NFL1000: Ranking the Top Strong Safeties of 2017 Season

NFL1000 ScoutsFeatured ColumnistJanuary 30, 2018

NFL1000: Ranking the Top Strong Safeties of 2017 Season

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    Though the safety position has grown in variance and responsibility to the point that some teams use their free and strong safeties interchangeably, the strong safety has specific responsibilities in most defenses. 

    He traditionally acts as something between defensive back and linebacker. He must be agile enough on coverage to deal with running backs on wheel routes and tight ends up the seam. He also has to be a plus run-stopper, with the size and tackling power to take down running backs.

    And in modern defenses where positional versatility is the norm, he'll also likely be asked to take on free safety responsibilities, such as deep-third and quarters coverage. He may also be a slot defender on some snaps. Basically, the best strong safeties embrace multiple responsibilities at a high level.

    NFL1000 defensive backs scout Kyle Posey watched all the NFL's strong safeties in 2017 and ranked them. His scouting reports are based on the following criteria:

    Coverage: 25 points. How well does this player cover from the defense's second and third levels? Can he take receivers to either side, and does he read routes well enough to know where to go in time to get there? How well does he work with his cornerbacks in zone coverage? Does he have the physical ability to create contested catches, deflections and interceptions?

    Recovery: 20 points. Strong safeties are often asked to crash down the line of scrimmage and take out ball-carriers. If he takes the wrong gap, can he recover to make the tackle? How well does this player recover from a false step in coverage? When receivers come into his area from blown coverages elsewhere, how well does he pick up the mess?

    Slot Performance: 20 points. When he's asked to play in the slot, how well does this player adjust his coverage requirements to the option routes and close coverage at this alternate position?

    Tackling: 25 points. This covers everything from tackling in deep space to run-stopping to the ability to blitz. How well does this player wrap up and stop the play once the ball-carrier is in his area?    

    Position Value: 8 points. A score that takes positional importance into account when comparing grades across other spots on the defense. Free safeties are given 8/10 points, making their top possible grade 98.

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



Notable Omissions

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    Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

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

    • Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs
    • Jeron Johnson, Jacksonville Jaguars
    • Don Carey, Detroit Lions

Nos. 54-51

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    54. Shalom Luani, Oakland Raiders

    Coverage: 12/25
    Recovery: 
    13/20
    Slot Performance: 
    11/20
    Tackling: 
    9/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    53/100

    Luani played only 186 snaps, per Pro Football Reference, but when he was on the field in 2017, he looked out of his depth. He filled in for Karl Joseph in Week 8, and he played when Oakland fielded extra defensive backs. He either didn't get deep enough and allowed big plays behind him or he took bad angles as a run defender. He missed more tackles than you'd like in limited action and shouldn't have been playing.

                      

    53. Da'Norris Searcy, Tennessee Titans 

    Coverage: 14/25
    Recovery: 
    12/20
    Slot Performance: 
    11/20
    Tackling: 
    10/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    55/100

    The Titans rotated their safeties to try to find a complement for Kevin Byard, and Searcy was part of that. After a solid 2016, though, he disappointed in 2017. His change of direction hurt him in coverage and he too often missed tackles while playing in the box. His decline in play was too much for him to stay on the field.

                  

    52. Xavier Woods, Dallas Cowboys

    Coverage: 15/25
    Recovery: 
    12/20
    Slot Performance: 
    11/20
    Tackling: 
    10/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    56/100

    Woods was the Cowboys' extra safety and usually lined up deep, though he'd occasionally drop over the middle. He was best in man coverage underneath. When Woods was in zone coverage, he tended to let receivers run by him or didn't react soon enough. He was also a below-average tackler. He'd be best used in the "robber" role over the middle.

                 

    51. Sean Davis, Pittsburgh Steelers

    Coverage: 14/25
    Recovery: 
    13/20
    Slot Performance: 
    13/20
    Tackling: 
    9/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    57/100

    Davis is likely still having Rob Gronkowski-related nightmares. Pittsburgh's 27-24 Week 15 loss to New England highlighted Davis' yearlong troubles in coverage, as he never seemed comfortable. The 24-year-old was a willing run defender and had no problem making plays around the line of scrimmage. However, he missed far too many tackles: 21, to be specific. Don't be surprised if the Steelers upgrade this position in the offseason.

