The Top 10 NFL Safeties for 2021

Stoney Keeley continues his look at the NFL as the 2021 season approaches. Today, we're looking at the top 10 NFL safeties.

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It’s summertime offseason content time! As the season approaches, I’m going to be taking a look at the landscape of the NFL, position by position, over the course of the next several weeks. We’ll be talking about the who’s who of the NFL in our own little version of the NFL Network’s “Top 100 Players” bit they do every year. Up next, we’re talking about the top 10 NFL safeties for 2021!

Hot DAMN there are a lot of good safeties in the NFL right now. This is the one position other than receiver that I’ve covered so far that I’m getting way down my list and still finding gems. And, really – that’s indicative of how important the position is in the modern NFL, and how the evolution of the college game has spit out more talented safeties. With the way safeties are asked to do a little bit of everything these days, and the emphasis placed on coverage because of how passing has evolved in the league, I wouldn’t be surprised to see safeties start taking that ‘quarterback of the defense’ role away from the mic linebackers (lookin’ at you, Isaiah Simmons types). So, this was one of the hardest top 10s I’ve done yet.

Let’s hit some honorable mentions before we get into the top 10. Namely, it feels weird not to have Derwin James on this list. Dude is an absolute generational talent at the position that, if consistently healthy, is probably the most complete safety in the game. He just hasn’t played a whole lot since 2018, and I want to see him on the field before I put him back in my top 10. In one of the most bizarre turns of events, Titans safety Kevin Byard took an odd step back from being #1 on this list a year ago. But, I’m willing to bet that was more of a fluke indicative of communication issues on that Titans defense than an indictment of Byard’s ability. He still has one of the strongest pedigrees in the game, and I expect him to have a bounce-back season. Bears safety Eddie Jackson hasn’t quite been the same since his monstrous 2018 season, but still possesses a wealth of talent and ability. Adrian Amos was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd highest graded safety in 2020, and remains one of the standouts on that Packers defense. Devin McCourty has been doing his damn thing forever. And, finally – out of all the young talent at the position, I like Antoine Winfield, Jr., or maybe I’m just still jacked up from that taunting penalty in the Super Bowl. Alright – on to the top 10!

The Top 10 NFL Safeties for 2021

10. Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings – Can you believe Harrison Smith has been doing his damn thing since 2012?!? Unbelievable – and the dude’s coming off a Pro Bowl appearance, no less. Smith’s five interceptions in 2020 were only behind Tyrann Mathieu among safeties. No matter how long he’s been playing, Smith is still one of the most complete safeties in the game.

9. Marcus Maye, New York Jets – Maye had a chance to expand his role in 2020 after Jamal Adams was shipped off to Seattle, and he stepped right up and delivered. Known more as that center-fielding safety that can drop back and cover sideline to sideline, Maye proved that he can be a force at the line of scrimmage as well. He had a complete stat line – 88 tackles, two interceptions, 11 passes defensed, two sacks, and two forced fumbles – proving that he can be a complete elite safety in the NFL.

8. Budda Baker, Arizona Cardinals – Earning All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors after the 2020 season, Baker is known for being the hardest hitting safety in the NFL, and one of the best safeties against the run as well. Over the last couple of seasons, his skills in coverage are starting to catch up, and he’s become a cornerstone of that Arizona Cardinals defense.

7. Jamal Adams, Seattle Seahawks – Adams looked like he was poised to become the best safety in the game not too long ago, but for whatever reason, after making the move to Seattle, he showed some cracks in the armor in coverage that pushes him down the list a little bit. If he gets that sorted out, he could get back to that spot – regardless, he is still as good as they come at the line of scrimmage.

6. John Johnson III, Cleveland Browns – The Browns have really beefed up their secondary by adding Johnson to it. Johnson is a guy that is a tackling machine that doesn’t give opponents much in the way of yardage. He is as versatile as they come, playing effectively at the line of scrimmage, in the slot, or down field. He is a piece that really fills out that Browns defense.

5. Marcus Williams, New Orleans Saints – What a turnaround since the Minneapolis Miracle. Williams is a surefire tackler. He is rangy and disruptive, but is stout against the run to boot. Dude was Pro Football Focus’ highest graded safety against the run in 2020. He has developed into one of the most complete safeties in the NFL.

4. Tyrann Mathieu, Kansas City Chiefs – Mathieu is coming off of an All-Pro season in 2020, and has become one of the focal points of that Chiefs defense. Actually, I dare say the dude helped drive the Chiefs to two consecutive AFC Championships. He is a rangy play-maker whose six interceptions a season ago led all safeties, and Mathieu was also one of seven safeties to score a touchdown in 2020 as well.

3. Justin Simmons, Denver Broncos – Well, one thing’s for sure – the Broncos damn sure paid Simmons like he’s one of the best safeties in the NFL. You can’t knock the investment when you look at just how well he has played over the course of the last two seasons specifically. Simmons is a savvy player that is absolutely superb in coverage. Watch out for that Broncos secondary in 2021.

2. Jessie Bates III, Cincinnati Bengals – It’s time to start putting Bates right up there among the best safeties in the game. Really, I won’t argue with you if you want to call him the best in the game. His 15 passes deflected were first among safeties in 2020, and he posted three interceptions to go with them. If he played for a larger market team, we’d be talking about him the way we talk about Jamal Adams and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Nonetheless, he is absolutely sterling in coverage.

1. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Pittsburgh Steelers – You can really take your pick of the litter here with the top four on this list, but I go Fitzpatrick because I think we’re watching this guy hit his stride in the prime of his career. Coming off a year during which Fitzpatrick earned All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors, he has proven to not only be one of the best safeties in the league, but also a perennial contender for ‘Defensive Player of the Year.’ He’s a natural play-maker with four interceptions, 11 passes deflected, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovered in 2020. What the stats won’t show is how well Fitzpatrick plays in coverage and how poorly quarterbacks fare throwing his way.

OTHER 2021 NFL TOP 10S

Stoney Keeley is the Editor in Chief of The SoBros Network, and a Dogs Playing Poker on velvet connoisseur. He is a strong supporter of Team GSD, #BeBetter, and ‘Minds right, asses tight.’ “Big Natural” covers the Tennessee Titans, Nashville, Yankee Candle, and a whole wealth of nonsense. Follow on Twitter @StoneyKeeley

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