The list of top safeties in the NFL heading into 2021 is as versatile as the position itself. Assignments for safeties in the National Football League vary greatly, and ranking the apex of the craft will come down to how good the individual is at what they’re asked to do. However, there still must be a premium on coverage in today’s NFL.
Top 25 safeties in the NFL for the 2021 season | 25-16
Center fielders, box thumpers, and everything in between — who are the most skilled safeties in the NFL?
25. Antoine Winfield Jr., Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In Super Bowl LV, Winfield used Tyreek Hill’s own “peace sign” taunt against him. Hill flashed the sign during the Chiefs’ November victory over the Buccaneers while scampering in for a touchdown. Winfield held onto that moment until their eventual rematch. That’s the type of petty I like in a defensive back.
His coverage statistics weren’t exceptional by any means. However, his tape displays a player with game-breaking potential going forward. When he plays downhill, he’s a difference-maker.
24. Tracy Walker, Detroit Lions
Walker’s aesthetic is that of a cornerback. His frame is lean, and he spends a lot of time aligning in the slot and in the box, matching up against tight ends and slot receivers. He possesses fluid transition skills and good explosiveness to remain sticky in coverage. Additionally, this is a contract year for the safety, which often brings a bump in production.
2020 was ugly for the Detroit Lions, and Walker was not immune to punishment from opponents. Still, his overall game deserves a spot on the list.
23. Quandre Diggs, Seattle Seahawks
Diggs looks a bit like Winfield’s brother on the field, standing at 5-foot-9 with platform shoes on. He’s one of my favorite safeties heading into 2021 for that reason. These shorter gentlemen play bigger. As Earl Thomas used to do, Diggs plays the traditional free safety role in the Seahawks’ Cover 3 scheme. He’s a playmaker at the catch point, securing interceptions and driving downhill to dislodge passes.
22. Jimmie Ward, San Francisco 49ers
Ward has never received the praise he deserves for his high level of play. Ward’s role expanded as the 49ers’ defense evolved from a Cover 3-heavy scheme to a more multiple defense on the back end. He played a more prominent role in the slot and in the box last season, but his play never dipped. This is why he’s one of the top safeties heading into 2021.
21. Jordan Poyer, Buffalo Bills
Poyer, along with teammate Micah Hyde, makes for an incredible duo. He does it all on the field. Poyer and Hyde are both in the free safety mold but work well around the line of scrimmage. Until they crest the cliff of age, they’ll make for two of the top safeties in the league.
20. Justin Reid, Houston Texans
Reid was blossoming into one of the best safeties in the game, and then the Houston Texans turned into a dumpster fire. Reid didn’t play to the level we’ve come to expect from him in 2020. Still, 2021 is a contract year for Reid, so expect a significant comeback.
19. Darnell Savage, Green Bay Packers
Savage appeared at No. 22 on this list after his rookie season, and his play could result in a steady rise in the rankings over the next few seasons. What makes him one of the top safeties is his prowess in man coverage. His ability to dart horizontally with explosive shuffles while remaining patient in off coverage makes him consistently sticky on east-and-west-breaking routes.
18. Devin McCourty, New England Patriots
McCourty has been one of the top safeties in the NFL since I graduated from high school. Based on play alone, he deserves to be much higher on this list. Yet, he’s no spring chicken, and this is a list heading into 2021. At some point, his advanced age has to slow him down. Right?
17. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, New Orleans Saints
Is Gardner-Johnson really a safety? Maybe, maybe not. But there are reps on tape of him in a safety-like alignment, and that’s enough for me to add him to this list. He also plays like a safety, coming downhill to plug the C gap and take on lead-blocking interior offensive linemen and H-backs. Add on his high-energy play style and ability to cover from the slot, and you’re looking at an exceptionally well-rounded defensive back.
16. Micah Hyde, Buffalo Bills
Hyde puts on many hats in the Bills’ defensive scheme. The tandem of Poyer and Hyde makes for what is arguably the best safety duo in the league. They play so congruently together that they’re practically one being at this point. Hyde’s always been slightly higher on the list of accolades and production from the safety spot than his teammate. What makes them such a pair is their versatility. Hyde plays well on the back end and in the box.