the air and mixes up his feet at times when changing direction. Mundy is somewhat of a tweener because he doesn’t have the range to be a full-time free safety, and despite his length, he isn’t aggressive enough to be an effective in-the-box safety.

    Run Defense

    9/15

    Mundy is quick to read the run and to get in a good position, but he doesn’t fight through traffic effectively. His height and relatively slender frame work against him in the run game. He is better suited making tackles in space against receivers.

    Tackle

    16/20

    As a former Dick LeBeau-coached defensive back, it’s no surprise that Mundy is a consistent, technically sound tackler.

    Speed

    18/25

    There is nothing about Mundy’s athleticism that jumps off the screen when you watch him. He is an average all-around athlete who would be more effective with improved footwork.

    Overall

    72/100

    Despite a handful of rough outings for the safety in 2013, Mundy, who recently signed as a free agent with the Bears, showed that he does have potential as a long-term starter at the safety position.

25. Nate Allen, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Coverage

    30/40

    Nate Allen (6'1", 210 lbs, four seasons) is a versatile safety who has the athleticism and intelligence to be effective regardless of how he is used. Allen has an impressive combination of length and speed that gives him the ability to play man coverage. He needs to be more consistent in his decision-making and locating the football, but he is a good cover safety.

    Run Defense

    7/15

    Allen is an inconsistent run defender. Because of his slender frame, he needs to win with his hands against blockers. He doesn’t read plays fast enough to shoot through gaps with his speed, so too often he was making desperation tackles or being blocked out of plays.

    Tackle

    16/20

    A high-volume tackler who showed consistent technique and an aggressive streak, Allen is most effective in space, but he also has enough strength to take down bigger backs.

    Speed

    19/25

    Allen changes direction quickly and has the range to be an effective deep safety. He won’t be filling an Earl Thomas role or making an impact like Kam Chancellor underneath, but he has the versatility to do a little bit of everything because of his speed.

    Overall

    72/100

    Although it wasn’t a good season for the Eagles secondary as a whole, Allen can be proud of his play in 2013.

24. Mark Barron, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Coverage

    28/40

    Mark Barron (6'2", 213 lbs, two seasons) is a natural in-the-box safety who was asked to play as a deep safety more often than necessary in 2013. Barron is slow to react to developing routes when he is asked to play deep, but he has all of the necessary physical attributes and mental sharpness to excel covering tight ends or receivers underneath. He is a physical, aggressive player who needs to play with a more natural free safety than Dashon Goldson.

    Run Defense

    9/15

    Physically, Barron is like an extra linebacker against the run. He can take on blocks and blow up ball-carriers as well as anyone on the Buccaneers defense. However, he is still a little too inconsistent reading running plays and finding the football.

    Tackle

    17/20

    Not only does Barron intimidate receivers running routes, he knocks defenders backward and plays with relatively consistent technique. Barron is the type of hard-hitting safety who many in the league aspire to be.

    Speed

    19/25

    His long speed is limited, but Barron is able to turn and run underneath with most receivers or tight ends. His short-area quickness is impressive for such a big safety.

    Overall

    73/100

    Much like Darrelle Revis, his teammate for the 2013 season, Barron wasn’t always put in the best position to succeed by former head coach Greg Schiano.

23. Reggie Nelson, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Coverage

    31/40

    Reggie Nelson (5'11", 210 lbs, seven seasons) isn’t the fastest or biggest safety in the NFL. He doesn’t stand out because of constant big hits or by creating turnovers. Instead, Nelson relies on his discipline, intelligence and versatility to be a valuable member of the Bengals secondary. He doesn’t make many big plays, but he also doesn’t give up easy completions.

    Run Defense

    10/15

    Nelson’s size prevents him from consistently beating blocks to get to the ball-carrier. He is quick to react to running plays and can be effective in space.

    Tackle

    12/20

    He is an efficient tackler who plays with good technique but lacks overwhelming physical traits to punish receivers or stop the momentum of bigger running backs.

