NFL

B/R NFL 1000: Ranking the Top 45 Free Safeties from 2015

Matt MillerNFL Draft Lead WriterMarch 14, 2016

B/R NFL 1000: Ranking the Top 45 Free Safeties from 2015

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    At the end of the 2015 NFL season, who was the best free safety in the game? We're not talking about who made the Pro Bowl or even who got the All-Pro votes. Who was really, truly the best? Forget reputation and how much money each player makes. We want cold, hard analysis that comes from watching the games and grading the players. 

    That's what the B/R NFL 1000 is for, and it's back for another year. 

    The B/R 1000 metric is based heavily on scouting each player and grading the key criteria for each position. The criteria are weighted according to importance for a possible best score of 100.

    Potential and career accomplishments are not taken into consideration.

    Free safeties are judged on coverage (70 points), run defense (10), tackling (10) and the overall value of the position relative to the other spots on the field (eight points). The maximum score for this position is 98.

    Because NFL safeties often split time between both free safety and strong safety, we determined that players eligible to be ranked at free safety must have started at least 50 percent of their games played at that 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.

    A team of experienced evaluators (Dan Bazal, Luke Easterling, Cian Fahey, Adam Heisler, Duke Manyweather, Matt Miller and Marshal Miller) scouted each player with these key criteria in mind. The following scouting reports and grades are the work of months of film study from our team. 

     

    Players' heights, weights, seasons played and sack totals from NFL.comAll other statistics from Pro Football Focus.

45. Robert Blanton, Minnesota Vikings

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    Coverage

    40/70

    Robert Blanton was good enough in 2014 to rank as our No. 7 overall safety in last season's NFL 1000. This year? It was a different story, as the instincts and timing Blanton showed in rising to the top 10 at the position weren't there as he fell to a backup role. Blanton, who only started one game in 2015 after starting 13 of them in 2014, gave up five catches on six targets and failed to post an interception while rarely cracking the Vikings' secondary lineup. A new start in Buffalo, where he is expected to compete for a starting position, will help Blanton.

    Run Defense

    6/10

    A good-sized safety at 6'1" and 200 pounds, Blanton can get into the box and make plays in the run game. He's not Harrison Smith, but the two were a solid complement to each other in past seasons. Blanton is active in the box, but he had issues with run responsibilities and when asked to contain a player on the edge.

    Tackling

    9/10

    Blanton has always been a productive tackler, and in 2015 that didn't change even as he was limited in his reps. Blanton brought down the ball-carrier to the tune of 21 tackles and no missed tackles. Again, this is a smaller sample size, but he's a sure thing as a tackler at free safety.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    63/98

44. Sergio Brown, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Coverage

    45/70

    Playing in 15 games at both strong and free safety, Sergio Brown saw his role reduced in Jacksonville as he struggled in pass coverage. As the third safety oftentimes, Brown played in the slot or matched up with tight ends. This is a role he’s built for, but he allowed 78.3 percent of passes thrown his way to be completed. That statistic—as well as his poor instincts and timing shown on film—keeps his score among the lowest in the safety group.

    Run Defense

    6/10

    In the run game, Brown did a solid job of forcing running backs to cut off his position in the open field. He puts himself at angles to make plays on the ball down the sideline and has the quickness to attack outside runs. Brown didn’t play physically in 2015, though, and that limited his impact on the run game.

    Tackling

    4/10

    Missed tackles were an issue that kept Brown off the field in Jacksonville. On 36 combined tackles, Brown missed nine, and he struggled to establish a physical presence in the run game or in the open field. At 6’2” and 207 pounds, he has the size to come downhill and take on ball-carriers, but Brown seemed hesitant to attack on film.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    63/98

43. Larry Asante, Oakland Raiders

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    Coverage

    46/70

    Larry Asante saw the most action of his career in 2015, appearing in all 16 games for the first time as a pro. He drew just one penalty in 2015, but he only broke up three passes. A former fifth-round pick who didn’t start a game until his fourth season in the NFL (2014), Asante isn’t much better than average when asked to cover in space.

    Run Defense

    6/10

    In run support, Asante was the embodiment of willing, but not quite able. Getting there is half the battle, and while he struggled to finish once he got to the ball-carrier on a regular basis, Asante was above average in sifting through the trash in the box and getting to where he needed to be.

    Tackling

    3/10

    As mentioned above, Asante struggled to finish as a tackler in 2015, both in the box against the run and against receivers after the catch. He tallied 21 solo tackles on the season but missed seven. Being an effective tackler is about sound fundamentals, and despite entering the league in 2010, it’s clear Asante still has a ways to go in that department.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    63/98

42. Walt Aikens, Miami Dolphins

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    Coverage

    49/70

    A fourth-round pick in 2014 out of Liberty, Walt Aikens played most of his college ball at corner, but the Dolphins moved him to safety during his rookie training camp. He’s still pretty rough around the edges when covering in space, but he has the tools to be developed.

    Run Defense

    4/10

    Aikens saw an increased role in his second NFL season, playing 55 percent of Miami’s defensive snaps after seeing the field on just 14 percent as a rookie in 2014. He wasn’t asked to provide too much run support in 2015, and though he played safety early in his college career, it was clear last season he was still getting used to coming down into the box instead of playing out on the perimeter.

    Tackling

    3/10

    He logged 15 solo tackles last season but missed on five attempts, showing his lack of polish when it comes to the finer points of tackling technique. At 6’1”, 208 pounds, Aikens has the frame to hold his ground and shed blockers, but he needs to put it to better use than he did in 2015.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    64/98

41. Ed Reynolds, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Coverage

    50/70

    Ed Reynolds was cut and then re-signed to Philadelphia's practice squad twice over his first two years with the Eagles, but he finally saw some significant action over the latter third of the 2015 season. He looked about as raw in coverage as you might expect from a young fifth-round pick but flashed some playmaking ability at a key moment, sealing a 23-20 win over the Buffalo Bills with a late interception.

