NFL1000: Ranking the Top Free Safeties of 2017 Season

NFL1000 ScoutsFeatured ColumnistJanuary 29, 2018

NFL1000: Ranking the Top Free Safeties of 2017 Season

0 of 18

    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    The best free safeties cover the field like no other player can. 

    They often start from the back of the defensive formation as the last line of hope on a deep pass. If that free safety has the requisite skills, he'll move quickly from "center field" to either sideline. He'll have to take up massive parts of the field, especially in Cover 1 and Cover 3 concepts. He'll also need the field intelligence to quickly read run plays and react just as fast to assist as a force defender.

    He'll be asked to help his cornerbacks with bracket coverage on top receivers and tight ends, and disguise that help so the opponent doesn't have time to adapt. He'll also be asked to work as a slot defender at times, based on the scheme. There's a tremendous list of things to do for the best free safeties, but if you think it's tough for them, imagine how things don't work when a player who finds the speed and coverage requirements overwhelming gets put in that spot.

    All of a sudden, there are second- and third-level blown coverages. Offensive game-planners know they have a sucker play with deep vertical routes and seam routes and deep posts. The burden on the other members of the secondary can be too much.

    It's a rare player with all the requirements for the position, and in today's NFL, where passing is paramount, it could be argued the free safety spot has never been more important.

    NFL1000 scout Kyle Posey has been watching the NFL's safeties all season, and he has his player rankings and scouting reports based on the following criteria:

    Coverage: 30 points. How well does this player cover from the defense's third level? Can he take receivers to either side, and does he read routes well enough to know where to go in time to get there? How well does he work with his cornerbacks in zone coverage? Does he have the physical ability to create contested catches, deflections and interceptions?

    Recovery: 30 points. With that much ground to cover, it's inevitable that every free safety will be out of position once in a while. How well does he recover from a false step? When receivers come into his area from blown coverages elsewhere, how well does he pick up the mess?

    Slot Performance: 10 points. When he's asked to play in the slot, how well does this player adjust his coverage requirements to the option routes and close coverage at this alternate position?

    Tackling: 20 points. This covers everything from tackling in deep space to run stopping to the ability to blitz. How well does this player wrap up and stop the play once the ball-carrier is in his area?

    Position Value: 8 points. This considers positional importance when comparing grades across other spots on the defense. Free safeties are given 8/10 points, making their top possible grade 98. 

    Make sure to check out all of the NFL1000 rankings from the 2017 season.



Notable Omissions

1 of 18

    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    When ranking safeties, we wanted to see enough snaps to get a true picture of a player's development in, and effect on, his defense. Those with less than 15 percent of their team's total defensive snaps were exempted from the rankings. This includes the following:

    • Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs
    • Jeron Johnson, Jacksonville Jaguars
    • Nate Ebner, New England Patriots
    • Don Carey, Detroit Lions
    • Shamarko Thomas, Buffalo Bills
    • Chris Banjo, New Orleans Saints
    • Jairus Byrd, Carolina Panthers

Nos. 45-41

2 of 18

    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    45. Kentrell Brice, Green Bay Packers

    Coverage: 14/30
    Recovery: 
    14/30
    Slot Performance: 
    4/10
    Tackling: 
    9/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    49/100

    Brice appeared in six games and is another youngster in the Green Bay secondary that was thrown to the wolves too early. The 23-year-old found it difficult to get to spots or to react in time. He had enough athleticism to beat blocks but wasn't a consistent tackler. Brice is best suited as a backup.

    44. Blake Countess, Los Angeles Rams

    Coverage: 16/30
    Recovery: 
    15/30
    Slot Performance: 
    3/10
    Tackling: 
    9/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    51/100

    Countess played in sub-packages as a deep safety. The Rams didn't put a lot on his plate, relying on him mainly in a split-safety role. He didn't take advantage of opportunities, though. His tape consisted of dropped interceptions, missed tackles and passive play.

              

    43. Nate Allen, Miami Dolphins

    Coverage: 15/30
    Recovery: 
    16/30
    Slot Performance: 
    4/10
    Tackling: 
    9/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    52/100

    Allen played Weeks 2 through 8 for Miami. When he was on the field, he struggled. He didn't have many opportunities to make one-on-one tackles, but when he did, he missed more often than most. In coverage, Allen would get his eyes caught in the backfield and lose track of the receivers around him. This led to big plays and sometimes touchdowns.

