Continuing our rankings of safety, we look at the ones who could take the next step, breakout, and become top 15 talent. The most likely candidates to fit that mold are the strong safeties, who play like linebackers and have the freedom to roam. Safety, honestly, is one of the hardest positions to predict, as their is little stability there year to year in fantasy, and some only come in and play in nickel packages or on third down. The names I rank here could finish above or below where they are, and I could make an argument that by season’s end, at least five of the names from this list could be in the top 15 next season. Safety is where you look to get your solid blend of tackles and interceptions, as well as fill out your defense with more forced and recovered fumbles. Come draft day, there are sure to be some diamonds in the rough, just be sure you’re the one who reaps the benefits. These rankings, as always, are tailored for Major league fantasy Football, but could also be used for any type of league.
16.) Tyvon Branch – Known for playing like a linebacker, Branch should continue to be his old self and net any owner 100 tackles, 2 interceptions, and a handful of passes defensed and stuffs as a low-end S1/high-end S2.
17.) Jairus Byrd – If you are looking for a turnover machine with upside, Byrd is the safety for you. Since coming into the league in 2009, Byrd has accumulated 18 interceptions, and is just getting started. This season, grab him ahead of where you think you’ll be able to get him, as he could very easily lead the league in picks en route to 6 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, and 2 recovered fumbles. Sleeper to become a year-in, year-out top 10 safety.
18.) Malcolm Jenkins – The talent is there, but the durability is not. Not once has Jenkins played a full 16 game season, and it’s starting to look like he is a lock to miss some time every season. If he could stay healthy for a full season, Jenkins could tap into his upside and get on the track to potentially becoming elite. His upside is a triple digit tackler with a propensity for causing turnovers.
19.) Ryan Clark – Playing alongside Troy Polamalu has its perks. Clark has officially entered the top 20, after posting back to back 100+ tackle seasons. Clark is an S2 who would complement a lower tackling, high turnover safety very nicely. Clark will net you 2 picks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and happy owners in general.
20.) Dawan Landry – The “other” Landry has the opportunity to put up better numbers than younger bro, considering the Jets typically make elite safeties. Dawan is a hard-hitting, high tackling safety who also has a knack for the football. His inaugural season under Rex Ryan could net fantasy owners 100 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 3 interceptions. Don’t forget about him on draft day, and remember, Jets are a lock to produce elite fantasy defenders.
21.) Thomas DeCoud – As weak as the Falcons corner play looks, their safety duo of Moore and DeCoud has put the other half of the secondary on the fantasy radar. With 10 interceptions over the past 2 seasons, DeCoud is quickly becoming a fantasy commodity. While Moore is more likely to get a higher tackle total and create more fumbles, DeCoud could very well net you more interceptions, and approach 10 passes defensed while amassing 80 tackles.
22.) Devin McCourty – The Patriots rock at safety should be valued for his ballhawking skills, as well as for his ability to disrupt the pass. As long as he stays on the field, McCourty will easily continue to post 83 tackles, 4 picks, 2 forced fumbles, and 15 passes defensed. Draft him assured.
23.) Kenny Vaccaro – Vaccaro will start, but the factor that may ultimately decide his value going into the season is the health of teammate Roman Harper. If Harper is healthy, he’ll be the safety that dominates in New Orleans, if Harper misses anytime (likely), then Vaccaro could lead the Saints safeties in tackles. While it’s unlikely he’ll ever post elite interception totals. Look for him to contribute 80 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, and a sack.
24.) Yeremiah Bell – A move from the Jets to the Cardinals means expect more of the same from Bell, the hard hitter. He’ll be free to hit at will, and will rack up the tackles. Drafting him as your S2, you could easily get 105 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, and a weekly dose of nastiness.
25.) Antrel Rolle – Rolle is the definition of a consistent, solid safety with limited upside. Rolle will never lead your team in any one category, but he’ll give you a nice, round stat line. Rolle will continue rolling along with a 96 tackle, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recovery, 2 interception, 5 passes defensed season.
26.) Patrick Chung – Reuniting with Chip Kelly in Philadelphia could be the rejuvenation Chung’s career needs. After a breakout sophomore season in New England, Chung has disappeared off the fantasy radar. The uptempo, aggressive playing style Kelly will implement could lead to a return to 80 tackles, 3 interceptions, 9 passes defensed for Chung.
27.) Major Wright – Wright finally began tapping into his potential last season, and his breakout season could come this season. Wright took steps forward last season, and starting this season, Wright could step up his play and net you 75 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries, 4 interceptions, and 8 passes defensed. There is downside here, however, as it remains to be seen if he can be consistent.
