Due to the nature of their position, it is only fitting that we end our three year grading series with the last line of defense; the safeties.
I can already hear people dismissing our number one choice (many of whom probably haven’t seen him play), but in our gradings playing safety is more than just about making the highlight reel. It’s about what you’ve done on the field over the last three years.
Some guys can blame particularly bad years for their omissions from this list. Players like Adrian Wilson are coming off bad years by their own standards (Wilson played hurt admirably but we don’t take into account level of injury when grading), while someone like Dawan Landry had a shocker of a comeback year in 2009 that pushed him down the rankings.
In any case, let’s get down to criteria. Needed for consideration: two thirds of the average number of snaps managed by the five guys who played the most; which is 2,283 total snaps.
1. Quintin Mikell, Philadelphia Eagles
It should be noted that Mikell played a significantly higher number of snaps than the two guys below him, which is what ultimately what made him my number one safety. With that being said, Mikell is constantly one of the most underrated players in the league. People who haven’t watched him just don’t realize how good of a player he is because he doesn’t usually end up on many highlight reels. Not only did Mikell finish atop our safety rankings in 2008 and 2010, but he makes plays in coverage and regularly comes up to help defend against the run. What more could you ask for from a safety?
2. Ed Reed, Baltimore Ravens
Reed is more than just a playmaker; he’s a safety that you have to account for any time you want to throw the deep ball. His range is unparalleled and it shows, as quarterbacks keep thinking they can test the grizzled veteran deep. The result? If he doesn’t pick it off, he’s likely going to bat it away or make the tackle. Only a few injuries (that meant he’s played nearly 600 snaps less than Mikell) robbed him of the top spot. He is by far and away the top pure free safety in the league.
3. Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers
Mirroring Reed, Polamalu missed out on a higher grade because he’s played over 1000 less snaps than Mikell over the past three years (including playoffs). If anything, this shows you the concerns of having a physical safety and how they are easily worn down. Still, when he’s been on the field he’s consistently placed at the top of our rankings. Polamalu rivals Reed as the most natural playmaker at the safety position, albeit in different ways. Regardless, the former USC Trojan is one of the most dynamic defensive players in the NFL.
4. Kerry Rhodes, Arizona Cardinals
If Mikell is underrated then Rhodes is over criticized. Quite obviously not a Rex Ryan type of player, it should be noted that Rhodes was an extremely productive player for the Jets. Rhodes gave up just one touchdown in his final two years in New York, rarely missed tackles and was always in the right spot to prevent something from going wrong. Although his impact plays shot up when he moved to Arizona, he made a number of uncharacteristically poor plays. With that being said, he is still one of the best safeties in coverage.
5. Eric Weddle, San Diego Chargers
Perhaps I did Weddle a disservice in my 51 top free agents article. Essentially, Weddle is that kind of complete safety who has good range in coverage, can man up with receivers and tight ends in the slot and isn’t afraid to come down to support the run and take on a full back (or even a lineman). He’s solid at everything he does, and is a guy you can count on to make plays. Whatever team lands him will get a very good player who is in the prime of his career.
6. Nick Collins, Green Bay Packers
It’s easy to forget about Nick Collins. The Packers defense has some big names on it (Woodson, Matthews and Raji to name a few), but Collins has been as consistent as any of them. Has had a positive grade for each of the last three years with finishes of sixth (2008), fourth (2009) and 13th (2010) to earn this spot.
7. Yeremiah Bell, Miami Dolphins
Bell isn’t the flashiest of safeties, but you know what you’re going to get from him. A strong safety who will come crashing down into the box and help out, Bell is one of the surest tacklers at the safety position (this year was something of an aberration) and is also a handy blitzer when given the chance. Overall solid player.
8. Jim Leonhard, New York Jets
One of Rex’s guys, Leonhard is an underrated player who has proven extremely capable as a deep safety. Has great positional awareness that rarely sees him caught out of position and seems to have gotten better with more playing time. Was having a tricky year before injury cut it short after an excellent 2009.
9. Ryan Clark, Pittsburgh Steelers
The ‘other’ Steelers safety is the steadying force behind the controlled fury that is Troy Polamalu. The kind of safety who when called upon can step up and deflect a pass, Clark has always graded positively in coverage. Though his play in the playoffs leaves a little to be desired Clark is still a solid safety.
10. Brodney Pool, New York Jets
In retrospect, Pool should have made my top 51 free agent list as he always plays well when he’s on the field. Another safety you can leave in coverage, Pool is more than capable of making the big play and should prove an astute pick up for a team in need of a safety. He’s also coming off the back of his two best years as a pro.