    Speed

    20/25

    Being a safety who is tasked with so many different assignments puts pressure on Nelson to show off different kinds of speed. While he doesn’t have any elite traits, he is a fluid mover with above-average acceleration and straight-line speed.

    Overall

    73/100

    Nelson is a veteran safety who should be able to have a prolonged career because of his all-around ability.

22. Bernard Pollard, Tennessee Titans

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    Coverage

    30/40

    When Bernard Pollard (6'1", 225 lbs, eight seasons) left the Baltimore Ravens after their 2012 Super Bowl victory, he appeared to be a safety on the decline. He showed limited coverage ability as an in-the-box safety while playing with Ed Reed. However, last season Pollard looked refreshed with the Tennessee Titans. He consistently played with discipline and showed impressive range.

    Run Defense

    12/15

    Pollard is an aggressive run defender who relishes contact and quickly locates the ball-carrier.

    Tackle

    15/20

    On 1,077 snaps, Pollard missed just eight tackles, but we did note too many times when he took himself out of the play. He is an intimidating presence for receivers working over the middle or down the sideline. He’s also a strong tackler who can make plays against running backs.

    Speed

    18/25

    Although he is not a very fluid athlete, Pollard has quick feet and good sustained speed that allows him to cover a lot of ground. He is able to break on the football or close on a receiver in space for a tackle.

    Overall

    75/100

    The 2013 season may have been Pollard’s best in recent years, but he is still just 29 years old, so better days could be ahead.

21. Antrel Rolle, New York Giants

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    Coverage

    33/40

    Moving up from No. 66 last year, Antrel Rolle (6’0”, 206 lbs, nine seasons) had a productive 2013 for the Giants. Rolle is not the most fluid player out in space and is more effective near the line of scrimmage where he can get his hands on a receiver or tight end. He breaks well when coming up on underneath routes, but he isn’t as strong when asked to open his hips and run down the field.

    Run Defense

    12/15

    Rolle takes the proper angles in coming down from the secondary to make plays in the run game. He recognizes lanes from the running back and shows a good awareness of where he needs to fill in run defense. Rolle comes downhill with some authority and will not shy away from contact.

    Tackle

    12/20

    Rolle is not afraid to initiate contact with a ball-carrier. He can get a little too aggressive at times and overrun plays or simply bounce off an attempted tackle, but he has a solid frame and uses it well when bringing down offensive players.

    Speed

    20/25

    Rolle is another safety who possesses above-average straight-line speed. He doesn’t move as well laterally as you’d expect, but it’s not detrimental to what he’s asked to do on defense. He’s just not fluid, but he will get downhill in a hurry and fill in the run game.

    Overall

    77/100

    Rolle is a veteran safety you can trust to make all of the necessary plays. He’s more effective closer to the line of scrimmage where he can use his physicality and isn’t asked to change direction and then cover a lot of ground.

20. Antoine Bethea, Indianapolis Colts

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    Coverage

    27/40

    Another player making a sizable jump in this year’s rankings is Antoine Bethea (5’11”, 206 lbs, eight seasons). After coming in at No. 48 in 2012, Bethea jumped all the way to No. 20 in 2013. He is adequate in coverage when coming down on crossing and underneath routes, but he is susceptible to getting beaten deep while hopping underneath routes.

    Run Defense

    11/15

    Bethea was much more of a factor against the run this season than in previous years. He possesses a solid frame but isn’t overly physical upon contact. He doesn’t react well to the run and will be late coming down and filling from the secondary.

    Tackle

    16/20

    Bethea wasn’t a liability as a tackler last season as he had been the previous campaign. He’s still not the most physical tackler and will often let the offensive player generate the force upon contact, but he didn’t miss as many tackles coming down from the safety position in 2013.

    Speed

    23/25

    Bethea possesses excellent straight-line speed, although his ability to change direction in the open field isn’t on the same level as other safeties. He can get sideline to sideline and make the plays you need your safety to make.

    Overall

    77/100

    Bethea will be a good fit for the San Francisco 49ers defense after recently signing there as a free agent. Combined with the physical Eric Reid, Bethea will be a good complement for the 49ers defense.

