After linebackers in dynasty leagues with IDP’s, defensive ends and safeties are the next most important positions. The safety position is closer to middle linebacker in that tackle numbers lead to more consistent scoring. Defensive end scoring is more about sack production because typically pass rushers won’t put up big tackle numbers. If you’re in a sack heavy league, a league that has a higher reward for sacks, then defensive ends will have a higher value. It is important to learn the scoring in your league in order to make the right personnel decisions for your team.
If your league has a DB (defensive back) designation, you will want to fill that position with a safety. Cornerback scoring is extremely sporadic. Many times, the best cornerbacks in the NFL are not the best dynasty assets at the position. Personally, I’m almost always looking for strong safeties over free safeties because strong safeties are usually the enforcers of their teams. They come down into the box and put up big tackle numbers. The 2019 draft didn’t produce any high-end dynasty scoring safeties last season, but it was a deep safety draft that carried a lot of players with long term upside.
Last year’s draft produced a deep crop of some really good safeties with a lot of promise, but none really stood out to become top rated players at the position. This is the listing of safeties that I believe have the best chance to make that jump within in the next few years.
Johnathan Abram (1.27 LVR)
Abram was the second safety selected in the draft by the Raiders out of Mississippi State. He was a hard-hitting safety, that projected to be an enforcer at the next level. Abram’s earned the starting strong safety position to begin the season, and would’ve most likely been the highest scoring rookie safety last year if it wasn’t for suffering a torn rotator cuff and labrum in the first game of the season. Abram is still the top dynasty safety of last year’s draft and expected to be an absolute stud in 2020.
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (4.03 NOS)
During this process of evaluating second year defensive players, former Florida Gator, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson has risen the most in my grading of all the players in all of the positions. For the most part, I saw him the way many scouts did last year, as a ball-hawking cover safety that was good at everything demanded by the position, but not special at any one skill. That is probably why he was projected to be picked anywhere between the first and fourth rounds, and was eventually selected in the fourth by the Saints. Gardner-Johnson didn’t get a lot of playing time to start the season other than on special teams. Following injuries and defensive adjustments, Chauncey started to get more playing time, including seven starts out of the last eleven games. While there were rookie mistakes made, as one would expect, Gardner-Johnson injected emotion and big play ability into the Saints defense and finished with good statistics across the board. With the loss of pro bowl caliber strong safety Vonn Bell in free agency, Gardner-Johnson looks to be the starter in 2020 with free safety Marcus Williams on the other side. He is a promising player with a very bright future ahead of him.
Taylor Rapp (2.29 LAR)
Rapp was my second favorite safety going into last year’s draft behind Abram. Rapp, out of Washington, decided to forgo his senior season to enter the 2019 NFL draft. Projected as a strong safety that was versatile enough to play free safety or nickel corner, he was drafted by the Rams, who already had a really good young strong safety in John Johnson. Johnson was having another strong season before he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in week six. Rapp stepped in for Johnson and played really well. He made some rookie mistakes, but finished the season third on the team in tackles with 108, 2 interceptions, and 8 passes defensed. Rapp will most likely start opposite John Johnson at free safety next season, yet the coaching staff will probably get creative in how they utilize their special tandem. Johnson is only 24 years old and will become an unrestricted free agent in 2021. Regardless of whether they are able to re-sign him or not, Rapp should have a bright future in the league.
Khari Willis (4.07 IND)
The Colts have drafted really well on the defensive side of the ball as of late. Their recent track record might have clouded my mind, but Khari Willis, the tenth safety selected in the 2019 draft, is a big-time breakout candidate in my opinion. Pegged as specifically a box safety coming out of Michigan State, the Colts gave up two fourth round picks to move up in the fourth to get the player that they felt was more versatile than what the critics were giving him credit for. Willis played great, eventually winning the starting strong safety job, and finished the season with 71 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and 1 pass defended. There is still room for improvement in coverage, but going into the 2020 season, Willis is the starting strong safety, and he is sure to improve on his numbers, especially as a tackler.
