B/R NFL 1000: Top 85 Safeties

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterJuly 8, 2015

B/R NFL 1000: Top 85 Safeties

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    Denis Poroy/Associated Press

    Who is the best player in the NFL? Not based on the last 10 years or one game, but over the last year: Who was the best? Good luck answering that one without starting a fight, right?   

    Well, that's what the NFL 1000 aims to do by scouting, grading and then ranking the best players at each position before putting them in order and breaking ties to come up with the top 1,000 players. No narratives, no fantasy-football points, no quarterback rating: This is cold, hard scouting.

    You can find rankings for all other positions on our B/R NFL 1000 main page.

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

    Potential is not taken into consideration, nor are career accomplishments.

    Safeties have many responsibilities—and those vary depending on the individual scheme. With that in mind, we graded them on run defense (30 points), coverage (50) and tackling (15), plus five points for their value as starters or backups. In that category, we're looking at whether the player is a consistent starter, a spot starter, a top-level backup or simply a backup-only player.

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

    Subjective? Yes. But ties are no fun.

    Each player was scouted by me and a team of experienced evaluators (Dan Bazal, Cian Fahey, Dan Hope, Marshal Miller, Justis Mosqueda) with these key criteria in mind. The following scouting reports and grades are the work of months of film study from our team.

    All statistics from Pro Football Focus. Players' heights, weights and seasons played from NFL.com.

Nos. 85-81

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    Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

    85. Josh Evans, Jacksonville Jaguars

    55/100

    Coverage: 29/50; Run Defense: 17/30; Tackling: 6/15; Starter: 3/5

    Josh Evans (6”0, 205 lbs, two seasons) has struggled in his first two seasons in the NFL. The former sixth-round pick out of the University of Florida has started 25 of 32 games in two seasons. Evans isn’t known for his play against the run, although he did rack up 84 tackles last season. His role looks to be more suited as a backup/special teams guy with the additions this offseason of Sergio Brown and rookie James Sample.

    84. Matt Elam, Baltimore Ravens

    57/100

    Coverage: 26/50; Run Defense: 23/30; Tackling: 4/15; Starter: 4/5

    Matt Elam (5’10”, 210 lbs, two seasons) so far has not lived up to the expectations that the Ravens had for him after selecting him in the first round two years ago. Elam is a good all-around athlete, but he lacks that one great tool to rely on. In terms of coverage, Elam would be better suited to be an in-the-box safety rather than the center-field type. His tackling skills were put into question after leading the Ravens with 16 missed tackles last season.

    83. Ryan Clark, Retired

    60/100

    Coverage: 34/50; Run Defense: 15/30; Tackling: 7/15; Starter: 4/5

    Ryan Clark (5’11”, 205 lbs, 13 seasons) played his final season in the NFL this past year, as he announced his retirement this offseason. He started 15 games for the Redskins in his final year. Clark finished with 96 total tackles and one interception on the year. The LSU product will go down as one of the smartest, most technically sound players who ever played the safety position.

    82. Rashad Johnson, Arizona Cardinals

    60/100

    Coverage: 30/50; Run Defense: 20/30; Tackling: 7/15; Starter: 3/5

    Rashad Johnson (5’11”, 204 lbs, six seasons) fell to the bottom of the safety pack after being a top-30-ranked safety the year before. Although he did lead the Cardinals in tackles with 88 and added on a team-leading four interceptions, the stats can be skewed. The former Alabama product graded out this past season as a bottom-five cover safety in the NFL. Johnson’s starting role could be in jeopardy this upcoming season with a healthy Tyrann Mathieu and second-year man Deone Bucannon coming for his starting spot.  

    81. William Moore, Atlanta Falcons

    64/100

    Coverage: 33/50; Run Defense: 21/30; Tackling: 5/15; Starter: 5/5

    William Moore (6’0”, 221 lbs, six seasons) played in only seven games for the Falcons last season because of injury. Based on a little less than half a season, Moore looked to have cleaned up on some of his missed tackles that he had the year before. His pass coverage needs some work, particularly in Cover 1 situations. Look for Moore to play the Kam Chancellor position in Dan Quinn’s new defense.

Nos. 80-76

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    Patric Schneider/Associated Press

    80. D.J. Swearinger, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    64/100

    Coverage: 37/50; Run Defense: 17/30; Tackling: 6/15; Starter: 4/5

    D.J. Swearinger (5’10”, 208 lbs, two seasons) is considered an in-the-box safety type that is ready to put a hit on the opposition. He doesn’t have free-safety range and is more suitable to cover more athletic tight ends rather than be left one-on-one with receivers. Swearinger will be joining a new team in Tampa Bay this year, and it will be interesting to see how Lovie Smith uses him in the safety role. Sports anchor James Starks reported he was released by the Texans for not wanting to play special teams. This is the kind of guy every coach wants on special teams to lay big hits and try to force turnovers.

    79. Michael Griffin, Tennessee Titans

    64/100

    Coverage: 32/50; Run Defense: 19/30; Tackling: 9/15; Starter: 4/5

    Michael Griffin (6’0”, 215 lbs, eight seasons) found himself way down this year's rankings after being a top-20 safety last year. Griffin started all 16 games for the Titans this past year. He had 107 tackles, adding two interceptions. Griffin has been known in the past as a true single-high safety who possesses great speed and the ability to play the ball in the air. After eight seasons, it looks as Griffin's legs are starting to slow down.

    78. John Cyprien, Jacksonville Jaguars

    66/100

    Coverage: 33/50; Run Defense: 22/30; Tackling: 7/15; Starter: 4/5

    John Cyprien (6’0”, 217 lbs, two seasons) has the speed and skill set you need to be a good coverage free safety. For whatever reason, his pass-coverage skills were lacking last year, and he graded out much better in run defense. The former FIU product had a good beginning and end to the season, but it was in the middle of the season when it seemed he got picked on in coverage. He started every game, but in half he was lined up as the free safety and in the other half he was lined up as the strong safety.

    77. Antrel Rolle, Chicago Bears

    67/100

    Coverage: 38/50; Run Defense: 17/30; Tackling: 7/15; Starter: 5/5

    Antrel Rolle (6’0”, 206 lbs, 10 seasons) really struggled in run defense this past year as he ranked in the bottom five for all the safeties that qualified. His pass-coverage skills came in right around the average of most safeties. Rolle had three interceptions last season to go along with 79 total tackles. Over the years Rolle seems to be more effective closer to the line of scrimmage where he can use his physicality. It will be interesting to see if he can get back to this style for the upcoming season with the Chicago Bears.

    76. J.J. Wilcox, Dallas Cowboys

    67/100

    Coverage: 36/50; Run Defense: 20/30; Tackling: 8/15; Starter: 3/5

    J.J. Wilcox (6’0”, 212 lbs, two seasons) was an improvement over what the Cowboys had at safety the previous season. Although it was an improvement, it wasn't too much of one. The former Georgia Southern product had 76 total tackles and three interceptions. Wilcox plays strong safety and needs to continue to improve on stopping the run this upcoming season. He is a good-looking athlete who seems to just need more time to develop his all-around game.  

Nos. 75-71

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    75. Pierre Warren, New Orleans Saints

    68/100

    Coverage: 39/50; Run Defense: 19/30; Tackling: 7/15; Starter: 3/5

    Pierre Warren (6’2”, 200 lbs, one season) has a small sample size to grade from, starting in only the final six games of his rookie season at the free safety position. He was on the field a lot more than the Saints would have liked due to injuries to Jairus Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro. The former Jacksonville State product has good size and length. In the small sample, Warren graded out above average in pass coverage, while his run support skills could use some improvements, which will come with added bulk in offseason training.

    74. Brandian Ross, Oakland Raiders

    68/100

    Coverage: 38/50; Run Defense: 21/30; Tackling: 6/15; Starter: 3/5

    Brandian Ross (6’0”, 190 lbs, three seasons) was slated in the starting lineup for the Raiders at Week 8 and from then on started every game for the Silver and Black. Ross is more of a free-safety type who would also line up as the slot corner position in three-wide sets. The former free agent from Youngstown State is a jack of all trades but a master of none. In 14 games, he racked up 57 total tackles and two interceptions. Ross played the run better than he did the pass last year, hence his key contributions on special teams.

    73. Barry Church, Dallas Cowboys

    69/100

    Coverage: 36/50; Run Defense: 21/30; Tackling: 8/15; Starter: 4/5

    Barry Church (6’2”, 218 lbs, five seasons) started all 16 games for the Cowboys at free safety. His ability to help out against the run was a big help to a Cowboys defense that was missing linebacker Sean Lee. Church added two interceptions, as he played pretty average coverage at the free safety spot.

    72. Chris Conte, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    69/100

    Coverage: 36/50; Run Defense: 21/30; Tackling: 8/15; Starter: 4/5

    Chris Conte (6’2”, 203 lbs, four seasons) played in only 12 games this past season while nursing a shoulder injury for the other four games. Conte is a capable starting NFL safety when he is healthy. He finished the season with 43 total tackles while adding three interceptions. The former Cal Bear played solid on the season but tended to struggle defending the deep balls. Being the last line of defense, Conte needs to take better angles on balls in the air.

    71. Jahleel Addae, San Diego Chargers

    69/100

    Coverage: 37/50; Run Defense: 21/30; Tackling: 8/15; Starter: 3/5

    Jahleel Addae (5’10”, 195 lbs, two seasons) recorded 44 total tackles on a season in which he missed five games. Addae has lined up at both strong and free safety, although he seems to fit much more as a free safety. A good, not great athlete who succeeds more because of his ability to read the game than his athleticism, Addae is quick to read running plays and always puts himself in the right places to make a tackle. The Central Michigan product has yet to record an interception in his first two years in the league.

Nos. 70-66

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    70. Mark Barron, St. Louis Rams

    70/100

    Coverage: 38/50; Run Defense: 20/30; Tackling: 7/15; Starter: 5/5

    Mark Barron (6’2”, 213 lbs, three seasons) is the definition of an in-the-box safety. Barron had an interesting season, as he was traded midway through it to the St. Louis Rams. Normally you don’t see a previous top-10 pick being dealt to a new team, much less during the season. The Alabama product racked up 61 total tackles and three sacks this past season. He has always been known for his ability to stop the run and lay the wood to opposing players. Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams used him in pass-rushing situations as a blitzing safety.