    42. Corey Moore, Houston Texans

    Coverage: 16/30
    Recovery: 
    15/30
    Slot Performance: 
    4/10
    Tackling: 
    9/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    52/100

    Moore didn't play a lot, but when he did against the New England Patriots in a 36-33 Week 3 loss, it wasn't ideal. He missed tackles and was the main culprit for two big plays, one being the game-losing touchdown. He's a few notches below starting level.

    41. Leon Hall, San Francisco 49ers

    Coverage: 18/30
    Recovery: 
    17/30
    Slot Performance: 
    3/10
    Tackling: 
    8/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    54/100

    Hall still plays with great energy, though at this stage he's relying on instincts and not athleticism. The 49ers used him both deep and in the box. He didn't play the run well enough nor did he tackle well. The 33-year-old was the worst of the three free safeties San Francisco fielded.

Nos. 40-36

3 of 18

    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    40. T.J. McDonald, Miami Dolphins

    Coverage: 15/30
    Recovery: 
    16/30
    Slot Performance: 
    5/10
    Tackling: 
    10/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    54/100

    McDonald's effort level wasn't where it needed to be for a guy who played 539 snaps. His awareness in coverage was severely lacking. Once a promising young player for the Rams, the 26-year-old is now a third or fourth safety for a middling Dolphins unit. He's trending in the wrong direction.

                   

    39. Darian Thompson, New York Giants

    Coverage: 17/30
    Recovery: 
    16/30
    Slot Performance: 
    5/10
    Tackling: 
    9/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    55/100

    Thompson played at the level the of Giants' 2017 record: 3-13. He had far too many blown coverages. For a free safety, that's not what you want to hear. There were too many occurrences where receivers were running free behind him. To make matters worse, he was a reckless tackler. The Giants are hoping 2018 is a bounce-back year for him.

    38. Darius Butler, Indianapolis Colts

    Coverage: 19/30
    Recovery: 
    16/30
    Slot Performance: 
    3/10
    Tackling: 
    9/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    55/100

    Butler was supposed to be more of a situational player, but once Malik Hooker went down with a knee injury in Week 7, Butler saw an uptick in snaps. He can see plays developing but struggles to get there. The 31-year-old seems to have lost a step. He's a passive run defender and unsure tackler, which will make the Colts' free-agency decision on him an easy one.

                

    37. Quintin Demps, Chicago Bears

    Coverage: 17/30
    Recovery: 
    17/30
    Slot Performance: 
    3/10
    Tackling: 
    10/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    55/100

    Demps is known for one play in 2017: When Austin Hooper stiff-armed him into oblivion on an 88-yard Week 1 touchdown. Unfortunately, that was a microcosm of Demps' season. He didn't finish as a tackler and didn't make plays in coverage. He didn't play that much either, unless it was as an injury fill-in.

                 

    36. Josh Shaw, Cincinnati Bengals

    Coverage: 15/30
    Recovery: 
    15/30
    Slot Performance: 
    3/10
    Tackling: 
    16/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    57/100

    Shaw had a rough go in 2017. Penalties. Lost in coverage. Passive as a run defender. He was only playing due to injuries in the secondary, but he put too many bad plays on film for him to be trusted. Shaw shouldn't make the 2018 roster.

                

Nos. 35-31

4 of 18

    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    35. Keith Tandy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Coverage: 17/30
    Recovery: 
    17/30
    Slot Performance: 
    4/10
    Tackling: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    60/100

    Tandy filled in whenever Tampa Bay had injuries at safety. On one play he'd come aggressively downhill, the next three he'd wait for the running back to come to him. Watching Justin Evans in coverage then seeing Tandy is not fair to the latter. He's just not on his teammate's level.

                

    34. Rodney McLeod, Philadelphia Eagles

    Coverage: 19/30
    Recovery: 
    21/30
    Slot Performance: 
    4/10
    Tackling: 
    8/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    60/100

    McLeod played more slot corner this year than seasons past due to injuries in the secondary. It led to his exposure as a run defender. He was often out of control or easily blocked and missed too many tackles. In coverage, he's better from his natural free safety position than in the slot. He was beaten in man coverage more than you'd like to see, though. He did have some nice plays coming forward and taking routes away, but the 27-year-old should stay deep in the future.

