• A big surprise at No. 1: Seattle’s Ryan Neal earned the highest overall grade among safeties in 2022 after only getting a starting job in Week 5.
• Last season’s top-graded safety cracks the top 10 again: Kevin Byard continues his impressive career with yet another finish among the top-graded players at his position.
• A rookie cracks the top 10: Baltimore’s Kyle Hamilton looked the part of a top-15 draft pick, making an immediate impact despite playing a part-time role.
Estimated Reading Time: 12 mins
This list is based almost entirely on PFF’s final defensive grades for every safety during the 2022 regular season. The grades consider every defensive snap played for every player in every game. This list also allows for some wiggle room in the final rankings based on the number of snaps, with a 500-snap minimum in place, but leans heavily into the final grades from the end of the regular season.
These rankings take into account only the 2022 regular season and have nothing to do with what a player has done in the past. Safety is often the most versatile defensive position, as some players stay in a single-high role while others move around, playing in the slot, in the box and along the defensive line. This creates different levels of opportunity for each player's grade to rise or decline based on how many chances they get to be involved in plays.
1. Ryan Neal, Seattle Seahawks (85.6)
In what is likely the most out-of-nowhere performance of the 2022 NFL season, Neal stepped into a starting role in Week 5 after Jamal Adams’ season ended in Week 1 and after Josh Jones, who originally replaced Adams, wasn’t up to snuff as an NFL starter in the three games that preceded Neal taking over.
From Week 5 on, Neal didn’t allow a single touchdown and just a 54.3% completion percentage as the primary coverage player on 35 targets. He posted a 20.0% forced incompletion rate (tied for 10th) and surrendered just a 51.3 passer rating when targeted (ninth) in that time, as well, which led to the second-best coverage grade (85.7) at the position.
2. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Pittsburgh Steelers (82.4)
Fitzpatrick followed up an offseason where he became one of the league’s highest-paid safeties with a career year in terms of PFF grades, including top-eight marks in run defense (82.2) and coverage (83.3). Fitzpatrick played more than 900 defensive snaps across 15 games, which moves him a spot ahead of others with comparable grades who played fewer games and snaps. Fitzpatrick was truly Pittsburgh’s last line of defense, racking up 94 total tackles from his deep safety role while adding six interceptions, which tied for the league lead.
3. Tyrann Mathieu, New Orleans Saints (81.2)
Mathieu played all 17 games in his 10th NFL season, and first season with his new team in New Orleans, for a career-high 1,128 defensive snaps (sixth), which moves him further up this list than his final grades rank him. The Honey Badger’s position-leading 87.9 coverage grade came from allowing 7.6 yards per reception when targeted (tied for fourth), as well as just a 65.9 passer rating when targeted (sixth).
4. Kamren Curl, Washington Commanders (82.9)
Curl has provided an incredible return on investment for the Commanders after being a seventh-round pick in 2020. He replaced an injured Landon Collins as a rookie, made him expendable and then improved each year since. Curl posted top-10 grades as a run defender (80.5) and in coverage (80.8) in 2022 — both career highs for the former Razorback.
Curl has provided significant flexibility for Washington’s defense, often manning the box and helping take away running backs and tight ends as mismatch options. He posted a 4.7% missed tackle rate (sixth) while acting as a second linebacker.
5. Rodney McLeod, Indianapolis Colts (80.1)
The 11-year veteran thrived as the strong safety in Gus Bradley’s Cover 3 scheme, taking over as the starter in Week 3 and never looking back. McLeod was targeted 59 times in coverage — the second most at his position — and allowed just a 64.4% completion rate, earning the third-best coverage grade (85.3) among safeties. His success in covering running backs, tight ends and slot receivers in the passing game earned him the sixth-best wins above replacement (WAR) figure at his position.
6. Kevin Byard, Tennessee Titans (78.7)
Byard followed up his 2021 season as the highest-graded safety with another top-10 performance, marking the fourth time in his seven-year career that he’s finished in that range. Making his numbers all the more impressive is that 2022 was the sixth straight season the former third-round pick played more than 1,000 defensive snaps, all with the Titans. Byard plays from almost every defensive alignment and still earned top-five grades as a tackler (90.1) and in coverage (81.0).