19. Michael Griffin, Tennessee Titans

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    Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

     

    Coverage

    30/40

    Bouncing back after ranking No. 75 in our rankings last year, Michael Griffin (6’0”, 215 lbs, seven seasons) had one of the best years of his career in 2013. A true single-high safety, Griffin excels when he is out in space and asked to cover a large area of the field. He breaks out of his backpedal well and is smooth in transition when redirecting in space. He doesn’t possess great recognition skills, but he has the speed to break on and disrupt underneath routes.

    Run Defense

    12/15

    Griffin gets downhill quickly but isn’t a factor from a physical standpoint. He’s very good when asked to make a tackle when put in one-on-one situations in space down the field. He’s a capable last line of defense in the secondary.

    Tackle

    13/20

    Griffin is a solid tackler who consistently wraps up and drives through ball-carriers. He’s not going to lay out many guys by leading with his shoulder. But if a receiver has the ball and Griffin is the only man between him and the end zone, he is a guy you can feel comfortable will make that play.

    Speed

    22/25

    A true single-high safety, Griffin possesses excellent speed and breaking ability to make plays all over the field. He displays excellent change-of-direction agility and fluidity when out in space and is consistently around the ball on plays down the field.

    Overall

    77/100

    There’s a lot you can feel comfortable doing with Griffin as your single-high safety. He possesses great speed and is a sound tackler, thus giving your defense options in generating pressure.

18. Rahim Moore, Denver Broncos

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    Coverage

    32/40

    If you’re looking for a player who doesn’t possess elite top-end speed but has enough of a burst to make plays in space, that player is Rahim Moore (6’1”, 195 lbs, three seasons). Moore breaks well on routes underneath and gets there in a hurry, but he struggles when asked to turn and run to get down the field with speedier receivers.

    Run Defense

    9/15

    Moore isn’t much of a factor in run defense. He’s not overly physical upon contact, although he doesn’t actively avoid contact. Moore won’t make many plays at or near the line of scrimmage in run defense.

    Tackle

    19/20

    From a technical standpoint, Moore is a solid tackler when he physically is put in a position to hit someone. His short-area burst helps him on the second level. He will generally be in the right position to bring someone down.

    Speed

    17/25

    Moore doesn’t possess the top-end speed that you’d normally see at the free safety position, which means he’s not covering the same amount of ground. What Moore does bring is an ability to hop on underneath routes quickly and close in on ball-carriers who get to the second level.

    Overall

    77/100

    Moore is an above-average safety who will always find his way onto the field, but he won’t ever be mistaken for a playmaking defensive back.

17. Mike Adams, Denver Broncos

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    Coverage

    28/40

    After playing both the strong and free safety positions in 2013, Mike Adams (5’11”, 200 lbs, 10 seasons) had one of his best years in 2013. In coverage, he breaks on the ball well and possesses enough athleticism to stay with receivers out of their first breaks.

    Run Defense

    11/15

    Adams provides help in run defense from the safety position. He’s not the most physical player upon contact, but he’ll come downhill and lower his shoulder when the situation calls for it. He displays an understanding of angles and is rarely completely out of position.

    Tackle

    20/20

    Adams does a fantastic job of closing in on ball-carriers and wrapping up after initial contact. He will drive through the running back and doesn’t seem satisfied with simply being in the right area. Adams joins just two other safeties in receiving perfect scores of 20 in this category.

    Speed

    19/25

    Adams possesses decent straight-line speed but doesn’t display the kind of athletic fluidity to make up for any false steps or balance issues in space.

    Overall

    78/100

    Adams was a strong player for the Broncos and will be joined next season by former Browns teammate T.J. Ward after he signed a contract with Denver during free agency.

16. Aaron Williams, Buffalo Bills

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    Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Spor

     

    Coverage

    30/40

    Coming off the best year of his career, Aaron Williams (6’0”, 199 lbs, three seasons) grabbed four interceptions and had 11 passes defensed last season. Williams is best suited to sit in zone coverage from his strong safety position and recognize route combinations coming into his area. While he played some man coverage on the outside, there’s no denying he’s better suited with his chest squared to the line of scrimmage.

