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Position Primer: Top safeties set to become free agents

With the new league year just days away, we will be taking a look at several NFL experts' lists of the top 100 free agents, and their views on some of the top players at each position set to hit the open market.

Next up are the safeties.

Jabrill Peppers will be back for his second season with the Giants. In addition, Sean Chandler and Antoine Bethea are both under contract for 2020.

Veteran safety Michael Thomas is set to become a free agent after two seasons with the Giants.

Anthony Harris

2019 stats: 14 games, 60 tackles (35 solo), six interceptions, one touchdown, 11 passes defended, one fumble recovery, one tackle for loss, one QB hit

Gregg Rosenthal and Chris Wesseling, (FA No. 18) "Surrounded by high draft picks with big-money contracts, Harris overcame his undrafted pedigree to become Minnesota's best player in the secondary."

Sam Monson and Steve Palazzolo, Pro Football Focus- (FA No. 8) "One of the league's most underrated players, Harris has been a playmaker on the back end of the Minnesota defense since seeing extended playing time in 2018. Harris has the top regular-season coverage grade among safeties at 91.6 after ranking sixth last season. He's played the majority of his snaps at free safety, but this season has seen him play about 40% of his snaps in the box or over the slot, showing that he can play a more versatile role in a defense. Harris has nine interceptions and seven pass breakups over the last two years, all while missing just four of his 100 tackle attempts. Playmaking, sure-tackling safeties are of immense value in the NFL, and Harris has shown both traits as much as any safety in the league over the last two seasons."

Kevin Seifert, ESPN- (FA No. 23) "After three seasons as a backup/special-teams player, Harris has emerged as a force in pass defense. He tied for the league lead in 2019 with six interceptions, and his nine interceptions since the start of the 2018 season are tied for the third most. The Vikings are tight against the salary cap and seem likely to let him test the market."

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports- (FA No. 13) "Here's another safety who many might not know who is going to get a nice deal after an impressive 2019 season. He has six picks and did a nice job in the middle when asked to do so."

Devin McCourty

2019 stats: 16 games, 58 tackles (46 solo), five interceptions, seven passes defended, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery

Gregg Rosenthal and Chris Wesseling, (FA No. 29) "Another magnificent McCourty performance was lost in the shadows of Stephon Gilmore's season-long Defensive Player of the Year campaign. At 32 years old with savvy ball skills, sticky coverage and a reputation for natural leadership, McCourty could be the final piece of the puzzle for a Super Bowl contender."

Sam Monson and Steve Palazzolo, Pro Football Focus- (FA No. 23) "The only thing keeping McCourty from being higher on the list is age, as he enters the 2020 season at 33 years old. McCourty exemplifies what you want in a "safe" safety, as he's rarely out of position in the passing game and is a sure tackler in space with just 71 career misses on 890 tackle attempts. While McCourty has dabbled in multiple roles playing closer to the line of scrimmage or covering tight ends, he's at his best as a deep free safety where he will rarely bust coverages and frequently take advantage of quarterback mistakes when presented."

Kevin Seifert, ESPN- (FA No. 42) "Retirement rumors keep following McCourty, but it's not clear why. He intercepted five passes in 2019, his highest total in the past seven seasons, and would seem to have at least one more season left in his career."

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports- (FA No. 45) "It's hard to believe, but he is 32 and is entering his 11th season. Even so, he's still a good safety and knows what it takes to help lead a secondary. There's value in that."

Vonn Bell

2019 stats: 13 games, 89 tackles (66 solo), one interception, five passes defended, 1.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries, one touchdown, four tackles for loss, four QB hits

Gregg Rosenthal and Chris Wesseling, (FA No. 33) "Bell has a reputation as a "box safety" because he can blitz and deliver hits in the running game, but the 25-year-old also covers opposing tight ends well enough. This is the type of skill set nearly every team is looking for."

Kevin Seifert, ESPN- (FA No. 53) "Bell emerged as a full-time starter in 2019 and had the kind of season that suggests his career is about to take off. The Saints have a possible replacement on the roster in C.J. Gardner-Johnson."

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports- (FA No. 72) "He's a box safety who can be a liability against the pass. But for teams that want a good run player who will hold his own near the line of scrimmage, Bell is that guy." ranks the top 101 players in the 2020 free agency cycle.

Jimmie Ward

2019 stats: 13 games, 65 tackles (51 solo), eight passes defended, 1.0 sack, two tackles for loss

Gregg Rosenthal and Chris Wesseling, (FA No. 42) "Finally healthy after landing on injured reserve in four of his first five snakebitten NFL seasons, Ward was an unsung star for San Francisco's Super Bowl defense. With the versatility to slide over to nickel corner, Ward is the perfect safety to combat the spread offenses that proliferate today's NFL."

Sam Monson and Steve Palazzolo, Pro Football Focus- (FA No. 36) "Ward has worn many hats in the 49ers' secondary, but 2019 has been his best season by a longshot, as he ranked eighth among safeties with an 84.2 overall grade during the regular season. After playing slot corner, outside corner and every safety variation, Ward's career year came after spending 71% of his snaps at free safety, where he's broken up eight passes and missed just three tackles on the year. Ward has been flying around the field this season, and he's become a playmaker on the back end of one of the best defenses in the league."

