Today’s NFL has a wealth of young players at this position, and ranking the top 25 safeties heading into the 2020 season was a challenge. The safety position used to be one that was somewhat overlooked. But that is quickly changing in today’s NFL. With quarterbacks attacking the middle of the field so regularly and efficiently and offenses now being littered with top receiving options at running back and tight end, defenses have needed to respond.
Deep middle centerfielder types are still highly coveted, mostly because defenses want to play more man coverage and need some sort of security blanket over the top for insurance. But we are seeing an influx of versatile middle-of-the-field defenders that can run, cover, play near the line of scrimmage in somewhat of a “Positionless football” concept. As usual, rookies are not included in these rankings.
The top 25 safeties in the NFL
25. Adrian Amos, Green Bay Packers
It came down to Amos and Quandre Diggs for the final spot on this list. Amos was a little more effective with Chicago before signing with the divisional rival Packerrs, but that isn’t to say that Green Bay is unhappy with their investment. Amos is certainly more of a strong safety than free, but he also does a fine job well away from the line of scrimmage.
24. Malcolm Jenkins, New Orleans Saints
Jenkins isn’t the player he used to be, or Philadelphia wouldn’t have been so willing to move on from him this offseason. Now he returns to New Orleans. That being said, Jenkins has had a very good career and was ahead of his time in terms of versatility. Remember, he was a middle first-round pick as a cornerback coming out of Ohio State in the 2009 draft.
23. Tre Boston, Carolina Panthers
Boston is somewhat of a finesse safety that doesn’t contribute all that much against the run. But Boston does cover a lot of ground and excels in coverage. He isn’t used much near the line of scrimmage and isn’t nearly as versatile as some safeties on this list. But what he does, he does well.
22. Darnell Savage, Green Bay Packers
Savage is very young, has his best football ahead of him and will need to improve stopping the run. In a way, he is a bit of a projection for this list. Still, he shows up on film even to the casual observer since few players at his position move with his suddenness. There is a lot for Green Bay to work with here with their 2019 first-round pick.
21. Marcus Maye, New York Jets
Maye got overshadowed a little by Jamal Adams during their time together in New York. In Gregg Williams’ scheme, there is often an extremely deep middle defender. Because of Adams’ prowess near the line of scrimmage, that deep detail went to Maye. But with Adams out of town, Maye could really blossom, as he can bring much more to the table.
20. Landon Collins, Washington Football Team
Collins is the purest old school, in the box, strong safety in this top 25 NFL safeties list. He is a real thumper in the run game and plays much more like a linebacker than a deep patrolling safety-for better or worse.
19. Patrick Chung, New England Patriots
Chung does everything head coach Bill Belichick asks of him and does everything well. Movable pieces are ultra-important in the Patriots scheme, which has made Chung such a valuable contributor. Chung, who has opted out of the 2020 season, also happens to be the oldest player on this list. So his future might be a little up in the air.
18. Jimmie Ward, San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers play an extremely heavy dose of the Cover 3 scheme that Seattle has made so famous. And Ward plays the deep middle role that Earl Thomas excelled at and does it very well. San Francisco’s great pass rush certainly helps Ward’s situation, but he has really come into his own in this role. Even though Ward is often well away from the line of scrimmage, he also supports the run very well.
17. Budda Baker, Arizona Cardinals
Baker is quite small for the position but flies around the field with reckless abandon. He is very quick to change directions, has obvious explosive movement skills, and great position flexibility. He also plays the run very well, especially as a pursuit player. Baker is a core member of Arizona’s rebuilding project.
16. Jordan Poyer, Buffalo Bills
The safety tandem of Poyer and Micah Hyde might be the best safety pairing at disguising their coverages in the entire league. These two are extremely important to Buffalo’s defense success of late. Like Hyde, Poyer does a great job near the line of scrimmage or well off the ball. Poyer is also very good with the ball in his hands.
15. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, New Orleans Saints
The Saints got a draft steal in Gardner-Johnson. He often aligns as a big nickel cornerback but also does the more traditional safety duties extremely well already. Gardner-Johnson is the youngest safety listed here. He has a very bright future.
14. Micah Hyde, Buffalo Bills
Hyde and Poyer are probably the best safety pairing in the league right now behind the twosome in Minnesota. Both are criminally underrated. Hyde does everything well and is extremely solid and reliable in all facets. He covers the deep half very well but probably is a little better near the line of scrimmage.
13. Justin Reid, Houston Texans
JJ Watt aside, Reid is the Texans’ best defensive player but is rarely thought about in that light. Reid runs very well and is an excellent athlete overall. He is improving at a rapid rate, but unfortunately, could be a part of one of the worst defenses in the league this upcoming season.
12. Earl Thomas, Baltimore Ravens
Thomas took over from Ed Reed as the league’s premier single-high free safety and, like Reed, should someday end up in the Hall of Fame. During his “Legion of Boom” days, Thomas was a great eraser. He erased the mistakes of the ten men playing in front of him and allowed Seattle’s defense to play extremely aggressive, knowing he was behind them.
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Now in Baltimore, Thomas plays a more multi-faceted role and isn’t quite the great mover he was in his prime, but he still is a huge cog in an excellent Ravens defense. Quarterbacks still rightfully fear Thomas.
11. Devin McCourty, New England Patriots
McCourty came into the league as a top cornerback prospect but has flourished as a safety that can do everything well. His versatility is unmatched over the years, and you see McCourty’s cornerback background come into play time and time again, especially when asked to play man coverage.