    69. Quintin Demps, Free Agent

    70/100

    Coverage: 37/50; Run Defense: 21/30; Tackling: 7/15; Starter: 5/5

    Quintin Demps (5’11”, 208 lbs, seven seasons) played in all 16 games this past season. Demps recorded 48 total tackles and four interceptions. The former UTEP Miner found himself playing most of his snaps at the strong safety position. Speed is not a concern for Demps, as he returned kickoffs for the Giants this past season. With that being said, he needs to improve on the angles he takes to the ball. With 10 missed tackles on the season, Demps should make tackling improvement an offseason priority so he isn’t just classified as a kick returner who can play some safety.

    68. Charles Woodson, Oakland Raiders

    70/100

    Coverage: 36/50; Run Defense: 21/30; Tackling: 8/15; Starter: 5/5

    Charles Woodson (6’1”, 210 lbs, 17 seasons) finished with four interceptions this past season. That number was his highest total since the 2011 season. At the age of 38, the former Heisman Trophy winner’s best days are behind him. With that being said, Woodson started every game and logged more than 1,100 snaps. He recorded 116 total tackles while missing 20 tackles on the season. With Woodson not quite having his legs anymore, he relies heavily on his instincts and knowledge of the game.

    67. Brock Vereen, Chicago Bears

    70/100

    Coverage: 38/50; Run Defense: 21/30; Tackling: 7/15; Starter: 4/5

    Brock Vereen (5’11”, 199 lbs, one season) played in all 16 games in 2014, though he started in only four of them. Brock had a very solid rookie campaign for the few starts he had. The rookie from Minnesota recorded 31 total tackles and a forced fumble. Vereen is a free safety type who played the pass better than the run this past season. His coverage skills come from being a good athlete who takes proper angles to the ball. Vereen got to taste what the NFL is all about, and he could be primed for a big second season. 

    66. Thomas DeCoud, Free Agent

    70/100

    Coverage: 38/50; Run Defense: 20/30; Tackling: 8/15; Starter: 4/5

    Thomas DeCoud (6’2”, 195 lbs, seven seasons) started 11 games this past season for the Carolina Panthers. He recorded 49 total tackles and added one interception on the year. DeCoud’s 11 starts were all at the free safety position. DeCoud’s inability to cover receivers or tight ends and his lack of interceptions made him a liability for the Panthers. In the run game, he needs to play with consistent technique to drag down opposing ball-carriers.

Nos. 65-61

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    65. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Green Bay Packers

    70/100

    Coverage: 37/50; Run Defense: 21/30; Tackling: 8/15; Starter: 4/5

    Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (6’1”, 208 lbs, one season) played in all 16 games but didn’t win the starting free safety spot until Week 7. Clinton-Dix recorded 91 total tackles and one interception in his rookie season. The former first-round pick out of Alabama got better as each game went on. His ability to play the ball in the air is what has many Packers fans excited about his future. Clinton-Dix has a gift for always being around the ball and does well in pass-coverage situations. His tackling ability will need to improve to make him a complete all-around safety.

    64. Roman Harper, Carolina Panthers

    70/100

    Coverage: 36/50; Run Defense: 22/30; Tackling: 8/15; Starter: 4/5

    Roman Harper (6’1”, 205 lbs, nine seasons) had a career-high four interceptions in 2014. With that being said, playing the pass isn’t a real strength for Harper. The 32-year-old is passable as an in-the-box-safety at this stage in his career. Not gifted with great speed, Harper depends on his instincts and good tackling ability to be productive. The former Alabama product finished with 62 total tackles and one sack last season.

    63. Isa Abdul-Quddus, Detroit Lions

    70/100

    Coverage: 38/50; Run Defense: 22/30; Tackling: 7/15; Starter: 3/5

    Isa Abdul-Quddus (6’1”, 200 lbs, four seasons) started four games for the Detroit Lions at the free safety position in 2014. He is much more of a special teams asset who can be an effective starter in short-term stints. The former free agent from Fordham graded out a little above average in pass coverage and run defense. 

    62. Louis Delmas, Miami Dolphins

    70/100

    Coverage: 38/50; Run Defense: 21/30; Tackling: 8/15; Starter: 3/5

    Louis Delmas (5’11”, 210 lbs, six seasons) started and played in 13 games last season before his season was cut short because of an ACL injury. The Miami Dolphins strong safety had 64 total tackles last season to go along with one interception, which he returned 81 yards for a touchdown. Delmas has all the physical measurables to be one of the best safeties in the NFL, and in some stretches of the season, he looks like one. Inconsistency has followed Delmas his whole career. He needs to wrap up more on his tackles instead of trying the knock out the opposing ball-carrier. He grades out well on his pass-coverage ability because of the fluidity in his hips and his good straight-line speed.  

    61. Brandon Meriweather, Free Agent

    70/100

    Coverage: 31/50; Run Defense: 25/30; Tackling: 11/15; Starter: 3/5

    Brandon Meriweather (5’11”, 198 lbs, eight seasons) lives for contact. To some, he is known for cheap shots more than his playing ability. Meriweather is the tale of two different players when it comes to his ability to defend the pass versus the run. He grades out like a linebacker playing the safety position, as he racked up 44 total tackles and three sacks on the season. The former Miami Hurricane tends to struggle when it comes to playing coverage. Let's just say Meriweather is your typical in-the-box safety trying to destroy ball-carriers.  

Nos. 60-56

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    Chris Keane/Associated Press

    60. Kemal Ishmael, Atlanta Falcons

    71/100

    Coverage: 33/50; Run Defense: 25/30; Tackling: 8/15; Starter: 5/5

    Kemal Ishmael (6’0”, 206 lbs, two seasons) started 10 games for the Atlanta Falcons this past season while appearing in all 16 games. Ishmael had a career-high 99 total tackles and four interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown. The former seventh-round pick from UCF played both safety positions in 2014 but tends to fit the mold of a free safety more. Overall, Ishmael struggled in pass coverage in his first year of starting mostly because of lack of awareness on the field.

    59. T.J. Ward, Denver Broncos

    71/100

    Coverage: 33/50; Run Defense: 25/30; Tackling: 8/15; Starter: 5/5

    T.J. Ward (5’10”, 200 lbs, five seasons) had an up-and-down first season with the Denver Broncos. The strong safety from Oregon is a classic run-support safety who finished with 81 total tackles, two sacks and two interceptions in 15 games this past season. Ward’s pass-coverage ability was a problem for him in 2014. Ward excels at flying downhill to make plays around the line of scrimmage in the run game, almost like an extra linebacker in the box.

    58. Rahim Moore, Houston Texans

    71/100

    Coverage: 40/50; Run Defense: 20/30; Tackling: 6/15; Starter: 5/5

    Rahim Moore (6’1”, 195 lbs, four seasons) had 50 total tackles while adding four interceptions this past season. Moore doesn’t have the elite speed that you would normally see from the free safety position. He depends more on creating great angles. He continued to be a liability against the run in 2014. Where Moore makes his money is on the pass-coverage side. He has plus coverage skills and top-notch ball skills. The former UCLA product is the classic center field type of free safety.

    57. Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs

    71/100

    Coverage: 37/50; Run Defense: 22/30; Tackling: 7/15; Starter: 5/5

    Eric Berry (6’0”, 211 lbs, five seasons) was one of the hardest guys to rank. The former first-round pick from Tennessee had his season cut short due to being diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. In the six games that Berry did play in, he recorded 41 total tackles. When Berry is on the field, his range in unprecedented, and as a tackler, he can bring some thump with him. For all football fans out there, we hope that Berry fully recovers from this, and hopefully we will get to see his great talent back on the field in the near future.   

    56. Marcus Gilchrist, New York Jets

    71/100

    Coverage: 31/50; Run Defense: 22/30; Tackling: 13/15; Starter: 5/5

    Marcus Gilchrist (5’10” 198 lbs, four seasons) really had a tough year in pass coverage in 2014. His development seemed to be slowed this past season, as he needs to make quicker decisions with no wasted movements in zone coverages. There is no question that he has the speed to play the free safety position. Now he needs to spend more time putting that speed to use and attacking the ball with confidence. Gilchrist graded out right around average with playing the run.

Nos. 55-51

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    55. Calvin Pryor, New York Jets

    71/100

    Coverage: 38/50; Run Defense: 24/30; Tackling: 5/15; Starter: 4/5

    Calvin Pryor (5’11”, 207, one season) was forced to play most of the season at a position his skill sets don’t really suit. When the Jets drafted Pryor out of Louisville in the first round, they expected him to be their strong safety. Because of injuries and poor play, Pryor was thrust into the starting role at the free safety position. In his rookie season, he had 51 total tackles and a half-sack. It’s not hard to see that Pryor's skills suit him much more as a down in-the-box safety. Look for the Jets to plug him there in 2015.

    54. Bradley McDougald, Tampa Bay Bucs

    71/100

    Bradley McDougald (6’1” 209 lbs, two seasons) was moved into the starting strong safety role for the final five games of the season in wake of the Mark Barron trade. He finished the season with a total of 43 tackles and one interception. The interception and 32 of his 43 tackles came in those five starts. The former undrafted free agent from Kansas looks to be the right fit in Lovie Smith’s Cover 2 defense. McDougald graded out above average in his pass-coverage ability while being just average in run-stopping ability. 

    53. Ron Parker, Kansas City Chiefs

    72/100

    Coverage: 40/50; Run Defense: 21/30; Tackling: 6/15; Starter: 5/5

    Ron Parker (6’0”, 206 lbs, four seasons) spent the majority of the 2014 season playing the free safety position. He racked up 88 total tackles, one interception and one sack. Parker really struggled against the run last season. He ranks near the bottom of all safeties when it came to stopping the run. On the flip side, his pass-coverage skills were slightly above average. He needs to attack more on running plays and continue to work on his wrapping up skills while tackling.

