clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

2020 AFC North Positional Rankings: Safety

New, comments

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

NFL: New England Patriots at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

As the dog days of the NFL offseason continue to settle in, each team’s roster is pretty much set with free agency and the draft in the rear view mirror. Therefore, it’s an opportune time to detox with our annual positional rankings for the AFC North.

The last of the key groups remaining is the safety spot, which is another position full of talented players across the division.

You can check out last year’s rankings here, along with the following 2020 editions:

Check out the listing below, vote on the corresponding poll and join in on the conversation!


1) Baltimore Ravens

Starters: Earl Thomas III, Chuck Clark

Depth Chart: Anthony Levine Sr., DeShon Elliott, Geno Stone

There seems to be a bit of a public perception that Earl Thomas III declined last season, but that could not be further from the truth. No, “ETIII” isn’t quite the same player he was in the prime of his Seattle career, but he made a significant impact in 2019.

Thomas was on the receiving end of a couple negative highlights, namely a stiff-arm from Derrick Henry in the playoffs, but played high-level football throughout the year aside from these blemishes.

When tasked with primary coverage, he allowed only 87 receiving yards all season and a passer rating of 21.5. As they usually do, quarterbacks tended to avoid targeting Thomas and he finished the season with a coverage grade of 84.7, per PFF.

Chuck Clark stepped into a full-time starting role in the wake of Tony Jefferson’s ACL injury last season and never looked back. Clark assumed play-calling duties and played a brand of efficient, consistent football.

Clark’s coverage grade in 2019 (81.9) ranked just one spot below Thomas among all qualified safeties. Where he truly shines, though, is around the line of scrimmage. Among safeties who played at least 100 snaps, Clark had the best coverage grade in the box or slot.

The Ravens re-signed veteran Anthony Levine Sr., a special teams ace, in free agency and drafted Geno Stone in the seventh round. Third-year product DeShon Elliott is set to return from injury, which further adds to the depth in the backend.

Poll

Where would you list the Ravens in the S ranking?

This poll is closed

  • 76%
    First
    (277 votes)
  • 20%
    Second
    (72 votes)
  • 2%
    Third
    (8 votes)
  • 0%
    Fourth
    (3 votes)
360 votes total Vote Now

2) Pittsburgh Steelers

Starters: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds

Depth Chart: Antoine Brooks Jr., Marcus Allen, Jordan Dangerfield

The Steelers drew some eyeballs when they traded away their 2020 first-round pick for Minkah Fitzpatrick, a move that some were critical of. However, criticism quickly subsided as Fitzpatrick made big-time plays for Pittsburgh from Week 3 on.

Fitzpatrick corralled five interceptions in 2019, all but one of which came during a three-game stretch between Week 7 and Week 9. Additionally, he forced three fumbles, recovered two and racked up 69 total tackles. Fitzpatrick finished the year with a PFF grade of 79.8.

At the other safety spot is returning starter Terrell Edmunds, who is entering his third career season in 2020. Last year, Edmunds racked up a career-best 105 tackles - which ranked second on the team behind LB Devin Bush.

Edmunds struggled in coverage, though. Targeted 50 times, Edmunds gave up 36 receptions for 514 yards (14.3 yards per reception) and four touchdowns. He also allowed a passer rating of 131.6 and completion percentage of 72%.

The Steelers added Maryland’s Antoine Brooks Jr. in the middle rounds of the draft and return a pair of depth pieces in Marcus Allen and Jordan Dangerfield.

Poll

Where would you list the Steelers in the S ranking?

This poll is closed

  • 28%
    First
    (71 votes)
  • 60%
    Second
    (148 votes)
  • 7%
    Third
    (19 votes)
  • 3%
    Fourth
    (8 votes)
246 votes total Vote Now

3) Cleveland Browns

Starters: Karl Joseph, Grant Delpit

Depth Chart: Sheldrick Redwine, Andrew Sendejo, J.T. Hassell

The back end of the Cleveland’s defense is set to look awfully different in 2020 than it did in 2019, with a pair of new starting safeties entering the fold.

The Browns inked former first-round pick Karl Joseph to a one-year deal in free agency after four seasons with the Raiders. Joseph will likely split snaps with Andrew Sendejo, who is also entering his first season with the team.

Sendejo coralled three interceptions last season and finished the year with a PFF grade of 73.3. Joseph suffered a season-ending foot injury after nine games in 2019, but he was on his way to a career-best campaign having already racked up 49 tackles and four TFL.

At free safety, rookie Grant Delpit figures to start from Day 1. Delpit fell to pick No. 44 in the draft and was perceived by most as a steal after a successful career at LSU. Delpit’s combination of range and instincts should pair well with Joseph and Sendejo.

An interesting player to watch is rising sophomore Sheldrick Redwine. Redwine was largely a special teams contributor last season but began to flash a bit with defensive snaps toward the end of the year.

Poll

Where would you list the Browns in the S ranking?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    First
    (5 votes)
  • 6%
    Second
    (12 votes)
  • 63%
    Third
    (122 votes)
  • 27%
    Fourth
    (53 votes)
192 votes total Vote Now

4) Cincinnati Bengals

Starters: Jessie Bates III, Vonn Bell

Depth Chart: Shawn Williams, Brandon Wilson

The Bengals also added a new safety in free agency, that being Vonn Bell. Bell, 25, is coming off a productive four-year stint with the Saints. He has 348 career tackles to his name, 14 of which were tackles for losses. Additionally, Bell posted 17 QB hits and eight sacks.

Bell was subpar in coverage in 2019, allowing 35 of his 51 targets to be caught for 425 yards and two touchdowns. These numbers were worse the year before, though, in which he allowed a passer rating of 118.1 and four scores.

Bell should push Shawn Williams for snaps at strong safety. Williams is entering his eight career season and has been a starter for the Bengals since 2015. In 2018, he racked up 110 total tackles and exceeded that number by four tackles last season.

Returning at free safety is Jessie Bates III, who has started all 32 games for the Bengals over the past two seasons. Bates has consecutive campaigns with three interceptions, as well as back-to-back seasons with more than 100 combined tackles.

Poll

Where would you list the Bengals in the S ranking?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    First
    (1 vote)
  • 4%
    Second
    (8 votes)
  • 18%
    Third
    (32 votes)
  • 76%
    Fourth
    (136 votes)
177 votes total Vote Now