Jalen Thompson (supplemental draft ARZ)
Jalen Thompson was expecting to be playing out his senior year at Washington State in 2019, but entered into the Supplemental Draft after losing his eligibility for the purchase of an over-the-counter supplement that wasn’t steroids. The Cardinals decided to use and forfeit a 2020 fifth-round pick to get Thompson, the only player selected. He missed all of the offseason practices, workouts, and meetings, and showed up the night before training camp. The Cardinals had issues at strong safety last year across from pro bowler free safety Budda Baker. When they decided to release starter D.J. Swearinger four games into the season, it was Jalen Thompson who eventually got the nod over the safety they drafted in the fifth round of the real draft, Deionte Thompson. Thompson was good enough to win the job, but wasn’t spectacular in 2019. The coaching staff believes in him and the hope is that with a full season under his belt, he will be much more prepared in 2020 than he had a chance to be in 2019. The Cardinals biggest need is in the trenches and most likely that will be their priority in the upcoming 2020 draft, but don’t be surprised if safety is also on their list. Thompson showed a lot last year performing as a starter with the hand he was dealt. I think he has a chance to take the next step and be a good player in the league.
PROS OR CONS
This section of listed safeties performed well, for the most part, in their rookie season, but the jury is still out on whether they will rise to the next level in the NFL. Are they pros or are they cons? I’ll give you my assessment on each of them and let you decide for yourself.
Juan Thornhill (2.31 KCC)
The Chiefs were one game away from the Super Bowl in 2018. Their pass rush was stellar, but the second and third levels of the defense let them down due to weak linebacker and safety play. General Manager Brett Veach made the safety position a high priority in 2019 by signing Tyrann Mathieu and drafting Virginia safety Juan Thornhill in the second round. Thornhill was touted as an athletic and intelligent defensive back with excellent ball skills and great anticipation and angles to jump routes. It didn’t take long for him to unseat veteran Daniel Sorenson and become the starter at free safety opposite Mathieu. Thornhill started all sixteen games and produced 57 total tackles, 3 interceptions (1 returned for TD), and 5 passes defended. Unfortunately, he suffered a torn ACL in the regular season finale and was placed on injured reserve, missing the chance to play with the team during their historic Super Bowl run. He is slated to enter the 2020 season as a starter and should be able to build off of his productive rookie year.
Darnell Savage (1.21 GBP)
Savage, somewhat surprisingly, was the first safety selected in the 2019 draft over Johnathan Abram by the Green Bay Packers. Drafted out of Maryland, Savage’s strengths were his speed and his coverage skills. He tackles well, but at 5’10, 195 pounds, he translates more as a free safety or nickel safety. The Packers have struggled in coverage for years, so perhaps their intentions were to draft a strong coverage guy that they could move all over the field. Darnell played a lot last season and played well. He produced 55 tackles, 2 interceptions, 5 passes defended, and 1 tackle for loss. His coverage, play speed, and intelligence kept him from being beat over the top throughout the season. His biggest vulnerability was tackling in the open field and tackle efficiency in general. This was most noticeable in the playoffs against the 49ers, where he looked out of position, took bad angles, and struggled to make tackles the entire game. Savage proved last season that he belongs in the league, but for dynasty purposes, I’m not sure if he will ever be one to stuff the stat sheets.
Will Harris (3.17 DET)
Harris was a four-year, productive player at Boston College. At 6’1, 207 pounds, he is a pure hard hitting strong safety with really good measurables, including a 4.41 40 time. The Lions selected safety Tracy Walker in the third round of the 2018 draft and went safety again in the third round in 2019 with Harris. Last year, Walker had a breakout season and the Lions traded away their other starting safety, pro bowl and team captain Quandre Diggs. This gave the rookie Harris more chances to get on the field, but his up and down play could not net him the opposite starting safety position. Being more of a box safety and less of a coverage guy, Harris struggled in Patricia’s defense, but he did show some flashes of talent. His best performance came in week 17, when he had 4 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack, and 1 pass defended against the Packers. The Lions recently signed ex-Patriot Duron Harmon and re-signed Tavon Wilson. My guess is that Patricia will have three safeties on the field a lot, with Walker most likely the free safety slash chess piece that almost never leaves the field. As a true box safety, Will Harris will most likely get an opportunity to earn the next highest amount of snaps at safety. Hopefully, he is able to make the jump in 2020 that Walker did in 2019.