    52. Aaron Williams, Buffalo Bills

    72/100

    Coverage: 38/50; Run Defense: 21/30; Tackling: 8/15; Starter: 5/5

    Aaron Williams (6’0” 199, four seasons) made the switch from the strong safety position to the free safety position in 2014, where he started 14 games. Williams racked up 68 total tackles and one interception. He is much better suited playing zone coverage at the free safety position than man-to-man coverage. Moving to the free safety spot took away what Williams does best, though, which is come downhill and make tackles. The former Texas product is a sound tackler who is looking to get more comfortable with his new position and use more range to make plays on balls in the air.

    51. Jimmy Wilson, San Diego Chargers

    72/100

    Coverage: 41/50; Run Defense: 21/30; Tackling: 6/15; Starter: 4/5

    Jimmy Wilson (5’11”, 205, four seasons) had a career-high 54 tackles and one interception this past season. He has the uncommon ability to play safety as well as come down and play the slot corner position. His ability to get in and out of cuts and fluid hips allow him to handle the small quick guys inside. Wilson is a solid player who gets the most out of his ability and has stuck in the league by being an all-around team guy.

50. Kendrick Lewis, Baltimore Ravens

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Coverage

    36/50

    Kendrick Lewis (6'0", 205, five seasons) enjoyed his best career season in his first year with the Houston Texans. In coverage, he showed the range to cover the middle of the field and the ability to play over the top on receivers. He's been good enough in coverage to match up to the tight end, too. On the downside, Lewis allowed over 60 percent of attempts thrown his way to be completed while picking off two passes.

    Run Defense

    25/30

    Lewis has the size and length to take on blockers and force the run back to the middle of the field. With his instincts, he's shown he can sniff out the run and find the ball on play action or misdirection. His angles are clean when in pursuit, and Lewis has shown he has the speed to run the alleys and lay the boom on the ball.

    Tackling

    7/15

    Lewis was charged with 14 missed tackles on the year, something that kept his tackle score way down despite his 61 solo stops. 

    Starter

    4/5

    Lewis locked down the starting free safety job for the Texans through 16 games in 2014, showing the range and instincts to be the man in the middle of the field.

    Overall

    72/100

49. George Wilson, Free Agent

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    Coverage

    40/50

    George Wilson (6’0”, 210 lbs, nine seasons) has been kicking it around the league for a while now, first with the Buffalo Bills and now with the Tennessee Titans. Defending the pass was the strength of his game last season. When asked to drop in underneath zones, Wilson showed good awareness and quickness to get to the spot on time.

    Run Defense

    16/30

    In what used to be the strong safety's strength to his game, run defense was far from it last season. Wilson struggled to get off blocks over and over again. Adding that to his lack of run recognition, he ranked in the bottom five in defending the run this past season from the safety position.

    Tackling

    12/15

    Wilson had 74 total tackles on the season. Missed tackles were not too much of a problem, registering just six on the season. He's never been known to be a big-time hitter, but he qualifies as a reliable tackler.

    Starter

    4/5

    Wilson is currently a free agent looking to land a job. As camp nears, if any injuries happen to any safeties, Wilson’s number will be on top of the list of guys to call.

    Overall

    72/100

48. Michael Mitchell, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Coverage

    35/50

    Too many blown assignments hurt Michael Mitchell (6’0”, 210 lbs, six seasons) during his first season with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was constantly found out of position and became especially unreliable after play action. Mitchell has the range and ball skills to be a good starting safety in the NFL, but he’ll never offer any value to the Steelers if he is incapable of finding the football or playing within the construct of the system.

    Run Defense

    24/30

    Because of his burst and sustained straight-line speed, Mitchell can close to the line of scrimmage from a deep-lying safety spot as well as anyone in the NFL. His athleticism makes him an effective defender against stretch runs toward either sideline. He doesn’t have the strength-length combination to fight his way through bigger blockers in tight, but he can contort his body and rely on his quickness to still be a disruptive presence.

    Tackling

    9/15

    Mitchell’s technique as a tackler isn’t a major issue. He can consistently bring ball-carriers down when he locates them; his biggest concern is his consistency finding the ball. He will run himself out of plays too often or whiff when trying to line up big hits. Mitchell can make big hits that jar the ball loose, creating potential turnovers and incompletions.

    Starter

    5/5

    The Steelers will be expecting much better play from Mitchell during his second season with the team. He can’t afford to negate his own value by playing with such poor discipline.

    Overall

    73/100

47. Kurt Coleman, Carolina Panthers

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    Coverage

    35/50

    Also another hard guy to grade, Kurt Coleman (5’11”, 200 lbs, five season) was picked up right before Week 1 kicked off by the Kansas City Chiefs. It turned out to be one of the best under-the-radar pickups in the league. He accounted for half of the team's interception total while playing just 396 snaps. Coleman had three interceptions to go along with six passes defensed.

    Run Defense

    23/30

    Not the biggest of guys, Coleman handled himself OK in defending the run. His skills suit him more of a free safety type that displays his playmaking ability on balls in the air versus facing the run. With that being said, his reads and reactions came out above average on seeing the run develop in front of him.

    Tackling

    11/15

    Coleman racked up 37 total tackles while missing just three tackles in limited snaps. His reputation had been one safety who isn’t looking for much contact, but with this past season, you could see he was more willing to wrap up on tackles rather than just throw his body at the ball-carrier.

    Starter

    4/5

    Being fully capable of playing both safety positions, Coleman will give the Panthers some added depth with the aging Roman Harper and with the departure of Thomas DeCoud.

    Overall

    73/100

46. Dwight Lowery, Indianapolis Colts

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    Coverage

    35/50

    For a long time, Dwight Lowery (5’11”, 212 lbs, seven seasons) wasn’t appreciated enough for the quality of play he consistently displayed on the field. Lowery’s ability has always been primarily based on his discipline and consistency, rather than his athleticism and physicality. As such, he is not the most versatile safety in the NFL, or one who stands out regularly. Approaching 30 years of age means that Lowery’s athleticism isn’t getting any better, but the technical aspects of his game continue to make him a valuable piece overall.

    Run Defense

    24/30

    A run defender who can read plays as they develop from deep spots on the field, Lowery is a willing tackler and an aware safety in traffic. He can’t set the edge like Kam Chancellor or fire through gaps like Earl Thomas, but he will always put himself in the best position to sustain the integrity of the team’s run defense as a whole.

    Tackling

    10/15

    There is a tenacity to Lowery’s tackle attempts that make him stand out. His technique is sound, and even though his frame isn’t large, he can still be considered an impact tackler because of his overall approach to attacking ball-carriers.

    Starter

    4/5

    Not since Antoine Bethea was in Indianapolis have the Colts had a safety as reliable as Dwight Lowery. He was miscast in a tough situation with the Atlanta Falcons last year.

    Overall

    73/100

45. Deone Bucannon, Arizona Cardinals

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    Coverage

    38/50

    It’s clear what the Arizona Cardinals foresee with Deone Bucannon (6’1”, 208 lbs, one season). He will be expected to fit into a Kam Chancellor type of role, essentially acting as a linebacker and safety. Despite his size, he showed off impressive fluidity in changing direction in zone coverage last year, but he needs to develop a greater consistency with his footwork, awareness and ball skills to truly be a valuable piece in coverage.

    Run Defense

    19/30

    Because the Cardinals blurred the distinction between linebacker and safety for Bucannon during his rookie season, he was stressed in ways most safeties aren’t against the run. Asking Bucannon to consistently take on guards in tight situations proved to be too much despite his size. Bucannon needs to show off better body positions in tight and understand how to read and react to outside runs to get the most out of his athleticism against the run.

    Tackling

    12/15

    With Bucannon’s level of athleticism, it’s easy to be a lazy tackler. That wasn’t the case with the rookie in 2014, though. He willingly wrapped up ball-carriers and drove through contact by lowering his shoulder when given opportunities.

    Starter

    4/5

    Bucannon is the type of piece that is going to have a role within the defense, but it’s unclear whether that role requires him to start. The Cardinals have plenty of competition at safety in their base packages, while a potential Daryl Washington return could impact his snap count in nickel packages.

    Overall

    73/100

44. Duke Williams, Buffalo Bills

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Coverage

    37/50

    There may not be a better place in the NFL to play safety (or cornerback) than in Buffalo. As part of the Bills’ back seven, Duke Williams (5’11”, 201 lbs, two seasons) wasn’t tasked with exceptionally difficult assignments. The Bills' ability to get pressure with just four rushers tightened the space for their safeties because they could crowd the coverage. Despite that benefit, Williams still managed to take poor angles toward the ball and generally looked to be a step behind the offense mentally.

    Run Defense

    24/30

    Williams is an aggressive and willing run defender. He may not always make the right decision, but he works to find the football in pursuit and closes to the line of scrimmage in a hurry. Without the ability to run through bigger blockers, Williams has to rely on his speed to shoot through gaps and leverage to work around/underneath opponents.

    Tackling

    8/15

    Although not a big player, Williams carries a relatively thick frame that allows him to work through ball-carriers at the point of contact. His issues arise more from poor angles than poor tackling technique or a lack of strength.

    Starter

    5/5

    Williams’ role in the defense became more limited as the season went on last year, but the departure of Da’Norris Searcy should push him back into a starting role next season.

    Overall

    74/100

43. Rodney McLeod, St. Louis Rams

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Coverage

    42/50

    Of the variety of safety options the Rams boast, Rodney McLeod (5’10”, 195 lbs, three seasons) is the only true free safety on the depth chart. His range and ability to read routes as they develop mean that he is often the most stressed defender by assignment working the middle of the field. He is able to consistently make good decisions and put himself in the best position to cover the most space, while also possessing impressive ball skills and awareness. Size is an issue for McLeod; he can’t be trusted in man coverage and can be taken advantage of at the catch point because of it.

