Dan’s Top 10 Safeties Heading Into the 2015 NFL Season

This week’s top 10 list covers potentially the most underrated position on the field, the hard hitting, run stuffing, gutsy safeties. In the interest of moving the lists along we’ll be covering both free and strong safeties in the same list, despite there being huge differences in some cases between the 2.

Much like the corners, this one’s been tough and somewhat surprising. Before I started this there were 2 clear candidates for the number 1 and 2 spots, but after compiling this list I realized that I have criminally overlooked a number of top quality safeties.

So let’s look at this list. Did I stick with my initial beliefs in a certain explosive safety duo? It’s time to find out.

As always we’d love to know what you think, so hit us up on twitter, facebook or email us, with your opinions.

10) T.J Ward – Denver Broncos

Last week Aqib Talib and Chris Harris both made at least one of our top 10 lists, this week it’s the turn of the run stuffing safety. Ward came to the Broncos after being in Cleveland for 4 years as part of the mass free agency signings the team last year. Ward’s season last year wasn’t really a complete success, with Ward filling in often at linebacker thanks to injuries, which didn’t give him a chance to display some of what got him the big contract the Broncos signed him to, in particular in pass coverage, where he gave up 473 yards and 57 of 77 pass attempts. Ward also had 18 missed tackles, 240 yards after the catch and 6 touchdowns, not numbers that should see Ward make this list. However the talent is definitely there, which brings into question whether it was a scheme issue or a lack of effort that saw Ward have a comparatively disappointing season. Personally I think the change of defensive coordinator to Wade Phillips, could result in a giant payoff for Ward, who could shine as a nickel linebacker or in the more traditional safety position. Regardless, Ward is a massive talent that if the Broncos can make the most of, will almost certainly see Ward as a potential top 5 safety, it’s just the nagging doubt that last year wasn’t a fluke that sees him sitting at number 10.

9) Da’Norris Searcy – Tennessee Titans

Before I get into the ins and outs of Searcy, it should be known that I’m a huge fan of his. Last year I thought he was an underrated, integral part of a great Bills defence. This year however he hit the free agent market and found himself in Tennessee, making him the 2nd Titan to make one of my top 10 lists. Searcy had several suitors when he hit the market, including rumours of joining an already stacked Colts secondary. Searcy however picked his mother’s favourite team, the Tennessee Titans, who have made some desperate moves to keep a lot people in jobs. What a lot of teams lost, the Titans gained. Searcy’s credentials speak for themselves. Last year he only allowed 36 yards after catch, picked up 3 interceptions and a sack, with only 6 missed tackles. As much as I have issues with the Titans, they do have something going for them that could benefit Searcy. Assistant Head Coach, Dick Lebeau, who has forged some great safeties as a defensive coach. Searcy joins a secondary a great secondary with a missing piece at safety. the teaming up of Griffin and Searcy could be something special and potentially adjust the rankings of the AFC South. However Searcy benefitted heavily from his defensive front in Buffalo, something that isn’t the same calibre in Tennessee (although reasonably talented), this could see a drop off for Searcy. However personally I have no doubt that Searcy could become the leader of a very talented secondary. The Titans are making baby steps to becoming relevant.

8) Tashaun Gipson – Cleveland Browns

The Cleveland Browns have a number of players on these lists, yet still they can’t seem to get into a rhythm. Gipson quietly had a pretty darn good season as part of a secondary that was ranked 26th in terms of targets, but 8th in terms of yards allowed, which says all you need to know about the unit, of which Gipson was an integral part. Gipson came into his own in the 3rd year of the NFL, creating an excellent partnership with Donte Whitner, who very nearly made this list himself as the bad cop of the duo. Gipson brought 6 interceptions and 52 tackles to the party, having the best year of his career. This year looks set to be more of the same, with a hopefully healthier secondary meaning we could see Gipson considered as a true great of the game and hopefully with some of the moves on offence, could see the Browns take a step forward as a team. Gipson I suppose, could suffer from the loss of Skrine to the secondary, but if they can get anything from 1st round bust, Justin Gilbert, then he should be fine.

7) Glover Quin – Detroit Lions

Like Gipson, Quin had his best season last year, leading the league with 7 interceptions as well as racking up some decent stats in yards after catch and tackles. Quin and the rest of the Lions secondary was something of a surprise package that turned the Lions defence into a complete unit with talent in every area. Quin wasn’t the only talented member of the secondary. Ihedigbo had a stand out season after joining the team from Baltimore and Darius Slay was on my top 10 corner’s list right up until I published it and arguably should have stayed on the list. Quin to me though was the stand out player on the unit and as a result earned himself a pro bowl spot. As good as Quin is (and I do think he’s an outstanding player), I think he could suffer from the loss of talent on the line. Basically I think the loss of Suh could see the secondary take a slight downturn.