    33. Adrian Colbert, San Francisco 49ers

    Coverage: 19/30
    Recovery: 
    20/30
    Slot Performance: 
    5/10
    Tackling: 
    9/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    61/100

    Colbert was part of the revolving safety door for San Francisco in 2017. In the six games he started at the end of the season, Colbert got better each time out. He deflected five passes and forced two fumbles and his impact was obvious. The corner-turned-safety showed surprising range in addition to getting big hits. Now, he'll have to play more under control, but the 49ers have to be happy with the seventh-round rookie.

    32. Ron Parker, Kansas City Chiefs

    Coverage: 18/30
    Recovery: 
    21/30
    Slot Performance: 
    5/10
    Tackling: 
    9/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    61/100

    Parker has to be one of the NFL's most inconsistent safeties. He makes plays in coverage that show he can recover, whether it's coming forward to break up a pass or turning and running. But he doesn't always pick up the receiver who's running behind him. He has a bigger issue with bringing down ball-carriers, as the 30-year-old was a bottom-five tackler at his position.

                          

    31. Jabrill Peppers, Cleveland Browns

    Coverage: 20/30
    Recovery: 
    18/30
    Slot Performance: 
    5/10
    Tackling: 
    11/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    62/100

    Cleveland did Peppers zero favors in 2017 by putting him in the deep centerfield role. Still, he didn't perform. His route recognition was subpar. His angles and tackling were worse. Sure, when playing 20 yards off the ball you're not afforded many opportunities. But Peppers was hesitant at recognizing routes when he did have a chance. The Browns should move him closer to the line of scrimmage in 2018.

               

Nos. 30-26

5 of 18

    Harry How/Getty Images

    30. Reggie Nelson, Oakland Raiders

    Coverage: 20/30
    Recovery: 
    17/30
    Slot Performance: 
    5/10
    Tackling: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    63/100

    Once known as a guy who could get sideline to sideline, the Nelson is trending in the wrong direction. The 34-year-old was usually a step late whenever Oakland ran a Cover 2, and he couldn't recover. He did make some nice open-field tackles in 2017, though. He's still serviceable, but it's clear his athleticism is something he can't rely on anymore.

    29. Marcus Maye, New York Jets

    Coverage: 20/30
    Recovery: 
    18/30
    Slot Performance: 
    6/10
    Tackling: 
    11/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    63/100

    Maye had an up-and-down rookie season. He got much better as the year went along but couldn't shake some of the bad habits he formed earlier in the season: leaving his feet and whiffing on tackles, specifically. He had a tendency to get beaten in coverage behind him as well. The former Gator did, however, make plays against the run near the line of scrimmage. He needs to become more aware of routes in coverage, though.

                 

    28. Jeff Heath, Dallas Cowboys

    Coverage: 18/30
    Recovery: 
    21/30
    Slot Performance: 
    4/10
    Tackling: 
    12/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    63/100

    Heath is a rangy safety. He had no issue getting from the middle of the field to outside the numbers in 2017. The issue was his awareness of the routes he needed to cover. When he would come up in run support he would either miss or take a poor angle. The 26-year-old is better as a deep safety.

                 

    27. Mike Mitchell, Pittsburgh Steelers

    Coverage: 21/30
    Recovery: 
    20/30
    Slot Performance: 
    4/10
    Tackling: 
    11/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    64/100

    The Steelers didn't ask Mitchell to do much in 2017. When they did use him, he didn't make the plays. The 30-year-old seemed to be a step slow when reacting in coverage. In addition, he wasn't a sure tackler against the run. He wasn't a liability, but Mitchell was just sort of there on the field. His best trait was his aggressiveness against the run.

                  

    26. Corey Graham, Philadelphia Eagles

    Coverage: 20/30
    Recovery: 
    20/30
    Slot Performance: 
    3/10
    Tackling: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    64/100

    The veteran played either when there was an injury or the Eagles went to a six-defensive back look. Graham played the deep safety role whether it was over the middle or a deep third. He had two interceptions and four passes broken up, which speak to his skills in coverage. He's still a serviceable player 11 years in.

