- Matt Williamson, ESPN.com
After watching games and breaking down film, Scouts Inc. has evaluated and graded more than 2,500 NFL players heading into the 2011 season. Here's how the safeties stacked up.
Safeties have to do it all. You just don't see the pure in-the-box strong safeties who can't run with running backs and tight ends. And even then, those guys are still expected to be thumpers in the run game. Versatility is imperative.
We still see excellent pure free-safety types and distinct strong safeties as well, but overall, the best of the crop can do it all and are superb athletes. For us, the top two on this list are very clearly ahead of the pack -- at least for now.
The big issue for Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed is the ability to stay on this list, given the health issues both have had to deal with. The position is now so demanding, you just wonder how long these architects of collision will maintain their level of excellence.
Polamalu is a defender whom offensive coordinators have to game plan for. At times, he can be too aggressive in pursuit, bite on play-action or miss a tackle in the open field.
Polamalu covers a ton of ground and looks to be playing the game at a speed faster than just about everyone else on the field. Few players defend the run, play the pass or change a game like Polamalu. His anticipation, preparation and production are top notch.
Reed has rare instincts. He has elite range and is one of the few backend defenders whom quarterbacks truly fear.
Reed is a game-changer from his deep center-field position, which allows the Ravens to be very aggressive with their schemes. He is a supreme ball hawk with rare anticipation and ball skills. He is also an extremely dangerous weapon with the ball in his hands and is an immediate threat to score.
Mikell is a compact player with good strength and athleticism. He is an instinctive and reads and reacts quickly as plays unfold.
He is an aggressive tackler who will fill the alley quickly. Mikell has become more active as a pass defender but clearly is best attacking the line of scrimmage in run support. He is a versatile and can move to cornerback in a pinch. He is also an extremely dangerous weapon with the ball in his hands and is an immediate threat to score.
Weddle is a little undersized but plays bigger than he measures. He has an excellent nose for the ball and understands angles in run support and in deep coverage.
He has great route recognition and does an excellent job of reading the quarterback's eyes from deep zone. He has good range and shows good ball skills. He may not blow ball carriers up. but he will wrap up and get the job done.
Whitner is a very talented player who is best suited for strong safety. But Whitner has great speed compared to typical strong safeties.
But Whitner has great speed compared to typical strong safeties. He needs to do a better job making big plays and has not been a difference-maker in his career despite his early draft position. But Whitner had his best season in 2010 and could be coming into his own overall.
5hESPN Stats & Information
1dEric D. Williams