    Run Defense

    20/30

    Controlled explosiveness is crucial for McLeod’s ability in run defense. McLeod needs to rely on his athleticism to compensate for his limitations in diagnosing plays. While he’s not a bad reader of plays by any means, he’s also not good enough to anticipate where the ball is going to beat blockers to spots. For an undersized safety such as him, that is problematic.

    Tackling

    8/15

    Because of his size, McLeod is always going to be a problematic tackler in the NFL. He simply doesn’t have the strength or length to consistently pull defenders to the ground. He has been a high-volume tackler over his past two seasons as a starter, but the Rams will be hoping to minimize his exposure with more effective play ahead of him in 2015.

    Starter

    4/5

    McLeod’s susceptibility against the run makes his long-term outlook as a starter concerning. He needs to play behind a dominant front seven to truly offer value to his secondary.

    Overall

    74/100

42. Darian Stewart, Denver Broncos

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Coverage

    37/50

    Having never really been a full-time starter, Stewart (5’11”, 214 lbs, five seasons) started 14 games for the Ravens last season. Asking Stewart to play in man-coverage situations isn't ideal. He is much more suited to play Cover 2 shell and use his athleticism to read the routes on receivers and tight ends. He tallied one interception last season, adding three passes defensed.

    Run Defense

    24/30

    The South Carolina product improved getting off blocks this past season. He still struggles at times with taking the right angles to the ball-carrier and depends on his athleticism to save him.

    Tackling

    9/15

    Stewart tallied 53 total tackles last season but had nine missed tackles. He tends to have happy feet when coming to make tackles. His aggressiveness is great, but he can't come in out of control hoping to make a tackle around the line of scrimmage.

    Starter

    4/5

    He looks to be slated as the starting free safety for the Denver Broncos this season. With Rahim Moore moving on to Houston, Stewart will be battling it out with Omar Bolden for the starting spot, but it looks to be Stewart’s to lose.

    Overall

    74/100

41. Major Wright, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Coverage

    37/50

    Wright (5’11”, 204 lbs, five seasons) started seven games last season for the Buccaneers before being placed on season-ending IR. While covering the pass has never been a real strong suit for the strong safety, he graded out a little below average. Wright came over with Lovie Smith and was in the deep Cover 2 defense as he was in Chicago. He had zero interceptions while breaking up just one pass.

    Run Defense

    23/30

    Wright is definitely more of a run defender than pass defender any day and has been since he first entered the league out of the University of Florida. In limited games, Wright has shown he is more than capable of coming up and defending in run defense.

    Tackling

    10/15

    Wright had 46 total tackles last season while missing six tackles. He also totaled 12 stops on situations of defending the first down or the end zone. Wright doesn’t have any real skills that jump out at you; he is just a guy who seems to be in the right places at the right times to make tackles.

    Starter

    4/5

    Wright will be battling it out in camp with emerging strong safety Bradley McDougald for the starting spot in the Buccaneers defense. If he loses the battle, he will be more than equipped to take over either safety spot in a backup role, as well as compete on special teams.

    Overall

    74/100

40. Jaiquawn Jarrett , New York Jets

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Coverage

    43/50

    Jaiquawn Jarrett (6’0”, 196 lbs, four seasons) took over the starting free safety position for the New York Jets for five games during the second half of the season, displaying good coverage ability in the passing game while also racking up two interceptions. A plus special teamer, Jarrett didn’t shy away from getting a chance to be a starter.

    Run Defense

    21/30

    In the run game, Jarrett graded out right around the league average. He tended to play better being away from the line of scrimmage and while roaming the deep safety role. While he was a key contributor on special teams, defending the run is a little different than just covering on kickoffs and punt returns.

    Tackling

    7/15

    He racked up a total of 27 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Jarrett totaled six missed tackles on the season and tended to struggle versus ball-carriers in one-on-one situations. It was tough to grade out Jarrett, as he played a limited role late in the season when he finally got his chance.

    Starter

    4/5

    Jarrett will most likely enter camp back in the backup role, as the Jets signed Marcus Gilchrist in the offseason. With Calvin Pryor slotted to be at the strong safety spot, Jarrett will have a tough competition going on with the newcomer Gilchrist.

    Overall

    75/100

39. Stevie Brown, Houston Texans

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Coverage

    36/50

    It’s tough to find effective, versatile safeties in today’s NFL because of how offenses approach the game. Stevie Brown (5’11”, 215 lbs, four seasons) is an effective and versatile safety with impressive athleticism and ball skills. However, Brown is too inconsistent within his skill set to be considered one of the better safeties in the NFL.

    Run Defense

    24/30

    Brown is a willing run defender who is quick to read blocks and approach the line of scrimmage on a snap-by-snap basis. He isn’t big, but he carries a thick frame and enough short-area quickness to work around blocks instead of fighting through them.

    Tackling

    11/15

    Brown played a limited role in the Giants defense, but despite not being on the field all the time, he was able to repeatedly find his way to the football. He made 37 tackles on 588 snaps, missing just five tackles.

    Starter

    4/5

    With the Houston Texans in 2015, Brown will have a chance to compete for a starting spot. With the Giants in 2014, he was clearly just a complementary role player.

    Overall

    75/100

38. Nate Allen, Oakland Raiders

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Coverage

    39/50

    Despite never establishing himself as a high-quality player with the Philadelphia Eagles, Nate Allen’s (6’0”, 210 lbs, five seasons) talent has always been obvious. He has the kind of range and athleticism that allows him to effectively act as a single-high safety, while being bulky enough and big enough to drop into the box and aggressively cover tight ends in man coverage. Consistency and decision-making are what hold Allen back from being a high-quality starter.

    Run Defense

    24/30

    Allen has the size and power to fight through blocks and will aggressively sprint downfield when he recognizes gaps in the offense’s blocking schemes. Allen’s intensity is inconsistent on a snap-by-snap basis, which hurts his run-defense rating.

    Tackling

    9/15

    While playing more than 1,100 snaps, Allen missed just nine tackles last season. He wasn’t a high-volume tackler despite being on the field so much, though.

    Starter

    3/5

    Because of his inconsistency, it’s hard to buy into Allen as a starting safety in the NFL. He has the talent, and if he realizes that talent on a more regular basis, he could become what the Oakland Raiders hope he can be.

    Overall

    75/100

37. Rafael Bush, New Orleans Saints

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    Bill Haber/Associated Press

    Coverage

    36/50

    Rafael Bush (5’11”, 205 lbs, four seasons) is a well-rounded safety who is better suited to line up deep in a Cover 2 defense than any other. He has good instincts without great athleticism and a willingness to be aggressive once he has read the play. That aggressiveness can work against him, as the league’s more talented passers have been able to manipulate him with their eyes. Bush is worthy of contributing to a quality NFL defense, but he was overstretched with the Saints last season.

    Run Defense

    24/30

    With a well-built, compact frame, Bush has the ability to withstand heavy block attempts in tight situations. His well-rounded athleticism also allows him to work sideline-to-sideline and close on the line of scrimmage in a hurry from deep alignments.

    Tackling

    12/15

    A high-volume tackler who missed very few tackles last season, Bush is built well to bring down all kinds of ball-carriers while showing off the technique that gets the most out of his athletic ability.

    Starter

    3/5

    The Saints thought enough of Bush to prevent him from leaving for the Atlanta Falcons last year, but Jairus Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro remain the favorites to start in New Orleans.

    Overall

    75/100

36. Kenny Vaccaro, New Orleans Saints

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Coverage

    35/50

    Rob Ryan’s use of his safeties in 2014 was very questionable. The defensive coordinator didn’t allow his players to play to their strengths, and nobody was a better example of that than Kenny Vaccaro (6’0”, 214 lbs, two seasons). After essentially being a cornerback/safety during his rookie season, Vaccaro was asked to play farther from the line of scrimmage in more space last year. His aggressiveness in this role made it easy for opposing quarterbacks to consistently attack him. Vaccaro was eventually benched, largely because of his inability to be effective in coverage.

    Run Defense

    25/30

    Despite his lack of comfort in coverage from a deep position, Vaccaro showed off an ability to be disciplined in pursuit on the second level. He could locate and fill gaps against the run and work from sideline to sideline against stretch plays.

    Tackling

    10/15

    Vaccaro is an aggressive tackler who likes to lunge into tackles to drag ball-carriers to the ground with his athleticism. His technique is generally good, but in his adjusted role in the defense, he struggled with closing on defenders accurately in space.

    Starter

    5/5

    Many of Vaccaro’s failings last year can be blamed on the coaching staff and injuries. He will need time to develop into his role after playing closer to the line of scrimmage as a rookie.

    Overall

    75/100

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

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Coverage

    34/50

    T.J. McDonald (6’2”, 217 lbs, two seasons) is a prototypical box safety in today’s NFL. His coverage ability isn’t overly impressive, but McDonald proved over the second half of last season that he has enough range and awareness to not be a liability in space. If he can sustain that consistency working against tight ends and patrolling the middle of the field in zone coverage, then his strengths against the run will make him a valuable piece for the Rams defense moving forward.

    Run Defense

    25/30

    A marauding athlete with the size and strength to blow his way through traffic and the overall speed to close on the ball from different spots on the field, McDonald’s only concern is his consistency with his discipline and awareness in anticipating or pursuing plays.

    Tackling

    12/15

    McDonald regularly looks like a linebacker not just because of his size, but because he combines the controlled intensity and technical comfort that the best tacklers in the NFL all boast. He has the ability to close on ball-carriers in a hurry before exploding through them, as well as the ability to pull ball-carriers down from behind in pursuit, relying on his technique and arm strength.

    Starter

    5/5

    McDonald will be fending off competition for playing time in 2015, but his play during the second half of last season suggests that he will carry a prominent role in the defense moving forward regardless.

    Overall

    76/100

34. Jeromy Miles, Baltimore Ravens

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Coverage

    43/50

    Noted as a special teams performer, Miles (6’2”, 211 lbs, five seasons) showed he can perform when called upon. In two starts and limited to 365 total snaps, Miles accounted for one interception. He showed that he is athletic enough to cover tight ends one-on-one as well as play some in-the-box safety.