                 

Nos. 25-21

6 of 18

    Mike McCarn/Associated Press

    25. Kurt Coleman, Carolina Panthers

    Coverage: 18/30
    Recovery: 
    19/30
    Slot Performance: 
    5/10
    Tackling: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    64/100

    It was a rough year for Coleman in coverage. He lacked range and recognition, and too often he would be late getting to a route. If he was in position, it wasn't often he'd make a play. However, he had just enough splash plays throughout the season to help his grade. The 29-year-old looked better the closer he was to the line of scrimmage.

    24. Darian Stewart, Denver Broncos

    Coverage: 20/30
    Recovery: 
    19/30
    Slot Performance: 
    5/10
    Tackling: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    Stewart was the weak starting link in Denver. When he would drop down and have to play in coverage, it was obvious it wasn't his strength. It seemed like he was a step late recognizing routes. The 29-year-old would also launch himself as a tackler too often. However, Stewart was a solid run defender for a top run defense.

                             

    23. Ricardo Allen, Atlanta Falcons

    Coverage: 20/30
    Recovery: 
    21/30
    Slot Performance: 
    5/10
    Tackling: 
    11/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    Ironically, Allen is better near the line of scrimmage, even if he is 186 pounds. The farther away he gets, the slower he reacts. Near the line he can win with his quickness to make tackles. Speaking of tackling: Poor angles and lack of aggressiveness hurt his grade. The 26-year-old wasn't bad, he just didn't do anything to stick out.

              

    22. Jimmie Ward, San Francisco 49ers

    Coverage: 20/30
    Recovery: 
    18/30
    Slot Performance: 
    5/10
    Tackling: 
    16/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    67/100

    Ward would tease with stellar play in the form of big hits over the middle or picture-perfect man coverage. Then he would disappear for the rest of the game. He didn't make enough plays in 2017. The 26-year-old was too passive as a run defender and couldn't get in enough throwing lanes to make a difference. He's too talented to move on from, though, and the 49ers should keep him on the field when he returns from a forearm injury.

                

    21. Tre Boston, Los Angeles Chargers

    Coverage: 22/30
    Recovery: 
    23/30
    Slot Performance: 
    4/10
    Tackling: 
    10/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    67/100

    Boston got off to a poor start as a Charger. He wasn't impacting games and was essentially worthless as a run defender. He turned it around in the second half, though, and finished with a career high in interceptions (five) and passes defensed (eight). The 25-year-old was more aggressive and turned into a playmaker as the season progressed. It'll be interesting to see how much he commands in free agency after a Jekyll and Hyde season.

                

Nos. 20-16

7 of 18

    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    20. Duron Harmon, New England Patriots

    Coverage: 24/30
    Recovery: 
    23/30
    Slot Performance: 
    4/10
    Tackling: 
    9/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    68/100

    Harmon's biggest weakness is his tackling. He missed more than any other safety percentage-wise. He also took bad angles at times. Against the pass, however, he was excellent. The 27-year-old would start for most teams, though he did play 702 snaps for New England. He didn't get beaten deep, but he was also aware enough to jump routes and break up throws when the chance presented itself.

    19. Clayton Fejedelem, Cincinnati Bengals

    Coverage: 20/30
    Recovery: 
    19/30
    Slot Performance: 
    5/10
    Tackling: 
    17/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    69/100

    Fejedelem filled in admirably when called upon. For as much space as he covered, his mere three missed tackles comprised quite the feat. For the most part, he was under control while closing on ball-carriers and finished plays. He also held his own in man coverage. Fejedelem would bite on play action or take poor angles, though. That was his downfall during an otherwise solid season.

               

    18. Jordan Poyer, Buffalo Bills

    Coverage: 23/30
    Recovery: 
    23/30
    Slot Performance: 
    4/10
    Tackling: 
    12/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    70/100

    Poyer played an interchangeable role with Micah Hyde in the Bills defense and was good against the pass. He was aggressive and jumped routes, and he proved to be quite the signing for Buffalo. He wasn't as good in the run game, though. The 6'0", 191-pounder is undersized but wasn't a willing tackler. The 26-year-old was inconsistent, missing 19 percent of his chances to tackle.

                

    17. Andre Hal, Houston Texans

    Coverage: 24/30
    Recovery: 
    23/30
    Slot Performance: 
    6/10
    Tackling: 
    10/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    71/100

    Hal is such an intriguing player. The 5'10", 190-pounder is undersized but holds up well in the box. The former corner shows his skills in coverage, as he has no issues matching up against whoever he guards on the perimeter. The knock against him is his tackling. Sometimes he comes in too hot and will either run himself out of the play or whiff. His coverage skills outweigh his negatives, though.

