These are my rankings for the top 25 Safeties for the 2016 Fantasy Football season. Please look for last week’s article to see how I ranked them (26-50).
1) Reshad Jones – Reshad Jones is coming off one of the best seasons ever for a fantasy safety. He had 136 tackles, 2 sacks, 5 interceptions with 2 of them returned for TDs and 10 passes defended. I don’t think he can repeat these numbers this season with the addition of Kiko Alonso at MLB, but those numbers shouldn’t fall far enough to remove him from the top fantasy safety ranking.
2) Tyrann Mathieu – Mathieu has not played a full 16 game schedule yet in his three seasons, but despite missing two games in 2015 he had his breakout season. With 89 tackles, 1 sack, 5 interceptions – 1 TD and 17 passes defended he made plays all over the field and developed into one of the best safeties in the game. Now that he knows what he is capable of look for the trend to continue.
3) Landon Collins – Collins started from day 1 as a rookie last season, and as the season wore on he kept improving. Over the final six games he recorded 51 of his 112 tackles – that’s about a 135 tackle pace over a whole season.
4) Corey Graham – Corey Graham, is coming off an up and down fantasy football season. For the most part he was great, but he did have games where he disappeared. Game 1 is a perfect example: 1 solo tackle – yes that was it! He followed this up with 10, 12, 13 and 12 tackles games. He did tail off over the second half of the season, but was still a must start for most teams. This is his second year in Rex Ryan’s defense (now assisted by Rob Ryan), and he should grow more comfortable. The only worry would be improved linebacker play, but Reggie Ragland partially tore his ACL recently, and Zach Brown has the first shot to take his place, so Graham should once again be a solid fantasy safety.
5) Kenny Vaccaro – Vaccaro is coming off his best season. His 104 tackles and 3 sacks eclipsed his previous highs of 79 and 1. Look for even more improvement this season, his second in a non-Rob Ryan system, playing behind an aging James Laurinaitis.
6) Ha Ha Clinton-Dix – Ha Ha has gotten better in each of his two seasons. Last year he had 100 tackles, 3 sacks and 2 interceptions. If the trend continues he will be entrenched as a top 10 fantasy safety for years to come.
7) Ron Parker – Ron Parker contributed in every area last season which was his first full season at safety: 78 tackles, 5 sacks, 3 interceptions and 12 passes defended. His experience at cornerback makes him valuable in both pass and rush defense. Look for Parker to continue to be an excellent fantasy safety.
8) Barry Church – Church last season had 117 tackles, but no other stats except for one forced fumble. This season he will once again go over the 100 tackle mark. If he is to finish higher in the final standings for safeties he’ll have to find a way to be an asset in pass coverage.
9) Malcolm Jenkins – Last season Jenkins had 110 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions with one returned for a TD and 10 passes defended. This season I look for those numbers to drop a bit. With the change in coaching staffs Jenkins will see far less snaps, so his tackles will decline, but his interceptions should increase and make up for some of that loss.
10) Morgan Burnett – Burnett is one of the best safeties in the league when healthy. Last season he was bothered by a calf injury and missed five games. His tackle numbers were down, and he had zero sacks and interceptions. When healthy he can approach 120 tackles and until Green Bay gets an ILB he will continue to have plenty of opportunity.
11) DeAngelo Hall – Hall has only played 14 games over the last two seasons, but at 32 he has some football left in him. This year he will play free safety. At corner for most of his career, Hall has always been one of the best tackling corners in the NFL. Dashan Goldson occupied this spot in the Washington defense last season and finished around the 10th spot among all safeties, and Hall could surpass this if he stays healthy.
12) Karl Joseph (R) – Joseph is my highest ranked rookie on the list. He takes over for the retired and future Hall-of-Famer Charles Woodson. Joseph was the 14th player selected in the draft. He is out of West Virginia, but played in only 4 games his senior season before tearing his ACL. Despite the injury, several teams had him ranked as the top defensive back in the draft. He is a powerful tackler and is at home playing close to the line. He should finish second on the team in tackles only behind Malcolm Smith.
13) T.J. Green (R) – Clayton Geathers was supposed to take over for the departed Dwight Lowery, but he hasn’t been able to practice because of a foot injury, and T.J. Green has made the most of his opportunity running with the first team in training camp. Green is listed as the starter in the Colts first depth chart, and has been one of the players standing out in practice. At Clemson last season Green played corner, but does have experience playing close to the line. He has good size at 6’3″ and ran 4.34 forty at the combine. He would have numerous opportunities for tackles at strong safety and should finish only behind linebacker D’Qwell Jackson in this stat.
