Top 10 safeties of the decade

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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.

50 responses to “Top 10 safeties of the decade

  1. McCourty is quietly excellent, but not sure I’d put him above Chancellor & Berry

  2. electricboogalo says:
    December 24, 2019 at 3:12 pm
    Technically the decade doesn’t end for another year….
    Wrong. 00-09, 10-19, 20-29…..see how that works

  3. It’s real simple, which players were the best on the field in their prime during this decade. Not which legends were out there with canes the first couple years of the past 10.

  4. Polamalu’s best years were in the prior decade (’00 to ’09). So, yeah, number 8 for this decade is about right. Same for Ed Reed.

  5. Jenkins was awful when he was in nola. Every single week he’d lower his head, dive at the runner’s feet and never wrap up. I guess they coached him upin Philly cuz he played so much better once he got there.

  6. Best ever, top 100, top ten, top ten of the century, of the decade, etc, etc. What’s next? Best player never named best? Or are we just making sure everyone gets a trophy?

  7. jackedupboonie…

    Actually all accounts of history show the first recordings of dates having 01 being the first year. And so, 10 would have been the end of the decade. We, in recent times, began celebrating a decade’s end in 09 and 19, but most historians agree the decade ends in 2020. Not 2019.

  8. 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. I’ll take that guy !

  9. Harrison Smith is hands down the best player Harrison Smith is hands down the best player on this list. The fact that the Vikings haven’t been a “great” team only proves it more so. He’s elevated that entire defense for 8 straight years and is the best safety on the field for either team every week.

  10. That Hawks D drifted apart too soon, but for about 3-4 years there, it was the best of the best. And what a blast it was to watch. When your team has a strong offense, it’s great as a fan, but when they have a truly great, dominant defense – – it’s even better.

  11. As a Dolphins fan, I immediately looked for Reshad Jones. I am not sure he belongs on this list. What I find intriguing is that he was considered the top player drafted by the Dolphins this decade by Miami beat writers a few days ago.

    And he didn’t get into the top 10 for his own position by the national media.

    Though I appreciate the direction the team seems to be going this, one, year, it says a lot about the owner hiring GMs. Especially the worse, his buddy/friend (seriously, not exaggerating) Mike Tannebaum. How that man has a job in professional footbal is beyond me. Don’t believe me?

    Ask the Jets.

  12. Malcolm Jenkins should be higher on the list for a simple reason: availability. Never misses games while all of the rest have with some missing significant time.

  13. Earl Thomas made Chancellor and Sherman, his range allowed them to gamble on big hits and interceptions, respectively.

    Kam was a joy to watch but he would have had a very middling career in almost any other situation

  14. 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.


    At no point in his career was Troy Polamalu EVER the best safety in the league. At his peak he was a poor mans Roy Williams and not even top 5 in the league. In this decade? He was bottom 20’s as his career wound down. Shouldn’t be on any top 10 list and is not nor will ever be Hall of Fame worthy, sorry not sorry.

  15. tylawspick6 says:
    December 24, 2019 at 3:59 pm
    polamalu a liability in coverage

    34 27 Rate This

    “If you don’t know where Troy Polamalu is,” says Belichick, “he’ll kill you.”

    Also Bill Belichick has said Troy is the greatest Steeler of all time.

  16. So confused on who made this list? You have Malcolm Jenkins on there who I dont believe is. You do not have clearly Brian Dawkins, he hung it up in 2012 and was a feared safety who was a beast. Dawkins was also leaps and bounds better than Jenkins as well.

  17. electricboogalo says: Technically the decade doesn’t end for another year….
    jackedupboonie says: Wrong. 00-09, 10-19, 20-29…..see how that works
    Actually, seeing there’s no year zero betwixt 1 AD & BC, the decades should go 1-10, 11-20…

  18. Ryan Dubose says:
    December 24, 2019 at 4:22 pm
    Been some poor safety play this decade

    That might have something to do with position getting neutered in the last decade

  19. Harrison Smith gets moved up at least to No. 2 on my list. Nose for sensing plays and a great tackler.
    If you needed any of these guys to fill in any position in the DB backfield, I’d take Woodson.

  20. Brian Dawkins, Ed Reed, Adrian Wilson should be the top 3 or at minimum top 5.

    Malcolm Jenkins was a CB in NO, and from what many NO fans said, they were not sad to see him go. I’m an Eagles fan, and when we signed him, it was a low profile signing that turned out to be an outstanding move by Howie (he needs to get back on that track)

  21. I agree that Ed Reed should be on this list, but comparisons of him to Troy Polamalu have always made me laugh. They played different positions and were very different kinds of players.

    Troy was an in the box SS who played the run as much as he did the pass, and covered TEs and RBs very well. Like most SS if he had to cover WRs he wasn’t going to do as good. Reed was a ball-hawking FS who had top-notch CB skills, and was a great last line of defense – but he sure wasn’t the best tackler in the box, that was not his forte.

    I think if they had played together, their skills would have complemented each other’s perfectly and they’d have been the best pair of safeties in NFL history.

  22. 6burgh says:
    December 24, 2019 at 10:34 pm

    “If you don’t know where Troy Polamalu is,” says Belichick, “he’ll kill you.”

    Also Bill Belichick has said Troy is the greatest Steeler of all time.
    I really think BB was just being polite. The Patriots regularly took advantage of Polamalu’s over-aggressiveness and torched him repeatedly.

  23. terripet says:
    December 24, 2019 at 3:05 pm

    Mcourty no way
    This dude still thinks the Colts are the Team of the Decade.

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