28.) Mike Adams – Adams may be getting up there in age, but in today’s game, age is proving to be a moot point in terms of production for defensive players. Adams, starting at strong side, will continue to be consistent, if unspectacular. A line of 75 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, and 10 passes defensed should be in store.
29.) Chris Clemons – Despite posting 98 tackles last season, Clemons has yet to completely breakout. This could be the season it happens. The improved defense and new scheme in Miami could open up the lanes for Clemons to post 95 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, and 4 interceptions. Do you feel like taking a chance on this emerging star at safety?
30.) Danieal Manning – Playing alongside Ed Reed, and getting more early season looks at the running lanes with Reed coming off surgery could lead to a career year for Manning. Teams will shy away from throwing at Reed, meaning Manning will have every opportunity to post new highs in interceptions and passes defensed. No less than 80 tackles, 4 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, 3 interceptions, and 10 passes defensed should be expected from Manning this season.
31.) Rahim Moore – After getting beat badly by Jacoby Jones in coverage during last post season’s loss against the Ravens, Moore is playing with a chip on his shoulder and with a vengeance. Moore can hit hard as nails and is not afraid to lay players out, and the added motivation after last season’s disastrous play late in the Ravens match could lead Moore to become a top 20 safety, if not more this season. As his maturity continues to progress, expect 80 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, 3 interceptions, and 10 passes defensed. The youngster is determined, and you have to applaud him for owning up to the responsibility for last post season’s blown play.
32.) Earl Thomas – If it seems like I’ve ranked 95% of the Hawks players in the top of my rankings for each position, there’s a reason: The Hawks have a defense full of young studs-in-the-making. Already a veteran of the young Seattle defense, Thomas should continue to emerge and find his niche in the secondary. Thomas has top 15 potential, and if he could post 80 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries, 4 interceptions, and 14 passes defensed, he could very well find himself in the top 15 by season’s end.
33.) Kenny Phillips – Phillips, like Chung, could very well benefit from Chip Kelly’s style of play. Entering training camp, he’ll be competing with Nate Allen for the starting gig across from Chung, but Phillips should win out. He just needs to stay healthy, which appears to be his issue. A full 16 game season for Phillips could easily lead to 87 tackles, 5 interceptions, 3 fumble recoveries, and 8 passes defensed. Just beware, he could miss time this season and lose value.
34.) Donte Whitner – Whitner will be relied upon to usher in Eric Reid, and teach him the secondary ways in San Francisco. The departure of Goldson to Tampa Bay, and Reid’s rookie season could allow Whitner to net fantasy owners a 100 tackle, 2 forced fumble, 3 fumble recovery, 2 interception, 7 passes defensed stat line.
35.) Antoine Bethea – Weaknesses against the run and the entrance of LaRon to the Colts defense spell the end of Bethea’s days of 100 tackles. With that said, playing across from Landry could lead to more chances for picks and passes defensed. Expect 90 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, and 4 interceptions from Bethea, with a shot at 10 passes defensed.
36.) Matt Elam – The Ravens didn’t draft Elam in the first round and see Ed Reed walk, to not start the rookie. Elam has all the makings of a high tackling, good, turnover causing machine, but will need to beat out incumbent James Ihedigbo to see starter’s time. That, of course, has been the prediction, as Elam has the more explosive and better overall skill set than Ihedigbo. In his rookie season, temper expectations some, as there will be growing pains, like with all rookies. Elam should easily still top the 80 tackle, 1.5 sack, 4 interception, 2 forced fumble, 2 fumble recovery stat line. I’ll be sure to draft him when the time is right.
37.) Michael Griffin – Griffin is likely to never repeat his seven interception season from 2008, but playing the free safety role again in Tennessee, Griffin should be banked upon to produce 83 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 3 interceptions, and 7 passes defensed. The Titans need consistency, and that’s what Griffin brings.
38.) Dashon Goldson – You could hear the zipper on Goldson’s bag when the 49ers drafted Eric Reid. Goldson will look to revive his career in Tampa Bay, but with better play makers around him, there’s no guarantee that will happen. That, and the elite pass offenses in the NFC South, could cause all sorts of problems for Goldson. Since a ton of balls will be thrown around him, expect 68 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 3 recovered fumbles, 5 pick, and 10 passes defensed.
39.) Shawn Williams – The Bengals drafted Williams in the 3rd round to pick off passes. He’ll start strong side, and the picks could get nice real fast. The UGA product may not have the tackling prowess of Elam or the upside of Cyprien, but what Williams offers is 75 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 5 interceptions (I’m not crazy), and a handful of passes defensed. He may start the season on your bench, but should end up a starter for you by season’s end. Well worth a late round pick to fill your DP spot.
