We’ll continue our NFC South position rankings with the safeties.
Before we get into the list, let me clarify a few things. I’m throwing free safeties and strong safeties in here together and after double checking the lists of likely starters and backups, I’ve got to say I’m not awestruck by any safety in this division.
There are some guys who were great in their time and there are some guys who could be great in the future. Although I’m projecting in some areas, we’re dealing mostly with the present here.
That’s why I made the final criteria for this list asking myself, “If you were starting a team, which of these safeties would you chose?’’ So, here it comes.
Tanard Jackson, Buccaneers. At the moment, Jackson is simply the most reliable safety in this division and I decided on him after envisioning him in a couple different uniforms (like those worn by the Saints and Falcons). Jackson played on a bad defense last year. It should be slightly better this year and Tampa Bay’s secondary is shaping up to be one of its few strengths. That’s largely because Jackson will be back there directing traffic.
Thomas DeCoud, Falcons. This guy made huge strides last year in his first full season as a starter. The Falcons think he’s only going to be better now that they’ve added cornerback Dunta Robinson. DeCoud might be the most cerebral safety in the division.
Malcolm Jenkins, Saints. I was projecting a bit on DeCoud. I’m projecting a lot on Jenkins. Last year’s first-round pick spent his rookie season at cornerback before making the move to free safety. He’s got big shoes to fill -- and we’ll get to those shoes in a bit. But Jenkins probably has more natural physical talent than any safety in the division. If he has any grasp at all of what he’s doing, he’ll probably end up looking pretty good in Gregg Williams’ defense.
Roman Harper, Saints. I know there are probably even some New Orleans fans who think I’m ranking Harper too high. Well, look at what else is left? But, seriously, I think Harper gets a bit of a bad rap. He’s a strong safety and strong safeties aren’t supposed to be great in coverage. They’re supposed to make tackles and Harper does that. In a very good secondary, he’s a nice role player.
Sherrod Martin, Panthers. Here's another instance where I’m projecting a bit. Martin had three interceptions as a rookie and was part of the reason the Panthers felt comfortable trading Chris Harris. Like the rest of the Carolina defense, it will be interesting to see how he fares without Julius Peppers up front.
Charles Godfrey, Panthers. He’s produced two interceptions in two seasons. But the Panthers think enough of him that he’s in the starting lineup.
Sean Jones, Buccaneers. He was brought in to take over at strong safety and it appears he’s won the starting job. Jones is a pretty average player. But surround him with Jackson and cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Ronde Barber and he’ll be fine.
Erik Coleman, Falcons. This guy wasn’t a bad player a few years ago, but the coaching staff wasn’t happy with him last season. The Falcons would like to get Coleman out of the starting lineup, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Darren Sharper, Saints. This is the guy I was referring to Jenkins replacing. He’s one of the best safeties of all time. But Sharper is a total unknown at this point. He’s 34 and coming off knee surgery. There are indications he might not be ready for the start of the season. There’s even a chance he could be cut or retire. If Sharper miraculously comes back and is anything close to what he was last season, he jumps to No. 1 on this list immediately. But, at the moment, I think the best the Saints can hope for is to have him as insurance for the second half of the season.
William Moore, Falcons. This is the guy the Falcons want to start ahead of Coleman. But Moore missed most of his rookie year with an injury and has missed a lot of time this preseason. He needs to get healthy and show he’s prepared before he can step into the starting lineup.
Sabby Piscitelli, Buccaneers. This guy got destroyed by Tampa Bay fans last year. Some of that was unfair because, as I said earlier, strong safeties aren’t supposed to be great in coverage. Piscitelli got hung up in deep coverage on a bad defense last year. But the real problem was Piscitelli never came close to being the hitter John Lynch used to be in the same position in Tampa Bay’s defense. He flat-out missed on a lot of tackles. That’s why the Bucs brought in Jones.