Ranking the top 25 safeties in the NFL ahead of Week 15: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Derwin James and more

Minkah Fitzpatrick of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs out of the tunnel after being introduced prior to the start of the game against the New York Jets at Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh, PA on October 2, 2022. Pittsburgh Steelers Vs New York Jets Week 4

• MInkah Fitzpatrick, Derwin James top the list: The two playmakers differ in how they impact games, but both are the class of the safety position.

• Three Cowboys safeties place in the top 25: Dallas uses three safeties more than any other team, and those players are excelling in 2022.

• Rookie Kyle Hamilton making his mark: The 2022 first-rounder is thriving in a rotational role in the Baltimore Ravens' defense.

Estimated Reading Time: 11 mins

Editor's note: Players must meet the 350-snap minimum to be included in these rankings. These rankings are solely based on player production in 2022 through Week 14.

1. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Pittsburgh Steelers

Fitzpatrick is having another strong season for the Steelers, thriving in coverage and as a run defender. He’s already recorded four interceptions, which makes this the third time in four seasons he’s hit that mark. Fitzpatrick also sports the league’s top coverage grade among safeties (85.9), and opposing quarterbacks have just a 71.8 passer rating when targeting him. He is a complete player who is as shrewd as they come. 

2. Derwin James, Los Angeles Chargers

No safety in the NFL is more talented than Derwin James, and the Chargers take advantage of that by playing him all over the field. They’ve put him in some tough spots this season, such as covering Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce one-on-one, but he’s managed to hold his own. He's also totaled 26 run stops this season, the third most among safeties.

3. Jordan Poyer, Buffalo Bills

Poyer has missed some time this season due to an elbow injury, but he is playing at an elite level when on the field. Opposing quarterbacks have just a 68.8 passer rating when targeting Poyer, the seventh lowest in the NFL. In addition, he's allowed just 60 yards in coverage all year long, which ranks second among qualifying safeties. Poyer is having another incredible season as one of the key leaders of the Buffalo defense. 

4. Antoine Winfield Jr., Tampa Bay Buccaneers

One of the most complete safeties in the NFL, Antoine Winfield Jr. does a little bit of everything in Todd Bowles' defense. He rushes the passer efficiently, boasting a 92.9 pass-rush grade that paces the position to go along with three sacks. Winfield has played 294 snaps in the slot and 164 snaps at free safety, which is unique in today's NFL. He doesn't have a clear weakness, vaulting him to No. 4 on this list.

5. Marcus Williams, Baltimore Ravens

Williams missed significant time this season due to a dislocated wrist, but he’s been phenomenal otherwise. Despite playing only 367 snaps, he’s already recorded four interceptions and has yet to allow a touchdown. He's surrendered a measly 54 yards in coverage this season, and opponents have a 36.0 passer rating when targeting him. He’s the best pure coverage safety in the NFL and a perfect fit in Baltimore’s defense. 

6. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Philadelphia Eagles

No safety in the NFL has more interceptions than Gardner-Johnson this year (six), and that alone makes him worthy of a spot in the top 10. While he's been slightly inconsistent in coverage, allowing four touchdowns and over 260 yards in 2022, his playmaking and range make him dangerous. CGJ has missed the past few weeks with an injury, but he has been everything the Eagles hoped for when they traded for him this offseason.

7. Kamren Curl, Washington Commanders

Not only is Curl the second-highest-graded safety in the NFL (85.0), but he’s also been one of the league’s top playmakers. Curl has 28 run stops, the second most among safeties. He’s also missed just three tackles, forming one of the lowest missed tackle rates (3.8%) in the league. The only reason he’s not higher on this list is due to a lack of “splash” plays, as he hasn’t recorded an interception, a pass deflection or a forced fumble this season. But as a pure box safety, there haven’t been many players better than Curl this season.  

8. Ryan Neal, Seattle Seahawks

After signing with the Eagles as an undrafted free agent in 2018, Neal played a combined 839 snaps across his first four NFL seasons. But Jamal Adams' injury in Week 1 thrust Neal into a full-time role with the Seahawks shortly after. He is currently the third-highest-graded safety in the NFL this season (84.1), as he’s been excellent in coverage. 

