Ranking top 20 safeties for 2024 NFL season: Steelers’ Minkah Fitzpatrick among players in tier of their own

Written by on July 6, 2024

It’s that special time of the NFL offseason where we are caught in limbo between OTAs and training camp. For the most part, there’s not all that much happening on a day-to-day basis. Teams are gearing up to start gearing up for the season, if that makes sense.

But given that we do have this nice break, it’s a good time to take stock of what we expect to see during the 2024 season. That’s why we’ve been running through each position, breaking down the top 20 players for 2024. We’re continuing that effort here by working through the league’s best safeties. 

Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order by last name): Vonn Bell, Julian BlackmonJaquan Brisker, Ji’Ayir BrownKevin Byard, Alohi Gilman, Julian Love, Ifeatu MelifonwuJosh Metellus, Trevon Moehrig, Jabrill Peppers, Jordan Poyer, Jalen Thompson, Jimmie Ward, Jordan Whitehead, Xavier Woods. Because this position is so deep, you could really take anyone after the No. 14 or 15 player on the list and switch them with any of the honorable mentions and it would probably make sense. 

Without further ado… 

20. Camryn Bynum, Vikings | 19. Harrison Smith, Vikings

Let’s group these two guys together. Along with the aforementioned Metellus, they were weaponized by Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores in fascinating ways during the 2023 season. All three of them lined up all over the place:

Player FS BOX SLOT CB DL
Bynum 561 186 282 49 42
Smith 346 390 151 39 185
Metellus 55 377 396 29 206

Metellus had the most unusual role for a defensive back, essentially being utilized as a pass-rushing linebacker. His 29 pressures lead all DB, with the next-closest player having just 18. But Bynum and Smith arguably had larger responsibilities, with Bynum patrolling the back end and Smith covering tight ends, flying down in the run game, and captaining the defense as a whole. All three could belong on this list, but we went with the two more traditional safeties here.

18. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Eagles

CJGJ missed most of last season due to an injury. But when last we saw him, he was playing an important role on one of the NFL’s best defenses, and his versatility makes him a rare asset in any scheme.

17. Kamren Curl, Rams

Curl remains highly underrated, to the point that the Rams were able to sign him for $9 million over 2 years. Perhaps because he has plied his trade up to this point for the decrepit Washington franchise, people are just unfamiliar with his game. The 2023 season wasn’t his best, but he had been very good in each of the previous two, and he still played a versatile role and finished the year with 29 run stops, four pass breakups and 87 total tackles. He should shine in L.A.

16. Grant Delpit, Browns

Delpit spent more time than ever last season dropping down into the slot, despite the fact that he missed a few games and played fewer snaps overall. He remains strong in coverage on the back end, and a new role in Jim Schwartz’s defense allowed him to make an impact closer to the line of scrimmage as well.

15. Geno Stone, Bengals

Stone never played more than 41% of the defensive snaps until last season, when he finally took over something resembling a full-time role in Baltimore’s three-safety defense. He stood out in a big way playing primarily as the deep safety, finishing the season with seven interceptions, and he was also able to contribute down in the box and against the run. Heading to Cincinnati, where he’ll play for Lou Anarumo, should allow him to continue his progression.

14. Malik Hooker, Cowboys

Seemingly past the injury issues that plagued him early in his career, Hooker has played 47 of 51 possible games since arriving in Dallas. He’s retained his abilities patrolling the deep part of the field, and during his three years with the Cowboys has gotten much better at defending the run. He doesn’t get his hands on the ball quite as often as he did during his days at Ohio State, but some of that is because opponents don’t test him all that often, preferring to throw elsewhere against Dallas.

13. Justin Simmons, UFA

We’ll simply repeat here what we said about Simmons in our top free-agent safeties story, because it still applies:

Simmons is the best safety on the market, and still one of the top players in the NFL at his position. It’s frankly pretty surprising that he didn’t land a deal during the early portion of free agency. There are plenty of teams with salary-cap space who could potentially hand him a sizable deal, but that’s also not usually the kind of thing that happens at this point in the offseason. Maybe he gets something more like a one-year contract with the ability to hit the open market again next winter.

It honestly makes no sense that he hasn’t been signed yet.

