NFL’s top 5 safeties for 2015

It’s no wonder Seattle’s defense has been so good with two of the top safeties in the game.

They are the last line of defense, balancing the risk-reward of going for the ball or the playing it safe and making a touchdown-saving tackle.

Safeties have a lot of pressure on them, but some of the best in the game today are equally adept at pass coverage and run support, giving their coordinators the abilities to mask their intentions in the back end. Today’s best are also young, with only one of our top five older than 27 (Eric Weddle is 30).

The future and present of the position is bright, indeed:

1. Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks
Instincts can be the great equalizer for players with a lack of ideal size. Thomas is only 5-foot-10 and 202 pounds, but he has impeccable instincts, desire and leadership skills. Combine those with his range and you have an All-Pro safety that is at the top of his game, leading his top-ranked defense to the last two Super Bowls.

2. Tashaun Gipson, Cleveland Browns
One of the best full-time safeties in pass coverage last year (quarterbacks had a rating of 41.9 per going against him, according to Pro Football Focus), Gipson is an excellent safety on a team not known for greatness in recent decades. He had the second-most interceptions, six, of NFL safeties last year despite only 20 targets after he missed five games. If the Browns can gain more positive national exposure, Gipson should be a staple of the Pro Bowl for years to come. When looking at offense and defense overall, and in the pass and run games, the only spot the Browns ranked in the top 10 was in pass defense. They wouldn’t be there without Gipson.

3. Kam Chancellor, Seattle Seahawks
Chancellor doesn’t get the recognition of Thomas, but it’s hard to argue his effectiveness. He and Thomas are two big reasons why the Seahawks have been to the Super Bowl each of the last two years and why they sported the top-ranked defense overall and the top-ranked pass defense. Chancellor is equally adept at run and pass coverage and brings the size to the position (6-3, 232) that Thomas lacks. Chancellor is often in the box as an additional linebacker in run support, and he and McCourty are the only strong safeties in our top five, the rest of them being free safeties.

4. Eric Weddle, San Diego Chargers
Perhaps it is his lack of interceptions lately – he has six combined over the last three years – but Weddle has been one of the game’s top safeties for the last five years. He is credited with 114 and 115 tackles the last two years, respectively, and hasn’t missed a game since 2009. It’s no wonder the Chargers made him one of the top-paid safeties, averaging $8 million per season over a five-year contract signed in 2012. The Chargers were a surprising No. 4 in pass defense last year and Weddle is a big reason for that.

5. Devin McCourty, New England Patriots
McCourty brings cornerback skills to the strong safety position, which is why he is one of the most well-rounded safeties in the game. He is the second-highest paid safety in the game (behind only Thomas) and has earned it as the leader of a Patriots defense that needs him more and more every year.

Honorable mention: Jarius Byrd (missed 12 games in 2014 with injury), Harrison Smith, Glover Quin, T.J. Ward, Antoine Bethea.


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