                   

    16. Justin Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Coverage: 22/30
    Recovery: 
    26/30
    Slot Performance: 
    6/10
    Tackling: 
    10/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    72/100

    Evans has off-the-charts athleticism. He can get from one hash to the opposite numbers. He can scoot. He can do so coming up against the run. His ability to recover allowed him to undercut routes when he dropped down in man coverage as well. The 22-year-old has a bright future, as his production over 11 starts was excellent. He did whiff more than one would like, though. He'll need to become a sound tackler to get to that next tier of safeties.

Nos. 15-11

8 of 18

    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    15. Malik Hooker, Indianapolis Colts

    Coverage: 22/30
    Recovery: 
    24/30
    Slot Performance: 
    5/10
    Tackling: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    72/100

    The Colts' 2017 first-round draft pick got off to quite a start, intercepting a pass in three of his first four games and showing off the coverage skills and range that teams coveted in the draft. He was surprisingly good in man coverage but wasn't as reliable when Indianapolis went to two high safeties. Inconsistent tackling was an issue, but he was a willing run defender. He suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 7. However, the 21-year-old has plenty of promise.

                   

    14. D.J. Swearinger, Washington Redskins

    Coverage: 24/30
    Recovery: 
    23/30
    Slot Performance: 
    6/10
    Tackling: 
    12/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    73/100

    Swearinger was best when rookie Montae Nicholson was on the field, allowing him to roam in the box. He was still good at free safety, but the duo was deadly. Though he can miss tackles, he's an excellent run defender and can also cover underneath. The six-year veteran is reliable at every level and was a great free-agent pickup for Washington in 2017.

                  

    13. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Green Bay Packers

    Coverage: 21/30
    Recovery: 
    23/30
    Slot Performance: 
    5/10
    Tackling: 
    16/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    73/100

    Clinton-Dix is one of the more talented yet frustrating safeties to watch. You can tell he's got a high football IQ by the way he reads screens and routes. He also did a great job of coming up and making open-field tackles. On the other hand, he jumped way too many routes, leaving deeper ones open. The top quarterbacks took advantage of that. The good outweighs the bad with Clinton-Dix, though, and it won't be a surprise if he has a career year in 2018.

                    

    12. Eric Weddle, Baltimore Ravens

    Coverage: 23/30
    Recovery: 
    24/30
    Slot Performance: 
    5/10
    Tackling: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    73/100

    Weddle was a completely different player against the pass and the run. He didn't seem interested in playing the run and missed 20 percent of his 2017 tackle attempts. The 11-year vet had been reliable before that but was more passive than usual this past year. Against the pass, he might not have the speed he once did, but he continued to show good awareness and get into throwing lanes. The former star is trending the wrong way but is still above-average.

                   

    11. Marcus Williams, New Orleans Saints

    Coverage: 24/30
    Recovery: 
    24/30
    Slot Performance: 
    5/10
    Tackling: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    74/100

    Marshon Lattimore wasn't the only rookie to help transform the Saints secondary in 2017. Williams showed tremendous promise as a free safety. His range, ability to bait quarterbacks into poor throws and all-around athleticism were impressive. He was a fine tackler, and though he wasn't always aggressive, he's a solid run defender. The Saints used him deep, which should be his role. He can be one of the better NFL safeties in a few years.

10. John Johnson, Los Angeles Rams

9 of 18

    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Coverage: 24/30
    Recovery: 
    20/30
    Slot Performance: 
    6/10
    Tackling: 
    17/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    75/100

    Quietly, John Johnson was sensational as a rookie, and his play was great when Lamarcus Joyner formed the team's safety tandem with him. Johnson showed the route recognition and cover skills of a veteran. He was also a sure tackler. His main drawback was his recovery speed, but he'll continue to hone his skills and give the Rams a bright future.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Kyle Posey

                      

    Johnson rolled into the Rams secondary as a rookie third-round pick out of Boston College, and it was impressive how well he handled multiple roles. He has the range to play the deep thirds, but defensive coordinator Wade Phillips also used him as a versatile slot defender, where he covered receivers and tight ends with excellent speed and a reckless tackling style. Johnson has some technique fixes to address, but he shows the potential to be a new-breed defender, playing everywhere from the line of scrimmage to center field.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