    Run Defense

    22/30

    Miles has the size to do damage in the run game. His frame suits him perfectly for a strong safety type. Although he graded out around average versus the run, there is more in the tank to improve on that. As he gets more familiar with recognizing the run play, he will be able to react without thinking so much.

    Tackling

    8/15

    He tallied 28 total tackles but added four missed tackles to his total. As mentioned, Miles has great size to play the safety position but must wrap up better as well as drive through the ball-carrier.

    Starter

    3/5

    Although Miles filled in nicely last season at times for the Ravens, he still projects as a special teamer who can be slated in the starting lineup in case of an injury.

    Overall

    76/100

33. Ryan Mundy, Chicago Bears

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Coverage

    40/50

    Ever since his days as a backup on the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ryan Mundy (6’1”, 209 lbs, six seasons) has been a reliable, if limited, football player. He is a good athlete but is somewhat linear for the safety position. Mundy’s range prevents him from being an effective single-high safety in Cover 3 or Cover 1, but he can excel when the field is squashed down, and he can rely on his instincts to break on receivers and the football. With his length, he is able to make up for any slow reactions or lack of athleticism in space.

    Run Defense

    21/30

    Mundy can move around the field and be used in different ways because of his comfort defending the run more than his comfort in space. Coming into the league and playing under Dick LeBeau meant that a focus on being a good run defender was instilled in him from early in his career. The rewards of that commitment are being reaped now, as Mundy understands how to diagnose plays as they develop and can work his way through blockers with his athleticism.

    Tackling

    12/15

    Mundy had more than 100 tackles last year on fewer than 1,000 snaps. He is a high-volume tackler who possesses the aggressiveness and athleticism to land big hits in space.

    Starter

    3/5

    If put in a better situation, like he was in 2013 with the New York Giants, Mundy can be a valuable starter. In Chicago with the Bears, he was an overshadowed positive on a dour defensive unit.

    Overall

    76/100

32. Sergio Brown, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Coverage

    42/50

    In eight starts this past season for the Indianapolis Colts, Sergio Brown (6’2”, 218 lbs, five seasons) showed that he is more than capable of being a starting safety in the NFL. Spending most of his time at the strong safety position, Brown showed the ability to cover tight ends and filled the zones on pass defense. A good-sized safety not known for his speed depends a good bit on being in the right place at the right time from film study.

    Run Defense

    23/30

    Defending the run, he was a little above average last season. Because of the lack of linebacker depth the Colts had, he had to play closer to the line of scrimmage as an in-the-box safety.

    Tackling

    7/15

    For his size, Brown doesn’t wrap up enough and takes too many ball-carriers on up high. He racked up 33 total tackles while adding six misses. This is one area Brown needs to shore up if he wants to get starter minutes.

    Starter

    5/5

    Brown is slated to be the starting free safety for the Jacksonville Jaguars this season. Not having too much to compete against, it will be interesting to see how well Brown does if he's able to start all 16 games.

    Overall

    77/100

31. Troy Polamalu, Retired

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Coverage

    39/50

    Ranking Troy Polamalu (5’10”, 207 lbs, 12 seasons) as the 32nd safety in the NFL may seem illogical based on his reputation, but the quality of his play in recent years makes it tough to push Polamalu any higher. During his prime, Polamalu was a reckless player whose athleticism allowed him to take advantage of his instincts to consistently make big plays. During his final season, when his athleticism had declined dramatically, Polamalu became a liability. His bad decisions in coverage were routinely punished, while his good decisions no longer bore fruit because he wasn’t fast enough to get to the ball consistently.

    Run Defense

    26/30

    Even as his athleticism in space declined, Polamalu still showed off impressive strength and energy to work through contact as a box safety. He could line up as a linebacker and blow past tight ends off the edge when anticipating the snap to disrupt running plays.

    Tackling

    7/15

    Struggling more to bring down more elusive running backs and receivers in space, Polamalu’s missed tackles were typically easy to see. He still showed off good strength and technique at the point of contact when he could close on plays properly enough.

    Starter

    5/5

    In truth, Polamalu is only ranked this high on the list because of the low quality of safeties across the league. He should be a Hall of Fame player one day, but he was part of the problem, not the solution, for the Steelers secondary in 2014.

    Overall

    77/100

30. Bernard Pollard, Free Agent

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    Tim Umphrey/Associated Press

    Coverage

    40/50

    For as long as Bernard Pollard (6’1”, 226 lbs, nine seasons) has been in the NFL, he has been typecast as a strong safety. Even though Pollard is at his best when lined up closer to the line of scrimmage, his versatility is greater than his reputation suggests. He can comfortably line up deep in Cover 2 looks, relying on his decision-making and awareness to read route combinations and break on the ball.

    Run Defense

    22/30

    Despite his size and strength, Pollard’s run defense wasn’t as impressive in 2014 as it has been in seasons past. Part of his struggles were being forced to deal with more offensive linemen instead of tight ends or shooting gaps, but most significantly, he needs to control his aggressiveness to avoid taking himself out of plays.

    Tackling

    11/15

    Because he was injured early in the season, Pollard had limited exposure as a tackler in 2014. His combination of physical strength and technique allows him to both punish receivers and quickly bring down bigger ball-carriers.

    Starter

    4/5

    Pollard could have been a key piece for the Titans last year, but that was prevented by injury. After being released by the franchise, he has remained unsigned as a free agent.

    Overall

    77/100

29. Jim Leonhard, Retired

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    Bill Wippert/Associated Press

    Coverage

    45/50

    Jim Leonhard (5’8”, 188 lbs) continued to defy expectations in his 10th NFL season. He once again proved he can play a valuable role as a spot starter, special teams ace and versatile sub-package cover man. With limited size, there will always be times when Leonhard simply can’t compete, but he’s a dog to deal with underneath and has the technique to turn and run with slot receivers, backs and tight ends. And with two interceptions on the year, he’s shown the hands to make plays when challenged.

    Run Defense

    21/30

    Leonhard started the final five games of the year for the Browns, and in that time he showed that as a free safety he has range and a good feel for angles in pursuit. The downside is that he’s going to get bumped off the line a lot by moving blockers and isn’t the best option in short-yardage situations.

    Tackling

    9/15

    An able tackler in space, Leonhard’s four missed tackles versus his 27 solo stops was a poor ratio that was backed up on film. He has to be more aggressive approaching the ball-carrier and be willing to take on head-up tackles.

    Starter

    3/5

    Leonhard announced after the season that he planned to retire, but don’t rule out Rex Ryan calling him once the season begins for another reunion.

    Overall

    78/100

28. LaRon Landry, Free Agent

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    Coverage

    36/50

    A linear athlete with limited ball skills and awareness. LaRon Landry (6’0”, 226 lbs, seven seasons) is a safety who simply wasn’t built to play in this era of football. His fascination with bloating his body to greater sizes every offseason has completely derailed his career, because it has hindered his ability to be flexible in space while also slowing his straight-line speed.

    Run Defense

    24/30

    Considering his size, it shouldn’t be any surprise that Landry is able to hold his own against bigger tight ends and offensive linemen when asked to fend off blockers against the run. He plays with good energy and possesses a violent streak that makes him one of the tougher assignments for any run-blocker in the league.

    Tackling

    15/15

    Landry was a more violent tackler when he was lighter, but his bulk and strength in recent years has still made him a hard hitter. He is a high-volume player with good technique who can consistently drop ball-carriers without conceding ground. If you can’t cover in the NFL, you have to be able to tackle.

    Starter

    4/5

    Another suspension and being released by the Indianapolis Colts may have brought a premature end to Landry’s career. He is just 30 years old, but the risks could outweigh the rewards at this point.

    Overall

    79/100

27. Eric Reid, San Francisco 49ers

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Coverage

    37/50

    The San Francisco 49ers will be hoping that Eric Reid’s (6’1”, 213 lbs, two seasons) first season in the NFL is more indicative of what his career will be than his second season. Reid has natural coverage ability with the range to be one of the best deep-lying safeties in the NFL. He can play the ball in the air comfortably and read routes as they develop from a deep position. However, his consistency during his second year was significantly worse than it was during his first season in the league. He was outshone by veteran Antoine Bethea alongside him.

    Run Defense

    25/30

    Under Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers only invested in defensive backs who were willing run defenders. Reid reads and reacts to running plays well and has the athleticism to close on the line of scrimmage quickly. He doesn’t violently fight through contact, but he doesn’t simply submit to blocks either.

    Tackling

    12/15

    Reid has the ability to blow receivers up over the middle of the field, but he puts more of an emphasis on bringing ball-carriers to the ground with technique rather than relying on his athleticism.

    Starter

    5/5

    As a 23-year-old safety at this level, Reid was expected to have inconsistencies. How he responds to those inconsistencies will determine his future, but he’s too talented to not be a starter.

    Overall

    79/100

26. Husain Abdullah, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Peter Aiken/Getty Images

    Coverage

    44/50

    The quality of Husain Abdullah's (6’0”, 204 lbs, six seasons) play is heavily dependent on what you ask of him. While this is a statement that is generally true about all players in the NFL, it’s particularly the case with Abdullah. He can excel in tighter zone coverages when his athleticism isn’t overly tested. He’s not necessarily a bad athlete; he just doesn’t boast exceptional range. Abdullah is better at reading route combinations and subtly adjusting his positioning to anticipate and adjust to where the ball is going.

    Run Defense

    20/30

    Although a reliable tackler and intelligent player in coverage, Abdullah can be slow to react to running plays. He doesn’t have the closing speed to line up deep and still cover the line of scrimmage from sideline to sideline.

    Tackling

    11/15

    Abdullah played more than 1,000 snaps and missed just 10 tackles last year. He carries a sturdy frame that allows him to make efficient tackles against bigger players, but he also won’t consistently punish smaller players. He is stronger than he is explosive.

    Starter

    4/5

    At worst a reliable role player, Abdullah doesn’t possess the same kind of talent as teammate Eric Berry, but he’s an important foil to whoever plays strong safety in Kansas City out of Berry or Ron Parker.