Neal has allowed just 166 yards on 36 targets, and opposing quarterbacks have a 79.2 passer rating when targeting him in coverage. No safety in the NFL has more pass breakups than Neal's five this season. He also has 23 run stops, tied for the 10th most among safeties. Neal has been one of the NFL’s biggest surprises so far. 

9. Tyrann Mathieu, New Orleans Saints

Mathieu left the Chiefs in free agency and joined the Saints to return to his hometown. While the Saints have struggled to find wins all season, Mathieu has continued to play like a borderline Pro Bowler. Among safeties with at least 400 snaps, he has the ninth-highest overall grade (76.0). Admittedly, he's become less of an impact player in the run game with age.

He’s still among the best coverage safeties in the league, though, sporting a 79.8 such grade (fifth highest in the NFL among qualifying safeties). Mathieu has allowed just 77 yards in coverage all season long, and opposing quarterbacks have a 69.6 passer rating. Mathieu isn't elite anymore, but he is still very good. 

10. Talanoa Hufanga, San Francisco 49ers

Hufanga has struggled a little bit over the past month as teams are starting to pick on him in coverage, but he’s made so many splash plays this season that he has to be included on this list. While Hufanga has surrendered a few touchdowns in recent weeks, opposing quarterbacks still have a lowly 61.3 passer rating when targeting him. He’s recorded four interceptions, tied for third most among safeties in the NFL.

Plus, he’s an enforcer in the run game, totaling 25 run stops this year (sixth most in the league). If Hufanga becomes more consistent, there is no reason he can't soon become a top-five safety in the NFL.

11. Eddie Jackson, Chicago Bears

It’s a shame that Jackson is stuck on one of the worst defenses in the NFL because he’s having another nice season. He’s still one of the most complete safeties in the league and lacks any fatal flaws. Jackson has been incredible in coverage again this season, totaling four interceptions while allowing only 97 total yards in coverage. This isn't quite the best year of his career, but it's close. 

12. Duron Harmon, Las Vegas Raiders

Harmon continues to be one of the NFL's most underrated safeties. Despite not opening the season as a starter, he has become a key player for the Raiders' defense. Harmon has recorded two interceptions this season, including taking one to the house against the Texans. He has the third-best coverage among safeties (82.4) and has allowed just a 69.9 passer rating into his coverage.

While he's not a great run defender (57.9 run-defense grade), Harmon always seems to be around the ball. This is his sixth straight season with at least two interceptions and four pass breakups. 

13. Malik Hooker, Dallas Cowboys

After a solid season in 2021, Hooker has been even better for Dallas in 2022. He’s managed to stay on the field and has been lockdown in coverage for the Cowboys. That's apparent in his 86 yards surrendered in coverage, the fourth-lowes total in the NFL among qualifying safeties. In addition, he has allowed just one touchdown and has yet to be called for a penalty. While he might not be the most dynamic safety on this list, Hooker is having the best and most complete season of his NFL career.

14. Justin Simmons, Denver Broncos

Simmons has been widely viewed as one of the NFL’s best safeties for the past several years. And while he’s having a solid 2022 season, this is far from the best of his career. His overall grade stands at just 72.0, which ranks 20th among qualifying safeties. His solid play in coverage is tainted by the fourth-highest missed tackle rate (18.9%) in the NFL. Nevertheless, Simmons is still one of the most talented safeties in the NFL and Broncos fans shouldn't panic. Unfortunately, he's having a down year compared to the rest of his incredible career. 

15. Donovan Wilson, Dallas Cowboys

The best pure box safety in the NFL, Wilson leads all safeties in stops (32). The Cowboys use three safeties more than any team in the league, and Wilson is their enforcer in the run game. He is also a fantastic blitzer, boasting an 88.7 pass-rush grade to pair with four sacks this season. His 12 pressures also paces the position; no one else has more than nine. Wilson is a free agent after the 2022 season and should receive a big payday from a team looking for a dynamic box safety. 

16. Budda Baker, Arizona Cardinals

One could have argued over the past few years that Baker has been the best safety in the NFL at various points, but he's had a down 2022 season by his standards. He's recorded just one interception, one tackle for a loss and zero other splash plays. In addition, quarterbacks have a sky-high 130.0 passer rating when targeting Baker, which is near the bottom of the league. Baker deserves to be on this list because he can still make impact plays, but he's not having a fantastic campaign by any means. 

