Top 10 safeties about to hit free agency

Eric Weddle tops Pro Football Focus' list of the top safeties about to hit free agency. See who rounds out the list.

| 9 months ago
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Top 10 safeties about to hit free agency


With many teams hoping to sure up their secondary this offseason, the safety position is near the top of many franchise offseason needs lists.

Below are PFF’s top safety free agents entering the NFL offseason.

(Editor’s note: This list was updated on March 7, 2016.)

1. Eric Weddle

2015 team: San Diego Chargers

The class of the safety position for some time now in the NFL, Weddle is hitting the free agent market later than I’m sure he’d like. In 2014, he was PFF’s No. 1 ranked safety, but this past season’s injuries limited him to only 769 snaps, and he fell to our 12th-highest graded safety. His relationship also soured with the Chargers, so that makes Weddle the most talented safety to likely be readily available on the open market. There is no doubt, though, that Weddle can still cover with the best of them at 31 years old. His lowest coverage grade in his career is +3.5 (0.0 is average)—and that came back in 2010.

2. George Iloka

2015 team: Cincinnati Bengals

A three-year starter for the Bengals, the former fifth-round pick is one of the most complete safeties hitting free agency this offseason. His run defense grade over the last two seasons is +4.7, while his coverage grade over the same span is +7.2. Iloka has the size (6-foot-4-inches, 225 pounds) that some teams will covet to match up with tight ends, even if he wasn’t used often in that role in Cincinnati.

3. Reggie Nelson

2015 team: Cincinnati Bengals

The other half of one of the best safety duos in football last season, Nelson was certainly the more talented player in coverage. At 32 years old, though, how long will he maintain that ability? Over the past five seasons, Nelson has a +33.1 coverage grade, and is coming off the second-highest graded season of his career. The Bengals played a lot of split safety looks, and Nelson is better suited for a deep safety role.

4. Rodney McLeod

2015 team: St. Louis Rams

A three-year starter that has seen his grades versus the run and pass improve every single year. Finished 2015 as our 10th-highest-graded safety. McLeod is perfect for the role of deep safety, where he spent over 90 percent of his snaps a year ago.

5. Tashaun Gipson

2015 team: Cleveland Browns

The big question here is which Gipson are you getting? The 2014 version that was one of the best free safeties in the NFL and had a top-10 coverage grade, or the 2015 version that was all too often out of position and had a bottom 10 coverage grade. The truth is, probably somewhere in between, as the entire Browns’ defense was in shambles last season. At only 25 years of age, Gipson’s asking price may not be worth that risk.

6. Husain Abdullah

2015 team: Kansas City Chiefs

The first of a few players on this list that have excelled as rotational safeties. Abdullah took over as a full time starter for the Chiefs in 2014 after having only 1,884 snaps to his name in six seasons, only to then transition back to part-time in 2015. Over the past two seasons, though, his +12.0 coverage grade is among the best in the NFL. Abdullah was utilized a majority of the time in the box, and even has some experience in a dime linebacker role.

7. Walter Thurmond

2015 team: Philadelphia Eagles

Thurmond was a wild card heading into 2015, as he moved from cornerback to safety in Philadelphia. The results were a revelation for Philly’s defense, as Thurmond finished as our 18th-highest graded safety. His ability to cover the slot will be very attractive to teams that ask a lot out of their safeties. At 28 years old, Thurmond could be one of the best value signings of this year’s free agent crop.

8. David Bruton

2015 team: Denver Broncos

What team is finally going to give Bruton a shot to start in the NFL? In a rotational role over the course of his career, he has put up a +9.1 coverage grade in 1,474 snaps over seven seasons. In the NFL, if you’re not a high draft pick and you’re not starting by the end of your rookie contract, usually it is impossible for you to shake the “backup” label. Bruton should certainly be given a chance to, though, next season.

9. Tyvon Branch

2015 team: Kansas City Chiefs

Branch falls down a bit on this list due to the fact that he hasn’t been a full-time starter since 2012. Branch may not be a lockdown cover guy, but he is one of the most physical safeties in the NFL. He was one of the most feared blitzing safeties back in his days with Oakland, and has a +20.2 combined run and pass-rush grade for his career. His size (6-foot, 210 pounds) might not suggest it, but Branch is best suited for a box role.

10. Dwight Lowery

2015 team: Indianapolis Colts

A journeyman safety that has consistently produced above average play in every stop of his career. At 30 years old, Lowery is coming off of the lowest graded season of his career, but I wouldn’t expect his production to all of a sudden fall of a cliff just yet. If you are a team desperate for competent play at the safety position for cheap, this is your man.

| Senior Analyst

Mike is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has also been featured on The Washington Post, ESPN Insider, and 120 Sports.

  • Darnell

    I think Mark Barron could be an underrated and cheap addition to play something similar to the Deone Buchanan role.

    • ElwayIsGod7

      No one wants that updyke. All bammers are worthless after college since NFL teams test for steroids.

      • Darnell

        Wrong.

        See: Gump. F; Alexander, S; Mathis, E.

        Though if you think the majority of pro and college players aren’t on PEDs I’ve got a bridge to sell you. Do we really want to see football where the players aren’t juiced anyway? This is too entertaining.

  • Mike J.

    This is not a bad crop–if they all make to free agency

  • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

    bruton can still fly, is great great person, and a leader. #steal

    • Tom from Myspace.

      Great guy off the field and a good special teams player. But he’s got some issues in coverage with stiff hips when trying to adjust and turn in tight coverage.

      • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

        yea, furshur, size helps him compensate for his lack of fluidity. all about crafting a role for him in one’s scheme.

  • 510 Sports

    No Rodney McLeod?

    • Mike Renner

      Didn’t include RFAs in this

      • Tim Edell

        McLeod is unrestricted??

  • Alejandro Balmaceda

    Can not stand how the Chargers have mistreated Weddle. After everything he has done for them and how much of the fans love having him on the team.

    • MachoMenos

      Yeah. Gave him $40 million dollars of disrespect. Those bastards. Sorry, but his agent was the one who started all this crap last year when there was still a full year on Weddle’s contract. Have absolutely no problem with how the Chargers handled it.

    • joxter gheea

      Can’t stand how Weddle has mistreated the Chargers….after all the Bolts have done for him…then he watches his daughter’s game at half-time instead of being with the team….it started in preseason when he held out even though he was one of the highest paid millionaires (thanks Chargers) in the league. Always 2 sides of the story.

      • joxter gheea

        oh yeah, he held out (bad example to the team as a “leader”) even though he was under contract.

  • seenable

    Isa Abdul-Quddus?

  • Jeff Bruder

    Tomlin LOVES Weddle. Wonder if there’s any interest there from Pittsburgh’s side.

  • Joseph

    Weddle you have mentioned 12th rated safety but in your overall safeties ranked for season you guys released, hes ranked 31st?….

  • Mattia Rizzo

    This is a juicy FA class really, Abdullah is underappreciated.

    • cka2nd

      I liked him when he played for the Vikings and think he’d make a nice, inexpensive rotational piece for them and mentor for the their young safeties.

  • AL DAVIS 4EVER

    Raider Nation on he rise here we come!!