NFL News & Analysis

Highest-graded safeties from the 2023 NFL season: Antoine Winfield Jr. shines

• Antoine Winfield Jr. enters free agency on the heels of an elite campaign: The Minnesota product gave up only 74 yards in man coverage and recorded a league-high 41.2% forced incompletion rate on third- and fourth-down plays.

• Free-agent signing Jessie Bates III shined for the Falcons: He was one of three safeties to cross the 90.0 threshold in PFF grading, thriving in his first season in Atlanta.

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Before we go full steam ahead into free agency and the 2024 NFL Draft, we’re taking one last look at the top players in the NFL at each position.

Here were the top 20 safeties in the NFL by overall PFF grade in 2023. Subscribe to PFF+ to dig into the numbers for yourself!

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1. Antoine Winfield Jr., Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 90.7

Winfield enters free agency on the wave of a dominant 2023 season. He finished the year ranking in the top three in run-defense grade (91.5), pass-rushing grade (92.7) and tackling grade (87.0). He also placed eighth in coverage grade (84.0).

Winfield faced 44 targets in coverage and forced nine incompletions at a 20.9% clip. He broke up eight passes (second most) and picked off three others. The Minnesota product gave up only 74 yards in man coverage and recorded a league-high 41.2% forced incompletion rate on third- and fourth-down plays.

2. Jessie Bates III, Atlanta Falcons: 90.6

Bates, in his first season as a Falcon, finished as a top-three cornerback in run-defense grade (89.8) and coverage grade (90.2). He picked off six passes while leading Atlanta’s safeties in forced incompletion rate (13.2%) and coverage stops (12).

3. Jevon Holland, Miami Dolphins: 90.3

Holland graded well in nearly every facet in 2023. He ranked in the top 10 in coverage (89.9) and tackling (84.0) while finishing 11th in run defense (82.5). He recorded a 13% forced incompletion rate and tallied three pass breakups and an interception. His best work arguably came in the slot, where he surrendered only 54 yards on 11 targets.

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4. Xavier McKinney, New York Giants: 87.8

McKinney put together the best season of his NFL career, leading the position in tackling grade (89.1) and coverage grade (91.2). He recorded 26 total stops with a 6% missed tackle rate (tied for second among safeties with at least 50 tackles). McKinney ranked in the top 10 in passer rating allowed (53.0) and first down/touchdown rate (24.5%) while surrendering only 0.6 yards per coverage target in the red zone (first).

5. Jabrill Peppers, New England Patriots: 87.3

Peppers ranked second in run-defense grade (90.7) after recording 17 stops (tied for sixth), four tackles for loss or no gain and a forced fumble. He ranked eighth in coverage (83.2), surrendering a career-low 132 yards on 34 targets. He added an 18% forced incompletion rate to that resume, breaking up five passes and picking off two more. The Michigan product also led the position in forced incompletions from man coverage (five) and passer rating allowed from the slot (42.3).

6. Kyle Hamilton, Baltimore Ravens: 86.4

Hamilton's stellar sophomore season included top-three finishes in pass-rush grade (92.8) and coverage grade (90.1). He ranked second in pass-rush productivity (21.6), recording 16 quarterback pressures at a rate of 36.4% (fourth). He faced 72 targets in coverage and finished second in first-down-plus-touchdown rate allowed (18.1%) and yards allowed per target (4.3).

7. Alohi Gilman, Los Angeles Chargers: 86.1

Gilman recorded seven stops, three tackles for loss or no gain and a forced fumble in run defense. It was a breakout campaign for Gilman, who ranked fifth in coverage (89.2). He recorded a 21% forced incompletion rate and two interceptions. Gilman also led all safeties in zone coverage grade (90.3).

8. Jordan Battle, Cincinnati Bengals: 82.5

Battle graded out as Cincinnati’s top safety in his rookie season. He led the team’s position group in run-defense grade (81.3) and coverage grade (76.4). Battle recorded 15 run stops, paced Cincinnati safeties in passer rating allowed (83.1) and surrendered only 37 yards on four man coverage targets.