    Run Defense

    4/10

    After finally getting moved up to the active roster in November, Reynolds ended up starting the final three games of the season, spending more time in the box in the last two contests of the year. He has the frame to survive in run support at 6’1”, 207 pounds, but his performance in 2015 proved he still has plenty to learn with it comes to maximizing that size at the point of attack.

    Tackling

    2/10

    Reynolds tallied 18 solo tackles for the season, with 12 coming in the final two games. But he missed nearly half as many as he made, whiffing eight times. He needs to be more consistent with dropping his head on contact and losing sight of his target, as well as taking better pursuit angles to get in a better position to finish.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    64/98

40. Jordan Poyer, Cleveland Browns

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    Coverage

    50/70

    Jordan Poyer didn’t stick in Philly after the Eagles drafted him in the seventh round in 2013, but the Oregon State product finally saw a good bit of action for the Browns in his third NFL season. A former corner, Poyer was more effective in coverage than anything else in 2015, flashing solid instincts and the ability to break quickly on the ball. He lacked consistency, but his Week 17 pick of the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger showed what he’s capable of.

    Run Defense

    4/10

    The Browns were wise to keep Poyer from seeing much action in the box, considering his slight frame at just 6’0”, 191 pounds. When he was asked to come down and defend the run, it was rarely a pretty sight, as Poyer was easily engulfed at the point of attack by bigger, more physical blockers. He’ll need to add a few pounds of quality bulk if he wants to take the next step in this area in 2016.

    Tackling

    2/10

    Poyer’s struggles in this department could partly be attributed to still working through the transition from corner to safety, as he’s adjusting to taking proper pursuit angles and finding the ball from the back end. His lack of ideal size doesn’t do him any favors as a tackler, either.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    64/98

39. Michael Griffin, Tennessee Titans

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    Coverage

    45/70

    There’s a reason the Titans let go of Griffin despite the fact that he made more than 130 starts for the team over his nine NFL seasons. Despite his experience, Griffin clearly looked all year like a player who felt the mileage catching up to him. He’s just not the cover man he once was.

    Run Defense

    6/10

    Griffin improved as a run defender after his disappointing 2014 campaign, but that’s not saying a whole lot. The declining quick-twitch ability and lack of peak athleticism made it difficult for him to fly down into the box and make consistent plays against the run in 2015.

    Tackling

    6/10

    The volume of tackles were still there for Griffin, and he managed to avoid too many missed chances, logging 13 missed tackles in 957 snaps. He doesn’t bring the big hit too often but still has enough in the tank to pack a punch when he gets one.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    65/98

38. Tashaun Gipson, Cleveland Browns

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    Coverage

    48/70

    An undrafted free agent in 2012 out of Wyoming, Tashaun Gipson has made the move to Jacksonville in free agency after spending the last four seasons in Cleveland. He significantly regressed as a playmaker in coverage in 2015, logging just a pair of interceptions after notching 11 picks over the previous two seasons.

    Run Defense

    4/10

    Gipson struggled to live up to high expectations in coverage, but he was also a below-average run defender last season. Cleveland’s inability to control the line of scrimmage with its front seven didn’t help, but Gipson didn’t do much to help the cause when called upon in run support.

    Tackling

    5/10

    He didn’t set the world on fire as a tackler last season, but Gipson got the job done more often than not, tallying 47 solo tackles and going six of his 13 games without missing one. Gipson has a fairly solid frame at 5’11”, 205 pounds, which allows him to get solid leverage and a decent amount of force behind him when he gets to the man with the ball.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    65/98

37. Landon Collins, New York Giants

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    Coverage

    45/70

    The Giants traded up to the top pick in last year’s second round to secure Landon Collins, and they put him to work right away, playing him on nearly 95 percent of their defensive snaps in his rookie season. His biggest predraft detraction was his lackluster coverage ability, and he certainly lived up to that expectation in 2015, looking stiff and uncomfortable far too often.

    Run Defense

    7/10

    At Alabama, Collins was at his best down in the box defending the run, and the same was true of his first NFL season. He was at his best tracking ball-carriers, working through and around blocks to close on rushing plays. When he’s able to fly downhill against the run, he looks far more promising than when he’s forced to turn and run in space.

    Tackling

    6/10

    Getting there is half the battle, but the play still needs to be made, and Collins had his up-and-down moments in this department. That’s to be expected of a rookie, but racking up 87 solo tackles and missing 15 wasn’t a bad look for a first-year pro. Moving forward, he needs to refine his technique instead of just relying on his natural physical ability.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    66/98

36. Chris Prosinski, Chicago Bears

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    Coverage

    47/70

    With his third team in two years, Chris Prosinski got some starting action for the first time since 2013 this past season. Liability might be too strong a word, but the former fourth-round pick out of Wyoming definitely wasn’t the Bears’ most valuable asset in coverage on the back end. In his 342 snaps in 2015, Prosinski tallied more penalties (one) than he had interceptions or pass breakups.

    Run Defense

    6/10

    Prosinski was above average last season in run support, taking advantage of the most playing time he’s gotten since the 2012 season. He showed confidence in his instincts and the ability to read and react quickly and consistently, but he still needs to improve when it comes to taking proper angles to the ball once he sees where the play is going.

    Tackling

    5/10

    Making 13 appearances and five starts in 2015, Prosinski was credited with 19 successful tackles and five misses. His technique was adequate for the most part, but his tendency to overpursue led to too many missed opportunities. He has the physical tools to be a solid tackler; he just needs to put it all together.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    66/98

35. Jairus Byrd, New Orleans Siants

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    Coverage

    48/70

    Jairus Byrd may still be feeling the lingering effects of a knee injury that caused him to miss most of the 2014 season, as he’s still yet to look like the same player who earned a huge contract from the Saints in free agency prior to that season. He doesn’t look like the rangy playmaker he once was in coverage, managing just one interception and two pass breakups in 2015.

