The value of a versatile, three-down safety is at an all-time high in today’s NFL. With the ever-growing use of creative and exotic passing concepts, defensive coordinators leaguewide have come to rely on athletic safeties to disrupt the passing game, either by combating athletic tight ends or facing up against big-bodied receivers in the slot.
Some are ballhawks who can patrol the middle of the field while others cause havoc near the line of scrimmage. Here, in reverse order, are the best safety tandems in the NFL right now.
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HARRISON SMITH & ANTHONY HARRIS, MINNESOTA VIKINGS
His overall grade dropped from 91.8 in 2017 to 79.7 last season, but Harrison Smith remained elite against the run with a 91.3 run-defense grade in 2018 — the best mark among safeties. He was also one of the most reliable tacklers in the NFL with a 21.5 tackle efficiency rating, again, best among safeties who logged 400 or more snaps.
The Minnesota Vikings All-Pro safety was named this week’s NFC Defensive Player of the Week after making life difficult for the San Francisco 49ers offense.
When asking who the best player on their defense is, many members of the Minnesota Vikings will give the same answer. That guy who plays safety named Harrison Smith.
Now in his seventh NFL season, Smith has been the anchor of a Vikings defense that has evolved into one of the league’s top units under head coach Mike Zimmer. The safety’s ability to line up at multiple positions makes him such a dangerous weapon for Zimmer to use each week.
During Minnesota’s first game of the 2018 season last Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, Smith’s performance had a lot to do with the Vikings coming away with a win. When the clock struck zero, the Minnesota safety had a total of eight tackles, one sack, one pass breakup, one fumble recovery, and one game-sealing interception.
Without Smith on the field, there’s a good chance that the Vikings could have opened this year with a loss to the 49ers. But thanks to his impressive play, Minnesota was able to hang on for the Week 1 victory.
For his efforts last Sunday, the NFL has announced that Smith has been named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week. This is the second time in the safety’s career that he has earned this award.
This is also the third season in a row that a player from the Vikings’ roster has earned the award after the team’s first game of the year.
Harris came in for the injured Andrew Sendejo in Week 6 and immediately put forth one of the best single-game performances of the 2018 season. Keeping the starting job for the remainder of the campaign, Harris made his most significant impact in coverage, where he saw just 13 targeted passes. Still, he recorded three interceptions and two additional pass breakups and allowed a passer rating of only 24.0 on throws into his coverage.
The Minnesota Vikings have locked down their starting NFL’s best safety tandems with Anthony Harris inking his tender to stay with the team in 2019.
Making a bold move to save salary cap room this offseason, the Minnesota Vikings chose not to pick up the option on starting safety Andrew Sendejo‘s contract, leaving the spot open heading into the 2019 NFL season.
In an attempt to lock down Anthony Harris for the starting role this upcoming season, the team placed a second-round tender on the hard-hitting safety in hopes of retaining the impending free agent.
Officially announced along with the signings of Sean Mannion, Jordan Taylor, and Rashod Hill, Anthony Harris is a fan favorite among those following the purple and gold after making some big plays while filling in for Sendejo.
During his four years with Minnesota, Harris started 17 games and played in 51 total contests while playing defense and special teams. During that time, he accumulated 108 combined tackles (81 solo), ten pass defenses, three interceptions, three fumble recoveries, and one forced fumble.
Now that he is likely to have a significantly larger role in the team’s defense, his contributions should increase in a massive way as well. Pairing him with Harrison Smith in a Mike Zimmer defense where pressure and coverage can come from just about anywhere is exciting and Harris should work well with solid cornerbacks like Trae Waynes and Xavier Rhodes.
JAMAL ADAMS & MARCUS MAYE, NEW YORK JETS
Jamal Adams exploded onto the scene as one of the league’s most versatile safeties a season ago. He played 137 snaps at edge defender, 172 snaps as a slot cornerback, 40 snaps as a wide cornerback, 489 snaps in the box and 281 snaps as a deep safety, and he earned grades north of 77.0 in all four facets of our defensive grading system. He produced a pressure rate of 28.2% as a pass-rusher — third among the 19 safeties with at 25 pass-rushing snaps — and he allowed a passer rating of just 67.3 on throws into his primary coverage.
Marcus Maye only managed 393 snaps in 2018, but he sure made his time on the field count. Through six games, Maye earned an impressive 81.7 overall grade thanks to strong showings in all facets of the game. However, he shined in coverage, where he allowed just 0.08 yards per snap and a catch once every 106.5 snaps while in coverage.