NFL

Which NFL Teams Draft the Best and Worst Safeties?

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Determining the success NFL teams have had drafting both cornerbacks and safeties can be deceiving. A few franchises have been able to capitalize on the both positions while others simply have missed on one position or in some cases the entire secondary.

In another featured piece at FootballInsiders.com ‘Who Drafts the Best Cornerbacks,” the success at either cornerback or safety went hand in hand.

Then there are the team’s that can not use the tools given to properly evaluate the position and use the NFL Draft as a platform to stockpiling stars in the secondary.

Below are some teams that can delve into the NFL Draft and be successful at finding the right guys that can play safety. Also included below are the teams that fail to capitalize on the position when it’s time to use draft picks.

 

Who Drafts the Best Safeties?

Seattle Seahawks

Currently they possess the most lethal weapon combination in the NFL with Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas occupying the strong and free safety positions.

The duo has helped turn the fortunes of a franchise around and bring an attitude to the defense that is hard not to relish in watching on Sunday afternoons.

Equal in importance is cornerback Richard Sherman, who has revitalized the cornerback position like in the years ago when physicality and intimidation ruled the day. The trio is as good as it gets in the NFL (maybe ever).

Before the Seahawks became known for their current defense, there was another safety for the Seahawks named Kenny Easley. He was the fourth-overall pick in the 1981 NFL Draft out of UCLA and left absolutely no doubts about his ability to live up to the selection.

Easley instantly became a force earning First-Team All-Pro honors (1982-85) four straight years and made five trips to the Pro Bowl during his brief but tremendous career (1981-87) as a Seahawk.

Easley missed basically the entire 1986 season (knee) and a year later the NFL went on strike. One year later (1988) he was traded to the Phoenix Cardinals. The trade was voided after a team physical revealed Easley with idiopathic nephritic syndrome (severe kidney disease). Easley retired soon after, but leaving a legacy behind for franchise only 39-years old.

“Easley was the man,” said former Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders safety Vann McElroy when discussing the talents Easley possessed in the Seattle secondary. McElroy shared his insights on the position and some of the player’s he appreciated watching during his time in the league when talking with FootballInsiders.com.

Across the landscape of the NFL not many teams have the firepower that Seattle has been able to place on the starting roster.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

It is hard not to place the Pittsburgh Steelers in nearly every category of teams competing to be the best at drafting certain positions in the NFL.

Left off the list of top teams (although deserving) who can draft cornerbacks, Pittsburgh makes the group of NFL teams with the where withal to draft safeties.

Donnie Shell was the last line of defense for one of the most successful and respected defenses in the history of professional football. If an opponent was able to slip past Joe Greene or Jack Lambert they were likely to end up in the clutches of this five-time (1978-82) Pro Bowl safety.

Shell went undrafted out of South Carolina State, giving the Steelers scouting department a thumbs up for knowing that Hall of Famer Harry Carson’s college teammate was also deserving of an opportunity to make it in the NFL.

Then you toss in a couple cornerbacks built like safeties and Pittsburgh really flexes their draft muscle on the position.

Right off the bat the Steelers provide Mel Blount (Hall of Fame) and Rod Woodson (Hall of Fame) to the resume. I think that gets you in the conversation as being one of the teams that are able to draft safeties (or cornerbacks).

Woodson played cornerback in Pittsburgh (1987-96) and then switched to safety his second season with the Baltimore Ravens. His level of play (1999-02) earned him four straight trips to the Pro Bowl playing for both the Ravens and Oakland Raiders.

The Steelers most recent addition to the upper-class of safety draft selections is Troy Polamalu. Drafted out of USC in 2003, he quickly became a famous fixture in the secondary with his long black locks of hair following him in the wind as he unleashed himself upon opposing opponents.

He was named the AP Defensive Player of the Year and made eight trips to the Pro Bowl and has the famous finger jewelry (Super Bowl rings). Combined between Shell, Woodson and Polamalu are seven rings and a combined 22 Pro Bowl selections.

Shell is inching closer to the Hall of Fame and Polamalu will be another Steelers defender to wear the coveted golden jacket.

 

Who Drafts the Worst Safeties?

Cincinnati Bengals 

The Bengals had running back Elbert Woods or A.K.A. “Ickey” and was famously known for his all-time great touchdown dance, “The Ickey Shuffle.”

Cincinnati had flamboyant receiver Chad Johnson or A.K.A. “Ocho Cinco” who actually raced a horse (and won).

A legendary touchdown dance and receiver who changed his name, but yet the Bengals are missing something.

An iconic safety they acquired via the NFL Draft.

Most teams have had a few relatively above average or even iconic type figures roaming their secondary, but not the Bengals.

Can you reminisce about that ball-hawking bone jarring safety that wore the black-and-orange striped uniform in Cincinnati?

There is reason you’re coming up empty in the thought process. It is the Bengals have come up empty time and time again when trying to draft top-notch safety prospects.

The 1986 NFL Draft produced the Bengals top safety to date. Massively imposing (6-foot-3, 236 pounds) even by today’s standards, third-round pick David Fulcher played in three Pro Bowls and arguably is the top drafted safety in the history of the franchise.

The current version of drafted Bengals safeties includes George Iloka, Shawn Williams and Derron Smith. Williams was the highest drafted safety amongst the three taken in the third-round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Iloka was taken one year before (2012) in the fifth-round and Smith is their most recent addition to the group after he was drafted this past April in the sixth-round.

Iloka is average and Williams doesn’t even start. Time will only reveal if Smith has the right stuff to make a run at a starting job.

 

Houston Texans 

In all honesty it is not fair to include the Texans as one of the all-time worst teams at discovering great talent at safety via the NFL Draft.

The franchise is an embryo compared to the other organizations. Since their inaugural season of 2002, they have drafted four true safety prospects.

The highest selection the Texans have ever used on the safety position was in the 2013 NFL Draft on D.J. Swearinger. Two years after drafting Swearinger the Texans were looking to trade the talented, yet troubled safety. Houston could not find a trading partner and ultimately decided to release their second-round pick from two years ago.

Not exactly the ideal ending for either Swearinger or Houston, who were looking for that impact player on the back-end of their defense.

It is worth mentioning that in the history of the franchise, the Texans have yet to send a player to the Pro Bowl or name All-Pro material that plays cornerback or safety.

Maybe the scouting department spends too much time watching the guys in front of the secondary.

Take into consideration that J.J. Watt, Mario Williams, DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing have eight Pro Bowls and the secondary is shut out in the same category.

The Texans projected safeties in 2015 are Stevie Brown, originally drafted by the Oakland Raiders (seventh-round, 2010) and Rahim Moore, who began his career in 2011 after being selected by the Denver Broncos in the second-round.


About Bo Marchionte

Bo Marchionte

Bo Marchionte is an NFL writer for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade. His background includes being staff for the Texas vs. The Nation All-Star game as a talent evaluator for player personnel along with an internship scouting with the Toronto Argonauts and Winnipeg Blue Bombers for the Canadian Football League. Bo’s draft background includes working for the NFL Draft Bible and currently owns and operates College2Pro.com. He has done radio spots on NBC, Fox Sports and ESPN and their affiliates in different markets around the country. Bo covers the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pittsburgh Panthers along with other colleges in the northeast.