Nos. 50-46

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    50. Robert Golden, Pittsburgh Steelers

    Coverage: 13/25
    Recovery: 
    12/20
    Slot Performance: 
    12/20
    Tackling: 
    13/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    58/100

    Golden is known as a special teamer. Steelers fans don't like the idea of his being a part of the defense, with good reason. He wasn't good in coverage and belongs closer to the line of scrimmage. But even then, he missed some tackles. He'll continue to act as a reserve.

                

    49. Deshazor Everett, Washington Redskins

    Coverage: 15/25
    Recovery: 
    11/20
    Slot Performance: 
    12/20
    Tackling: 
    13/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    59/100

    Everett has athleticism but lacks the technical skills to excel as a safety. His run defense seems like an effort problem, which showed up in his tackling. From a coverage standpoint, he too often sat on routes and got caught flat-footed. This hurt his recovery ability. By the time he had a chance, receivers were by him. The 25-year-old is best as a backup.

              

    48. Cody Davis, Los Angeles Rams

    Coverage: 16/25
    Recovery: 
    13/20
    Slot Performance: 
    12/20
    Tackling: 
    10/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    59/100

    Davis played starter snaps until he suffered a Week 6 thigh injury against Jacksonville. He was passive in coverage and didn't have many responsibilities, though. And he wasn't much more aggressive against the run. It didn't seem as though the Rams had confidence in him. In one-on-one situations, it was clear the offensive guy was going to win.

               

    47. Josh Jones, Green Bay Packers

    Coverage: 14/25
    Recovery: 
    13/20
    Slot Performance: 
    11/20
    Tackling: 
    14/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    60/100

    The Packers' plan to get faster by using Jones as essentially a linebacker didn't go as hoped. The rookie was slow to react against the run, and underneath in coverage he was overwhelmed. His athleticism is appetizing, so he'll likely continue to get a chance to improve. He did have occasional splash plays, but his consistency was nowhere near where it needed to be.

                         

    46. Will Parks, Denver Broncos

    Coverage: 14/25
    Recovery: 
    12/20
    Slot Performance: 
    13/20
    Tackling: 
    13/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    60/100

    Parks ran hot and cold in 2017. Unfortunately, there was more cold than hot. Denver used Parks underneath as an extra coverage player to get its athletes on the field, but he couldn't stick with some of the tight ends he faced. For his size, the 6'1", 194-pounder's box play was admirable, though he did miss his fair share of tackles.

Nos. 45-41

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    Sean Gardner/Getty Images

    45. Vonn Bell, New Orleans Saints

    Coverage: 14/25
    Recovery: 
    11/20
    Slot Performance: 
    13/20
    Tackling: 
    15/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    61/100

    Bell was a solid tackler for the Saints, who used him primarily underneath and in the box. He only missed 12 percent of his attempts. As a run defender, however, he was passive and a step slow. That carried over to the passing game. He played more with Kenny Vaccaro's injury troubles, but Bell was not a good starter.

                 

    44. Johnathan Cyprien, Tennessee Titans

    Coverage: 13/25
    Recovery: 
    11/20
    Slot Performance: 
    14/20
    Tackling: 
    17/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    63/100

    The Titans brought Cyprien in as a free agent on a four-year, $25 million contract last offseason. He's fine around the line of scrimmage and against the run. The 27-year-old is a little out of control as a tackler but isn't a liability. However, he doesn't have much coverage value, which makes him tough to hide.

                    

    43. Matthias Farley, Indianapolis Colts

    Coverage: 15/25
    Recovery: 
    13/20
    Slot Performance: 
    13/20
    Tackling: 
    15/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    64/100

    Farley played hard, going full speed every play. He was aggressive against the run, whether he was blocked or not. The results weren't as kind in coverage, though, as the 25-year-old looked lost. He would either be fooled by route combinations or give too much ground on plays in front of him. His full-speed play also led to poor angles and tackling. When Malik Hooker returns from his knee injury in 2018, Farley should stay in the box.