Kevin Seifert, ESPN- (FA No. 60) "Teams will need to make a complex analysis of Ward, who had his best year in 2019 but was pretty inconsistent before then and has missed a total of 32 games in six seasons for various reasons."

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports- (FA No. 38) "He is coming off his best season as he moved to safety full time. He has nice range in a league that mandates it on the back end."

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

2019 stats: 16 games, 78 tackles (62 solo), two interceptions, one touchdown, five passes defended, two fumble recoveries

Gregg Rosenthal and Chris Wesseling, (FA No. 51) "Clinton-Dix has proven to be a plug-and-play starter who can patrol the back end."

Sam Monson and Steve Palazzolo, Pro Football Focus- (FA No. 29) "Potentially heading on to his third team in fewer seasons, Ha Ha Clinton Dix took a short-term 'prove-it' deal with the Chicago Bears to try and hit the open market again with improved interest. As a former first-round pick, expectations for his play are high but may need to be adjusted to simply 'solid' given what he has shown so far in his NFL career. Clinton-Dix makes plays on the football in coverage, which is the most important aspect of safety play, but he can come up lightweight against power and misses too many tackles to be happy with (eight in each of the last three seasons)."

Kevin Seifert, ESPN- (FA No. 74) "Clinton-Dix could be headed toward his fourth team change since the start of the 2018 season, a warning sign for anyone. But he proved competent last season in 16 starts for the Bears and could be a value signing."

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports- (FA No. 51) "He is a solid veteran who can help a secondary, but he isn't great in the run game has never lived up to his draft billing as a first-round pick. Even so, he can help teams on the back end in need of it."

Damarious Randall

2019 stats: 11 games, 61 tackles (45 solo), six passes defended, 2.5 sacks, three tackles for loss, three QB hits

Gregg Rosenthal and Chris Wesseling, (FA No. 53) "Randall's range and speed will get him paid, although his reputation for being high maintenance could have him on his third team in as many years."

Sam Monson and Steve Palazzolo, Pro Football Focus- (FA No. 56) "A player who has bounced around different positions since being drafted in the first round, Damarious Randall is now searching for his third team and a situation that can truly work for him. The Packers initially drafted him as a cornerback, and he struggled in that regard before ending up in Cleveland where he was the deep safety in a Gregg Williams' system before seeing a more well-rounded role in 2019 (202 snaps box safety, 88 slot cornerback, 407 free safety). Randall is definitely a better safety than he was a corner and seems best suited to that single-high role in a Cover-1/Cover-3 system."

Kevin Seifert, ESPN- (FA No. 69) "A mercurial playmaker, Randall always had an advocate in former Browns general manager John Dorsey. Who will pick up the torch?"

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports- (FA No. 57) "He came in as a corner, but has made himself into a safety and is a much better player when playing there. He can also play the slot."

Karl Joseph

2019 stats: nine games, 49 tackles (38 solo), one interception, three passes defended, one fumble recovery, four tackles for loss, two QB hits

Gregg Rosenthal and Chris Wesseling, (FA No. 60) "Joseph was finally living up to his bone-jarring billing as a former first-round pick after the Raiders declined his fifth-year option last offseason. A serious foot injury put a premature end to his breakout season in early November."

Sam Monson and Steve Palazzolo, Pro Football Focus- (FA No. 51) "A player who has always earned consistently solid grades, Karl Joseph just hasn't made enough splash plays in his time in the NFL to convince his own team to buy-in long-term or even keep his starting spot secure. Joseph has just four interceptions in four seasons with the Raiders and has forced just a single fumble, but he has hit double-digit defensive stops every season and shown the ability to be a solid force on defense. Joseph has talent, particularly in a coverage scheme that plays with split safeties, and he will likely be available for a bargain fee given how his Raiders tenure panned out."

Kevin Seifert, ESPN- (FA No. 83) "Although he has had some trouble staying on the field and missed a career-high seven games in 2019, Joseph intrigues teams who like to put safeties near the line of scrimmage."

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports- (FA No. 93) "He played some of his best football last season before suffering a foot injury. That injury could drive down his price, but he is a young player who packs a punch when he hits somebody."

Rodney McLeod

2019 stats: 16 games, 76 tackles (46 solo), two interceptions, six passes defended, 1.0 sack, two forced fumbles, one QB hit

Gregg Rosenthal and Chris Wesseling, (FA No. 69) "Known as the understated glue to the Eagles' championship secondary, McLeod can still provide quality snaps for a team needing a starter."

Kevin Seifert, ESPN- (FA No. 88) "Although few teams seek out 30-year-old free agents, McLeod can be the kind of calming veteran whose presence alone can settle a defense."

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports- (FA No. 70) "In a bad secondary, he played decently last season. He turns 30 in July, but he can still help a team in need of a veteran player in the middle of the field."

Adrian Phillips

2019 stats: seven games, 36 tackles (23 solo), one tackle for loss

Gregg Rosenthal and Chris Wesseling, (FA No. 77) "Known for his All-Pro special teams work, Phillips can play a safety/linebacker hybrid spot with ferocious intensity."

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports- (FA No. 80) "He started just five games because of injury last season, but played well late in the season as he headed to free agency. He is a bigger safety who can play like a linebacker in some schemes. He's also a great special-teams player."


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