    Run Defense

    12/15

    Williams is not afraid to come downhill and make a tackle. He breaks down well when approaching a ball-carrier, but he will struggle with angles when attempting to make plays at the second level.

    Tackle

    19/20

    Williams is a sound tackler coming down from the safety position. He missed just four tackles in more than 900 snaps for the Bills last season. His ability to bring down ball-carriers in the open field gives the defense room to take a few more chances.

    Speed

    18/25

    Williams has adequate speed to stay with receivers when running down the field in coverage, but he doesn’t have elite change-of-direction agility in confined areas. It’s neither an asset nor a liability in his game.

    Overall

    79/100

    Williams recently signed a four-year extension that has his contract running through the 2018 season. He’s a legitimate player for the Bills, who will have to overcome the loss of Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd next season, who left for the New Orleans Saints.

15. Chris Clemons, Miami Dolphins

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    The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

     

    Coverage

    35/40

    Utilizing exceptional speed from the safety position, Chris Clemons (6’1”, 214 lbs, five seasons) excels in coverage due to his wide range from a single-high look. He easily transitions from a backpedal to opening his hips and carrying receivers down the field. When that athletic fluidity in space is combined with his elite speed in the open field, Clemons often found himself as a factor in plays down the field for the Dolphins defense.

    Run Defense

    8/15

    Clemons is an asset in run defense primarily because of his speed. He can close on a ball-carrier in a hurry, but he isn’t a downhill weapon from a physical standpoint. He excels in space and being the last line of defense in both pass and run defense.

    Tackle

    11/20

    Clemons isn’t the most physical player, but he doesn’t seem to shy away from contact. That said, when he lowers his shoulder and makes a tackle, it’s not going to stay in the mind of the ball-carrier. He doesn’t pack a lot of pop upon contact, but he will often be around the ball if a player gets to the second level.

    Speed

    25/25

    Clemons joins Earl Thomas as the only two safeties to receive a perfect 25 score on the “speed” grade in this year’s NFL 1000. He’s the prototypical center fielder at free safety. On teams that love to press on the outside and give their safeties freedom to roam the field, he would be a good fit.

    Overall

    79/100

    Clemons has an elite attribute that separates him from other safeties in the NFL. His game is built around speed and his ability cover a large area.

14. T.J. Ward, Cleveland Browns

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    Coverage

    34/40

    T.J. Ward (5’10”, 200 lbs, four seasons) is an old-school physical safety who is at his best closer to the line of scrimmage. While he’s not lost in space, Ward’s ability in coverage is more about getting his hands on guys and playing physical rather than pure athleticism in space.

    Run Defense

    15/15

    Ward is a weapon at safety against the run. He excels at flying downhill to make plays around the line of scrimmage in the run game. He displays excellent closing speed and field awareness to make plays.

    Tackle

    12/20

    Ward will overrun plays when attempting to make a tackle because of being a little out of control when diagnosing and reacting to the run. He’s physical and willing to initiate contact, but he’ll miss a lot of tackles as well.

    Speed

    18/25

    Ward doesn’t have top-end speed, but his willingness to fly downhill and hit someone lets him appear to have more speed than you’d simply see in a race.

    Overall

    79/100

    Ward, who signed as a free agent with the Denver Broncos, can play single-high. But the majority of his snaps need to be within 10-12 yards of the line of scrimmage for him be most effective.

13. Eric Reid, San Francisco 49ers

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

     

    Coverage

    33/40

    After a fantastic rookie season, Eric Reid (6’1”, 213 lbs, one season) finished 2013 with 77 tackles, 11 passes defensed and four interceptions. Known as a physical downhill player, Reid also didn’t disappoint as a rookie in coverage. He has the athleticism to play man-to-man coverage and shows great awareness as well.

    Run Defense

    12/15

    Reid is a physical player who has great closing speed when coming from a deep safety position. He possesses good instincts and attacks through the ball-carrier when playing the run. Whether he’s lined up deep or near the box at safety, Reid is an asset in the run game.