                    

    42. Daniel Sorensen, Kansas City Chiefs

    Coverage: 19/25
    Recovery: 
    15/20
    Slot Performance: 
    13/20
    Tackling: 
    10/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    Sorensen, aka the Mormon Missile, had some splash plays most superstars don't have, whether they came on high-flying sacks by way of jumping over running backs or when picking off halfback passes. Sorensen was good in coverage coming downhill, but he lacked consistent tackling. He still filled in admirably for Eric Berry, who went down with a ruptured Achilles tendon in September.

                 

    41. Andrew Adams, New York Giants

    Coverage: 15/25
    Recovery: 
    12/20
    Slot Performance: 
    13/20
    Tackling: 
    18/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    66/100

    Adams filled in nicely for starter Landon Collins when called upon. He's more of a box safety who can make plays against the run. When you ask him to do too much in coverage, the 25-year-old can be exposed. Adams is a backup for a reason, but he did give the Giants quality snaps against the run. 

Nos. 40-36

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    40. Rafael Bush, New Orleans Saints

    Coverage: 16/25
    Recovery: 
    12/20
    Slot Performance: 
    14/20
    Tackling: 
    16/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    66/100

    The eighth-year safety filled in once injuries piled up, but still Bush only played 181 snaps in 2017, per Pro Football Reference. He was serviceable, though. The Saints trusted him in coverage underneath, and he only missed three tackles. He's likely best as a depth player.

               

    39. Adrian Phillips, Los Angeles Chargers

    Coverage: 18/25
    Recovery: 
    13/20
    Slot Performance: 
    13/20
    Tackling: 
    14/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    66/100

    The Chargers asked Phillips to essentially play linebacker in 2017. He got his chance when injuries struck, and he never looked back. He missed way too many tackles—almost a quarter of his attempts. That and his lack of ability to diagnose run plays hurt his team. However, Phillips provided great versatility in the passing game. He was a solid role player.

                  

    38. T.J. Green, Indianapolis Colts

    Coverage: 15/25
    Recovery: 
    13/20
    Slot Performance: 
    13/20
    Tackling: 
    17/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    66/100

    Green is a tantalizing athlete whom the Colts continue to try to find spots for. He was a corner in college, a free safety in 2016 and more of a box safety in 2017. The 22-year-old was unreliable in coverage, as he's still learning the ropes and would get caught in no-man's land. He showed good effort against the run but at times was physically outmatched.

                        

    37. T.J. Ward, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Coverage: 14/25
    Recovery: 
    12/20
    Slot Performance: 
    15/20
    Tackling: 
    18/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    67/100

    Ward was once known as an enforcer in the box. That role has greatly diminished, though. While he's still an excellent run defender, he's a liability in coverage. He's late to react more often than not and doesn't have the ability to consistently recover if he's beaten. Ward disappointed in 2017.

                              

    36. Eddie Pleasant, Houston Texans

    Coverage: 18/25
    Recovery: 
    13/20
    Slot Performance: 
    13/20
    Tackling: 
    15/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    67/100

    Pleasant played his role just fine, as the Texans didn't put a lot on his plate. The 29-year-old was primarily in the box and would guard runners out of the backfield. When he did have to cover a receiver down the field, there were instances where he'd let them run freely. It'll be telling to see if his role increases in 2018 as to whether the Texans feel like they have something in Pleasant.

Nos. 35-31

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    35. Miles Killebrew, Detroit Lions

    Coverage: 16/25
    Recovery: 
    13/20
    Slot Performance: 
    13/20
    Tackling: 
    17/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    67/100

    Killebrew played quite a bit in the Lions' dime looks. Mainly playing as a deep safety, there were times when he looked lost deep in coverage. He has obvious athleticism you can see in the way he runs. The Lions should play Killebrew in the box to maximize his strengths in 2018.

        

    34. Tavon Wilson, Detroit Lions

    Coverage: 17/25
    Recovery: 
    11/20
    Slot Performance: 
    16/20
    Tackling: 
    15/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    67/100

    Wilson is best suited playing near the line of scrimmage. He comes downhill aggressively against the run and has a better feel for the game there. When he gets further away from the line, things go downhill. Wilson lacks burst in coverage and can get grabby when asked to run. His playing style resembles that of a linebacker, but he's 212 pounds.