6) Devin McCourty – New England Patriots

There is no doubt that McCourty was an integral piece of the Patriots defence and as such deserves a place on this list. McCourty this season however will be leading a very different looking unit, with Revis and Browner both leaving after a single season with the Super bowl champions, this could see McCourty’s job get a little harder. McCourty’s flexibility is what sees him so high on this list. If the Patriots are at a pinch in terms of corners, McCourty could slide to the outside, with the Patriots being quite deep at safety. That being said playing McCourty at any other position than safety will be a waste of his talent. McCourty is however on his list for more than just his talent. Brady is the renowned general on the Pats offence, but on defence it goes somewhat unnoticed what McCourty does in terms of keeping the unit together. The truth of the matter is that McCourty is probably the 3rd most important player on that team behind Brady and Gronk.

5) George Iloka

Iloka joins a large group of Bengals that have made our top 10 lists, which shows just how talented this unit is. Iloka has made serious waves after being drafted in the 5th round of the 2012 draft with 142 tackles , 4 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles. Iloka was targeted 31 times and allowed only 12 receptions, a completion percentage of just 38.2%, which is unbelievable. Iloka also allowed 0 touchdowns last season, which just emphasizes his credentials as one of the league’s best safeties. Iloka struggled against the run in 2013, but in 2014, his run stops within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage improved from 2.7%, to 5.3%, still not great but its movement in the right direction. Iloka is consistently getting better, which for me makes me think that he could easily be topping this list in a couple of years.

4) Eric Weddle – San Diego Chargers

Probably a little higher on a lot of people’s lists and at age 30 Weddle seems to be more relevant than ever. Weddle is the top piece on a half decent Chargers defence and had held the secondary together even in years where they have suffered multiple injuries on the secondary. In 2014 Weddle, with 114 tackles, 1 interception, 2 forced fumbles and 0 touchdowns, went to his 3rd pro bowl in 4 years, which showed his consistency as one of the top safeties in the league. Weddle seems to be struggling to get a deal done with the Chargers, which has caused some bad blood between the 2 parties. This is my only concern for Weddle this season that maybe his head isn’t entirely in the game as he tries to get a new contract. One thing is for certain however, he has the talent to be a difference maker on whatever team he ends up playing for in the future.

3) Harrison Smith – Minnesota Vikings

Harrison Smith is a perfect example of what the Vikings are all about at the moment, not making waves, but quietly making their way to becoming quite good at what they do. Smith came out of the blocks firing. In his 1st season he racked up 104 tackles and 2 pick sixes, making it to the all-pro rookie team. Even in 2013, when he only played 8 games, he still racked up 53 tackles. Last season was more of the same, with 5 interceptions and 3 sacks. With these stats it’s fair to say Smith has become one of the league’s top hard-hitting safeties. Smith is on an ever improving Vikings team that could be considered one of the league’s top units in a couple years’ time. Harrison Smith is a vital piece of a team that could become very relevant sooner rather than later.

1 & 2) Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas – Seattle Seahawks

It is clearly a total cop out, but I couldn’t separate the 2. I just know that the 2 of them are the most talented safeties in the league and complement each other perfectly. Kam Chancellor isn’t just my favourite safety, but also probably in my top 5 players in the league. Bam Bam Kam is a physical freak and like nearly every successful Seahawks player, is a perfect fit for the team, in particular the exceptionally talented secondary. Chancellor can move into the box and play linebacker when the Seahawks line up in nickel. Chancellor was a master in stopping the run, leading the league with 38 tackles with 8 yards of the line of scrimmage. Earl Thomas is probably the top high safety in the league, providing excellent support for the corners. It’s because of Earl Thomas they can leave Sherman on the one side knowing they have Earl Thomas to back up the corners. Thomas only allowed 51 yards after catch and a total of 141 yards whilst in coverage. Thomas compliments Chancellor perfectly, allowing Chancellor to be the hardest hitting safety in the league. These are the 2 best safeties in the league and this is the 1st time in a while they’ve both entered a season fully healthy. Be afraid NFC West. Be very afraid.

Ok, ok, If I had to pick a number 1, it’s probably Earl Thomas, but Chancellor is still my favourite.

Honourable Mention: Eric Berry

I have zero doubt that Eric Berry, when fully healthy would be a top 10 safety in the league. Unfortunately though Berry has been bravely battling Hodgkin’s Lymphoma since December, with hope to be fit this season. From everyone at the Gridiron Gentlemen, we hope Berry gets fit and we see him topping this list next year.

That’s the safeties done, let us know what you think!