    Tackle

    13/20

    Not afraid to drive through a ball-carrier, Reid displays a willingness to lower his shoulder and drive through a player when coming downhill. He has a tendency to lower his head and be susceptible to cutbacks and taking poor angles, but he makes his presence felt in the running game.

    Speed

    21/25

    Reid is much more of a north-south athlete than he is a guy who will open his hips and drop fluidly into coverage. He displays excellent closing speed when attacking ball-carriers and provides enough speed and range to play deep when necessary.

    Overall

    79/100

    Reid is a great fit in the 49ers defense and should be poised for a big sophomore season. It would be surprising to not see Reid in the top 10 next year.

12. Rafael Bush, New Orleans Saints

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    Coverage

    34/40

    Rafael Bush (5’11, 200 lbs, three seasons) displays great range playing deep safety. He breaks well on the ball and has excellent change-of-direction fluidity when reacting in pass coverage. While most of his time is spent in zone, Bush expertly covers crossing patterns across the middle and has the athleticism to provide cornerbacks help outside of the numbers as well.

    Run Defense

    7/15

    Bush doesn’t provide much in the way of run defense. It’s not from a lack of physicality as much as it is recognition and willingness to fly downhill. Bush will generally be around the play but won’t navigate through traffic to make a tackle.

    Tackle

    20/20

    When Bush sticks his nose in there, he’s actually an excellent tackler. He does a great job of breaking down and flying in under control when he’s attempting to make a play. Bush missed just one tackle last season.

    Speed

    20/25

    Bush moves well but is more fluid than he is fast. He doesn’t have elite top-end speed, but his athleticism and ability to turn and run without slowing has him in the “plays faster” category.

    Overall

    81/100

    Bush is a young safety who can be trusted to play single-high and is a reliable tackler on the back end. Despite not being aggressive in run defense, he covers ground and provides a last line of defense for the Saints.

11. Reshad Jones, Miami Dolphins

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    Coverage

    32/40

    Dropping from our No. 3 spot in last year’s rankings, Dolphins safety Reshad Jones (6’1”, 215 lbs, four seasons) falls out of the top 10. Jones is a physical safety who excels when stacked inside the box and has an opportunity to get his hands on tight ends and receivers in man coverage. His recognition skills when in space could be better, but he possesses enough athleticism to make plays.

    Run Defense

    12/15

    Jones has no problem stacking inside the box in the run game. He’ll lose awareness at times when in traffic, but he isn’t afraid to stick his nose in there and initiate contact. When deep, he’ll struggle with angles but has the athletic ability to redirect and make the play.

    Tackle

    16/20

    Jones displays an understanding of leverage and attacking ball-carriers low upon contact. He will lead with his shoulders and forget to wrap up when running through traffic, but he is a helpful addition to the secondary in run defense.

    Speed

    21/25

    Jones has plenty of speed to play the strong safety position but will never be considered a burner. It didn’t help that he was playing next to one of the fastest secondary players in the NFL in Chris Clemons. But down around the line of scrimmage, Jones possesses enough speed to shoot through and make plays at or behind the line of scrimmage.

    Overall

    81/100

    Jones did not have the kind of year he was expected to after a stellar 2012 season. He’s still one of the best young safeties in the NFL, but he will need to regain his 2012 form to be put back into the “elite” conversation.

10. Eric Weddle, San Diego Chargers

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    Donald Miralle/Getty Images

     

    Coverage

    37/40

    Our top-ranked safety last year, Eric Weddle (5’11”, 200 lbs, seven seasons) is still among the best free safeties in the game. He closes on the ball exceptionally well and plays with top-notch instincts. His ability to get a hand on the ball and knock it away from the receiver helps too, as he’s one of the better safeties when playing the ball.

    Run Defense

    11/15

    Weddle was incredibly active against the run as the Chargers’ front seven struggled. His impact there was big, but we saw too many missed tackles and struggles with running backs. You have to love the way he jumps into the mix, but there’s room to improve.