        

    33. Derrick Kindred, Cleveland Browns

    Coverage: 16/25
    Recovery: 
    14/20
    Slot Performance: 
    14/20
    Tackling: 
    15/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    67/100

    Kindred is an athlete. At times, he was out of control, but he more than held his own around the line of scrimmage. Kindred was good against screens, as his athleticism was on full display. He took away routes before they were thrown as well. On the other hand, he was prone to giving up big plays. That—and the fact he missed a tackle 21 percent of the time he had a chance—knocked his grade down.

        

    32. Marcus Gilchrist, Houston Texans

    Coverage: 19/25
    Recovery: 
    15/20
    Slot Performance: 
    13/20
    Tackling: 
    13/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    68/100

    Gilchrist fits what the Texans want to do: use versatile safeties who can do a little bit of everything. Gilchrist isn't the greatest getting sideline to sideline in run pursuit, but when he's coming straight downhill, he can make plays. He has enough speed to recover if beat and can match up in man coverage. As a single high safety, Gilchrist is a little hesitant and can get manipulated by quarterbacks. That's something he'll need to improve moving forward.

              

    31. Kenny Vaccaro, New Orleans Saints

    Coverage: 14/25
    Recovery: 
    11/20
    Slot Performance: 
    16/20
    Tackling: 
    20/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    69/100

    There may not have been a player more hot and cold than Vaccaro. The Saints moved him around, but before he landed on injured reserve, he primarily settled in the slot. He was good against the run—he played hard, beat blocks and made stops. When he had to cover receivers, it was an entirely different story—Vaccaro lacked the stop and start to stay with them. It's tough to hide someone who can't cover in the slot.

Nos. 30-26

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    30. Jahleel Addae, Los Angeles Chargers

    Coverage: 18/25
    Recovery: 
    14/20
    Slot Performance: 
    15/20
    Tackling: 
    14/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    69/100

    Addae was much improved in coverage from a year ago. Though he didn't have an interception, he posted a career-high seven passes defensed and made serious progress in man coverage. Addae was his aggressive self against the run. He was inconsistent, though. He missed way too many tackles, and some came at the most inopportune times. That said, Addae finally showed he can be a competent starter in the league.

        

    29. Barry Church, Jacksonville Jaguars

    Coverage: 18/25
    Recovery: 
    14/20
    Slot Performance: 
    14/20
    Tackling: 
    15/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    69/100

    Church added some much-needed versatility to the Jaguars secondary. He allowed everyone else to do more. He can get a little nosy and jump routes, leaving receivers open behind him. That said, he's guessed right his fair share as well. His biggest hiccup comes as a tackler. He missed 20 percent of the time when he had the opportunity.    

        

    28. Karl Joseph, Oakland Raiders

    Coverage: 20/25
    Recovery: 
    15/20
    Slot Performance: 
    14/20
    Tackling: 
    13/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    70/100

    Joseph was good the first part of the season. Against tougher competition, however, he didn't exactly raise his game. His angles in the running game were inconsistent as were his tackling skills. In coverage, he's good in the "robber" role, as he can take away routes over the middle. He also has the versatility to drop down in the slot and can be effective there as well.

        

    27. Mike Adams, Carolina Panthers

    Coverage: 18/25
    Recovery: 
    13/20
    Slot Performance: 
    14/20
    Tackling: 
    17/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    70/100

    Adams was a key part of the Panthers defense. Carolina used him all over the field. He was much improved in coverage, specifically underneath coverage. There were times when Adams lacked awareness and range, which hurt his grade. He had some big hits this year but lacked consistency as a tackler.

        

    26. Anthony Harris, Minnesota Vikings

    Coverage: 19/25
    Recovery: 
    14/20
    Slot Performance: 
    13/20
    Tackling: 
    17/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    71/100

    Harris is an ideal backup safety. He can play both deep and in the box and be competent. Depending on how you view him, you might remember him forcing or recovering a fumble—or you might remember him missing a tackle and letting the Browns score. He showed he can cover in limited action around the line of scrimmage as well. Harris played 197 snaps, per Pro Football Reference, so it was a limited sample size.

Nos. 25-21

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    25. Chris Conte, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Coverage: 19/25
    Recovery: 
    14/20
    Slot Performance: 
    12/20
    Tackling: 
    18/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    71/100

    Conte was surprisingly effective in coverage this year. He showed good awareness and was able to turn and run better than he had in recent years. Conte struggled against the run and was not a consistent tackler. He did improve from last year.