    Run Defense

    6/10

    Byrd’s ability to diagnose the run play and close on the ball-carrier was above average this past season, with the former second-round pick out of Oregon showing a healthy willingness to get his hands dirty in the box. He didn’t always finish the job, but he was around the ball plenty when it came to defending the run.

    Tackling

    5/10

    Byrd was a Jekyll-and-Hyde tackler in 2015, showing superb breakdown ability and technique at times while seemingly eschewing it all together on other snaps. At 5’10”, 203 pounds, Byrd has the tightly packed frame to deliver a blow, but his technique has to get more consistent moving forward.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    67/98

34. Bacarri Rambo, Buffalo Bills

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    Coverage

    49/70

    A sixth-round pick in 2013 out of Georgia, Rambo saw the most playing time of his young NFL career in 2015, making eight starts and appearing in 15 games. He wasn’t terribly fluid in coverage for most of his limited action, but he did manage to register his third career interception, along with four defensed passes.

    Run Defense

    5/10

    At 6’0”, 211 pounds, Rambo has the solid frame to absorb bigger blockers and still get through to the ball-carrier, but he didn’t take full advantage of his size on a regular basis in 2015. He still struggles to see through the trash and find the ball at times, something he’ll have to focus on this offseason.

    Tackling

    6/10

    Rambo was in on nearly 70 percent of Buffalo’s defensive snaps, making 47 solo tackles and missing seven. Rambo can be an enforcer when he wants to, but he also flashed solid technique and didn’t draw a single penalty all year long.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    68/98

33. Mike Adams, Indianapolis Colts

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    Coverage

    48/70

    Adams has bounced between four different NFL teams over his 12 seasons, with the last two coming in Indy. While he wasn’t the most consistent performer in coverage last season, he tied a career high with five interceptions after posting the same number the year before. Still, interceptions aren't always an accurate measure of coverage skills and despite Adams pick numbers, he still struggled some in this area in 2015.

    Run Defense

    6/10

    At 5’11”, 205 pounds, Adams is big enough to be more than just a speed bump on a lead blocker’s way to the open field, but he doesn’t always maximize those natural physical tools. He’s willing to get his hands dirty in the box, which is half the battle, and his experience in the league has improved his instincts and confidence as a run defender.

    Tackling

    6/10

    Adams tallied 53 solo tackles over his 13 starts in 2015 but added 10 missed tackles to the stat sheet, as well. He can break down and keep ball-carriers in front of him for the most part, but he’s not going to overpower bigger backs and receivers if forced to take them on alone.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    68/98

32. Robert Golden, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Coverage

    49/70

    After appearing in all 16 games with three starts in 2015, the Steelers awarded Robert Golden with a three-year extension. An undrafted free agent out of Arizona in 2012, Golden showed solid range and fluidity in coverage last season, but his only interception was more the result of a poor overthrow by Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron.

    Run Defense

    7/10

    Golden proved to be a capable run defender last season, mixing it up in the box and holding his own more often than not against blockers who often outweighed him. Consistency is the only thing missing from this department.

    Tackling

    5/10

    Golden only saw the field on 43 percent of the Steelers’ defensive snaps, logging 28 solo tackles. Even in his fourth NFL season, Golden’s form got sloppy too often, leading to missed tackles he should have made.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    69/98

31. Michael Thomas, Miami Dolphins

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    Coverage

    50/70

    An undrafted free agent in 2012 out of Stanford, Michael Thomas carved out a starting role in his third NFL season and showed some promise playing across from Reshad Jones. He only notched one pass breakup and didn’t register an interception, but he showed some range and was fairly fluid when forced to change direction quickly.

    Run Defense

    6/10

    Thomas was always willing in run support last year, and he was able to make a few impressive plays by reading things quickly, getting slippery at the point of attack and taking good angles to the ball. He didn’t shy away from contact but needs to improve on making the ball-carrier the focus instead of the oncoming blocker.

    Tackling

    5/10

    He’s still a little rough around the edges as a tackler, but Thomas showed some improvement in this area in 2015. He did miss 11 tackles but notched 58 solo stops over 13 starts (16 games). Another offseason focusing on proper form and taking better angles to avoid being forced to arm-tackle should allow him to make another jump forward in this department.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    69/98

30. Kendrick Lewis, Baltimore Ravens

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    Coverage

    51/70

    Kendrick Lewis spent 2015 with his third different team in as many seasons, but he still bagged at least 15 starts for the third year in a row. He proved last year he can be a serviceable cover man, breaking up two passes and showing good range and instincts. He failed to register an interception for the first time since the 2012 season, but there was definitely more good than bad in this department from.

    Run Defense

    5/10

    A fifth-round pick out of Mississippi in 2010, Lewis’ effectiveness as a run defender was up and down throughout the 2015 season. He had a strong showing against Miami in Week 13 (five tackles, none missed), but he turned in rough outings against Oakland and Pittsburgh early in the year. He showed some improvement through the middle part of the season but struggled to finish strong.

    Tackling

    5/10

    Lewis has missed at least 10 tackles in each of his last five NFL seasons, and 2015 was no different. He has the physicality to bring some pop to the ball-carrier, but his technique still needs plenty of work. He needs to focus on being more consistent when it comes to the fundamentals, and the rest will follow.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    69/98

29. Ron Parker, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Coverage

    52/70

    Ron Parker hails from Port Royal, South Carolina, which makes sense, considering his pirating ways on the field. He ran hot and cold at times in coverage last year but snagged three picks and broke up six passes. His Week 17 outing against the Raiders was his best showing of the year in this department.

    Run Defense

    6/10

    Parker’s effectiveness in run support wasn’t much to write home about in 2015, but he was a willing party who could effectively work his way down through the second level to make quality stops on a regular basis. His pass-first mentality left him just a step late in pursuit on more than one occasion, but he was above-average overall in this department.

