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Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Buckle up: Chancellor, Wilson break mold

By Mike Sando

The Arizona Cardinals' Adrian Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks' Kam Chancellor tower over the other strong safeties in the NFC this season.

That is true not only in their accomplishments -- Wilson is a Pro Bowl starter, Chancellor a first alternate -- but in their physical dimensions.

They are the biggest starting strong safeties in the NFL at a time when the prevailing NFL trends have led teams in another direction at the position. Wilson stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 230 pounds. Chancellor goes 6-3 and 232. The other 30 starting strong safeties average 6 feet and 207 pounds.

The Cardinals' and Seahawks' offensive players should be on alert Sunday when the teams close out the regular season against one another at University of Phoenix Stadium. Chancellor has incurred $60,000 in fines for hits the NFL deemed illegal this season. Wilson, fined $25,000 for a memorable 2008 hit on Trent Edwards, was slapped with a $10,000 fine last season and one for $7,500 in 2011.

"It's tough to be an enforcer safety the way the rules are, where every receiver is defenseless," Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said. "But the beauty is, they can be a linebacker in your sub packages. They can make a lot of plays for you with 4-5 guys behind them -- stop the run, pick up a Matt Forte out of the backfield, those things. And the quarterback doesn't know what they are going to do."

Seattle's Kam Chancellor
Seattle's Kam Chancellor towers over many other NFL safeties.
Offenses, enabled by rules changes favoring the pass, have forced defenses to counter with players better suited for coverage than patrolling near the line of scrimmage. But purely from a size standpoint, the top two strong safeties from the NFC are more Steve Atwater than Steve Gregory. They aren't bad in coverage, but opponents must contend first with their physical nature.

"I picked Chancellor slightly over Wilson, but clearly they were the guys to choose from," Williamson said.

The best offenses this season are making frequent use of athletic tight ends. Green Bay's Jermichael Finley, New Orleans' Jimmy Graham and the New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez come to mind. Teams could increasingly value bigger safeties in coverage, although so many of the athletes with the necessary qualifications seem to be playing offense.

"The great strength of Wilson or Chancellor is not to cover an Aaron Hernandez, it is to knock their teeth out," Williamson said. "But that is coming. Those big safeties are the only ones athletic enough to hang with them. You can see much more of a premium on having a defensive back who is 6-3 and 220 and can hit and will bang with a Gronkowski."

Chancellor has 12 passes defensed, four interceptions, three tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and a sack this season, according to ESPN.com figures. Wilson has 14 passes defensed, seven tackles for loss, one interception and one forced fumble. He is one of 11 NFL players with at least 20 career sacks and 20 interceptions.

"They are muscle-bound guys and that is certainly not a bad thing," Williamson said. "You have to use them properly. They are a thing of the past, but also the wave of the future."