2015 Top Free Agents: Safeties
You’ve surely had a flip through the PFF Free Agent Tracker by this point, so this set of articles will build nicely on what you’ve already seen. This, our yearly effort to sort the top free agent options at each position, will present a position a day and offer a Top-10 of what’s available.
It’s more than just looking at our grades, but factoring in longevity, age, injuries and so much more in order to tell you who we think are the best gets out there.
The last of the Top-10’s, this look at the best available safeties:
1. Devin McCourty – Re-signed with New England
2014 Grade: +16.9
2014 Snaps: 1196
Topping our list is McCourty, who made a seamless transition from corner (where he graded at +11.7 overall in his rookie season) to deep safety. He’s shown exceptional coverage ability, grading above +10.0 there in each of the last three seasons and ranking at or near the top among his peers.
It looks unlikely that McCourty will hit the open market after a season in which he got his hands on seven passes (three interceptions) and finished with an excellent playoff run (+5.5). In the event that he makes it to free agency, though, there should be plenty of action for one of the league’s best and most versatile safeties who also provides positive play in support and will be 28 years old at the start of the 2015 season.
2. Rahim Moore – Signed with Houston
2014 Grade: +2.4
2014 Snaps: 1150
After an injury-shortened 2013, Moore bounced back to grade positively in coverage last season. Only two safeties bested his five interceptions and he had among the lowest Yards per Cover Snap at the position (0.25). Run defense is a question mark, as he graded at -3.3 there in 2014, with missed tackles one of the main issues. However, he’s shown ability defending the run before, as his 2012 season indicates, and considering his age (25, the youngest player on this list), Moore should still be one of the most coveted defensive backs once free agency starts.
3. Da’Norris Searcy – Signed with Tennessee
2014 Grade: +8.6
2014 Snaps: 666
The former fourth-rounder is hitting free agency after finishing 2014 with a career-best +8.6 overall grade. Most of that came in run defense, where he compiled 15 defensive stops (17 total) and was particularly adept lining up near the line of scrimmage, finishing with one of the highest Run Stop Percentages (13.2%). Opposing passers also finished with a meager 21.6 QB rating on 19 passes into his coverage. As his target numbers and snap count indicate, Searcy hasn’t seen the same workload as other players on this list and it will be interesting to see whether he can maintain this level over a greater number of snaps.
4. Mike C. Adams – Re-signed with Indianapolis
2014 Grade: +9.0
2014 Snaps: 1246
At 34 when the 2015 season starts, age is working against Adams, who is also coming off of his best season in the PFF era after playing on a one-year contract in Indianapolis. He graded at +9.7 in coverage, playing primarily from a deep safety position, intercepting five passes and defensing another four. Unfortunately, he ended the season poorly with three missed tackles and a -3.3 grade in the AFC Championship, but otherwise enjoyed a solid season following a pair of somewhat average years in Denver. Adams looks like a good choice for teams wanting cheap, short-term help on the back end.
5. Dawan Landry
2014 Grade: +10.9
2014 Snaps: 970
Another player entering free agency after one of his best seasons, Landry graded well both in coverage and against the run with a notable 24 defensive stops versus just three missed tackles. As with Adams, age and mileage are potential negatives; he’s 32 years old and has averaged more than 1000 snaps in seven of the last eight seasons. As evidenced by his 2014 play – particularly in Week 15 against Tennessee – Landry definitely still has something to offer, though teams might be weary given his very average career outside of a +17.5 overall grade in 2010.
6. Nate Allen – Signed with Oakland
2014 Grade: +3.9
2014 Snaps: 1121
Allen improved in each of the last two seasons following a -13.0 graded 2012. Last season he graded positively in both run defense and coverage while playing primarily as a deep safety, though he also saw snaps near the line of scrimmage and in the slot. Got his hands on six passes in 2014, including four interceptions, which matched his PD total over the previous two seasons. That improvement will likely be a focal point for teams and along with his age (27) may suggest that he still has a chance to reach his potential that saw him picked in the second round in 2010.
7. Dwight Lowery
2014 Grade: +1.1
2014 Snaps: 1050
Concussions limited him to just three games in 2013, but Lowery came back to play more than 1000 snaps in 2014, grading positively in run defense and negatively in coverage after an inconsistent season against the pass. Given that he graded positively overall and in coverage in every season prior to 2013, his 2014 numbers appear to be an aberration, not helped by an extremely limited pass rush in Atlanta. His injury history might limit the interest on the open market, but when healthy there’s no question that Lowery can provide solid, though unspectacular, coverage play.
8. Kendrick Lewis – Signed with Baltimore
2014 Grade: +1.6
2014 Snaps: 1097
Lewis started his career with two positive seasons after being drafted by the Chiefs in the fifth round in 2010, grading at +7.1 overall and getting his hands on 16 passes (six interceptions). However, he saw a steep drop in production in 2012 and 2013, in part due to 22 missed tackles over that span. He turned it around last season after joining the Texans, immediately taking a starting job and compiling 14 defensive stops while playing over 1000 snaps. Coverage was an issue after a +4.5 start, though as his first two seasons indicate, he’s shown capability there. Whether he can regain that early-2014 and early-career form will be a question as free agency starts.
9. Louis Delmas – Re-signed with Miami
2014 Grade: -0.2
2014 Snaps: 844
Making his third straight appearance on this list, Delmas caught an unlucky break tearing his ACL in Week 14. He was fairly inconsistent to that point playing on a one-year deal in Miami, with a handful of effective games where he excelled in both facets, including against Oakland and Buffalo. Conversely, he struggled in other games, including Weeks 3 and 12. His career has been interesting with very good rookie and second years in both run defense and as a limited blitzer, whereas he’s graded better in coverage in more recent seasons, including a +5.4 mark in 2013, which ranked 12th at the position.
The late injury will likely translate to limited interest until closer to training camp, but Delmas could be a solid addition after allowing just 6.8 yards per reception in coverage last season to go with 24 defensive stops.
10. Tyvon Branch – Signed with Kansas City
2014 Grade: +0.9
2014 Snaps: 195
Released by the Raiders after playing just 261 snaps over the past two seasons, Branch makes the 10th spot on our list. When healthy, he’s been around average in coverage and at his best playing close to the line of scrimmage against the run. That trend continued even in his limited snaps as he graded positively against the run in both 2013 and 2014.
His best work came in 2011, when he finished second at the position in run defense with a +9.6 grade and a massive 32 defensive stops. Provided he can stay healthy, Branch should still be a compelling, 28-year-old option for teams looking to bolster their run defense in the secondary.
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