As the decade comes to a close, we’re creating some Top 10 lists for 2010 to 2019. Up next, our Top 10 safeties.
1. Earl Thomas: Thomas anchored the best secondary of the decade during his time in Seattle and has a Super Bowl ring to show for their efforts. Thomas was named a first-team All-Pro three times during his run in Seattle and made an impact across the board, but especially in the passing game. He ranks third among all players in interceptions since 2010 and his play with the Ravens this season shows that there will be more to come.
2. Eric Weddle: Weddle has worn several uniforms over the course of the decade and has been a strong performer in all of them. He was a first- or second-team All-Pro in each of the first five seasons of the decade while with the Chargers and then spent three seasons leading the secondary in Baltimore. The end of the line is closing in, but Weddle has over 100 tackles for the Rams this season and may have a little more time left before he says goodbye.
3. Devin McCourty: McCourty came to the Patriots as a cornerback, but moving to safety lifted him to greater heights. He’s been a fixture for New England — five missed games since entering the league in 2010 — because he’s shown the ability to do whatever Bill Belichick has asked of him. He can play deep, he can cover running backs or tight ends and he’s been a sure tackler throughout a career that’s seen him win three Super Bowl rings.
4. Kam Chancellor: A neck injury helped bring Chancellor’s career to an early end, which was not a great surprise given how often Chancellor put his body at risk to lay out an opponent. He provided muscle alongside Thomas in Seattle’s Legion of Boom secondary for the first eight years of the decade and helped the team to a pair of Super Bowl appearances by making sure that any yards came at a price.
5. Eric Berry: Berry has dealt with injuries and illness that has kept him off the field for long spells over the course of his career, but he’s excelled whenever he’s put in a full season. He was a three-time first-team All-Pro while with the Chiefs and returned five of his 14 career interceptions for touchdowns. Berry didn’t play in 2019 and has only played three games since 2016, so he may be done with a career that’s remarkable for both what he did and what he might have done with better health.
6. Harrison Smith: Smith was installed in the Vikings starting lineup after being picked in the first round of the 2012 draft and scored two touchdowns on interceptions during his rookie season. He’s remained a playmaker at the back end for Minnesota, as evidenced by 25 career interceptions, and has also shown an ability to wreak havoc as a blitzer by picking up 13.5 sacks in his eight NFL seasons.
7. Malcolm Jenkins: Whether in New Orleans or Philadelphia, Jenkins has supplied his teams with plays all over the field. He’s posted 16 interceptions, forced 15 fumbles, recorded 10 sacks, recovered 10 fumbles and scored seven touchdowns over the course of the decade. He reached a pinnacle as a leader of the defense for the Eagles’ Super Bowl LII champions and will close out the season by trying to secure one more postseason appearance for Philly this year.
8. Troy Polamalu: It’s been a while since Polamalu was on the field, but he opened the decade as the best safety in the league. He became the last defensive back to be named defensive player of the year in 2010 and was a first-team All-Pro in the first two years of the decade. The previous decade set the stage for his eventual enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but this decade provided the finishing touches that made it a no-brainer.
9. Reggie Nelson: Nelson didn’t play for anyone in 2019, but he still has more interceptions than any player other than Richard Sherman this decade. Those 31 interceptions came while playing in Cincinnati and Oakland for teams that didn’t find success in the postseason, which didn’t do much to help his profile compared to others on this list but Nelson provided big plays for both of his teams on regular basis.
10. Charles Woodson: Woodson wasn’t a safety for all of the six seasons he played this decade, but his ability to play safety and cover receivers as a cornerback made him the kind of hybrid defensive back that we’ve seen teams prize in recent seasons. He kicked off the decade by helping the Packers win a Super Bowl, was a first-team All-Pro in 2011 and played at a high enough level that he was a second-team All-Pro in his final season with the Raiders as a 39-year-old.