Does Polamalu deserve a top-three spot?

The Top Five: Best Safeties in the NFL Heading into 2010 Season

Safeties truly are an odd breed. We hear all the time about “‘tweeners” and how they will usually cause headaches for the coaches trying to find a permanent position for them.

However, with safeties, teams look for ‘tweeners.

To be a good safety, a player has to be able to cover even the best receivers, but also be able to come up and play in the box as a fourth (or fifth) linebacker and play the run just as well. But safeties are going to be asked to cover said receivers and play in the box only a few times per game.

So, basically, safeties are a hybrid between a linebacker and a cornerback. They’re usually guys who were too small to play linebacker, but not quick enough to play corner. Of course you now have guys who have played the position their entire life, but that’s basically how the safety position is looked at.

With that said, let’s take a look at the top five best ‘tweeners AKA safeties.

5. Brian Dawkins (Denver Broncos)

Without a doubt, Dawkins will one day be a Hall-of-Fame inductee. In fact, he could go down as one of the best free safeties of all time. But now at 35 years old he’s only the fifth-best safety because of his diminishing skills in coverage and loss of speed.

However, Dawkins is still one of the best leaders the league has ever seen and quietly helped turn a mediocre Denver defense into a unit that teams began to fear.

4. Troy Polamalu (Pittsburgh Steelers)

Polamalu gets a lot of hype, but most of it seems unearned for me. For instance, back in 2007 Polamalu went to the Pro Bowl even though he had no interceptions and no sacks. He did have three forced fumbles, but that shouldn’t have been enough to get him in — especially after having played only 11 games.

Speaking of which, he’s also injured far too often. It’s not to the extent of someone like Bob Sanders, but over the past four seasons Polamalu has only finished one of them. He also hasn’t had a sack since 2006 or a forced fumble since 2007.

However, there is a lot to be said for how drastically different the Steelers defense is with him on the field. The guy can change a game in his own way and is certainly a very good play, but putting him in the top three is a bit much.

3. Darren Sharper (New Orleans Saints)

Like Dawkins, Sharper is in his mid-30’s and will soon begin to slow down. However, no one knows exactly when that’s going to be because it hasn’t happened yet. Sharper was tied for the league-lead last season with nine interceptions and added three touchdowns, so it’s clear his coverage skills aren’t lacking.

He’s also serviceable in run support, although that’s never been his forte.

Sharper, like Dawkins, helped to turn a mediocre squad into a unit that went toe-to-toe with Peyton Manning and the high-powered Colts offense and basically shut them down in the Super Bowl. Even for that alone Sharper belongs on this list.

2. Nick Collins (Green Bay Packers)

Putting Collins ahead of Sharper is a little bit of guessing on my part. My guess is that Sharper will begin to show his age next season, especially after having knee surgery, and that Collins will be even better than he was in 2008 when he had seven interceptions and three touchdowns, and in 2009 when he had six interceptions.

Collins is also a very tough player as he’s never missed more than three games in a season back in 2007.

1. Ed Reed (Baltimore Ravens)

As far as ball-hawking ability goes, very few can stack up to Ed Reed. In fact, in every season in which he’s been healthy (every year but two, including 2009), Reed has never had fewer than five interceptions and only failed to score in two of those seasons — one being his rookie year and the other in 2007.

Reed is a game-changer who makes the entire defense better because offenses are afraid to throw anywhere near him and risk the inevitable turnover. And once Reed gets that pick, there’s a very good chance he’s going to the opposite endzone — whether it’s on his own or after a series of laterals.

Tags: AFC AFC North AFC West Baltimore Ravens Brian Dawkins Darren Sharper Denver Broncos Ed Reed Football Green Bay Packers New Orleans Saints NFC NFC North NFC South NFL Nick Collins Opinion Pittsburgh Steelers Rankings The Top Five Troy Polamalu

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