Marquise Blair (2.15 SEA)
In the Seahawks questionable 2019 draft, they selected Marquise Blair out of Utah in the second round as the third safety taken overall. Blair is an extremely physical, hard hitting safety in the mold of Kam Chancellor chosen in an attempt for coach Pete Carroll to recreate the “Legion of Boom” era. Marquise committed to Syracuse out of high school, but played Junior college when he failed to qualify academically. He dominated with 100 tackles, 24 tackles for loss, 4 interceptions, 4 forced fumbles, and three recoveries including one he took back for a score. He transferred to Utah, but suffered a season ending injury because of torn knee ligaments against UCLA. Blair showed off his speed, power, and versatility in 2018, playing both free and strong safety as well as outside linebacker, but didn’t come close to producing the type of numbers he put up in JUCO. It seemed he had a tough time last year picking up the Seahawks defense to start the season. Due to injuries, he finally got his first start in week 7, and put up some decent numbers for a few games, but seemed to disappear again after that. Blair is a long-strider with good range, and has a chance to be the enforcer on the back end of the Seahawks defense, but he will have to learn to stay within the defense and to not drift away from his assignments.
Mike Edwards (3.35 TBB)
Mike Edward’s versatility was on the Buccaneer’s mind when they drafted him in the third round of last year’s draft. At Kentucky, he lined up everywhere from free safety, to nickel corner, to in the box, and excelled in both zone and man coverages. Edwards was in and out of the starting lineup during his rookie campaign and finished the season with 45 total tackles, 1 sack, 6 passes defended, and 1 fumble recovery. He did seem to gather momentum as the season came to a close. While Edward’s versatility is a plus, his skillset is more to that of a natural free safety or nickel safety. He will compete to retain a starting role, in a deep and seemingly equally talented group of returning safeties Justin Evans, Jordan Whitehead, and Andrew Adams next season.
UNDER THE RADAR
This list of safeties is for deep IDP leagues with very large benches. If you are in a league that allows for you to hold onto deep prospects while they are developing, then this would be the reason to look at these players. In the 32 team, NFL style leagues that I am in, these players are all owned. For less deep leagues, these would just be considered watch list players.
Sheldrick Redwine (4.17 CLE)
Much like the Browns season last year, their play at the safety position was a rough go. Damarious Randall was supposed to be the leader and struggled mightily. They signed veteran Morgan Burnett to play strong safety, but he missed the entire second half of the season to injury. Jermaine Whitehead was brought in to be the number three guy, but he played poorly, and was cut after making some threatening social media posts. Fourth round pick Sheldrick Redwine out of Miami, got no play early on, but after all of the bad performances and injuries, he started to get some playing time, including five starts. He played well in the limited games, but nothing to get fans too excited about. The Browns replaced Randall and Burnett with Karl Joseph and Andrew Sendejo in free agency. Redwine at the moment looks to have moved up to third on the depth chart as the backup free safety. There is a new coaching staff in Cleveland though, and they will reassess all of the positions. With a year of experience under his belt, it’s possible that Redwine gets a better shot this year for more significant playing time.
Andrew Wingard (undrafted JAC)
Wingard played for the FBS (division 1-A) University of Wyoming Cowboys where he finished tied for the most tackles all-time in the Mountain West Conference with 454. He is a smart downhill player who makes good reads, but may not have enough flexibility or be good enough athletically to make it as a full-time player in the NFL. He was expected to either be a late round draft pick or to be signed soon after as an undrafted free agent. The Jaguars took a shot on Wingard to play primarily on special teams and for safety depth. He ended up getting two spot starts in week 13 and 14, and played well, finishing the season with 30 total tackles, 1 forced fumble, and 1 sack. Wingard projects to provide depth for the Jaguars in 2020 and to continue to be a mainstay on special teams.
Jaquan Johnson (6.08 BUF)
In the sixth round, the Bills drafted the other safety out of Miami, Jaquan Johnson, two rounds after Sheldrick Redwine. At 5’11, 190 pounds, Johnson is built like a shifty, athletic free safety, but plays more like a heat seeking middle linebacker. In college, he was the leader of the defense, due to his energy, hustle, and passion for the game. For a smaller guy, he is a fearless tackler with good instincts. Johnson has a steep hill to climb if he wants to make it in the NFL. Because he is undersized, he may be too small to be a box safety, which is what he excelled at for the Hurricanes. He lacks a little in athleticism and in coverage skills, so it’s tough to put him in the nickel. The Bills believed he would be the perfect fit for special teams and that’s where he spent most of the year. Being behind one of the best safety tandems in the league in Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde, Johnson has a chance to learn a lot about the position. Maybe over some time, he will be able to develop as a player and break the mold for undersized strong safeties in the league.
IDP Scouting Report:
Part 4: Second Year Safeties