Ranking the Free Agents: Safeties

| March 6, 2011

Easily the best position group for free agents, this list includes eight of our top 15 safeties in 2010. Teams in the market for safety help will have plenty of opportunity to land an impact player if they are willing to cough up enough cash.

Some big-names (like O.J. Atogwe and Bob Sanders) were released and have already signed to new teams while the players listed here sit and wait for the CBA talks to conclude. These scheduled free agents undoubtedly took notice of those deals and, as the process unfolds, will be watching each other as well. Expect some cat-and-mouse until the first signed contract sets the bar, so the others can build their cases using it as support. 

Some of the safeties here are cover men first, while others make their mark against the run … and some do both exceptionally well. You want a leader for your young group, or are you looking to add youth? Want a safety that dominates in the box or a rangy deep cover guy? How about one that can double as a kick returner? Name your need, we’ve got your answer – but don’t forget your wallet, these are some of the best in the league and they won’t come cheap.

1. Quintin Mikell, Philadelphia Eagles

Age as of September 1st, 2011: 30

2010 Grade: +17.6

Key Stat: PFF’s top-rated safety in 2010, he broke-up or intercepted 14 passes and earned 33 “stops”.

Behind the numbers: The oldest guy on this list is at #1? Yes, his age has to be considered, but the performance he turned in this season trumps all else. Mikell was equally impressive as a run defender and as a cover man, leading our grading in both departments. With most safeties clearly stronger in one area or the other, Mikell stands out as a legit all-around talent and his eight seasons of experience position him well as a mentor if surrounded by youth. Because of his age, he won’t get the long deal that some others on this list will, but he’ll find a suitor happily willing to pay him handsomely to solidify their secondary.   

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2a. Michael Huff, Oakland Raiders

Age as of September 1st, 2011: 28

2010 Grade: +13.9

Key Stat: Huff finished with the 3rd best cumulative coverage grade and was among the best blitzing safeties as well.

Behind the numbers: Plugged into a more comfortable spot than in his previous stint playing closer to the line, Huff has settled in to the deep job in the Raiders’ single-high look and had his best season to date. Among the league’s best pure cover safeties, he’s skilled enough to slide up and bump when needed – he went head-up with receivers on more than 100 snaps this season, including some time spent covering for Nnamdi Asomugha’s injury. To top it off, he displayed his nose for the QB with four sacks and seven other disruptions in 29 blitz opportunities.

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2b. Eric Weddle, San Diego Chargers

Age as of September 1st, 2011: 26

2010 Grade: +12.6

Key Stat: Weddle’s Run D grade jumped from +0.9 in 2009 to +8.0 in 2010, third best among safeties.

Behind the numbers: As the “2b” to Huff’s “2a”, Weddle represents the other side of free safety play. He had an excellent 2010 overall, but is unique in this position in that he makes more plays against the run than on balls in the air. Entering the league as a strong safety after the Chargers traded up to get him, Weddle is proven at either spot. His tough presence and leadership skills are assets that any team would be lucky to add. He has matured, his game has evolved, and he’s still on the way up.

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4. Dawan Landry, Baltimore Ravens

Age as of September 1st, 2011: 28

2010 Grade: +11.9

Key Stat: Collected over 100 total tackles, with 35 of them qualifying as stops.

Behind the numbers: Following the scary spinal injury that ended his season in Week 2 of 2008, Landry took a while to get up to speed in 2009. But, from the mid-way point that year all the way through the 2010 season, Landry has been back in his stride as one of the NFL’s best run defenders from the strong safety position. With his years put in as “the guy next to Ed Reed”, Landry heads to free agency again, this time unrestricted and set to exit Baltimore.

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5. Danieal Manning, Chicago Bears

Age as of September 1st, 2011: 29

2010 Grade: +8.7

Key Stat: In 636 snaps in coverage, allowed only 24 receptions and just 9.5 yards per catch.

Behind the numbers: Manning will be looking for the payday he was unable to secure with the Bears last season and his versatility should help him find it. His strength is in coverage: able to play up, drop back, or bounce over and cover the slot, he has demonstrated the many ways he can help a squad. Not to forget, he’s also been a standout kick returner, which sets him apart when compared to the rest of this list.

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6. Brodney Pool, New York Jets

Age as of September 1st, 2011: 27

2010 Grade: +6.3

Key Stat: Allowed only 16 receptions into his coverage and finished with the 4th best cover grade among safeties (+7.1.)

Behind the numbers: On a one year contract with the Jets, Pool turned in a strong 2010. By playing nearly the entire season (missing Week 1 with an bad ankle), he hopefully answered questions about him being a concussion-related injury risk. Up and down for much of the season, Pool finished on a high note with a pair of solid playoff games against New England and Pittsburgh.

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7. Gerald Sensabaugh, Dallas Cowboys

Age as of September 1st, 2011: 28

2010 Grade: +7.4

Key Stat: Five interceptions tied him for third place behind Reed and Polamalu.

Behind the numbers: Sensabaugh fared better in his two seasons as a Cowboy than in his final season in Jacksonville, but his record in Dallas is devoid of sensational performances. At best, a steady starting defender, at worst, a capable reserve, Sensabaugh was above average across the board in 2010 but wasn’t outstanding in any one area – though it should be noted that he collected interceptions in four of the last six games of the season.

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8. Roman Harper, New Orleans Saints

Age as of September 1st, 2011: 28

2010 Grade: +0.7

Key Stat: His 41 “stops” were tied for the top spot in that category among safeties.

Behind the numbers: Harper has to hope that most teams that are safety shopping missed his performance in the Saints’ Wild Card loss to Seattle – he had a rough afternoon, primarily by failing to corral John Carlson. In the past two seasons, Harper’s game has shifted and he’s become another strong safety that plays better football around the line of scrimmage than when back in coverage. When selling himself as free agent, his 41 stops and 17 QB disruptions should make teams take notice.

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9. Husain Abdullah, Minnesota Vikings

Age as of September 1st, 2011: 26

2010 Grade: +4.5

Key Stat: Abdullah played every defensive snap in 12 of 15 games.

Behind the numbers: In his first season as a starter in Minnesota, Abdullah showed himself to be a decent player against the run, but was far from consistent in coverage. Still young and moldable, he could draw interest from teams that feel they can build him into the player they need, but by placing a second round tender on him, the Vikings are expecting to bring the three-year pro back.

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10. Donte Whitner, Buffalo Bills

Age as of September 1st, 2011: 26

2010 Grade: -3.4

Key Stat: Led all safeties with 130 total tackles.

Behind the numbers: Whitner has left some Bills fans frustrated – so much was invested in him as the 8th pick in the 2006 draft and he has yet to blossom into a defensive backfield force. He did rack up over 100 tackles for the second time in his five year career, but, largely due to a rough start to the season and questionable coverage skills, he finished 2010 on the wrong side of zero in our overall grades. Whitner has youth on his side and perhaps a change of venue would be the key for a break out.

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