Confident leaders of the defensive backfield, safeties are required to possess high football I.Q.’s while being extremely physical when it comes to making tremendous plays in the open field. Although having the necessary physical attributes is essential to being an elite defensive back, it is perhaps even more important for safeties to have the instincts and wherewithal to direct their fellow teammates in the secondary. While it’s incredibly difficult to be an elite safety for a long period of time, there are several intriguing defensemen that have the potential to take the next vital step to becoming widely recognized and well-paid athletes. For any defense to be truly dominant, having multiple safeties that can make plays consistently is essential in a league that is based on preventing electric quarterback plays.
10. Reggie Nelson
Although he may not be the acrobatic intercepting machine he was during his prime, Reggie Nelson is still an elite tackler that is capable of forcing fumbles consistently. At age 34, Nelson is a bit of a risk to acquire, but his durability and physicality will still allow him to be a coveted piece for a NFL defensive backfield.
9. Tyvon Branch
Despite playing in just nine games last season for the Arizona Cardinals, Tyvon Branch was incredibly productive as he recorded 69 combined tackles. Even at age 31, Branch is still an effective strong safety that can add a bit more power to a secondary that is looking to become much more physical and intimidating.
8. Michael Thomas
When he has the chance to start consistently, Michael Thomas is a brutal and fearless tackler that can quickly bring down an opposing receiver. Under an intelligent defensive coordinator, Thomas could flourish and finally get a chance to utilize his immense strength consistently.
7. Bradley McDougald
At 6’1″ and 215 lbs, Bradley McDougald has the size to be a dominant strong safety consistently. Although McDougald has been largely utilized as a gang tackler, he possesses the physicality and strength to be an exceptional open-field tackler.
6. Tre Boston
Garnering five interceptions and 79 combined tackles (both career highs), Tre Boston emphatically displayed his abilities as a vigilant and opportunistic safety. Given his youth (age 25), Boston has most likely not hit his ceiling yet and could become a truly elite free safety in 2018.
5. Tavon Wilson
Although Wilson only played in 10 games for the Detroit Lions last season, he still managed to force a fumble and record a pick on the season. Although his injury history is a bit concerning, Wilson has the speed and awareness to be an effective safety for a team that is willing to provide him with the requisite opportunities to perform.
4. Morgan Burnett
While the secondary for the Green Bay Packers was not exactly a lockdown defensive unit in 2017, Morgan Burnett did his part in the defensive backfield as he recorded 68 combined tackles despite playing in just 12 games. Given more opportunities to start, Burnett has the length and vision to be a consistent pass deflector.
3. Kenny Vaccaro
Setting a career high in interceptions (3), Kenny Vaccaro was a vital piece of a New Orleans Saints defense that was physically imposing throughout the 2017 season. Given his abilities as a pass rusher to go along with his protection skills in the secondary, Vaccaro is a multi-dimensional defensive weapon that has a lot to offer any NFL team that is willing to meet his demands from a monetary perspective.
2. Eric Reid
An effective tackler with great hands for making plays when covering receivers, Eric Reid is an instinctual safety that does a fantastic job of directing his fellow teammates in the secondary. Although the San Francisco 49ers will likely sign Reid to a fairly lucrative deal, it would behoove the gifted defensive back to at least test the open market in free agency.
1. Lamarcus Joyner
Despite his slight stature (5’8″), LaMarcus Joyner is an incredibly fast and intelligent free safety that is tenacious when disrupting plays in the open field. Between his fantastic hands and breakneck speed, Joyner is a deadly defensive playmaker that will make opposing quarterbacks pay dearly for throwing the football anywhere in his vicinity.