17. Adrian Phillips, New England Patriots

Phillips has put together back-to-back strong seasons with the Patriots, playing mostly as a box safety. He is currently the eighth-highest-graded safety in the NFL (77.0) on the back of recording 20 stops and a 5.4% missed tackle rate. He’s also been rock solid in coverage, allowing just 142 yards on 29 targets. Phillips doesn’t get a lot of national attention, but he’s one of the more consistent strong safeties in the league.

18. Kevin Byard, Tennessee Titans

Byard finished 2021 as the highest-graded safety in the NFL (90.4). He hasn’t played to that level this season, with his grade dropping all the way down to 71.4, but he still has few weaknesses. He boasts the third-best tackling grade (90.0) among all qualifying safeties this season. The reason his grade is lower this year is due to his coverage, as he’s allowed 312 yards and three touchdowns. Byard hasn’t played at a Pro Bowl level this year but is still a very good player.

19. Kyle Dugger, New England Patriots

The Patriots use several safeties, and Dugger has been a real weapon for head coach Bill Belichick this season. He is basically playing as a linebacker, as 294 of his snaps have come on the defensive line or in the box. Dugger has already recorded 21 stops and five hurries on the year. He can get exposed a bit in coverage but is a true modern-day box safety, possessing the size and speed to make plays near the line of scrimmage. 

20. Darrick Forrest, Washington Commanders

Forrest joins teammate Kamren Curl on this list in just his second NFL season. Forrest is the 17th-ranked safety in the NFL by PFF grade (75.1). Among qualifying safeties, he has the sixth-highest coverage grade (79.4). Opposing quarterbacks also have just a 53.2 passer rating when targeting Forrest. Having already recorded three interceptions and three pass breakups, Forrest is enjoying a fantastic sophomore season in Washington. 

21. Jessie Bates III, Cincinnati Bengals 

Bates was the No. 1 safety during the 2020 season, but he's struggled a bit since then. He's still a dangerous defender, as we saw in the 2021 playoffs, but he's having a down season by his standards. Bates is just the 29th-highest-graded safety this year (69.9), as he's allowed 251 yards on 26 targets. However, he's still a playmaker, racking up three interceptions and three pass breakups. So, make no mistake about it: He is still someone defenses have to account for on every play.

22. Jayron Kearse, Dallas Cowboys

Kearse is the third Cowboys safety to make this list, and it's an earned inclusion. After breaking out in 2021, Kearse is playing at a high level again this year. He's one of the best tackling safeties in the league, sporting a 3.4% missed tackle rate (third best among qualifying safeties). He's also recorded 20 stops in the run game and the second-most pressures among safeties (nine). The only player with more is teammate Donovan Wilson with 12.  

23. Devin McCourty, New England Patriots

Despite being 35 years old, McCourty has already played more than 800 snaps this season, with 596 coming from the free safety position. He is still among the most reliable tacklers in the league, with just a 6.3% missed tackle rate. He’s given up more plays down the field than usual, but he’s still a quality player for the Patriots at this stage of his career.

24. Kyle Hamilton, Baltimore Ravens

It’s hard not to be impressed with how well Kyle Hamilton has played as a rookie. The fifth-highest-graded safety in the NFL (78.9), Hamilton has been solid in all phases of the game. The only reason he isn’t higher is his 350 snaps on the year, which is exactly where our cutoff was for this ranking.

The Ravens employ a safety rotation, and it's clear they are utilizing Hamilton in a rotational role. But after the way he's played over the past few weeks, it's hard not to advocate for him getting more snaps, especially now that Marcus Williams is back in his free safety role.  

25. Jevon Holland, Miami Dolphins

Holland. was the fourth-highest-graded safety in the NFL last season (84.7). He hasn't played quite to that level this season (69.0), but his dynamic skill set continues to show at free safety. Holland has already recorded two interceptions this year and has incredible range and instincts. He’s given up a few big plays on the season (217 yards on 17 receptions), but he’s still among the NFL's best young safeties.


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