    Tackling

    4/10

    Parker is a sucker for the big play, and while he did bag an impressive five sacks in 2015, his flair for the highlight-reel tackle led to far too many missed opportunities. He made a slight improvement this season, missing four fewer tackles than he did in 2014, but 18 is still far too many. He still needs plenty of work on the finer points if he wants to make a serious jump in this area next season.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    70/98

28. Adrian Amos, Chicago Bears

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    Coverage

    50/70

    Adrian Amos was a versatile talent at Penn State, playing both safety and corner. He showed impressive fluidity and instincts in his rookie season. However, those mixed with some head-scratching moments that he should clean up as he becomes more comfortable with his coverage responsibilities in head coach John Fox’s defense.

    Run Defense

    7/10

    At 6’0”, 218 pounds, Amos is built for the box, and he put that frame to good use in 2015 as an effective weapon in run support. Especially for a first-year player thrown into the fire, Amos showed surprising read-and-react skills, moving swiftly around would-be blockers and doing his best not to get eaten up at the point of attack. He didn’t look like a rookie too often last year.

    Tackling

    6/10

    Despite being just a fifth-round pick, Amos started all 16 games for the Bears, playing on 99.6 percent of the defensive snaps. He piled up 59 solo tackles, and though he missed 10 more chances, he looked way more refined in this area than many players with far more experience. His arrow is pointing up moving forward.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    71/98

27. Eric Reid, San Francisco 49ers

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    Coverage

    53/70

    Eric Reid has been a full-time starter since the 49ers selected him with the 18th overall pick in the 2013 draft, and while he hasn’t quite lived up to the hype he created as a playmaker at LSU, he’s been a solid cover man with good range and a nose for the ball. 2015 saw a drop in his big-play numbers (no picks after snagging seven combined over his first two seasons), but he deflected two passes, just as he did in 2014.

    Run Defense

    5/10

    Reid is much more effective as a single-high center fielder, but he’s not unwilling to mix it up in the box when necessary. At 6’1”, 213 pounds, he has the frame to take on blockers and win the battle at the point of attack, but his instincts tend to get the better of him at times, leading to overpursuit and missed opportunities.

    Tackling

    5/10

    Reid’s frame gives him the bulk and power needed to be an effective tackler, but he’s still a work in progress when it comes to consistently using proper technique. Once he starts relying more on clean fundamentals rather than just athletic ability and trying to deliver the big hit, he’ll be much more consistent in this area.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    71/98

26. Rahim Moore, Houston Texans

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    Coverage

    54/70

    Rahim Moore was one of the more coveted free-agent safeties on the market last offseason, but seven disappointing games to start 2015 led to his benching for 2014 seventh-round pick Andre Hal. Moore’s lone interception came in Week 2 against Carolina, and he never established himself as the effective center fielder he had been in Denver over the previous four seasons.

    Run Defense

    5/10

    Despite signing him to a three-year deal last offseason, the Texans have already released Moore after his disappointing showing in 2015. He regressed in just about every way last season, and his effectiveness in run support wasn’t immune. He’s much more comfortable in a single-high role for a reason.

    Tackling

    4/10

    This has always been Moore’s greatest struggle, and his performance over the first seven weeks of the 2015 season was no exception. His inability to finish plays and wrap up backs and receivers was a huge factor in Moore losing his job to a converted corner who nearly went undrafted just a year prior.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    71/98

25. Chris Maragos, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Coverage

    55/70

    An undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin in 2010, Chris Maragos saw most of his action on special teams for the Eagles in 2015. He did make a pair of starts early in the season, showing plenty of promise with surprising range and fluid hips in coverage in his limited action.

    Run Defense

    5/10

    He’s much more comfortable and effective on the back end, but Maragos didn’t shy away from the chance to come down into the box every now and then. His lack of experience as a true defensive player likely contributed to his up-and-down performance as a run-stopper in 2015, and he should only improve as he gets more opportunities.

    Tackling

    3/10

    If getting there is half the battle, Maragos lost the other half way too often in 2015. It’s a small sample size, for sure, but only logging eight solo tackles and missing three doesn’t do much for the percentages. At 5’10”, 200 pounds, Maragos has enough size to hold his own as a tackler, but his technique still needs plenty of work.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    71/98

24. Andre Hal, Houston Texans

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    Coverage

    56/70

    A seventh-round pick in 2014 out of Vanderbilt, Andre Hal beat out big-name free-agent signing Rahim Moore for a starting gig halfway through the 2015 season. A converted corner, Hal unsurprisingly looked most comfortable in coverage, where he put his fluid change-of-direction ability and above-average instincts to good use. He ended the year with four pass breakups and four interceptions, one of which he returned 31 yards for a score to seal a Week 6 win over the Jaguars.

    Run Defense

    4/10

    Hal’s inexperience as a box defender was evident in his limited action against the run game, as his lack of ideal size was a huge issue at the point of attack. At just 5’10”, 188 pounds, it was way too easy for Hal to get engulfed by bigger, more physical opponents and driven away from the ball-carrier. He’ll need to bulk up a bit if he wants to be able to effectively anchor, stack and shed moving forward.

    Tackling

    4/10

    Just as it was in run defense, Hal’s lack of ideal bulk was a significant obstacle in his effectiveness as a tackler in 2015. Whether it was against a running back breaking into the secondary or a receiver scampering after the catch, Hal struggled to consistently win one-on-one opportunities as a tackler, often needing help to bring down a ball-carrier.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    72/98

23. Glover Quin, Detroit Lions

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    Coverage

    52/70

    Even if unspectacular, Glover Quin has been one of the most durable, reliable safeties in the NFL over his career, as 2015 was the sixth straight season in which he started all 16 games. Quin saw a bit of a dip in his coverage production last year, but he still broke up a pass and picked off four more. He was still effective enough, but the difference between his range and closing speed compared to last season started to show he was at the end of his 20s.

    Run Defense

    6/10

    Quin’s never been one to shy away from the box, but that doesn’t mean he’s the most effective at defending the run successfully on a consistent basis. His instincts and pursuit angles were hit-or-miss at best, and he’s often a step late to react to the run.