9. Tashaun Gipson, Jacksonville Jaguars

10 of 18

    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    Coverage: 24/30
    Recovery: 
    22/30
    Slot Performance: 
    6/10
    Tackling: 
    15/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    75/100

    Tashaun Gipson was one of the most improved safeties in the league in 2017. Jacksonville asked him to do more, and he responded well. Instead of playing the traditional free safety role, Gipson played a lot more man coverage in the slot. Gipson had three more interceptions (four) and five more passes defensed (seven) in his new role. He's also improved as a tackler. Gipson missed only 10 percent of the time in 2017, which was 5 percent less than 2016.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Kyle Posey

                 

    While Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye are the stars of Jacksonville's outstanding secondary, it's more than just the cornerbacks who make this defense go. Gipson is extremely valuable to defensive coordinator Todd Wash because he can play straight over speedy slot receivers, take the center field position in Cover 1 and Cover 3 looks and has a great sense of when to jump routes after hanging back.  

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

8. Antoine Bethea, Arizona Cardinals

11 of 18

    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Coverage: 23/30
    Recovery: 
    24/30
    Slot Performance: 
    6/10
    Tackling: 
    15/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    76/100

    Antoine Bethea played well above expectations for the Cardinals. His range was most impressive, as the 33-year-old could cover ground both in the pass and run game. He was tied for fifth in the league in interceptions before he tore his pec in Week 16. Bethea only missed six tackles all year as well. For what he was asked to do in a nickel role, it's hard expect more from him.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Kyle Posey

                      

    Most safeties Bethea's age are winding down if they haven't already retired, but the 12-year veteran had a career-high five interceptions in 2017. He's barely lost a step through the years, which gives him the ability to play the deep center field position better than most. Bethea has a tremendous understanding of angles and timing—he can cover half a field and be in the right place to pick off the ball more often than not. 

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

7. Montae Nicholson, Washington Redskins

12 of 18

    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Coverage: 24/30
    Recovery: 
    26/30
    Slot Performance: 
    5/10
    Tackling: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    77/100

    Montae Nicholson was one of the bigger steals of the 2017 draft. Selected in the fourth round, he was an immediate impact player who was trending in a star direction before concussion symptoms ended his season in December. Nicholson is a big-time hitter with ridiculous range but has a reckless playing style that he'll need to change to stay on the field for 16 games. Not only does he make splashy plays in coverage, but he also takes away plenty of routes. The 22-year-old has a chance to be great.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Kyle Posey

                 

    Grabbing Nicholson in the fourth round out of Michigan State was yet another personnel triumph for deposed general manager Scot McCloughan, as even though the team fired him just before the draft, the move had McCloughan's fingerprints all over it. Throughout his career as a personnel executive, the former GM preferred to take big, athletic pass defenders and put them in the best position to succeed.

    Nicholson alternates between free and strong responsibilities in Washington's secondary. He's quick enough to come down from center field and stop any yards after the catch on the deep pass and tough enough to come up to the line of scrimmage as a force defender against the run.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

6. Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks

13 of 18

    John Froschauer/Associated Press

    Coverage: 23/30
    Recovery: 
    25/30
    Slot Performance: 
    6/10
    Tackling: 
    15/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    77/100

    It's easy to marvel at Earl Thomas' effort and range. The ground he covers is still so impressive. The 28-year-old can take away intermediate routes as well as stay on top of the deeper routes. In 2017, it seemed like he played more than ever in the box. It's not his strength, but he's far from a liability there. That and tackling are his "weaknesses," but they'd be strengths for most safeties.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Kyle Posey

                    

    Injuries have dinged Thomas over the last couple of years, but when he's on the field, he still has the same range and furious tackling style he's always had. More importantly, he didn't let his play suffer after injuries ravaged Seattle's defense over the season's second half. Time may be running out, but for now, he's still one of the best free safeties in the league and the player most young safeties would like to mirror.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

5. Andrew Sendejo, Minnesota Vikings

14 of 18

    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Coverage: 23/30
    Recovery: 
    24/30
    Slot Performance: 
    5/10
    Tackling: 
    17/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    77/100

    Andrew Sendejo didn't start every game yet still had a career year. He broke up as many passes in 2017 as he did the previous two years combined (seven). In years past teams would try to isolate him, which didn't work this time around. His recovery ability stood out the most. In addition, coming downhill from his safety position, he put some big hits on receivers. Hopefully this version of Sendejo is here to stay.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Kyle Posey

                  

    The former undrafted afterthought used to be a relative liability in coverage for the Vikings, but he's turned his career around in Mike Zimmer's defense. He's learned to trust what he sees pre-snap, and that allows him to match opponents on their routes from the first step. Better receivers can still bedevil Sendejo with quick movement in short areas, but he's become much better at playing the ball, especially in space. 