    Tackle

    12/20

    The Chargers needed Weddle to make tackles in 2013, and he answered with 115 of them. He hits like a linebacker and is able to bring an impact to ball-carriers. The only knock was his 15 missed tackles. His production was impressive, but too many missed opportunities hurt.

    Speed

    21/25

    Weddle won’t blow you away with his straight-line speed, but it does seem like he lives around the ball. He’s quick, and matched with his instincts, he is able to constantly make plays on the football.

    Overall

    81/100

    Weddle remains one of the best all-around safeties in the NFL and is still a model for scouting draft prospects and young players at the position.

9. Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

     

    Coverage

    39/40

    The model for the modern strong safety, Troy Polamalu (5’10”, 207 lbs, 11 seasons) is putting the final touches on a Hall of Fame-caliber career. In 2013, he was as impressive as ever, turning in two interceptions while keeping quarterbacks confused and frustrated. He limits targets well in man coverage, and in a zone he has the instincts and vision to meet receivers at the ball. There he’s physical enough to break up passes or immediately make a tackle.

    Run Defense

    10/15

    As great as Polamalu was in coverage, he regressed some in the run game. As the front seven in Pittsburgh struggled, Polamalu was met by more blockers in space. That meant fewer tackles and less of an impact.

    Tackle

    12/20

    When making a play on the ball, Polamalu can be physical and intimidating. He can also go for a kill shot and miss tackles. We saw that Week 14 against Miami, especially, but it was a consistent issue. When asked to make a solo tackle in space, he can do it, but the big-hit mentality can be a problem. 

    Speed

    21/25

    As age creeps in, Polamalu has lost some speed. He’s able to make up for that with instincts and short-area quickness. But as a straight-line runner, he’s not where he used to be.

    Overall

    82/100

    Polamalu seemed done after the 2012 season, but he rebounded with one of his best career years in 2013. Whether he can sustain that next season remains to be seen.

8. Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

     

    Coverage

    37/40

    The No. 5 overall pick in the 2010 draft, Eric Berry (6’0”, 211 lbs, four seasons) is one of the most recognizable safeties in the league. In his three active seasons, he’s made three Pro Bowls, but is that deserved? He can be great in coverage, shows good speed when closing on the ball and has the hands to pull down interceptions. One complaint we had in grading Berry was that he doesn’t break up many passes and allows a decent number of completions compared to targets. He’s talented and well-respected by NFL quarterbacks, but there is room for improvement.

    Run Defense

    10/15

    Against the run, Berry disappears at times. He’s not overly aggressive about coming down into the box and can be faulted for playing small against physical running teams.

    Tackle

    14/20

    A versatile defender, Berry can be sent on blitzes or asked to hold down the edge as a run defender. He does well with form and technique, bringing power from his base and not overextending to make plays on the ball-carrier. Berry will miss tackles, though, and he needs to improve his hold on runners.

    Speed

    23/25

    Berry’s speed made a comeback in 2013. He was once again impressive in his range. When making plays in the open field, he’s able to quickly accelerate from a soft backpedal to a full-out sprint in a hurry.

    Overall

    84/100

    A top-tier athlete coming out of Tennessee, Berry hasn’t been as elite since tearing his ACL. In coverage and as a tackler he can bring it, though, and is a foundation piece for a strong Kansas City defense.

7. Will Hill, New York Giants

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

     

    Coverage

    35/40

    Free safety Will Hill (6’1”, 207 lbs, two seasons) arrived on the scene in 2013 and proved he belongs in the NFL. When targeted, Hill has the length to dislodge the ball and the physicality to be aggressive fighting for positioning. He does need to improve his timing when jumping routes and closing on the ball, but the foundation is here for him to be elite.

    Run Defense

    12/15

    An active tackler when coming downhill, he’s able to take on runners with good strength. Hill’s aggressive style of play pays off here, as he’s fearless when attacking the ball. His Week 5 debut against the Eagles is a great example of this.

