Top Safeties, picks 1-5

A safety with great instincts and excellent closing speed is worth his weight in gold. With a few ground-gobbling strides he can turn an apparent 40-yard completion into an interception … or at least a deflection.

Four of the five guys I rank as Tennessee's best safeties of the 1964-2004 time frame possessed plenty of speed and the other one, Eddie Brown, had remarkable instincts and toughness.

That said, here are picks 1 through 5:

5. EDDIE BROWN: This scrappy native of Guild, Tenn., sandwiched two years as the starting strong safety (1971 and '73) around one year as the free safety ('72). His senior year saw him pegged team captain, All-SEC and Football News All-America. Brown recorded 10 career interceptions, returning one 74 yards vs. Kansas in 1973 and another 72 yards vs. South Carolina in 1971. An eighth-round draft pick, he spent six years in the NFL and two in the United States Football League.

4. DALE CARTER: This junior college transfer started at free safety for two years and made quite an impact. A two-time All-SEC pick, he was named to a few All-America teams in 1990 and was a consensus A-A selection in '91. A first-round draft pick in 1992, he went on to spend 14 years in the NFL.

3. DEON GRANT: He wasn't much of a tackler but Grant was the prototypical "center fielder" at free safety, ranging far and wide for 14 career interceptions (fifth on UT's all-time list). A starter in 1998 and '99, he was all-conference, consensus All-America and a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award in '99. Grant led the NCAA in interceptions (nine) and return yards (167) as a senior. A second-round draft pick, he has spent the past five years in the NFL.

2. JASON ALLEN: He started at cornerback in 2003 and 2005 but was most effective playing free safety in 2004. He led the SEC in tackles that fall and earned all-conference recognition. Allen was a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award that season, as well. Voted a captain in '04 and '05, he missed the last half of his senior year with a dislocated hip. Still, he was a first-round pick of the Miami Dolphins in the 2006 NFL Draft.

1. ROLAND JAMES: A three-year starter at free safety (1976, '77 and '79), James also started one year at cornerback ('78). Twice an All-SEC pick, he was a consensus All-American and team captain as a senior. James recorded 10 career interceptions, returning one 90 yards vs. Ole Miss in '78. A first-round pick in the 1980 NFL Draft, he went on to spend 11 distinguished years with the New England Patriots.

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