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

4. Glover Quin, Detroit Lions

15 of 18

    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Coverage: 24/30
    Recovery: 
    25/30
    Slot Performance: 
    6/10
    Tackling: 
    15/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    78/100

    Glover Quin can play, and his most impressive trait is the ground he covers. When the Lions asked him to play man coverage, he was more than capable as well. Opponents fooled him occasionally, but he was just aggressive enough against the run and forced four fumbles in 2017. At just $3.85 million this past season, the veteran safety outplayed his contract.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Kyle Posey

                           

    It was true during his years with the Houston Texans, and it's been true during his five-year stretch with the Detroit Lions: Quin plays safety with a cornerback's speed and agility. He closes on the ball as well as anyone at his position—not only in coverage, but also as a run defender and blitzer. Quin's tackling has improved exponentially over the years, which has had the Lions using him at linebacker depth and allowing him to crash through the line of scrimmage as much as to follow speed receivers in coverage. He's a versatile, vital defender.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

3. Kevin Byard, Tennessee Titans

16 of 18

    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Coverage: 25/30
    Recovery: 
    24/30
    Slot Performance: 
    7/10
    Tackling: 
    15/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    79/100

    What a fantastic season Kevin Byard had. He led the league with eight interceptions and had the most passes defended for all safeties (24). He excelled in man coverage as well. The second-year safety took a giant step and turned into a star. Byard excelled no matter where he was on the field, and even if some of his interceptions were gifts, the 24-year-old showed he has a nose for the football.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Kyle Posey

               

    Byard went from no picks in his rookie year to eight in his second season with improvements in technique to match his impressive athleticism. He has a smooth backpedal and quick hip turn in intermediate and deep coverage, and when asked, he can match receivers to the boundary as an outside cornerback would. Byard may have come out of nowhere in 2017, but his season was no fluke.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

2. Devin McCourty, New England Patriots

17 of 18

    Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

    Coverage: 25/30
    Recovery: 
    24/30
    Slot Performance: 
    7/10
    Tackling: 
    16/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    80/100

    Devin McCourty is such a valuable player. The former corner occasionally drops down in the slot and erases receivers. He has the range to play center field and the willingness to play the run. He even played on the line of scrimmage and wasn't afraid to mix it up. His awareness is good deep but suffers when he plays the "robber" role, which is his lone knock. That's nit-picky. The 30-year-old McCourty is a stud.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Kyle Posey

               

    McCourty was named to the Pro Bowl as a cornerback in his rookie year of 2010 and matched that nomination at safety in 2016. It's rare for a defensive back to star at both positions, but McCourty is well suited for the demands Bill Belichick's defense makes of its free safety. McCourty plays the traditional deep roles well, and he's tremendous in bracket coverage, where his field-reading and pattern-matching abilities come to the fore. 

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

1. Adrian Amos, Chicago Bears

18 of 18

    Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

    Coverage: 25/30
    Recovery: 
    23/30
    Slot Performance: 
    8/10
    Tackling: 
    17/20
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    81/100

    The Bears have one of the NFL's better up-and-coming safety duos, and Adrian Amos has a lot to do with that. "Smash" rightfully earned his nickname. Amos had a phenomenal 2017. He was outstanding against the run and a sure tackler. In coverage, he showed the kind of awareness that can make him a league-wide star. The only complaint one might have was his lack of plays on the ball. That should come in time.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Kyle Posey

                   

    The first thing that stands out about Amos' tape is his closing ability. He can cover huge swaths of ground in a big hurry, which allows him to make plays other safeties just can't. His ball skills will improve as his backpedal gets a bit smoother and he's able to match receivers with speed and pattern awareness downfield, but he's shown a tremendous amount of potential in three NFL seasons.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

                 

    All missed-tackle numbers provided by Football Outsiders.