    Tackle

    15/20

    As a tackler, Hill shows good range and technique. He breaks down and stays light on his feet in space. He doesn’t lunge at ball-carriers and shows the balance you want from a defender.

    Speed

    22/25

    Hill shows the acceleration to run down ball-carriers and has the range to be a threat all over the field. He closes on the ball in-flight exceptionally well and can keep pace with all but the elite runners in the game.

    Overall

    84/100

    You might be surprised to see Hill so high on the list, but his 2013 play backs it up. As one of the most naturally talented defenders in the 2011 NFL draft, Hill’s off-field issues kept him from being drafted. After latching on with an Arena League team, Hill was signed by the Giants and eventually became a contributor after serving two suspensions. His off-field concerns are still real (he was arrested in December 2013), but his talent is undeniable.

6. Jairus Byrd, Buffalo Bills

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

     

    Coverage

    36/40

    One of the top free agents available this offseason, Jairus Byrd (5’10, 203 lbs, five seasons) provides everything you’re looking for from a safety. Last season he spent a lot of time in single-high looks for the Bills defense, providing good range and great instincts from the safety position. While Byrd excels when in space, he’d drop down and line up in man coverage at times as well.

    Run Defense

    13/15

    Nobody is going to describe Byrd as a physical thumper in run defense, but he isn’t afraid to stick his nose in there and drive through contact, either. A willing and able tackler, Byrd has a great mix of athleticism and physicality when initiating contact with ball-carriers.

    Tackle

    15/20

    Byrd isn’t overly fast or physical, but he is a sound tackler and someone the Bills trusted in single-high looks for a high percentage of snaps. He breaks on underneath passing patterns well, and his instincts are obvious when closing in on offensive players.

    Speed

    20/25

    Byrd doesn’t have the same fluidity and athleticism as some other safeties in the NFL, but it doesn’t make his play any less effective. Based on superior instincts, he generally finds himself moving in the right direction.

    Overall

    84/100

    Byrd, who signed with the Saints as a free agent, is a reliable center field-type of safety who can be trusted in space to tackle and provide coverage, which is a rare combination.

5. Kenny Vaccaro, New Orleans Saints

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

     

    Coverage

    32/40

    The New Orleans Saints needed a makeover on defense in 2013, and rookie Kenny Vaccaro (6’0”, 214 lbs, one season) provided it in the secondary. As a versatile strong safety, the former Texas Longhorn made plays in the slot, in deep zones and in man coverage. His ability to slide down and cover in nickel packages makes him all the more valuable. Vaccaro wasn’t thrown at often, but he will want to limit the number of catches he does allow. His first season saw a high percentage of completions, even if they went for short yardage before he brought the receiver down.

    Run Defense

    14/15

    As a mix between a free and strong safety, Vaccaro’s pre-snap alignment allowed him to key in on the run. He showed up big there, making aggressive plays on the ball and proving reliable in the open field as a tackler.

    Tackle

    20/20

    A sure thing when making a play on a ball-carrier, Vaccaro does an excellent job limiting yards after contact and bringing down the runner the first time. In 14 games, the rookie missed just three tackles. And not only that, he can make the ball-jarring hit, too.

    Speed

    20/25

    With good speed and natural burst, Vaccaro is able to attack the ball at any level of the field. He doesn’t have elite straight-line speed, but he is blessed with great short-area quickness.

    Overall

    86/100

    It’s rare for a rookie to rank so high on our lists, but Vaccaro earned it with top marks in every scoutable area. Once he bounces back from the ankle injury that ended his 2013 season, he’ll be in the conversation for the best safeties in the game.

4. Kam Chancellor, Seattle Seahawks

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    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

     

    Coverage

    39/40

    The Seattle Seahawks have one of the league’s best coverage strong safeties in Kam Chancellor (6’3”, 232 lbs, four seasons). Given his size and reach, he’s able to put a body on players in coverage and force pass breakups. Chancellor has soft hands and can pull down errant passes or go up high to challenge receivers on jump balls.

    Run Defense

    15/15

    This is what Chancellor does best. He’s built like a linebacker and plays like one against the run. He’ll come down and close off rushing lanes and is the game’s best safety at shedding blockers to make a tackle.