    Overall

    79/100

25. George Iloka, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Coverage

    42/50

    2014 was an important season for the career of George Iloka (6’4”, 220 lbs, three seasons). He has solidified his status as one of the better starting safeties in the NFL and as an important piece for the Bengals secondary. Iloka’s length and strength to make plays at the catch point is very impressive, but it would be worthless without his discipline and range in coverage. Iloka can’t act as a lone free safety, but he is very effective when put in Cover 2 or quarters coverages where he can diagnose plays to be proactive in finding the football.

    Run Defense

    25/30

    With Reggie Nelson alongside him, the Bengals have arguably the best run-stopping pair of safeties in the NFL. Iloka offers greater size and strength to work his way through blocks and find the football. His awareness and consistency at the tackle point allows him to comfortably bring down bigger ball-carriers and more elusive ball-carriers.

    Tackling

    9/15

    Iloka’s length and strength give him the physical prowess to land big hits on receivers working over the middle of the field. He combines that explosive ability with consistent technique to make the simple plays as well as the flashy ones.

    Starter

    4/5

    He’s still a relatively inexperienced player, but Iloka should be entering his prime at 25 years of age this season. He could still develop into one of the best safeties in the NFL.

    Overall

    80/100

24. Tre Boston, Carolina Panthers

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    Coverage

    38/50

    In his first NFL season, Tre Boston (6’1”, 205 lbs) capitalized on the coverage skills he showed at North Carolina and improved upon the inconsistency he showed in his final season of college. Boston wasn’t targeted often, playing sparingly—just 14 times, allowing eight catches—but he proved he can match up in man or zone coverage and has the size/speed combination to handle versatile coverage responsibilities.

    Run Defense

    25/30

    Playing the run was natural for Boston, and he hit the ground running as a pro. From the free safety position—often in a single-high look—he showed great instincts and range with promising reliability as a tackler in space. And while his false steps can be improved upon, his first season was a success.

    Tackling

    13/15

    Boston missed just two tackle attempts in limited playing time, but we’re grading him more on what he did when he had the chance to make plays, and there he comes up very well. His power and form as a tackler in space and in traffic scored very well.

    Starter

    4/5

    Boston started just five games, appearing in 11, during the 2014 season, but he has shown himself very capable of holding down a full-time starting job.

    Overall

    80/100

23. Donte Whitner, Cleveland Browns

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Coverage

    41/50

    In Donte Whitner (5’10”, 208 lbs, nine seasons), the Cleveland Browns have a prototypical strong safety for today’s NFL. The hard-hitting defensive back brings physicality and intelligence to the middle of the field, while boasting enough range to be trusted in different coverages. Whitner won’t lock down tight ends in man coverage, but he can be used that way on a regular basis. So long as he is paired with a rangy free safety, Whitner can be a very valuable piece for any defense.

    Run Defense

    26/30

    Despite not being a big safety, Whitner is strong, aggressive and physical against contact. He will use his hands to control lesser blockers and fight through better blockers. Whitner plays aggressively but also shows off the control and awareness to react to counter and stretch plays outside.

    Tackling

    8/15

    For as long as Whitner has been in the NFL, he has been a good tackler who decreases his effectiveness by trying to land big hits too often.

    Starter

    5/5

    Although turning 30 years of age before the start of the season, Whitner still appears to be in his prime. He will remain an important part of the Cleveland Browns secondary.

    Overall

    80/100

22. Tony Jefferson, Arizona Cardinals

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    Coverage

    36/50

    Tony Jefferson (5’11, 212 lbs, two seasons) took the starting strong safety job during the 2014 season thanks to his physical presence in coverage and the range he shows making plays all over the field. When matched up in man coverage—something the Cardinals love to do—he has the strength to take on tight ends and the hips to match up against backs. Jefferson isn’t an interception threat—he’s yet to post a pick in his pro career—but limits targets and gave up just 27 catches on the year.

    Run Defense

    26/30

    Whether it’s in the box or coming downhill from a deep safety look, Jefferson identifies the run well and is willing to take on blockers. His stout frame keeps him low to the ground, which allows for great leverage. Jefferson will want to work on better angles when coming up to play the run, but he graded out very well for a second-year player.

    Tackling

    13/15

    Jefferson is capable of being a punishing tackler, but more impressively is the reliability he brings to the table. He had 67 solo tackles and missed just eight attempts. He has proved himself to be a consistent player in space.

    Starter

    5/5

    The one-time undrafted free agent from Oklahoma has become a rock-solid starter at both free and strong safety. He can expect a big payday once he becomes a restricted free agent after the 2015 season.

    Overall

    80/100

21. Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona Cardinals

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Coverage

    45/50

    A torn ACL at the end of his rookie season forced Tyrann Mathieu (5’9”, 186 lbs, two seasons) to adjust his approach in 2014. The safety was more limited athletically as he returned from the injury and dealt with the discomfort of wearing a brace. Limited athleticism meant that Mathieu had to become less of a nickel cornerback in man coverage and play more like a traditional safety. Despite the altered approach, he was able to show off impressive awareness, ball skills and footwork while playing disciplined, controlled football in space. Mathieu is quickly turning into one of the most impressive defensive backs in the NFL.

    Run Defense

    22/30

    Being a smaller defensive back in the NFL always puts a greater focus on said defender’s ability to work around blockers in tight situations. Mathieu relies on his burst and flexibility to be a factor in the running game, but while wearing a brace and recovering from his knee injury, he didn't play to his full potential.

    Tackling

    8/15

    Mathieu’s role was limited throughout the whole season, so he couldn’t be a high-volume tackler. Predictably, he is a more effective tackler against smaller players in space rather than when he attacks the line of scrimmage against bigger ball-carriers.

    Starter

    5/5

    Mathieu should return to being a crucial piece of the Arizona Cardinals' defense in 2015.

    Overall

    80/100

20. James Ihedigbo, Detroit Lions

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Coverage

    45/50

    In his seventh season in the NFL, James Ihedigbo (6’1”, 217 lbs) finally found his perfect fit. Playing in a defense that didn’t need to blitz very often, alongside a versatile and effective safety and behind a high-quality coverage linebacker, Ihedigbo was rarely stressed in coverage. He only needed to be disciplined and consistent in his assignments that often asked him to patrol a constricted section of the field as the defense crowded its coverage.

    Run Defense

    25/30

    While not being overly stressed in coverage, Ihedigbo needed to show off his value somewhere. Throughout his career he has been a smart and urgent run defender who attacks the line of scrimmage with controlled aggression. He showed those traits off once again in 2014.

    Tackling

    6/15

    While being an aggressive and effective run defender in terms of reading blocks and finding the football, Ihedigbo wasn’t a good tackler in 2014. His lack of athleticism in space causes him to overcompensate with aggression that negates his strength by taking away his balance and control.

    Starter

    5/5

    Ihedigbo is assured of his starting spot in Detroit next season simply because there is nobody in position to challenge him. The Lions were too focused elsewhere on their roster during the offseason.

    Overall

    81/100

19. Morgan Burnett, Green Bay Packers

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Coverage

    34/50

    Morgan Burnett (6’1”, 209 lbs, five seasons) has never been a great cover safety, but part of his struggles have always been how he has been used. In 2014, he was able to play with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, a more natural space safety who could handle the deep-lying assignments when the Packers used them. Burnett still had deep assignments, but there were more opportunities for him to be a forward-moving defender rather than someone who was attempting to shuffle and position himself after a backpedal.

    Run Defense

    30/30

    Burnett has the kind of frame that allows him to weigh up to tight ends and offensive linemen. He plays with the kind of technique and violence that allows him to use that frame effectively. Burnett is as good of a run defender as you’ll find in the NFL. He is intelligent, aggressive and powerful in everything he does whether he lines up in the box or further from the line of scrimmage.

    Tackling

    12/15

    While playing 1,090 snaps, Burnett missed just nine tackles. He made 114 tackles and landed plenty of big hits while doing so. Sometimes he can be overaggressive in the angle he takes to the football, but those snaps are few and far between.

    Starter

    5/5

    Burnett is almost an ideal strong safety. He could offer greater versatility and consistency in coverage, but when used correctly, he is a very valuable starter.

    Overall

    81/100

18. Malcolm Jenkins, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    Coverage

    44/50

    The former cornerback struggled with his decision-making and consistency in coverage while playing for the New Orleans Saints. In Philadelphia, Malcolm Jenkins (6’0”, 204 lbs, six seasons) rectified those issues and became one of the more valuable and versatile cover safeties in the NFL. He has the skill set to drop down into man coverage against tight ends and the range to be a deep-lying safety in Cover 1 or Cover 3 looks from the secondary. His ball skills have been inconsistent in seasons past, but they were less of an issue in 2014.

    Run Defense

    25/30

    Whatever the Philadelphia Eagles coaches did for Jenkins after signing him in free agency, it worked. The defensive back who previously looked hesitant and reluctant working his way toward ball-carriers in pursuit played with a greater aggressiveness and intensity on a snap-by-snap basis last season.

    Tackling

    8/15

    Jenkins has never really been a bad tackler; he’s just never been a willing tackler. There were times during his career where he showed so much hesitation that it was impossible to praise him as a run defender or sure tackler. Not only was he a much better tackler in 2014 than in any previous season, but he also showed off his ability to make big hits when opportunities arose.

    Starter

    5/5

    Jenkins is a completely different player now compared to what he was just 12 months ago. The value of a rangy safety who can tackle and make plays on the ball is huge in the NFL. Jenkins may not be on the level of the truly great safeties in the league right now, but he’s only a tier or two below.

    Overall

    82/100

17. Patrick Chung, New England Patriots

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Coverage

    39/50

    Returning to the Patriots after a year with the Eagles, Patrick Chung looked much more comfortable in coverage at strong safety and playing underneath. When asked to drop deep into coverage, Chung did not have the skill set to handle speedy downfield threats or tight ends up the seam. When most effective, Chung is able to line up closer to the line of scrimmage in a zone defense, which is what the Patriots asked him to do.