    Tackling

    7/10

    He’s not the hardest hitter or the most polished technician, but Quin does what it takes to get the job done as a tackler, whether it’s pretty or not. He missed just seven tackles despite playing 974 snaps in 2015, finishing successfully on 56 solo tackle attempts.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    73/98

22. Antrel Rolle, Chicago Bears

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    Coverage

    52/70

    A sprained MCL cost Antrel Rolle all but seven games of the 2015 season, marking the first time since 2007 the former first-round pick out of Miami (Florida) has made fewer than 15 starts in a season. Prior to the injury, Rolle had his bright spots in coverage, but the splash plays were nonexistent, as he failed to register an interception and broke up just one pass.

    Run Defense

    6/10

    Aside from a particularly rough outing against the Vikings in Week 8, Rolle was an above-average run defender for most of his limited action in 2015. At 6’0”, 206 pounds, Rolle has always had the frame to stack and shed with success, but his ability to do it consistently significantly improved this season over his performance in 2014.

    Tackling

    7/10

    Rolle missed double-digit tackles in every season from 2008 to 2014, but even with the shortened 2015 campaign, he improved in this department by missing just four tackles across 398 total snaps. He’s got the power to deliver a big hit every now and then, but he can struggle against bigger backs and receivers if forced to take them on alone.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    73/98

21. Chris Conte, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Coverage

    54/70

    Held back by concussions over the previous two seasons, Chris Conte bounced back with a fairly strong effort in 2015. He still had a few “what in the world is he doing” moments in coverage (often when he got caught peeking into the backfield too early), but he still came up with a pair of picks and three deflected passes.

    Run Defense

    6/10

    Conte’s indecision is his greatest enemy, and that was just as evident when he was playing the run as it was when he was covering in space down the field. He’s not the quickest or most instinctive run defender in the league, but when he wins, he does it with good pursuit angles and solid awareness.

    Tackling

    5/10

    The former Chicago Bear missed 10 tackles in 2015, tied for the second-most in his five-year NFL career. He did make 59 solo stops in 758 snaps and was never afraid to deliver the big hit when it was needed. Conte just needs more consistency and cleaner technique in this department.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    73/98

20. Micah Hyde, Green Bay Packers

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Coverage

    55/70

    A seven-game starter in his third season with Green Bay, Micah Hyde continued to show steady progress as a deep cover man. He’s still leaving a few too many plays on the field, but once he’s able to consistently perform at the level he’s proved he’s capable of in certain moments, he could inch his way toward being one of the better cover safeties in the NFC.

    Run Defense

    4/10

    Hyde’s strengths are on the back end, as he didn’t offer much in terms of effective run support in 2015. Being lighter than 200 pounds certainly doesn’t help when it comes to taking on linemen, tight ends and even bigger receivers in the box, and the 6'0", 197-pound Hyde struggled accordingly in this department.

    Tackling

    6/10

    Hyde was a fairly solid tackler in 2015, going 10 of the Packers’ 16 regular-season games without missing a tackle. He tallied 53 solo tackles despite playing just 64 percent of Green Bay’s defensive snaps, showing the willingness to find contact and the ability to finish plays without needing a host of teammates every time.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    73/98

19. Rashad Johnson, Arizona Cardinals

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    Rob Leiter/Getty Images

    Coverage

    55/70

    Other members of the Bird Gang secondary get more attention, but Rashad Johnson quietly put together a solid campaign in 2015. The Alabama product started 14 games and logged a career-high six interceptions, playing 93.7 percent of Arizona’s snaps on defense.

    Run Defense

    5/10

    Johnson isn’t in his element in the box, but that doesn’t mean he’s not willing to come down from the perch once in a while to make a play. This past season, he showed the ability to flow to the ball with good angles and awareness, but he needs to do it more consistently if he wants to become a well-rounded player at the position.

    Tackling

    5/10

    In his second season as a full-time starter, Johnson tallied 59 solo tackles but missed another 11, which was a move in the right direction from his performance in 2014 (19 missed tackles). Still, there’s plenty of room for improvement in this area for Johnson, who needs to put his 5’11”, 204-pound frame to better use as a tackler.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    73/98

18. Antoine Bethea, San Francisco 49ers

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Coverage

    52/70

    After starting all 16 games in every season since 2008, Antoine Bethea saw a torn pectoral muscle end his 2015 season after just seven games. Over that stretch, Bethea’s age (he turns 32 in July) was noticeable on multiple occasions when it came to his covering large stretches of the field. Bethea’s lack of range led to just two pass breakups and no interceptions last season for the former Colt.

    Run Defense

    7/10

    Bethea’s tough, physical style of play was more useful in defending the run last year, as he showed his typical willingness and ability to take on blocks and move through traffic to get to the ball-carrier. He’s not afraid of contact, but he needs to do a better job of getting slippery with blockers instead of focusing more on them than the runner.

    Tackling

    8/10

    Bethea’s at his best at the point of attack, where he’s able to use his love of contact and physicality to unload on offensive players. He’s not only a violent hitter, but he's also a sound technician, missing just three tackles over his seven games in 2015.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    75/98

17. Ricardo Allen, Atlanta Falcons

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Coverage

    58/70

    After not seeing the field at all during his rookie campaign in 2014, the former fifth-rounder out of Purdue earned a starting role in 2015 and made the most of it. Ricardo Allen showed great range and athleticism in coverage, and only his understandable lack of experience when it came to reading routes and lack of full confidence to jump on the ball held him back.

    Run Defense

    4/10

    While Allen’s smaller frame allows him to be quick to the ball, it does him no favors at the point of attack when he’s forced to do battle with bigger receivers, tight ends and other obstacles. At 24, he’s a young player who still has plenty to learn about reading, reacting and taking proper angles. The athleticism and potential is there, but 2015 showed just how far he’s got to go in this area.