    Tackle

    17/20

    Chancellor can lay the wood on a ball-carrier, but he’s not always a form-tackler. That can lead to missed tackles in space. But the big hits he does land are intimidating enough to keep most receivers looking for him over the middle.

    Speed

    16/25

    Chancellor’s big frame limits his speed, but he shows good downhill acceleration. While he won’t win many races on the practice field, his speed when closing in on the ball is adequate.

    Overall

    87/100

    One half of the league’s best safety duo, Chancellor has the size, range and instincts to be great. While Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas share the headlines, Chancellor is great in his own right.

3. Donte Whitner, San Francisco 49ers

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    Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

     

    Coverage

    38/40

    The top-ranked strong safety on the list, Donte Whitner (5’10”, 208 lbs, eight seasons) is a big hitter and underrated cover man. When matched up against tight ends or backs, Whitner does a good job limiting targets. In zone coverage he has the speed to close on the ball and challenge passes.

    Run Defense

    12/15

    A strong in-the-box safety, Whitner can close down on the edge or come into the trenches to make plays. He lives around the ball in the run game and is one of the better safeties at holding the edge.

    Tackle

    15/20

    Whitner is known as an intimidator at the position, but as a tackler he is hit-or-miss. He does a good job lowering the boom and making huge hits, but he’ll also miss on those big hits.

    Speed

    23/25

    Whitner isn’t thought of as a burner, but he has excellent closing speed and shows ideal range for the strong safety position. He can run with tight ends and backs, but he also shows enough burst to come downhill and make plays.

    Overall

    88/100

    Whitner had a legitimate claim at All-Pro status in 2013. The question now is whether he can succeed with the Browns without the vaunted 49ers pass rush in front of him.

2. Devin McCourty, New England Patriots

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    Coverage

    40/40

    A former cornerback, Devin McCourty (5’10”, 195 lbs, four seasons) has the range and coverage skills you want from a free safety. His route recognition is top-notch and allows him to get in position to make a play on the ball in the air. He doesn’t convert many interceptions, but he does a great job limiting catches in his space.

    Run Defense

    10/15

    McCourty lacks the size to mix it up in the box, but the Patriots employ him as a single-high safety and more of a coverage threat. He will make tackles at the secondary level but not many down inside the box.

    Tackle

    16/20

    When a catch is made in space, McCourty does a good job pulling down receivers and tight ends. He doesn’t play the run as well due to a lack of size and strength with blockers, but he will be aggressive against players one-on-one.

    Speed

    24/25

    McCourty doesn’t lack for speed. He’s fast with good change-of-direction skills to attack all angles of the field.

    Overall

    90/100

    The move to safety may have seemed like a downgrade for McCourty, but he’s quickly become one of the game’s best coverage men at the position and a top player for the Patriots defense.

1. Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks

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    Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

     

    Coverage

    40/40

    Earl Thomas (5’10”, 202 lbs, four seasons) comes in with a perfect 40 in coverage. His speed allows him to have ideal range when asked to cover tight ends or help in bracket coverage on a wide receiver. There’s no part of the field he can’t reach. And when the ball is in the air, he’s a consistent threat to go up and make a play on it.

    Run Defense

    12/15

    Range is a big part of run defense, and Thomas has tons of that. He attacks the field and runs clean angles and won’t back down from a ball-carrier. The only knock is that he can be too aggressive and overrun the play.

    Tackle

    17/20

    Thomas plays with a controlled recklessness that makes him a fun tackler to watch. His lack of elite size will always limit him in some situations. But given his profile as a playmaking free safety, his missed tackles are quite low.

    Speed

    25/25

    A burner on the field, Thomas is fast enough to line up at cornerback and keep pace with top-flight wide receivers. In space or locked in coverage, Thomas owns the secondary with his speed.

    Overall

    94/100

    Not only the best safety in the NFL, Thomas might be the best defender in the game. His blend of speed, power and instincts make him a can’t-beat player at safety.

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