9. Ifeatu Melifonwu, Detroit Lions: 82.1

Melifonwu led all safeties in pressure rate (47.4%) recording 4 sacks (2nd) and 9 total pressures in 19 rush snaps. He ranked second in Zone coverage (89.9), recording a 29.6 passer rating (5th best), and ranked 10th overall in interception rate (8%).

10. Tyrann Mathieu, New Orleans Saints: 81.3

Mathieu picked off four passes, broke up three others and forced three incompletions across 35 targets. Three of his picks came in man coverage (89.5), where he gave up only 23 yards. Mathieu finished sixth in coverage grade in 2023 and leads all safeties (92.0) over the past two seasons.

11. Chamarri Conner, Kansas City Chiefs: 81.0

Conner paced the Chiefs’ safety group in PFF grade in 2023. He ranked fifth in man coverage, allowing only 42 yards on seven targets. The rookie was targeted 16 times in the slot and yielded 1.41 yards per coverage snap and a 70.3 passer rating.

12. Xavier Woods, Carolina Panthers: 80.3

Woods surrendered 132 yards on 25 targets in 2023, also forcing six incompletions at a rate of 24% (tied for fourth). The former sixth-round draft pick was targeted 14 times in zone coverage, from which he recorded two picks and two pass breakups.

13. Andrew Wingard, Jacksonville Jaguars: 79.4

Wingard has not allowed a touchdown in coverage across the past two seasons. He yielded 74 yards on 11 targets in 2023 and allowed a team-best 45.3 passer rating.

14. Malik Hooker, Dallas Cowboys: 77.2

Hooker recorded a career-high 88.3 run-defense grade (fifth) in 2023. Buoying that grade were four stops, four tackles for loss or no gain and the first forced fumble of his career. He was targeted 10 times in coverage and tallied an interception, a pass breakup and two forced incompletions.

15. D’Anthony Bell, Cleveland Browns: 76.3

Bell made a leap in year two, going from a 45.8 grade in 2022 to a 76.3 mark in 2023. He led the Browns’ safety room in run-defense grade (81.7) and recorded the group's lowest missed tackle rate (7%). Bell also totaled six run stops, three tackles for loss or no gain and a forced fumble.

16. Darnell Savage, Green Bay Packers: 75.5

Savage recorded his best overall grade since 2020 (72.1) while also earning a career-high run-defense grade (71.8). Savage recorded eight run stops and seven coverage stops and led the Packers’ safety group in coverage grade (74.2). He faced 18 targets in zone coverage, forcing two incompletions, and recorded two pass breakups and snagging one interception.

17. Brandon Jones, Miami Dolphins: 75.4

Jones ended 2023 with four pressures on 10 pass-rush snaps, and he held up in coverage, too, yielding only 55 yards across 14 targets. He led the Dolphins’ safety group with 15 total stops and set career highs in coverage grade (76.2) and overall grade.

18. Ronnie Hickman Jr., Cleveland Browns: 74.1

Hickman made seven total stops and let up only 43 yards in coverage in 2023. The rookie safety led the Browns' safety room in man coverage grade (68.0) after recording two pass breakups and forcing two incompletions while giving up 5 yards from those looks.

19. Marcus Williams, Baltimore Ravens: 73.8

Williams earned a career-low run-defense grade (60.8), likely due to his tackling woes while recovering from a torn pec, but maintained a strong coverage grade (76.4). He faced 28 targets in 2023 and ranked first in forced incompletion rate (35.7%) and pass breakups (10). Williams placed fifth in zone coverage grade, as well.

T-20. Ji’Ayir Brown, San Francisco 49ers: 73.4

The rookie safety led the 49ers' safety group in coverage grade in 2023 (71.5). He also paced the group in forced incompletion rate (13%) and man coverage grade (81.5) while finishing second in interception rate (13%).

T-20. Reed Blankenship, Philadelphia Eagles: 73.4

Blankenship was Philadelphia’s most-targeted safety in 2023 (50) and led the group in coverage grade (78.0). He gave up six touchdowns and nine plays of 15-plus yards but ranked first on the team in zone coverage grade (75.9) after breaking up three passes on 23 targets and recording a 17% forced incompletion rate.


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