        

    24. Shawn Williams, Cincinnati Bengals

    Coverage: 18/25
    Recovery: 
    13/20
    Slot Performance: 
    16/20
    Tackling: 
    16/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    71/100

    Williams was a missile—sometimes hitting other players and sometimes the ground because they blocked him. He plays 100 mph and with a much-needed ferocity. He's best near the line of scrimmage, where he can come up and make splash hits against the run or the pass. He started 11 games for the Bengals and was clearly their next best option after George Iloka.

        

    23. Bradley McDougald, Seattle Seahawks

    Coverage: 17/25
    Recovery: 
    13/20
    Slot Performance: 
    14/20
    Tackling: 
    20/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    72/100

    McDougald was surprisingly effective stepping in for Kam Chancellor. He is the perfect spot starter. He wasn't the impact player Chancellor was, but he showed he was not out of his depth, keeping his missed tackles to single digits. In coverage, he played both deep and close to the line of scrimmage. His play took a step back when he was in space and had to deal with multiple routes, but the fact that McDougald was competent was a win for him.

        

    22. Morgan Burnett, Green Bay Packers

    Coverage: 17/25
    Recovery: 
    13/20
    Slot Performance: 
    14/20
    Tackling: 
    20/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    72/100

    Burnett had an interesting year. He didn't make a bunch of plays, yet he didn't cost his team too often, either. He only missed three tackles, but he wasn't an aggressive downhill run defender. You might remember he got beat against the Panthers for a touchdown. That was deep down the field; Green Bay has a "nitro package" in which he fits best—near the line of scrimmage.

        

    21. Eric Murray, Kansas City Chiefs

    Coverage: 19/25
    Recovery: 
    15/20
    Slot Performance: 
    13/20
    Tackling: 
    18/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    73/100

    Murray had a late-season high-ankle sprain that slowed him down a bit in December, but he showed plenty of promise in the games he played while healthy. He usually lined up in the slot in man coverage, and he excelled. He looked comfortable when matched up with bigger tight ends. He's undersized (5'11", 199 lbs), which showed up in his ability to play the run. Still, having a healthy Murray next year could be a weapon for the Chiefs.

Nos. 20-16

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    20. George Iloka, Cincinnati Bengals

    Coverage: 17/25
    Recovery: 
    14/20
    Slot Performance: 
    15/20
    Tackling: 
    19/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    73/100

    Iloka never took the next step like many thought he would a few years ago. He's still a fine player and has the athleticism and range to make plays deep. It's his awareness that is holding him back. Combination routes give him fits. As a run defender, he is a bit inconsistent. One snap, he will dart in and make a nice play at the line of scrimmage. The next, he'll get blocked and create a big running lane.

        

    19. Eddie Jackson, Chicago Bears

    Coverage: 20/25
    Recovery: 
    16/20
    Slot Performance: 
    13/20
    Tackling: 
    17/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    74/100

    It was an above-average rookie year for Jackson. Fully recovered from a leg injury, Jackson showed the cover skills many coaches covet in a safety. He has the athleticism to drop in the slot and be a nickel corner if need be and the recovery speed to undercut routes in man coverage. Jackson didn't take great angles in the running game, which took him out of some plays. He'll need to clean that up moving forward, but he has a promising future.

        

    18. Colin Jones, Carolina Panthers

    Coverage: 17/25
    Recovery: 
    14/20
    Slot Performance: 
    15/20
    Tackling: 
    20/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    74/100

    Jones only played 213 snaps in 2017, per Pro Football Reference, but when he was on the field, he was more than serviceable. Jones played in a nickel role and was also a dime linebacker. He looks a lot bigger than he is (6'0", 205 lbs). He plays bigger than he is, too. Jones showed good athleticism. He also only missed two tackles all year. Jones didn't make impact plays, but he did everything that was asked of him. Keep an eye on whether his role is increased next year.

        

    17. Landon Collins, New York Giants

    Coverage: 21/25
    Recovery: 
    16/20
    Slot Performance: 
    16/20
    Tackling: 
    14/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    75/100

    Collins had another great year in coverage. He is at his best flying up and laying the boom on receivers. Near the line of scrimmage, he was a bully in the running game as well. The reason Collins doesn't have a higher grade is because he missed way too many tackles for a player of his caliber. That's the main knock in an otherwise fine year for Collins.

