Safety First! The NFL's Top 10 Safeties

Matt ShervingtonCorrespondent IIJuly 17, 2009

1.) Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh


Troy Polamalu does it all. In 2006 and 2007 he wasn’t healthy and went to unearned Pro Bowls as well as received unearned All-Pro bids in those seasons. However, last year Polamalu was clearly the best Safety in the NFL. He displayed strong zone coverage skills with range comparable to Ed Reed.


However, he showed aspects too such as a strong ability in man coverage, the ability to make plays within the box, and the ability to stuff the run. Opposing QuarterBacks had a QB rating of 25.7 when throwing at Polamalu, and he had 73 tackles and four run stuffs.


Polamalu is the only player, when healthy, that I’ve ever actually seen have an impact on every play whether in Cowher’s cover 3 or Tomlin’s cover 2.



2.) Kerry Rhodes, New York Jets


While player number one was making unwarranted Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams in 2006 and 2007 it was Rhodes that was the guy making plays at every level of the defense. While Rhodes doesn’t quite have the impact that Polamalu does on an every down level, the fact of the matter is his versatility comes into play with this high ranking.


Rhodes was so good that in Mangini’s system he was merely designated a “Safety” because he would play both Free and Strong Safety throughout a game.


He’s very good in man coverage and zone coverage and is the second best blitzing Safety in the NFL behind Adrian Wilson. Not to mention that at 6 foot 3 inches and 220 pounds, Rhodes is a pretty big guy.

3.) Ed Reed, Baltimore


It all comes down to personal preference where you rank Ed Reed. If you prefer the traditional Free Safety of the past then Ed Reed is easily the number one guy to pick on a top ten Safeties list. However, if you want a player that is versatile (right now) than Reed could fall as far back as fourth.


However, when it comes down to it Ed Reed is the best zone coverage Safety in NFL history and is the best ever with the ball in his hands because he has a penchant for finding the endzone.


My reason for placing Reed this low is because he has trouble in man coverage and his neck injuries prevent him from playing at a high level in the box. Again, let me reiterate it’s preference in what you want your Safety to do.



4.) Adrian Wilson, Arizona


When it comes down to it Adrian Wilson is the best blitzing Safety in the business. A case could be made that he is also the best Safety in the NFL in the box. In fact, he is 1.5 sacks and 2 interceptions away from becoming the fourth member of the illustrious 20-20 club.


He has made 38 plays behind the line of scrimmage since 2005 and the next closest guy, Kerry Rhodes, is 11 plays behind the line of scrimmage behind him. That’s just how dominant he is in that domain. He’s like an extra Linebacker.


Opposing Quarterbacks fear him, now because of his coverage prowess, but because he’s probably going to rush them and put a hurting on them.



5.) Chris Hope, Tennessee


Chris Hope does not get the love that he should, but he is one heck of a Safety. When he was in Pittsburgh he was an amazing cover 3 Free Safety that allowed Troy Polamalu to flourish down under.


Currently in Tennesee he is a Strong Safety and has had the roles reversed, as he is now the guy allowed to do the dirty work alongside the Linebackers.


Hope has played both Strong and Free Safety at a high level and is one of the hardest hitters at the position that I’ve ever seen. He has great range in zone and he maneuvers well around the line of scrimmage. He doesn’t get the love though because he’s not flashy.



6.) Michael Griffin, Tennesee


Griffin is a young stud. Unfortunately for Tanard Jackson of the Buccaneers, Laron Landry of the Skins and Reggie Nelson of the Jaguars they will all be compared to him due to the fact that they were the top four guys drafted in their class at the position.


While Jackson is a Tampa 2 Safety and therefore his statistics won’t be flashy, the other two are always going to come up looking inferior to Griffin if he continues to play this way.


Griffin has strong man coverage skills as he played a lot of man coverage as a Cornerback in his rookie season, and displayed strong zone coverge skills last year. He could end up being the future of the position if he learns to tackle better and could shed blocks better.



7.) Yeremiah Bell, Miami


If Bob Sanders gets credit for revolutionizing the Colts Run Defense, than Yeremiah Ball should get credit for doing the same for the Dolphins Run defense. It is no coincidence that when he doesn't start all 16 games the Dolphins field a bottom-half-of-the-league run defense.


In 2005 in which Bell was primarily a special teamer, the Dolphins were ranked 17th against the run. The following year, when, after five games Bell became a starter and the Dolphins shot all the way up to 8th.


The following season Bell would be injured in the first game of the season, and the Dolphins would go on to become one of the worst Run Defenses in NFL history. The following year with Bell back as a starter? 10th. All together, in his last 33 starts Bell has contributed 190 Tackles, 23 Passes Defensed, 3 Sacks and 6 Forced Fumbles.



8.) Nick Collins, Green Bay


Nick Collins is a guy that impressed many at his combine outing but then didn't do much after. His blazing 40 yard dash time had many saying he would be a Polamalu/Reed/Rhodes type defender but that never truly actualized... until last year.


While a lot of guys take advantage of overthrown and underthrown passes from the Free Safety position, Collins was actually undercutting well thrown passes and then housing them last season.


He's fast, it looks as if he finally understands coverage responsibilities, and he's working with a good secondary. What's not to like about the guy, especially with a healthy Al Harris, Charles Woodson playing Cornerback all season and Bigby returning to the opposite Safety position.


9.) Bob Sanders, Indianapolis Colts


Bob Sanders is one strong player in the box. I wouldn't say he is better in the box than Bell, Dawkins, Polamalu, Rhodes or Wilson, but I would say that being 6th best in the box as a Strong Safety isn't bad as it’s your primary job.


There is no denying that Sanders also has a Dawkins-like mentality in how he is a defensive leader, and when he is in the lineup he is a leader. When the ball is being carried by a Halfback, Sanders knows how to track them down within all the trench battles going on and manage to tackle them. Sanders could be higher on this list if he would stay healthy and be more of a playmaker.



10.) Brian Dawkins, Denver Broncos


If B-Dawk hadn't gone to Denver this year he wouldn't be on this list but Denver has shown an ability to take old "over-the-top" Safeties and revitalize them by placing them in the box.


The thing here is, however, that Dawkins did this same thing last year in Philadelphia. Jim Johnson utilized 3 Safety sets in which Quinten Mikell and Quintin Demps were the deep Safeties and Dawkins would play in the box. When playing within the trenches Dawkins had 3 sacks and 7 stuffs last season, and 6 accompanying forced fumbles.


Dawkins played over 50% of his snaps on the strong side of the field last year and over 50% of them in the box. That's the role of a SS, which he'll do again in Denver, so he can do that at a high level. Just don't ask him to drop 10+ yards. But John Lynch did well in Denver his last 3 years doing this.



Honorable Mentions:


Quintin Mikell

~ Need one more season

LaRon Landry

~ Needs to be more of a playmaker


OJ Atogwe

~ Can he be more than the guy that is in the right place at the right time


Dawan Landry

~ Can he return back to health?!


Sean Jones

~ Can he earn the starting role in Philly over Demps?

~ Health


Chris Harris

~ Can he be more than the big hitting guy?




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