14) Kurt Coleman – Coleman was coming off a couple of down seasons prior to last year’s 90 tackles, 7 interceptions and 9 passes defended. While he probably won’t duplicate the 7 interceptions, he seems to have found a home in the Carolina defense.
15) Keanu Neal (R) – The Falcons are getting younger, and three rookies are slated to start on defense: two at LB and Keanu Neal at safety. Neal was known as a hard hitter at the University of Florida, and with a defensive line that struggled last season in Atlanta and an inexperienced LB group, Neal will be hitting all over the field. I’d have him higher on this list if it weren’t for Ricardo Allen sharing stats.
16) Rashad Johnson – Johnson takes over for the departed Michael Griffin at strong safety. Griffin was normally a top 10 fantasy safety at this position in the Tennessee defense, but dropped slightly last season. Johnson had played his entire career in Arizona before signing with the Titans this offseason. This season he is playing behind a below average linebacker group and should see a bevy of fantasy stat opportunities.
17) Eric Weddle – Eric Weddle is coming off of a down fantasy year for the Chargers, but has found a new home in Baltimore. Will Hill excelled last season in this position for Baltimore, before being suspended and released in March. Weddle is far superior to Will Hill and his numbers should get back up to the 90 tackle range again.
18) Johnathan Cyprien – This offseason Jacksonville contemplated moving Cyprien to linebacker, but then drafted Myles Jack in the second round of the draft. He is a liability in pass coverage, but is above average against the run. He has over 100 tackles in all three seasons he’s been in the league, despite missing one or two games each year. This year with the addition of Myles Jack alongside Paul Posluszny and Telvin Smith, Cyprien’s opportunities for tackles will be reduced.
19) Dwight Lowery – The former Colt, Falcon, Jag, Jet is now with the Chargers, and slides into the position vacated by Eric Weddle. Lowery has been a consistent performer over the last two seasons with around 80 tackles and multiple interceptions each year. His value is diminished a bit because the Chargers’ linebacker group is on the rise, otherwise I’d have him ranked a few spots higher.
20) Mike Adams – Adams is entering his 13th year in the league and is the oldest player on this list, but don’t let that keep you from drafting him. He has been a good safety for long time in the league, and he has put up consistent numbers year in and year out.
21) Reggie Nelson – Last season Nelson finished among the top 15 safeties, with 77 tackles and 8 interceptions. This year he is with a new team, and it’s highly unlikely he equals the 8 interceptions. The most he’d had prior to last season were five in his rookie season. He is also playing behind a better linebacker group this season, and will have competition at the other safety position with the Raiders’ first round pick Karl Joseph.
22) Antoine Bethea – Bethea played in only 7 games last season before being put on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. Prior to this he hadn’t missed a game in over 7 seasons and had reached 100 tackles in 5 of those 7 seasons. Last year he had 44 tackles in those 7 games, but was having a down NFL year. This year if he again gets off to a slow start Jaquiski Tartt could take over. I’d have Tartt ranked higher on this list if he had been named the starter based on what he was able to do last season, but either player should do well from a fantasy perspective. Draft Bethea, but keep an eye on what happens over the first month of the season.
23) Michael Mitchell – Mitchell has been solid for the Steelers the last two seasons, but not spectacular. I expect a slight jump in his numbers with the departure of Will Allen, who ranked among the top 15 fantasy safeties last season despite missing three games.
24) D.J. Swearinger – I had Tony Jefferson penciled in here, but Arizona’s initial depth chart gives the nod to D.J. Swearinger. Both safeties are the same age (24), and whoever gets the start will have a chance to put up good numbers opposite Tyrann Mathieu. Last year it was Jefferson with 80 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 interceptions and 5 passes defended.
25) Ibraheim Campbell – Along with Jordan Poyer, Campbell is part of a new safety group taking over for Tashaun Gipson and Donte Whitner in Cleveland. Whitner finished last season above this ranking, and Campbell could do the same. The Cleveland linebackers have been average at best which should continue to create opportunities for the Strong Safety.
There are four first time starters on this list, three of them rookies, in contrast to seven players who are over 30 years old. All are in situations where they should excel. Good luck this Fantasy Football season!