        

    16. Reshad Jones, Miami Dolphins

    Coverage: 17/25
    Recovery: 
    13/20
    Slot Performance: 
    16/20
    Tackling: 
    21/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    75/100

    When you play in the box as often as Jones does, you better be a sure tackler. That he was in 2017. Jones was best when he could put his foot in the ground and get downhill to make a tackle. Side to side, he would overrun the play and take himself out of position here and there. Still, Jones was a stout run defender. He had issues in coverage, however, as talented tight ends got the best of him. On screens, he was impressive. Jones was easily Miami's best safety.    

Nos. 15-11

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    15. Tony Jefferson, Baltimore Ravens

    Coverage: 17/25
    Recovery: 
    14/20
    Slot Performance: 
    16/20
    Tackling: 
    20/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    75/100

    Jefferson was "steady Eddie" in 2017. The Ravens asked a lot out of him, and he answered. Jefferson is better the closer he is to the line of scrimmage. He's borderline great against the run and has no problem matching up in man coverage against tight ends, either. Jefferson only missed nine tackles all year. His biggest weakness is in coverage further down the field, as he gets lost here and there.

             

    14. Micah Hyde, Buffalo Bills

    Coverage: 21/25
    Recovery: 
    15/20
    Slot Performance: 
    14/20
    Tackling: 
    18/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    76/100

    Hyde was everything the Bills could've asked for at free safety. He finished with five interceptions, but that doesn't begin to explain how valuable he was in coverage. Buffalo asked him to guard tight ends in man coverage as well as play the deep center field role. Hyde wasn't the most aggressive safety against the run, but he got the job done and was quite the upgrade for the Bills.

        

    13. Malcolm Jenkins, Philadelphia Eagles

    Coverage: 19/25
    Recovery: 
    14/20
    Slot Performance: 
    17/20
    Tackling: 
    19/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    77/100

    Jenkins is such a tough player. He plays on the line of scrimmage and fights his butt off against the run. He also is a sound tackler. At his best, he gets physical in coverage and takes away underneath routes. The longer the play goes or the further downfield it is, the less value Jenkins has. He continues to be a force for the Eagles secondary, however, and judging by his play, that won't stop anytime soon.

        

    12. Tyvon Branch, Arizona Cardinals

    Coverage: 19/25
    Recovery: 
    13/20
    Slot Performance: 
    16/20
    Tackling: 
    21/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    77/100

    Branch can't stay healthy. He came down awkwardly against Seattle in Week 10 and was out for the rest of the season. To make matters worse, he gave up a touchdown on the play. Covering tight ends seemed to be Branch's lone issue in 2017. He got outmuscled, but even then, he was competent. As a run defender in the box, Branch was good. He also was a sure tackler.

        

    11. Budda Baker, Arizona Cardinals

    Coverage: 18/25
    Recovery: 
    15/20
    Slot Performance: 
    16/20
    Tackling: 
    20/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    77/100

    Baker didn't start until later in the season and it was evident how skilled he was. The rookie out of Washington is already one of the best run-defending safeties in football. You'd have no idea he's undersize (5'10", 195 lbs) based on the way he runs through bigger blockers. Best of all, he finishes. Baker can improve in coverage, as bigger tight ends gave him issues at times. But he didn't make the same mistake twice in a game. He has star potential.

10. Eric Reid, San Francisco 49ers

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    Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

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

    Eric Reid was good everywhere. The fact he still lost his starting spot tells you how good Jaquiski Tartt was. Reid excelled in the box. He was aggressive against the run and didn't miss too many tackles. He had no problem going out wide or playing in slot coverage, either. Look for the impending free agent to have a big impact for whoever he plays for.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Kyle Posey

            

    The 49ers asked Reid to play a host of roles in 2017—everything from "moneybacker" to deep safety—and he took every challenge with aplomb. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh had Reid at the line of scrimmage a lot, where he could blitz, shoot the gaps to stop the run or drop into curl/flat coverage based on the defense. He has become one of the NFL's more versatile safeties and would be a major asset for any team looking to expand its nickel and dime coverage looks. 