12. Talanoa Hufanga, 49ers

After surprisingly breaking out as an All-Pro in 2022, Hufanga missed some time due to injuries last year, but he didn’t really lose a step. He arguably got better at the non-pass-coverage responsibilities as a safety, and heading into Year 4 should continue to improve in all areas of his game. Moving on from former defensive coordinator Steve Wilks and back to the kind of system the Niners played during his debut campaign as a starter should help, too. 

11. Budda Baker, Cardinals

Baker is a strange player. He’s 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds but plays like a monster-sized safety, attacking downhill against both the run and the pass, and flying off the edge on the occasional blitz. He had the second-lowest missed tackle rate of his career last season, via Pro Football Focus, and allowed the lowest completion rate on throws in his direction. And that was on a defense sorely lacking talent. If they add more players around him, he should be able to solidify all areas of his game.

10. Tyrann Mathieu, Saints

The Honey Badger just keeps plugging along as one of the NFL’s best, most versatile, and most dynamic players at the safety position. The model for many of today’s hybrid safeties, Mathieu has long played bigger than his size, even if his coverage abilities are what separate him from the rest. He’s still a terrific player, even heading into his age-32 season.

9. Kyle Dugger, Patriots

Dugger showed way more versatility last year than ever before, playing more snaps as a deep safety than during his first three NFL seasons combined. He can still slide into the slot, and he can still come up and play the run, and he can still guard just about any tight end in the league. He gets his hands on the ball and generates pressure when tasked with rushing the passer. Oh, and he has elite size and athleticism for the position.

8. Derwin James, Chargers

James has as high a ceiling as any safety in the NFL. He doesn’t always tap into it, but his combination of size, strength, length, agility, and the ability to do whatever is asked in any role a safety can be tasked with is enviable. At the peak of his powers, he could be No. 1 one this list. At his median contribution level, this ranking is more appropriate.

7. Xavier McKinney, Packers

McKinney is coming off the best season of his career, and he deservingly got paid by the Packers. A new defensive coordinator in Green Bay should get better use out of him than the previous one would have, even if after a year in which he dropped down into the box and the slot more often than ever, he returns to being more of a center-fielder.

6. Marcus Williams, Ravens

Williams is one of those guys who can just erase the deep portion of the field. He did it in New Orleans and he’s doing it in Baltimore. He had a career-high 10 pass breakups last season, and in seven years he has allowed just 14 touchdowns in coverage while picking off 21 passes. Williams has somehow never made either a Pro Bowl or an All-Pro team, but hopefully that gets remedied soon.

5. Jevon Holland, Dolphins

In just three seasons, Holland has emerged as arguably the NFL’s most diverse safety. He plays deep and in the box and in the slot. He even flexes out wide. He’s fantastic in coverage and more than holds his own as a run defender, and he rarely misses tackles in open space. With a new defensive coordinator coming in from Baltimore, he should be able to tap into the full extent of his skill set again.

4. Jessie Bates III, Falcons

Bates is perhaps the league’s pre-eminent ball-hawking safety, with 10 interceptions across the two seasons since he arrived in Atlanta. He plays the deep part of the field and pretty much just takes it all away. Playing for Raheem Morris now, he should flourish in a similar way as he already has, if not more. Morris has tended to get the best out of even less talented safeties in his previous stops.

3. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Steelers

This next group is on a different level than most other safeties. Even with Fitzpatrick missing some time last year, he still found a way to make an impact at all three levels of the defense. After beginning his career as a corner, he still has some of the best coverage abilities of any safety, and he is a turnover-forcing machine both deep down the field and close to the line of scrimmage.

2. Kyle Hamilton, Ravens

Essentially a monster-sized slot corner who can also play in the box and up high on the field, Hamilton is one of the league’s most unique players. He finished last season with four interceptions, five pass breakups, 16 pressures, and 40 run stops. That makes no sense on any level. Mike Macdonald is gone, but Hamilton’s role should remain the same in Baltimore’s defense, and he should only get better at it as he progresses in his career.

1. Antoine Winfield Jr., Buccaneers

Winfield can do pretty much anything you want from a safety. Patrol the deep portion of the field? Check. Cover backs and tight ends? Check. Stop the run? Check. Blitz? Check. Anything and everything of which he is asked, at which he excels. He recently became the highest-paid defensive back in the league, and he deserved the payday.

The post Ranking top 20 safeties for 2024 NFL season: Steelers’ Minkah Fitzpatrick among players in tier of their own first appeared on OKC Sports Radio.


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