I didn’t view Rolle as a snub last season, but there’s no doubt that he put forward a great season next to Will Hill. If Hill were wiser, then he wouldn’t have been kicked off and would have formed a top three safety duo with Rolle. As it stands right now, the Giants safety duo is either fourth or five in the league, and both Brown and Rolle excel at making plays. With Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Prince Amukamara, and Walter Thurmond in front of them, the Giants have easily one of the best defensive backfields in the league.
4. Cleveland Browns Tashaun Gipson, Donte Whitner
While T.J. Ward is a better player than Donte Whitner, the difference is so close that it’s almost negligible for the Browns, and I think the Browns safety duo will be better this year. Gipson will only get better in his second season as the full-time starter, and he was once the defense’s unsung hero (that honor now goes to John Hughes) before people really started to take notice of him at free safety. I used to be critical of Whitner for his struggles in coverage, but he made massive strides last season with the 49ers next to FS Eric Reid, forming a sure-fire top five safety duo in San Francisco. Whitner’s improvements in coverage make him one of the game’s most complete strong safeties, because he is an excellent tackler. Despite all the fines he accrues, Whitner’s hits are usually fair, as he gets his shoulder down and simply explodes through the air, moving the force of the tackle throughout his body before laying a hit on the opponent’s shoulder pad.
3. Denver Broncos Rahim Moore, T.J. Ward
The Denver Broncos defense should be elite next year after the additions of Aqib Talib (replacing DRC), DeMarcus Ware, and Ward, but they also had a great defense last year. They underperformed on defense only because of injuries, as they were dealt unlucky blows with Von Miller, Chris Harris Jr., and Rahim Moore sustaining season-ending injuries at points during the year. Moore’s injury was bigger than some think, because it was a huge downgrade to the team’s safety play and left them without an adequate coverage safety. Not only that, but they lost one of the ten best safeties in coverage, and it clearly showed. Ward is an elite run defender and not somebody whose coverage should be knocked, because he knows how to clean up intermediate routes and can match up with anyone. This safety duo is absolutely scary, and they are pretty close to the No. 2-ranked team.
It’s funny to think that the Saints had arguably the worst safety duo in the league two years ago, but the additions of a legitimate star safety in two consecutive offseasons give New Orleans an elite tandem. Rob Ryan received a fantastic rookie year out of Kenny Vaccaro, who can, as expected, do it all at the safety position. He plays strong safety, but he could just as easily man free safety if needed. He definitely doesn’t need to, though, after the addition of Jairus Byrd, who has the best instincts of any safety not-named “Earl Thomas“. Byrd isn’t nearly as fast as Thomas, but he’s fast enough and might have even better ball skills. I think Byrd will be of inestimable value to the Saints next season, because he gives Ryan the flexibility to blitz even more, use Vac as a “Swiss Army Knife”, and allow Keenan Lewis to press and gamble even more than he did in a phenomenal 2013 season.
1. Seattle Seahawks Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor
Yeah, this one is just too obvious, as the Seahawks have the best safety in the game and arguably (Ward and Eric Berry are right there with him) the best strong safety in the game. These two players are monsters, and Thomas is so good that many people believe he’s the most valuable player on an all-time great defense. Thomas misses tackles, but he also gets to the ball-carrier faster than just about everyone in the league. I can’t think of a faster safety than Thomas, and I certainly can’t think of anyone with better pure coverage skills. Chancellor can lay the wood at SS, but his coverage skills are also elite. I mean, he’s completely neutralized some of the best tight ends in the league while working with an elite, swift linebacking core. Watch his games against the Atlanta Falcons and all of his playoff performances to see just how dominant this guy is in every facet of the game at strong safety (especially coverage and strength).