The difference between a good defense and a great defense relies heavily on the safety position. Every corner needs to have absolute trust in the safety behind him when he breaks coverage of a wide receiver. Some of the most successful blitz packages involve safeties.
The safety, whether free or strong, is the eye of the defense. He is the quarterback of the backfield. In 2010, some of the most successful defenses included a top safety (Chicago, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, etc.) When those players had a bad day, their opponents had field day on the secondary. Heading into 2011 (hopefully), there has been some signings of big name safeties that could help some struggling secondaries become great ones. These are some safeties that had a good season last year and are hoping to build on it, or are looking to rebound from an injury.
Although 2010 was not the best season for Adrian Wilson, he was still a presence in the secondary. He forced only two interceptions but was a monster tackler. Wilson accumulated five interceptions in 2009, but remained the clear captain of the defensive backs. Look for Adrian Wilson to continue to be the best safety for the Cardinals as they look to bulk up their offense at quarterback. Along with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Wilson's stats will increase in 2011.
Oshiomogho Atogwe has been one of the more dominant turnover-forcing safeties over the past four seasons.
Since 2006, he has intercepted 22 passes and forced 16 fumbles. Between 2007 and 2008, Atogwe forced 14 turnovers on his own under Rams' defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. On March 3, Atogwe signed a 5-year $26M deal with the Washington Redskins. He will be reunited with Haslett, who is currently the defensive coordinator for the Redskins. With a solid SS in LaRon Landry beside him, Atogwe is set up to have a big 2011.
Part of the reason the Chicago Bears reached the NFC Championship game was the stellar play of their defense. Most of that success came from the dominant play of Brian Urlacher and Julius Peppers rushing the quarterback.
However, for every time they weren't able to create pressure, there was Chris Harris. In 2010, Harris put up 70 combined tackles and 5 interceptions. Some of those interceptions came at critical moments for the Bears and helped secure their division title. One of those interceptions sealed a 38-34 victory over the New York Jets when their season was on the line. Harris continues to improve and has set himself up for even more improvement next season.
One of the best rookies in 2010 was Eric Berry. Obviously players like Sam Bradford and Ndamukong Suh stole the thunder for rookie of the year, but Eric Berry really made an impact for the Chiefs surprising run to become AFC West Champions.
Berry racked up 92 tackles and 4 interceptions in 2010, as well as 2.0 sacks and a forced fumble. He is the prototype safety for the Kansas City Chiefs and their investment in the 5th overall pick paid huge dividends for them last year. He can only go up in 2011.
In only his second season in the NFL, Moore stepped up for the Atlanta Falcons and aided in their run to the NFC's top seed. He started full time for his first time in 2010, intercepted 5 passes, forced and recovered a fumble, recorded 72 tackles, and deflected 8 passes.
As you can see, Moore had a busy year for the Falcons. Due to his youth, he is a force to be reckoned with for years to come in one of the up-and-coming power teams in the league.
Injury cut short a dream season for Redskins' safety LaRon Landry in 2010.
The Redskins' 1st Round pick in 2007 thrived at his natural position of strong safety last year. Due to the tragic death of his teammate Sean Taylor, Landry had been forced to play free safety and struggled in it. With his switch back to strong safety, "Dirty-Thirty" dominated with 85 tackles, a forced fumble, 1.0 sacks, and a game-sealing interception of Aaron Rodgers in just nine games. Landry still finished first in the Pro-Bowl voting even after sitting out for the last seven games of the season. With the signing of O.J. Atogwe, Landry is looking for a monster year in 2011.
Many accuse Bob Sanders of being made of glass, but he is still one of the best safeties in the league. Indianapolis couldn't keep paying a fragile player such a large salary and had to cut ties with him. If Sanders can stay healthy he can still make huge hits and be a powerful force in the secondary. San Diego has a player that could take them back to the top of the AFC West in 2011, and be a captain of a secondary that has no one player to assume the leadership role on defense.
Carolina may be the worst team in the league, but they have one of the most productive safeties in the NFL. In 2010, Godfrey accounted for 5 interceptions and 84 tackles. Mind that this was one of the worst defenses in the league on one of the worst teams.
While surrounded by poor talent, Godfrey still shined. He was also able to force a fumble and deflect 8 passes. The Panthers are rebuilding through the draft and trying to find an identity on their team under Ron Rivera, but they will need no improvement at their strong safety position. Godfrey is still young and will make his presence felt heading into 2011.
Is there anything that really needs to be said about Troy Polamalu? While he only accumulated 63 tackles, he intercepted seven passes while returning one for a touchdown, deflected 11 passes, forced and recovered a fumble, and had 1.0 sacks last year.
One almost needs to take a breath after saying all that. Polamalu was again a key cog in the Steelers run to another Super Bowl. While he is on the verge of turning 30, I would suspect that Polamalu will continue to be one of the most dominating safeties in the league and a staple of Pittsburgh's "iron curtain."
Ed Reed was the Troy Polamalu before there was a Troy Polamalu. He led the league in interceptions in 2010 with eight. He only recorded 37 tackles, but his 16 pass deflections are staggering. He is most lethal right after an interception, and his 183 yards returning picks is proof of that. He is also getting up in years at the age of 32, but look for Reed to continue both his dominating performance and his rivalry with division opponent Troy Polamalu in 2011.