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

9. Jamal Adams, New York Jets

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    Al Pereira/Getty Images

    Coverage: 18/25
    Recovery: 
    16/20
    Slot Performance: 
    17/20
    Tackling: 
    20/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    79/100

    Jamal Adams showed why he was a top-10 selection in the 2017 draft. His main weaknesses were securing tackles and man coverage. When he did miss a tackle, it rarely hurt the defense, though. Adams has ridiculous range and makes plays he has no business making against the run. He's aggressive as well. The 22-year-old has a bright future and will more than likely develop into a playmaker.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Kyle Posey

                         

    Generally speaking, when you take a safety sixth overall and he doesn't have any interceptions in his rookie season, a team might think of that as a disappointment. But Adams' first year was a success beyond that one statistic and the need of ball-skill development it implies. The Jets asked him to stand up as a run defender a ton, which he did well. He also showed he could cover a lot of ground in space. The LSU product has every physical attribute for the position. More deflections and interceptions will come in time.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

8. Justin Simmons, Denver Broncos

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    Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    Coverage: 18/25
    Recovery: 
    16/20
    Slot Performance: 
    16/20
    Tackling: 
    21/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    79/100

    It was a strong year for Justin Simmons. Most notably, his ability to close and recover was impressive. The 24-year-old showed not only range, but also the ability to make open-field tackles. His awareness was impressive as well. Simmons more than held his own in a secondary that featured big-time talent by showing he can play anywhere on the field and succeed.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Kyle Posey

                   

    Simmons missed the final three games of his second NFL season with an ankle issue, but when he was on the field, he showed improving skills, especially in pass coverage. The Broncos used him as a single-high safety at times, which didn't always work well when he had to chase down running backs who made it through Denver's atypically weak interior defense. But in coverage from the deep third, and especially as a slot defender in man coverage, Simmons displayed all the skills you'd want from a moveable pass defender.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

7. Keanu Neal, Atlanta Falcons

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Coverage: 19/25
    Recovery: 
    15/20
    Slot Performance: 
    17/20
    Tackling: 
    20/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    79/100

    Keanu Neal continues to improve. The Falcons used him all over the place, and he didn't disappoint. He's an enforcer against the run. You won't find three better run defenders. Where Neal really progressed was in man coverage against tight ends, though. He could always make the big hit, but he's now reliable in coverage as well. Neal is on a fast track to be a top safety.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Kyle Posey

                                

    In his second NFL season, Neal continued to improve as a run defender, both at linebacker depth and at the line of scrimmage. He also got better as a pass defender all the way to the deep third. In addition, the 22-year-old is a fine slot defender against short and intermediate routes. Neal struggles at times when receivers run more angular routes—his recovery speed isn't always optimal—but he's an ideal strong safety in a defense that has clearly defined roles.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

6. Kam Chancellor, Seattle Seahawks

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    Getty Images/Getty Images

    Coverage: 20/25
    Recovery: 
    16/20
    Slot Performance: 
    17/20
    Tackling: 
    19/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    80/100

    Only getting to watch Kam Chancellor for nine games in a season didn't feel right. Before his neck injury, Chancellor was well on his way to another All-Pro campaign. He was his usual big-hitting self who shut down run plays, but he was also a big-time factor in the passing game. Let's hope Chancellor fully heals for 2018.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Kyle Posey

              

    Chancellor has played at an exemplary level for years despite (or, because of) a kamikaze playing style that has left him open to several injuries. If the 29-year-old has trouble coming back because of that injury history (and his own head coach, Pete Carroll, believes that'll be the case), Chancellor will be remembered as a great range player, one of the most ferocious hitters of his time and the shot-caller for one of the best defenses of the modern era.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

5. Lamarcus Joyner, Los Angeles Rams

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Coverage: 21/25
    Recovery: 
    16/20
    Slot Performance: 
    16/20
    Tackling: 
    19/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    80/100

    Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips transformed Lamarcus Joyner into a true playmaker. Instead of pigeonholing Joyner into a slot corner, Phillips moved him all around the defense—and it paid off. Joyner was one of the NFL's best cover safeties. He matched up with top receivers and didn't back down. His athleticism and tenacity will make him coveted now that he's a free agent.