    Tackling

    5/10

    At 5’9”, 186 pounds, Allen struggled to take care of business on his own as a tackler, but that didn’t keep him from sticking his head in and doing what he could. He did show progress as the year wore on, however, as just three of his 10 missed tackles came over the final 11 weeks of the season.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    75/98

16. Tyvon Branch, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Coverage

    53/70

    After seven seasons in Oakland, Branch made the intradivisional trip to Kansas City for the 2015 campaign. He made just one start but appeared in all 16 games. Branch was up and down in coverage but did come away with his fifth career interception. He also allowed a pair of touchdown passes.

    Run Defense

    6/10

    Inconsistency is again the theme here, as Branch flashed solid read/react skills on one snap, then seemed completely lost on the next. He didn’t mind the rough-and-tumble style of playing in the box, but he was too easily fooled by misdirection and play action.

    Tackling

    9/10

    This is where Branch made his money in 2015. He’s a sound technician who can break down effectively and bring enough power and physicality to make ball-carriers think twice about coming his way.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    76/98

15. Shawn Williams, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Coverage

    59/70

    A third-round pick out of Georgia in 2013, Shawn Williams’ play in 2015 is one of the biggest reasons the Bengals felt comfortable letting veteran Reggie Nelson walk in free agency this offseason. Williams was particularly strong in coverage, where he grabbed two picks and broke up two passes despite playing just over 50 percent of the defensive snaps and making just four starts.

    Run Defense

    5/10

    Williams didn’t spend much time in the box in limited action last season, but he showed some promise as a run defender. Aided by his 6’0”, 210-pound frame, Williams was able to take on bigger blockers and hold his own for the most part, but he needs to improve when it comes time to shake free of the block and make the play on a ball-carrier.

    Tackling

    4/10

    He has the size and willingness to be a punishing tackler, but Williams showed his youth on multiple occasions in 2015 in this department. Seven missed tackles isn’t terrible, but for someone who only played in a rotational, part-time role, that’s too often. He knows where he’ll need to improve with increased expectations in 2016 and beyond.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    76/98

14. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Green Bay Packers

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    Jon Durr/Getty Images

    Coverage

    53/70

    After his second NFL season, the former first-round pick out of Alabama is still getting his feet under him as a single-high cover man. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has the smarts and athleticism to be effective against the pass, but he’s still a little too stiff and just a half-step late when he goes click-and-close on the ball. He certainly showed some improvement over his rookie year, but this area of his game just isn’t up to par with the rest of his skill set yet.

    Run Defense

    9/10

    Clinton-Dix took his game to a completely different level as a run defender in 2015. A 16-game starter for the Packers, Clinton-Dix was at his most comfortable when recognizing the run and flying downhill to make a play. He’s a plus athlete who's difficult for blockers to engage; a slippery, moving target who showed greatly improved awareness and pursuit angles.

    Tackling

    7/10

    Playing on nearly every defensive snap (99.7 percent) for Green Bay last year, Clinton-Dix was one of the most effective and efficient tacklers in the league. He missed nine tackles in 2015 but racked up 93 successful stops, including a season-high 10 in Week 10 against Detroit. He can lay the lumber when necessary, but he also showed improved technique in his second NFL rodeo.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    77/98

13. Marcus Gilchrist, New York Jets

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Coverage

    53/70

    Coverage has never been Marcus Gilchrist's strong suit, and though the former second-round pick did show some improvement in this area in 2015, it’s still clearly the weakest part of his skill set. He did flash some playmaking ability, though, breaking up a pass and snagging three interceptions. Marcus Gilchrist wants to play run-first, which leaves him susceptible to play action.

    Run Defense

    8/10

    The four-year deal Gilchrist signed last offseason was really a “show me” deal that could have allowed the Jets to opt out after just one season. But show them he did, particularly when defending the run. The fifth-year veteran out of Clemson bounced back from a rough 2014 outing, playing in 2015 much more like the player Chargers fans saw earlier in his career.

    Tackling

    9/10

    Don’t tell Gilchrist he’s under 6’0” and lighter than 200 pounds, because he sure doesn’t tackle like it. He started all 16 games for the third season in a row, logging 70 tackles and only missing five, despite playing nearly every single defensive snap for the Jets in 2015. He overcomes his lack of ideal size with solid technique and leverage.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    78/98

12. Michael Mitchell, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    Coverage

    59/70

    Much of the NFL world reacted with a resounding “who?” when the Raiders spent a second-round pick on Michael Mitchell in 2009, and while he never made much of an impact in Oakland, he’s starting to blossom in Pittsburgh. Mitchell’s performance in coverage this past year was light-years ahead of how he looked the year before, with four pass breakups and three interceptions to show for it.

    Run Defense

    6/10

    At 6’1”, 221 pounds, you might expect Mitchell to be more effective defending the run than in coverage, but that’s not what the film shows. Mitchell has his moments—when his ideal frame is put to good use by winning at the point of attack and shedding blockers with power—but those plays were few and far between in 2015.

    Tackling

    5/10

    After sprinkling just nine starts over his first four NFL seasons, Mitchell has started 46 games over the last three years, including all 16 the past two years in Pittsburgh. He was a hit-or-miss tackler last season, logging 66 stops on over 1,200 snaps, while missing 14 tackles. He’s a solid athlete who can get to the ball quickly, but he needs to improve his ability to throttle down and use proper form if wants to improve in this area next year.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    78/98

11. Duron Harmon, New England Patriots

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    Coverage

    63/70

    A third-round pick out of Rutgers in 2013, Duron Harmon was given an increased role in 2015 and took full advantage, particularly in coverage. More than doubling his snap count from the previous season, Harmon showed fantastic range and the ability to read routes and break on the ball. Despite making just five starts, he grabbed three picks and broke up one pass for the Pats.

    Run Defense

    4/10

    Harmon is more cut out to a be a ball hawk on the back end than he is mixing it up in the box as a run defender. Too often, he was slow to react and struggled to get downhill quickly enough to truly impact the play. He only has eight NFL starts under his belt over three seasons, and that lack of experience is most evident against the run.