7. Kyle Hamilton, Baltimore Ravens (82.3)
The top safety in the 2022 rookie class and the 14th pick overall did not disappoint in his rookie year, outside of just not being a full-time starter for the entire season, which is what pushes him down this list a bit. Hamilton started the year in a fairly limited dime safety role, but as the year went on and his impact could not be ignored, he became the Ravens’ primary nickel back in Week 8 and continued to impress.
Hamilton’s size and athletic ability made him a significant asset in defending the run and rushing the passer, posting top-five grades in both while adding a top-10 coverage grade (76.8).
8. Kyle Dugger, New England Patriots (78.4)
Dugger’s role in Bill Belichick’s defense asks him to spend a majority of his snaps near the line of scrimmage, in the box, along the defensive line and in the slot. As a result, Dugger is more involved in the action from play to play than most safeties, which has allowed him to develop and flourish, as 2022 was a career year for the former Lenoir-Rhyne product.
Dugger has shown an ability to do everything well, sporting a top-20 run-defense grade (76.7) and a top-10 coverage grade (78.3). He allows the Patriots' defense to function the way they want by not having to lean on too many orthodox linebackers to play significant snaps.
9. Antoine Winfield Jr., Tampa Bay Buccaneers (77.8)
Winfield saw his role shift this past season, going from more of a free safety type to being the team’s primary slot defender while also maintaining his typical safety responsibilities. The former Golden Gopher didn’t flinch as he maintained the standard of play that has been expected of him after his first two seasons in the league. He finished in the top 10 at his position in overall grade while posting the third-best run-defense grade (86.2) among safeties — a category he’s been in the top 10 in every year since entering the league.
10. Derwin James, Los Angeles Chargers (77.3)
When talking about safeties who can do it all, James is the poster child. He has never earned a categorical defensive grade below 62.3 in his career and consistently grades above 70.0 in each aspect. The 2022 campaign was no different, as James posted a 71.3 grade in man coverage (13th) while allowing the lowest yards per reception (7.0) among all safeties (min. 500 defensive snaps). He even added value as a blitzer, earning a 90.9 pass-rush grade (second) after securing nine pressures (tied for sixth) and four sacks (tied for second) on 31 pass-rush attempts.
11. Jessie Bates III, Cincinnati Bengals (76.8)
After a down year in 2021, Bates bounced back in 2022 while playing on the franchise tag. He generated the fourth-most WAR (0.30) at his position in 2022, in large part due to his reliability, playing more than 1,000 defensive snaps for the fourth time in five years and earning top-20 grades in both coverage and run defense.
12. Taylor Rapp, Los Angeles Rams (76.2)
Rapp quietly earned the best grades of his career in all facets, including run defense (82.3) and coverage (72.9). He allowed just 7.5 yards per reception (tied for second) on 48 targets — also a career-best. Rapp added to his resume by ranking among the best tacklers at his position with an 84.6 grade (12th) while maintaining a missed tackle rate below 10% (6.3%), which he has done every year of his NFL career.
13. Eddie Jackson, Chicago Bears (76.2)
Despite missing five games due to injury, Jackson put together a resurgent 2022 campaign, earning his best grades across the board since his 2018 season when he was the top-graded safety overall. The big difference for Jackson this season seemed to be a return to playing significantly more in a deep safety role. After lining up deep on 50% or less of his defensive snaps the past three seasons, the former Alabama product played 68% from a deep alignment in 2022 — the most for him since 2018.
14. Jordan Poyer, Buffalo Bills (75.4)
Poyer has been as consistent and reliable as any safety in the league since he joined the Bills in 2017, once again posting an overall grade above 74.0, which he has done in four straight seasons. While he did miss five games with an injury, it’s difficult to ignore the impact he has as Buffalo’s top safety, allowing a first down or touchdown on just 22.7% of his targets faced, which was the second-best mark among qualifying safeties.
15. Jimmie Ward, San Francisco 49ers (76.1)
Ward almost didn’t make the 500-snap cut-off for this list, but he did make a significant impact for the 49ers when he was on the field. Playing exclusively in the slot (86.4%), Ward earned a 91.8 run-defense grade (first) thanks to an average depth of tackle of just 2.0 yards (first) and no missed tackles.