    Run Defense

    28/30

    The ability to play with such aggression is a rarity for an undersized safety. You might expect that kind of play from a Kam Chancellor and his amazing size at safety, but Chung brings it with his 5’11”, 210-pound frame. He loves to play downhill and has no problem filling gaps and making plays on ball-carriers. Closing speed is an issue for Chung; however, he is able to make up for that with good instincts and the ability to read the offense.

    Tackling

    10/15

    Chung was one of the more consistent tacklers in 2014, recording 63 solo tackles and only missing 11. The ability to play bigger than he is has always been a key for Chung against bigger backs—as well as being able to use his quickness and instincts to bring down quicker players.

    Starter

    5/5

    After a down year with the Eagles, Chung rebounded nicely and played in a more comfortable role for himself at strong safety. The Patriots must have also felt more comfortable with Chung back in the mix, as the team re-signed the veteran safety to a three-year deal this offseason.

    Overall

    82/100

16. Dawan Landry, Free Agent

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    Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

    Coverage

    46/50

    Dawan Landry showed great improvement in his ability to drop in coverage and make plays on the ball last season. While Landry only had one pass defense and no interceptions, he gave up only two touchdowns in 2014. Allowing quarterbacks to complete 72.5 percent of their passes in his area, Landry must do a better job in coverage if he wants to stick in the pass-heavy NFL.

    Run Defense

    25/30

    If it weren’t for a 97-tackle season in 2011, Landry would have five consecutive seasons of 100-plus tackles. Recording another 107 in 2014, per NFL.com, Landry showed his ability to close on the ball and play inside the bow at strong safety. Landry is a typical strong safety in that he does not always look comfortable in coverage but has no problem stepping in the box and making plays in the running game.  

    Tackling

    7/15

    Being a run-stopping safety, Landry must be consistent in his tackling. And he is. Only missing three tackles in his 970 snaps, Landry proved that he is still one of the surest tacklers at his position. At times, Landry looks more like an undersized linebacker because of his ability to play the run and make tackles.

    Starter

    5/5

    It's amazing that the No. 16 safety on our list is still searching for work. The 32-year-old could look to reunite with coach Rex Ryan in Buffalo as a cheap and reliable option to go along with Aaron Williams.

    Overall

    83/100

15. Da'Norris Searcy, Tennessee Titans

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Coverage

    40/50

    Da'Norris Searcy does not have many traits that stick out on film. He doesn’t have exceptional speed, size or hands. But he does get the job done and plays well underneath in zone coverage. As an intelligent player, Searcy is able to sit and read the quarterback and knows when to help his teammates. In the right matchups, Searcy can handle man coverage, but most of the time he will need to be on a back underneath.

    Run Defense

    26/30

    Searcy is not aggressive against the run but is able to put himself in position to make to plays. Lacking the closing speed to pursue ball-carriers is one limitation Searcy has that has hurt him from becoming a solid defender in coverage and against the run. Decreasing his number of missed tackles was huge, as he saw that number come down from nine in 2013 to just six in 2014.

    Tackling

    12/15

    Having long arms and learning how to use them in tackling was the difference in 2014. After having trouble with missed tackles, Searcy was able to find ways to bring down ball-carriers and make better contact. He is still not an authoritative tackler but did get the job done in 2014.

    Starter

    5/5

    Starting in 13 games in 2014, Searcy was a reliable defender for the Bills and helped the young defense take another step forward in its progression. The Titans also took note of Searcy’s play and signed the safety to a four-year deal and have slotted him to start at strong safety next to Michael Griffin.

    Overall

    83/100

14. Danieal Manning, Free Agent

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    Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

    Coverage

    42/50

    There’s no question that Danieal Manning’s (5’11”, 212 lbs, eight seasons) athleticism has declined dramatically over recent years. It appeared to be the main reason he couldn’t make the Cincinnati Bengals' roster before the season began. The 32-year-old was never a great athlete in the first place, which helps him be a more effective player now. That is because Manning has always relied on his discipline and awareness in space to be an effective player. He can’t be overstretched by difficult assignments but can still be an effective player in zone coverage and on specific assignments in man coverage.

    Run Defense

    21/30

    A very physical player who attacks blockers with a controlled physicality, Manning understands body positioning and when he needs to simply try and punch his way through to the football. He has limitations in pursuit in space when asked to turn and chase down a ball-carrier.

    Tackling

    15/15

    Manning missed just one tackle on 591 snaps last season. That is incredible. He may not find his way to the football as often as in seasons past, but he still makes plays like he is one of the best tackling safeties in the league.

    Starter

    5/5

    Manning’s role should probably remain reduced, but it’s so difficult to find quality safety play in any kind of role today. Teams should still target Manning as a starter.

    Overall

    83/100

13. Will Hill, Baltimore Ravens

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    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    Coverage

    44/50

    Will Hill’s (6’1”, 228 lbs, three seasons) impact for the Baltimore Ravens in 2014 was only limited by the number of snaps he played. The strong safety isn’t the biggest player in the NFL, but he has a robust coverage style that allows him to aggressively fight bigger tight ends in press-man coverage. His quick-twitch athleticism allows him to stick with those players through their routes while he understands how to use his length to find the football at the catch point.

    Run Defense

    25/30

    Playing closer to the line of scrimmage means you must be more resolute against contact than if left in space more often. Hill wasn’t one to throw bigger blockers to the side before finding the football, but he also wasn’t moved off his spot easily. His strength and ability to read the running back stood out regularly.

    Tackling

    9/15

    Hill is a technically sound tackler who is able to punish smaller defenders while using his overall athleticism to pull bigger defenders to the ground regardless of the situation he finds himself in.

    Starter

    5/5

    Hill should be a much more prominent piece in the Ravens defense in 2015. His skill set is a rare one across the NFL right now. So long as the Ravens don’t overextend him and ask him to act as a single-high safety too often, he will be an integral part of their secondary.

    Overall

    83/100

12. Antoine Bethea, San Francisco 49ers

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Coverage

    48/50

    Antoine Bethea (5’11”, 206 lbs, nine seasons) appears to be enjoying the prime of his career. At 30 years of age, the safety combines enough physical traits to still be a very versatile player with the technical skills and awareness to get the most out of them. His ability to diagnose plays from deep zones and adjust when lined up underneath makes him one of the 49ers' most valuable defenders. He will be a crucial piece for a team that is suddenly lacking veteran players through the spine of its defense.

    Run Defense

    21/30

    Bethea is a run defender who relies more on his ability to diagnose and anticipate plays than his athleticism to close space in pursuit. He understands how to read the movement of offensive linemen to get to spots before defenders on outside runs while still being resilient enough against contact to hold his ground between the tackles.

    Tackling

    10/15

    Bethea played more than 1,050 snaps last year and missed just 13 tackles. That kind of consistency doesn’t come without refined technique, but what makes Bethea most impressive as a tackler is the short-area explosiveness of his compact frame. He relies less on his length and more on his aggressiveness and strength to bring ball-carriers to the ground.

    Starter

    5/5

    One of the better free-agent additions that any team has made over the past few seasons, Bethea is still one of the best safeties in the NFL.

    Overall

    84/100

11. Reggie Nelson, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Coverage

    44/50

    Reggie Nelson (5’11”, 210 lbs, eight seasons) always seems to be the forgotten safety when it’s time to discuss the best starters in the NFL. Playing on a Cincinnati Bengals defense that is stacked with high-quality starters has played a role in that, but more significant is Nelson’s lack of one truly great trait. Instead of having incredible range or physicality like some of his peers, Nelson relies on discipline, footwork, intelligence and athleticism to be one of the most well-rounded players in the NFL. This is particularly evident in his coverage ability, as he can line up in any spot on the field to still be effective.

    Run Defense

    24/30

    Nelson’s mental acumen is such that he diagnoses running plays and route combinations as well as any safety in the league. His speed to recognize what the offense is doing is important because he doesn’t have the bulk to consistently get off blocks. He can fight through contact but needs to win with his hands and quickness rather than sheer power.

    Tackling

    11/15

    While not a big safety, Nelson is heavy and very physical. He combines his bulk with a burst and technique that allow him to latch onto ball-carriers of all different sizes in different situations. Nelson played just under 1,200 snaps last season and missed only 11 tackles (playoffs included).

    Starter

    5/5

    One of the most underappreciated players across the whole league, Nelson’s value will likely only be realized by most once he has departed the game.

    Overall

    84/100

10. Reshad Jones, Miami Dolphins

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Coverage

    39/50

    Ranked again in the top 10 safeties, Reshad Jones (6’1”, 215 lbs, five seasons) is one of the most versatile strong safeties in the game. Jones sees plenty of action in man coverage against AFC East tight ends. Opposing quarterbacks targeted him 24 times for 15 catches on the year, and he surrendered three touchdowns. It’s those touchdowns that keep his score down, as Jones could be better in the red zone.

    Run Defense

    27/30

    A stout presence, Jones doesn’t give up on a play and is willing to take on blockers to make the tackle. He’s great in pursuit, too, showing off speed and an understanding of angles to make the play downfield. Jones does a great job reading the play and keeping himself active.

    Tackling

    13/15

    Jones isn’t afraid to be physical at the point of attack, and he showed with his 79 solo tackles and one forced fumble that he can stick ball-carriers and make a play in space or in traffic. Jones is an opportunistic tackler, too, meaning he’ll lower the boom when given the chance.

    Starter

    5/5

    A true top-10 safety, Jones is a leader and foundational piece for the Dolphins defense.

    Overall

    84/100

9. Mike Adams, Indianapolis Colts

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    Coverage

    49/50

    Mike Adams’ (5’11”, 200 lbs) 11th season in the NFL was his best, as he found an ideal fit with an aggressive Indianapolis Colts defense. From his spot at strong safety, Adams was able to impact coverage by lining up across from tight ends and also working in deep zones. Unlike some strong safeties, Adams was used more in man coverage. He saw 36 targets on the year, of which he allowed 25 catches for two touchdowns. But he also showed off his hands and playmaking skills, posting a career-high five interceptions.