    —NFL1000 defensive backs scout Kyle Posey

                

    A defined cornerback his first three years in the league, Joyner became a moveable safety and showed every attribute required for that change. He covered well both at the single-high level and in the slot, and he showed a real affinity for tackling at the end of a long run when catching up to a ball-carrier. Joyner's combination of quickness and field awareness make him special.

    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

4. Byron Jones, Dallas Cowboys

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Coverage: 21/25
    Recovery: 
    16/20
    Slot Performance: 
    15/20
    Tackling: 
    20/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    80/100

    Byron Jones may not have the stats to match some bigger-name players, but he is an obvious talent. Jones can stick with just about anyone in man coverage, and the Cowboys use him in a variety of ways, from deep safety to a blitzer off the edge. Jones has no issue mixing it up against the run and was a consistent tackler. His cover skills make him a much-needed weapon for Dallas.

    —NFL1000 defensive backs scout Kyle Posey

                

    Though Jones was outstanding in coverage, he struggled against the run when he overshot his assignment and had to recover quickly. His speed serves him better in coverage, and Jones is best when he's taking on more free than strong safety responsibilities.

    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

3. Jaquiski Tartt, San Francisco 49ers

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    Michael Zagaris/Getty Images

    Coverage: 21/25
    Recovery: 
    15/20
    Slot Performance: 
    16/20
    Tackling: 
    21/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    81/100

    Jaquiski Tartt is a player. It's a shame he only played nine games. When Tartt was stationed in the box, he could avoid blockers or bob and weave through traffic to make stops near the line of scrimmage. He was most impressive in coverage and didn't struggle against anyone he faced. He also flashed the recovery skills of a corner. Tartt will only get better the more he plays. If you're a football fan, you should want him healthy.

    —NFL1000 defensive backs scout Kyle Posey

               

    Tartt missed nearly half the season with a broken forearm, but when he was in the lineup, he was a valuable part of the 49ers defense. He had the range to transition from intermediate to deep coverage, and he was strong enough to face up against the run. The third-year man from Samford is still getting his advanced coverage techniques together, but he's got all the range you'd want in a versatile safety.

    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

2. Patrick Chung, New England Patriots

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Coverage: 21/25
    Recovery: 
    16/20
    Slot Performance: 
    17/20
    Tackling: 
    20/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    82/100

    Patrick Chung is an impressive player. He mainly plays in the box, but that doesn't mean the Patriots ask him to do much. He'll play head up on tight ends; he'll play over slot receivers; he'll play man; he'll play zone. He was most impressive in coverage but held up nicely against the run, too. Chung was also a consistent tackler. He made some impressive open-field tackles throughout the year. He is one of the most reliable box safeties in the league.

    —NFL1000 defensive backs scout Kyle Posey

                

    In Bill Belichick's defense, Chung is responsible for curl/flat coverage to his side. He'll also take slot receivers up the seam at times, and he can play the "robber" role across the middle of the defense. Though he plays at linebacker depth frequently, don't think of him as a traditional box safety—Chung's roles more accurately mirror what Mark Barron does for the Rams or what Deone Bucannon does for the Cardinals; they start in the middle of the defense and can flare out in multiple directions. It's a tough set of roles Chung has learned to handle incredibly well.

    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

1. Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings

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    Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press

    Coverage: 23/25
    Recovery: 
    17/20
    Slot Performance: 
    18/20
    Tackling: 
    21/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    87/100

    Harrison Smith is the best safety in football, and I'm not sure it's close. He can play near the line of scrimmage and disrupt the running game. He can drop back deep and bait your quarterback into a bad decision. He can also play in the slot and erase your tight end or slot receiver. Smith excels at every facet of the game. He's a special player and a game-changer for the Vikings.

    —NFL1000 defensive backs scout Kyle Posey

              

    The word that comes up when you talk about Smith is "awareness"—that next-level sense of what's happening on the field certain players have. It's what allows him to improvise as much as he does in Mike Zimmer's execution-based defense—the coaches know Smith is going to be in the right place at the right time more often than not. He has the range to play more of a free safety role, but if he did that, the Vikings would miss out on his outstanding intermediate coverage and his ability to stop the run at the line of scrimmage. 

    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

        

    All missed tackle numbers provided by Football Outsiders.