    Tackling

    4/10

    If Harmon truly wants to take the next step as an impact player, this is where he needs to make the biggest jump in 2016. He only made 18 tackles last season while missing on five. His technique was all over the place, and he seemed more interested in making the big hit instead of the sure tackle. If he wants a full-time role, he’s got to focus on the fundamentals.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    79/98

10. Eric Weddle, San Diego Chargers

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    Donald Miralle/Getty Images

    Coverage

    63/70

    Eric Weddle’s ugly departure from San Diego was tough to watch, but his ability to patrol the deep recesses of the field in 2015 certainly wasn’t. Aside from an uncharacteristically rough outing against the Jaguars in Week 12, Weddle was as effective a cover man as he’s been throughout his career. Even at 31 years old, Weddle still has the range to give opposing quarterbacks fits.

    Run Defense

    3/10

    Weddle may have been playmaker in coverage Chargers fans had become accustomed to seeing, but his ability to play the run saw a sharp decline in 2015. It’s not surprising for a player to see some regression in his ninth season, but the stark contrast between Weddle’s effectiveness in coverage and his lack thereof against the run was disappointing.

    Tackling

    6/10

    Last season marked just the second time since 2008 that Weddle failed to start all 16 games for the Bolts, sprinkling 58 tackles over his 13 starts. He was still a solid tackler for the most part, but his 10 missed tackles were a surge in the wrong direction after he missed just four over a full 16-game season in 2014.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    80/98

9. Darian Stewart, Denver Broncos

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Coverage

    61/70

    The Broncos let Rahim Moore walk in free agency last season and replaced him with Darian Stewart, who was coming off a one-year run in Baltimore. It was a wise exchange, as Stewart was among the most well-rounded safeties in the league last year. He was rangy enough to break up five passes over his 13 starts, giving Denver a much-needed boost at what could have been their weakest link in the secondary.

    Run Defense

    7/10

    Stewart didn’t shy away from defending the run, either, showing a willingness to come down into the box and lock horns with tight ends, receivers and linemen, hitting the second and third levels. At 5’11”, 214 pounds, Stewart put his thick frame to good use, getting consistent leverage and showing the strength to shed blockers and make plays on the ball.

    Tackling

    5/10

    If there was a hole in Stewart’s performance last season, it was in his consistency as a tackler. The undrafted free agent out of South Carolina was a roller coaster in this department, showing clean technique one week but missing multiple tackles the next. He has the frame to be an impact tackler, but he needs more polish if he’s going to take this area of his game up a notch.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    81/98

8. Kurt Coleman, Carolina Panthers

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Coverage

    61/70

    Was there a more pleasant surprise at this position last year than Kurt Coleman? After starting just three games over the previous two seasons for the Eagles and Chiefs, Coleman tallied 15 for the NFC champs and made a huge impact in coverage. Coleman took full advantage of Carolina’s ability to put constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks, tying for the NFC lead in interceptions with seven.

    Run Defense

    7/10

    Coleman wasn’t just a ball hawk perched on the back end, waiting for the action to come to him. His blue-collar play made him more than a willing participant in run defense, as much of a playmaker in that department as he was against the pass. He showed the ability to play disciplined and not get fooled often by misdirection or play action.

    Tackling

    5/10

    Coleman’s flair for the big play helped the Panthers far more than it hurt in 2015, but as a tackler, his need to make the big hit more than the sure tackle led to too much unnecessary extra-yardage situations. If he gets his arms around a ball-carrier or receiver, it usually works out well, but if he didn’t line things up just right, they didn’t go well. His 15 missed tackles in 2015 were far too many, and it's something he’ll definitely want to clean up in 2016 and beyond.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    81/98

7. Rodney McLeod, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Coverage

    60/70

    After biding his time as a rookie in 2012, Rodney McLeod out of Virginia started every game for the Rams over the past three seasons, leading to a fat new contract from the Eagles this offseason. The undrafted free agent made a big jump in his effectiveness in coverage from 2013 to 2014, and the upswing continued last season, leading to his fifth career interception, notably.

    Run Defense

    7/10

    Even at 5’10”, 195 pounds, McLeod doesn’t let his lack of ideal size prevent him from being an effective run defender most of the time. He didn’t win every battle at the point of attack last year, but he overcame his physical limitations with his high football IQ, knowing just where to be and how to get around oncoming blocks to make an impact on the ball-carrier.

    Tackling

    7/10

    Again, McLeod’s size doesn’t appear to be an impediment to his success as a tackler; opponents rarely overpowered him when he was trying to bring them down. His technique continues to improve, and after missing 16 tackles in each of the previous two seasons, McLeod missed just seven in 2015. It’s that kind of improvement that led the Eagles to give him a sizable payday this year.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    82/98

6. Devin McCourty, New England Patriots

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    Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

    Coverage

    61/70

    There’s a long list of reasons why NFL teams were hoping Devin McCourty would get away from New England on the open market last offseason, and his coverage ability is a big one. A converted corner, McCourty’s instincts and range were among the best in the NFL last year. Though his numbers were modest, it was more a product of opposing quarterbacks knowing better than to test him than anything else.

    Run Defense

    6/10

    Even as a corner, one of McCourty’s strengths coming out of Rutgers in 2010 was his willingness to come down and dirty against the run. That has followed him to the back end of the secondary, where he’s comfortable in run support, though he’s not nearly the playmaker in that department as he is when the ball’s in the air.

    Tackling

    7/10

    Despite playing on more than 90 percent of the Pats’ defensive snaps in each of his six seasons, McCourty has posted double digits in the missed tackles department just once in his career. He missed six in 2015, tied for the lowest mark he’s registered in any season. He doesn’t win with power or strength, but rather by setting a consistent base and using his smarts to put him in the right spot from the beginning.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    82/98

5. Reggie Nelson, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Coverage

    65/70

    In his ninth season out of Florida, Reggie Nelson was still making plays all over the field for the Cincinnati Bengals. In coverage, Nelson is able to cover backs, tight ends or wide receivers. He’s equally dangerous in zone coverage, where he reads routes and jumps the ball with good agility and speed; or in man coverage, where he has the size (5’11”, 210 lbs) to be a matchup player. The former first-round pick grabbed eight interceptions on the year while limiting his man to just 32 targets and 16 catches.