    Run Defense

    21/30

    Adams definitely has the size to make plays against the run, and in 2014, we saw him become more of a factor in the box. The Colts used him often on the edge of the formation—especially in short-yardage situations—and asked Adams to be a true edge defender. In that role, he could stand to be better against blockers but can have an impact.

    Tackling

    10/15

    With 76 solo tackles, Adams made his mark on the defense. In those attempts, he did miss 10 tackles but showed himself to be stout at the point of attack and willing to take on ball-carriers head-up.

    Starter

    5/5

    At 34 years old, it’s unlikely Adams is a long-term fixture for the Colts defense, but he showed in 2014 that he’s capable of holding down the starting job at a high level.

    Overall

    85/100

8. Tashaun Gipson, Cleveland Browns

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    Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press

    Coverage

    46/50

    A third-year player out of Wyoming, Tashaun Gipson (5’11”, 205 lbs) has proved to be a playmaker at the free safety position. In 2014, he posted six interceptions and a forced fumble while limiting targets to 12 catches on just 20 attempts. Gipson has range from center field and flows well with the offense. He’s instinctive and shows a good understanding of timing. The downside here is that several of Gipson’s turnovers were gimmes—like Blake Bortles' throw right to him and Mike Glennon giving him a gift-wrapped ball in the end zone.

    Run Defense

    24/30

    The lean Gipson doesn’t look like a big run-stuffer, but he holds his own well when asked to take on the run. Gipson is more of a pursuit tackler, though, and will struggle to square up running backs coming at his face. He doesn’t lack aggressiveness but prefers to make his hits on angle tackles.

    Tackling

    10/15

    From a numbers standpoint, Gipson notched 35 solo tackles and missed on six attempts. The film shows him doing a fine job when he can attack from the side or when chasing ball-carriers, but if he’s in a position where he must break down the runner, he’ll struggle to hold his ground.

    Starter

    5/5

    A player no team was willing to invest a draft pick in when he entered the NFL, Gipson has been a building block for the Browns secondary.

    Overall

    85/100

7. Robert Blanton, Minnesota Vikings

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    Coverage

    39/50

    Robert Blanton (6’1”, 200 lbs, three seasons) is not a household name—he wasn’t even ranked in our 2013 edition—but his impressive play as a cover man and tackler in Mike Zimmer’s defense shoots the former Notre Dame safety into the top 10 of the 2014 series. Playing strong safety, opposing quarterbacks targeted Blanton just 24 times. He allowed only 14 catches while posting an interception and one pass breakup. His coverage stats aren’t awe-inspiring, but the plays he limited and the chances he took away earn him points.

    Run Defense

    27/30

    Blanton made his money against the run. Playing with versatility either in the box or coming up from his deep safety position, he was able to make big hits and take away long runs. He sees the run well and won’t get fooled on misdirection. Blanton also showed he knows how to read his keys and get in position to take on the ball.

    Tackling

    14/15

    With just four missed tackles and 84 solo stops, Blanton ranked as one of the more active and reliable tacklers we saw in the secondary last year.

    Starter

    5/5

    There has been talk of Blanton being challenged by Antone Exum for the starting strong safety job, but with his strong play from 2014 as a resume-builder, it’s tough to imagine Blanton not being a cornerstone for this young defense.

    Overall

    85/100

6. Devin McCourty, New England Patriots

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Coverage

    44/50

    Devin McCourty (5’10”, 195 lbs, five seasons) did an excellent job quarterbacking one of the NFL’s best secondaries in 2014—leading the New England Patriots all the way to a Super Bowl title. From his place as the center fielder in the Patriots defense, McCourty has to show range and instincts. And while rarely targeted alone (22 times for 15 catches), McCourty is able to limit big plays and at times completely erase the middle of the field. One area of decline in 2014 was in the two touchdowns he allowed, but three interceptions and four passes broken up help even that out.

    Run Defense

    26/30

    A former cornerback, McCourty doesn’t look like much against the run on the hoof, but he has fast instincts and the range to get into position to take away outside runs, come down into the box to stuff a gap and has the speed to give chase in pursuit. He’s a well-rounded run defender even if he’s a little small to get off blockers consistently.

    Tackling

    11/15

    During the 2014 season, McCourty totaled 56 solo tackles and just six missed attempts all year. Those are good numbers, but when looking at plays where McCourty could have made an impact and didn’t, his score starts to come down. Being more aggressive at the point of attack will be big for him.

    Starter

    5/5

    Leadership, production and potential combine to make McCourty one of the most valuable defensive backs in the NFL—and now he’s getting paid like it.

    Overall

    86/100

5. Kam Chancellor, Seattle Seahawks

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Coverage

    42/50

    Kam Chancellor (6’3”, 232 lbs, five seasons) may be built like a linebacker, but he covers like a true safety. Targeted 39 times, Chancellor allowed 27 catches and one touchdown while producing one interception and three pass breakups. A plus is that Chancellor has the frame and athleticism to match up with tight ends and can carry them up the seam. The downside is that faster, more explosive players can leave him behind through breaks.

    Run Defense

    30/30

    Chancellor has the skills to be a monster stopping the run off the edge and making plays in the box. He’s stout enough to stand up blockers and keep himself free to make plays in space or in traffic. Chancellor is one of the NFL’s best run defenders regardless of position.

    Tackling

    10/15

    With 70 solo tackles on the year, Chancellor was one of the best and most productive at his position. That said, his 14 missed tackles were very high. His score is a mixture of the impact and production combined with the missed tackles and overaggressive form.

    Starter

    5/5

    As far as pure strong safeties go, Chancellor is the best of the bunch. He ranks as the best strong safety and a top-five safety overall.

    Overall

    87/100

4. Glover Quin, Detroit Lions

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Coverage

    48/50

    Glover Quin (6’0”, 206 lbs, six seasons) doesn’t get mentioned often as one of the best safeties in football, but when you look at his 2014 season, it’s fair to throw his name way up on that list. Quin was exceptional in his first season under defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, showing the range and instincts to play center field or lock up receivers in man coverage. He flows to the ball with grace and has the hands to create turnovers (seven interceptions) and limit targets.

    Run Defense

    26/30

    Quin more than held his own this past season, as the Lions asked him to creep into the box or make daylight-saving tackles. When playing the run, he’s decisive and confident and uses his hands well to keep blockers off his frame. Quin is able to make solo stops, too, and has proved himself to be a reliable open-field tackler.

    Tackling

    11/15

    Quin’s 66 solo tackles were very good, but we did take exception to his eight missed tackles—which largely came in traffic. To improve his score in 2015, Quin has to be more solid at getting off blockers and throwing his outside arm into the runner.

    Starter

    5/5

    Quin was an unheralded signing before the 2013 season but has since helped turn a weakness on defense into a strength for the Lions.

    Overall

    90/100

3. Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings

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    Bill Haber/Associated Press

    Coverage

    44/50

    During Harrison Smith’s (6’2”, 214 lbs) third season in the NFL, he entered the ranks of the elite at the safety position. Showing off his versatility in Mike Zimmer’s scheme, Smith dominated as a three-down defender. Covering largely in a zone, opposing QBs targeted Smith 40 times. He surrendered 26 catches and gave up two touchdowns—good but not great numbers. Worth noting, though, was his production of five interceptions, showing his athleticism and range.

    Run Defense

    30/30

    Playing the run was Smith’s specialty in 2014. He was a rock against blockers, runners and was able to produce no matter the scheme. Smith’s ability to make solo stops was the most impressive of any safety we scouted.

    Tackling

    11/15

    As a pure tackler, Smith impresses. He had 81 solo tackles on the year and missed 11 attempts. His ability to explode into the ball-carrier in the open field was elite, but he could stand to do better coming off blocks at the second level to make tackles.

    Starter

    5/5

    The only player in the NFL to produce three sacks and three interceptions in 2014, Smith’s value is in his versatility and impact as a total-field defender.

    Overall

    90/100

2. Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Coverage

    49/50

    Even as he dealt with injuries throughout the season, Earl Thomas (5’10”, 202 lbs, five seasons) once again dominated the league and earned a top ranking. In coverage, Thomas’ impact isn’t just in what he produces but what he prevents from happening. Opposing quarterbacks rarely challenge Thomas, and his range is the best in the game. With only 23 targets and 13 catches allowed on the year, Thomas ranks as the best at preventing targets, but his two touchdowns allowed keep him from a perfect score.

    Run Defense

    24/30

    You wouldn’t expect a small safety such as Thomas to be an impact player in the run game, but he’s known for his missile-like launching into backs to make a play in the box. And while he’ll never be exceptional at taking on blockers, Thomas is elite in space.

    Tackling

    12/15

    Thanks to 11 missed tackles on the year, Thomas comes in lower than expected in terms of a tackling score, but his 75 solo tackles show why he’s still one of the best open-field tacklers in the game.

    Starter

    5/5

    If you were starting a defense from scratch, Earl Thomas would be the pick at free safety. He’s smart, athletic, physical and a true game-changer.

    Overall

    90/100

1. Eric Weddle, San Diego Chargers

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Coverage

    50/50

    It’s rare for any player to receive a perfect grade in any category, but Eric Weddle (5’11”, 200 lbs, eight seasons) did just that in 2014 as a coverage safety. With great size, range, speed and instincts, Weddle is able to match up in man coverage or take over the middle of the field in a zone. On the year, he allowed just 26 catches on 37 targets and added an interception to go along with zero touchdowns allowed, once again showing his dominance at free safety.

    Run Defense

    26/30

    Today’s NFL requires versatile safeties who can play the run and the pass, and Weddle fits that mold exceptionally well. He’s able to come down into the box and take on blockers and has great instincts for finding the ball and running clean angles to attack the hip of the ball-carrier.

    Tackling

    13/15

    Weddle’s 82 solo tackles were second most among our top 10 ranked safeties, and with just four missed tackles on the season, he proved again that when the defense breaks down, he’s an excellent last line of defense.

    Starter

    5/5

    Weddle remains the gold standard of safety play when talking about three-down ability. We’ll see if the Chargers agree and give him the contract he thinks he’s earned.

    Overall

    94/100
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