40.) Michael Huff – Huff is not going to lead your team in tackles, interceptions, or forced fumbles, but he may well lead your team in passes defensed, while chipping in the other areas. Getting out of Oakland may relieve his stress some; enough to enable him to give fantasy owners 60 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 15 passes defensed.
41.) Eric Reid – Widely considered the top safety in the 2013 draft class, Reid steps into a position where expectations will be high from Day one. In San Francisco, the 49ers will leave him the entire backfield to roam, while Whitner focuses on coming up to disrupt the run game. This freedom should equate to a solid rookie season with 80 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 3 interceptions and a handful of passes defensed. The 49ers are giving him this liberty in an effort to keep teams from targeting him in the pass game, where some of his skills are thought to be suspect in coverage.
42.) T.J. Ward – After 2 injury-plagued seasons, Ward looks to bounce back and show the Browns that his rookie season was not a fluke. Granted, a return to 123 tackles is unlikely, but a clean bill of health and being the Browns’ best true starter at safety could net Ward 75 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, 3 interceptions, and 8 passes defensed. The upside is big here, but the health concerns may make fantasy owners shy away.
43.) Da’Norris Searcy – Someone has to fill the void left by George Wilson, and Searcy, a huge thumper, is the top candidate. The 3rd year man is one of the biggest sleepers at safety this season, and he could be inline for a big season, given that footballs go to the wrong hands if they throw against Byrd. Temper expectations early on, but the upside here is 70 tackles, 4 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, and 1 fumble recovery.
44.) Charles Godfrey – The Panthers’ secondary is in disarray, but the one solid option from their safety corps is Godfrey. The Panthers will rely upon him to at least keep their safety squad from drifting into obscurity. If you draft him as your S3, you could do a lot worse, as he is serviceable most weeks, and a solid bye week filler. 70 tackles, 4 interceptions, 5 passes defensed, and a fumble recovery is his ceiling this season.
45.) Jamarca Sanford – The scarier Harrison Smith gets, the more the Vikings will need someone to step up opposite him. Entering the season, Sanford looks like the favorite to fill the Vikings starting strong side safety, but any lapses could mean a demotion to backup. He has the ability to stick and produce, but Smith will also dictate plays in the secondary. Assuming Sanford is able to maintain a stranglehold on the starting gig, put him down for 70 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 1 recovered fumble, and 5 passes defensed.
46.) Chris Conte – Assuming Conte’s separated shoulder doesn’t affect his readiness for the 2013 season, he’ll start opposite Wright and look to build off last season’s success before getting injured. Keep an eye on his status going into the season, but his upside is that of a 70 tackle, 2 interception, 11 passes defensed safety with room to grow.
47.) Darian Stewart – Stewart’s upside is only limited by his health. If he could ever stay healthy, we could be looking at a 90 tackle, 4 interception guy with stats to boot, but he always seems to deal with nagging injuries, and could find himself as part timer, unless that changes quickly. For this season, he’ll start at strong safety, and if you could get 15 healthy games out of him, you could be looking at 80 tackles, 3 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, and 10 passes defensed. The question is, do you trust him to hold up?
48.) Troy Polamalu – For what it’s worth, if Troy P could stay healthy, he’d be in the conversation for top safety every season, as he is as nasty as they come. However, he always seems to be hampered by something, vastly hurting his stock. Reports say he is coming into training camp in his best shape since USC, but I’ll believe it when I see him stay healthy. Granted, I’ll be taking a flier on him this season late in my drafts, and a full, healthy season could mean a totally dominating stat line of 90 tackles, 5 interceptions, 2 sacks, 15 passes defensed. I also will be sure to grab a solid replacement for his almost annual visit to the inactives list, which isn’t unlikely for this season.
49.) Brandon Meriweather – After wrecking his right ACL in week 11 last season, there will be questions about his knee, but all signs point to it being fully recovered after surgery. His play making ability is undeniable, and there seems to be something up Shanahan’s sleeve, as he has built a great young team. Given the news that everything is going fine for him after surgery, expect 60 tackles, 3 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries, and 5 passes defensed.
50.) Barry Church – The Cowboys safety situation is a bigger joke than Sarah Palin’s daughter’s purity, but Church looks to be the one constant. If Church doesn’t take charge in the secondary this season, the Cowboys secondary will be filled with more holes than the proverbial swiss cheese. With that said, with a limited sample thus far, and given his relatively young age (25), expect 50 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 1 recovered fumble. This could be an extremely long season for the ‘Boys safeties.