    Run Defense

    5/10

    Nelson has good weeks and bad weeks against the run, averaging right in the middle of the pack in terms of overall grade. He’s willing to make plays on the ball and will come up into the box to take on blockers and fight for positioning, but he often overruns the ball and can get turned by misdirection.

    Tackling

    6/10

    If you watch Nelson’s game against the Buffalo Bills, you’d think he was the best tackling safety in football—we counted 10 tackles that day. The only issue is Nelson’s eight missed tackles were a stark contrast to his 69 credited stops on the year. Watching Nelson, you see a breakdown tackler who has the pop and reach to keep offenses honest if they cross his face.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    84/98

4. Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings

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    Tom Dahlin/Getty Images

    Coverage

    62/70

    Harrison Smith is a perennial favorite of the NFL 1000 staff, and he once again backed up his reputation with strong play on the field. He’s a versatile free safety, comfortable banging in the box with tight ends or covering the deep third of the field as a center fielder.

    Smith’s instincts and football intelligence are the first thing you notice on film, but he’s also a great mix of powerful and fluid in his angles. Smith attacks the ball with a violence most safeties don’t, and his ability to read and jump routes helped him grab two interceptions while being targeted just 18 times all season.

    Run Defense

    8/10

    Part of Smith's greatness is that he willingly plays in the box in rushing situations. Mike Zimmer’s defense wants a safety who can move all over the field, and Smith’s combination of size and speed does just that. In the run game, he functions like a linebacker, stacking up blockers to attack the ball and playing with reckless abandon when pulling the chain to get to the ball.

    Tackling

    8/10

    At 6’2” and 214 pounds, Smith can bring the pain as a tackler. In 13 games, he tallied 66 tackles and 1.5 sacks by going full speed to every ball-carrier he encountered. And in that time span, Smith missed just seven tackles, while adding 21 solo stops on the ball. He’s a force as a hitter and a player no runner wants to see closing in on them in the open field.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    86/98

3. Charles Woodson, Oakland Raiders

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Coverage

    68/70

    Smart, versatile and athletic. Charles Woodson was the perfect defensive back during his 18 seasons in the NFL. In his final season, playing free safety, Woodson was electric. In coverage, he notched five interceptions, broke up three passes and took away targets from the middle of the field while making big plays in big moments.

    Even as his speed dipped a little, Woodson still won with amazing angles and timing. He seemed to come out of nowhere to make plays on the ball or contest a catch down the field, showing that even close to 40 years old he could still run and jump with the freakish receivers in the NFL.

    Run Defense

    5/10

    It’s fair to say that as Woodson aged, he started to protect himself more in the run game, and his impact dropped off some. Playing center fielder for the Raiders, he was asked to funnel the run inside and be a last line of defense and less of a hitter and run defender. That’s not to say he didn’t make plays, but his last season was his least impactful one against the run.

    Tackling

    6/10

    Woodson missed 14 tackles on the year, but consider that seven of those came in the first three games and you see that he hit his stride and eliminated mistakes by settling down and making plays on the body of the runner again. Woodson was never a huge hitter, just a sound technician as a tackler.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    87/98

2. Malcolm Jenkins, Phiadelphia Eagles

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    Coverage

    66/70

    Malcolm Jenkins has been in the NFL for seven seasons, and none of them were as good as what he did in 2015. Playing in Philadelphia’s man-coverage scheme rejuvenated his career. Lining up at free safety, Jenkins was able to see the field and react to the quarterback and the routes happening in front of him. That allowed him to find the ball for two interceptions and five breakups.

    Equally important, Jenkins took away receptions from tight ends and slot receivers. On the year, he allowed 55 catches and was excellent at limiting yards in the passing game.

    Run Defense

    8/10

    Given his background as a versatile safety, it should be no surprise that Jenkins excelled in the run game. He sees angles and runs alleys to make an impact, and he won’t let a few blockers stand in his way of finding the ball. Jenkins can overrun the play from time to time, but he otherwise does a great job fitting against the run and sniffing out the ball.

    Tackling

    6/10

    The 12 missed tackles on the year may sound like a lot, and they did stand out, but Jenkins also posted the most tackles of his career (109) while forcing three fumbles. He’s a big, strong hitter with the closing speed to bring some lumber behind his pads when squaring up ball-carriers and receivers.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    88/98

1. Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks

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    Rob Leiter/Getty Images

    Coverage

    67/70

    Earl Thomas remains the standard by which other safeties are judged. He excels with range and instincts in coverage, showing the skills to truly cover the entire field when so many other safeties are left in halves or thirds coverage.

    Thomas is an elite athlete, which allows him to get a jump on the ball and close on it with sprinter speed, but he’s also one of the most intelligent players in the game. His ability to read the offense and get in position to make a play before the snap is top-tier. Even with quarterbacks staying away from him, Thomas pulled down five interceptions (tying a career high) and broke up two passes.

    Run Defense

    7/10

    The impact Thomas makes in the run game is still a big factor in the Seattle defense. He’s not afraid to stick his body into traffic and make a hit on the run, and with his speed and awareness, he’s never out of range to make a tackle on the edge. Thomas ultimately plays a lot of single-high safety, which keeps him out of the box more, but he’s still roaming around the ball often when the run is outside the hashes.

    Tackling

    7/10

    The number of tackles Thomas made dropped from 97 in 2014 all the way to 64 in 2015—that showed up for us on film. Thomas is great in the open field because he’s a willing tackler who pursues with all-out effort. He will bounce off some ball-carriers, but both in space and in traffic, he’s proven to be a solid tackler.

    Position Value

    8/8

    Overall

    89/98

     

    Editor's note: This ranking has been adjusted to include five previously omitted free safeties.

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