16. Malik Hooker, Dallas Cowboys (73.9)
Hooker’s second year in Dallas led to his best grades since his second NFL season. While working as the team’s primary deep safety, he wasn’t tested often but managed a 72.4 coverage grade (19th) and allowed just 0.22 yards per coverage snap, which was tied for second best among qualifying safeties.
17. Budda Baker, Arizona Cardinals (73.7)
Baker’s greatest asset in 2022 was his ability to stop the run, earning an 80.2 run0defense grade (10th) thanks to a 6.1% run-stop rate (fourth) and eight tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage (third). Baker was playing some of his best football late in the year before he got hurt in Week 16, including an 80.7 coverage grade from Weeks 12-16, which was a top-five mark at the position.
18. Marcus Williams, Baltimore Ravens (73.9)
Williams falls down this list a bit after missing seven games due to injury, but his high level of play can't be understated, posting his sixth straight overall grade above 70.0 since entering the league. While Williams’ role in the Ravens’ defense mostly asks him to play from a deep alignment, he does that incredibly well, posting a career-high 19.1% interception per coverage target rate (tied for fourth) and tying for seventh among qualifying safeties in yards allowed per coverage target (5.7).
19. Quandre Diggs, Seattle Seahawks (73.4)
Along with Ryan Neal, Diggs was a significant reason for the Seahawks’ defensive success in 2022, particularly in the latter half of the season. From Week 12 on, Diggs earned the second-highest grade at the position (83.1) as well as the second-highest coverage grade (83.9). A big reason for this was his high interception rate, as he came up with four picks and tied for the position lead in interceptions per coverage target (50.0%) over that span.
20. Justin Reid, Kansas City Chiefs (73.2)
Another safety who really turned it on during the final stretch of the regular season, Reid was the highest-graded safety overall from Weeks 12-18 (83.4). He played a big part in the Chiefs securing the No. 1 seed in the AFC down the stretch, which included allowing just 3.4 yards per coverage target (fourth) while adding a 31.3% forced incompletion rate over that span (fourth).
21. Adrian Phillips, New England Patriots (72.7)
Much like that of Kyle Dugger, Phillips’ role in New England’s defense requires him to stick close to the line of scrimmage, match up with tight ends and running backs out of the backfield and help stop the run. The former Longhorn did a stellar job, keeping plays in front of him en route to allowing just 66 yards after the catch (ninth) all year and posting a 4.5% run-stop rate (tied for 15th).
22. Duron Harmon, Las Vegas Raiders (72.3)
The 10-year vet’s first season with the Raiders was a bounce-back year. After spending the prior two seasons in Detroit and Atlanta, Harmon produced results closer resembling his time with the Patriots, where he spent the first seven seasons of his career. He posted overall grades of at least 73.7 four times with New England while never posting a sub-66.5 mark from 2013-2019. Harmon got back to that range after career-low seasonal grades with the Lions and Falcons.
23. Justin Simmons, Denver Broncos (70.7)
Simmons continued to build upon a resume full of strong PFF grades by landing a 70.0-plus overall grade for the seventh time in his eight-year career. His greatest strength in 2022 was his coverage ability, as he earned a 74.3 coverage grade (tied for 14th) in large part due to his league-leading six interceptions.
24. Marcus Maye, New Orleans Saints (71.8)
Maye’s first season with the Saints had its ups and downs, including missing games due to injury at the beginning and end of the year but also flashing all the signs that made him an early second-round pick back in 2017. The former Florida Gator had a strong coverage year that resulted in a 71.3 coverage grade (24th). He allowed just 23.1% of his targets to go for a first down or a touchdown (third best).
25. Andrew Adams, Tennessee Titans (70.9)
Adams had served as a part-time player for a large portion of his seven-year NFL career but became a big part of Tennessee’s defense in 2022 — his first season with the team. Adams mostly worked as the team’s dime safety but also filled in full-time for the oft-injured Amani Hooker, who missed nine games this season. When Adams joined the starters in Week 4, he played 79% of the team’s defensive snaps for the rest of the year, even posting a career-best 74.8 coverage grade (12th) across more than 500 coverage snaps.