We’ve reached the offseason doldrums. In order to spice things up, I’ve decided to rank the position groups for the NFC North/NFC South. We’ll start this 9 part series by looking at the safety position.
First: Green Bay Packers
The Packers have a very good safety tandem in Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton Dix. Burnett earned a +8.2 grade with good run defense and pass coverage marks. Ha Ha Clinton Dix had a +7.0 grade. Dix surprisingly had a -1.9 grade in coverage and was good run defense (+8.1). However, Dix is better in coverage than that grade based on the fan/media assumptions (so Packer fans don’t bitch about PFF). Micah Hyde and Chris Banjo are solid depth at the free safety and strong safety position and Hyde can slide to nickel CB too and return punts.
Second: New Orleans Saints
Jarius Byrd is a better player than he has graded the last two years (+.2) but had injury issues on a big contract. Kenny Vaccaro is a hard hitter, a first rounder and good in coverage at the strong safety spot (+4.2). Vonn Bell was added in Round 3 of the draft at free safety from Ohio State. Jamarca Sanford has experience as a backup strong safety coming over from the Vikings in free agency this season. The Saints defense has its issues but safety shouldn’t be one of them based on talent. Byrd and Vaccaro need to step up a bit and show their talent more.
Third: Minnesota Vikings
Harrison Smith is a stud free safety. He is a top 3 safety every year in the league and earned a +17.5 grade in 2015. Andrew Sendejo struggled in 2015 but was decent at times against the run. He signed an extension this offseason. Michael Griffen signed a one year deal to backup free and strong safety. Jayron Kearse is a big hitter but lacks in coverage as a 7th round rookie from Clemson. Anthony Harris was undrafted in 2015 but has some strong safety experience too from last season. The Vikings have some question at strong safety but a stud free safety with solid depth.
Tied Fourth: Detroit Lions
Glover Quin is an excellent free safety. He grades well in the run and coverage and is a leader in organizing the Lions secondary. The Lions defense improved ever since Quin joined in 2013. Rafael Bush has played well for the Saints in the past but is oft injured. Bush is more of a free safety though and must prove he could be a starter at strong safety. Tavon Wilson was added from the Patriots but was limited to special teams other than the 2012 season and spot duty. Miles Killebrew was added at strong safety in Round 4 of the draft but is from a small school (Southern Utah). Don Carey offers some depth but is more of a special team player. The Lions have one good safety and are attempting to fix the strong safety with a lot of competition. The Lions have good depth at safety.
Tied Fourth Carolina Panthers:
Kurt Coleman is a good safety after reviving his career in Carolina. He had a +9.0 grade which was a top 10 grade. Tre Boston only played 226 snaps but had a good grade (+2.6). He will try to take over the free safety spot. The depth of Carolina is a big unknown with Marcus Ball, Trenton Robinson and Dean Marlowe.
Sixth: Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons reached and drafted strong safety Keanu Neal in Round 1 of the draft in 2016. The Falcons added Charles Godfrey in 2015who can be a good free safety but is oft injured and only played 145 snaps. Kemal Ishmael played 381 snaps and had a +3.0 grade. Ricardo Allen played 855 snaps in 2015 but had an average grade. The Falcons have some more talent than you think and some experience for their backups. However, Godfrey has to prove he can stay healthy and Neal must prove he wasn’t a reach.
Seventh: Chicago Bears
Adrian Amos has a nice rookie year in 2015 at free safety (+5.2). The rest of the Bears safety group is relying on many young and unproven players. Harold Jones Quartey struggled in 2015 in his rookie year. Chris Prosinski was re-signed as a backup but played 342 snaps in 2015. Deon Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson were drafted in Round 4 and 6 respectively at strong and free safety. The Bears have a lot of youth but some question marks other than Amos.
Eight: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The days of John Lynch are long gone. Keith Tandy, Chris Conte, Major Wright and Bradley McDougald are the Bucs safety group. McDougald played 991 snaps but had a poor grade. Conte played over 700 snaps and has struggled almost every year in the league. Wright and Tandy are the backups. Tandy had a +2.0 grade as the lone bright spot with 287 snaps. Safety is a big weakness for the Bucs.
None of the safety groups are bad other than Tampa Bay’s safeties. Atlanta and Chicago has the most potential to rise due to a youth influx with some talent. The Saints have the most talent but that talent must prove it. The rest of their defense needs to step up. Green Bay reigns strong with a good safety duo and good depth.