- Matt Williamson, ESPN.com
After watching games and breaking down film, Scouts Inc., in conjunction with ESPN.com's Matt Williamson, has evaluated and graded more than 2,500 NFL players heading into the 2012 season. Here's how the top safeties stacked up.
Note: No rookies were included in this exercise. Age refers to player's age at start of the 2012-13 season on Sept. 5.
Today's safeties are asked to do more than ever before. The defined roles between free safety and strong safety are more blurred than ever. And with the influx of dangerous tight ends around the league, do-it-all safeties are in more demand than ever -- and there is a bit of a shortage at this position right now.
It only makes sense, as safeties now must be deep middle defenders, able to handle two-deep coverage and play man-to-man against a variety of wide receivers and tight ends, in addition to playing the run and often quarterbacking the secondary.
Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu have reigned supreme at this position for some time now and they remain at the top heading into the 2012-13 campaign, but some younger safeties such as Earl Thomas and Eric Berry could be poised to take a shot at that title.
There are also some king-sized safeties such as Tyvon Branch, Adrian Wilson and Kam Chancellor who bring linebacker-like mentality and physicality to the position but are not limited to in-the-box play.
Polamalu is going into his 10th season in the league and is considered one of the most impactful safeties in the past 20 years. He is short and powerfully built and a physical presence in the secondary.
He has great instincts and anticipates well to overlap zones and make big plays. He is versatile, and opposing coordinators must account for him in pressure packages, combination zone and man coverages.
Reed continues to be one of the best safeties in the league. He has average size for the safety position but has outstanding instincts and deceptive athleticism to make plays on the ball.
He has excellent ball skills and will take chances at times to make game-changing plays. Reed has lost some quickness and range but brings experience and leadership to the Ravens' secondary.
Weddle is a playmaking safety with adequate size and good range over the top. He plays bigger than he measures and is an all-out, full-speed-ahead type of free safety.
He shows good range over the top and excellent route recognition and ability to read the quarterback's eyes. He is a quick decision-maker who gets an excellent jump on the ball and shows good ball skills when in position to make a play on the pass. He is equally as adept at playing the run as he is as a deep pass defender.
5dEric D. Williams
4dMel Kiper Jr.