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Thursday, March 6, 2014
Inexact science: ranking free-agent safeties

By Phil Sheridan

The only player evaluations that matter, as far as the Eagles are concerned, are the ones done by general manager Howie Roseman and his staff.

The media-produced rankings of potential NFL free agents may not tell us much about what the Eagles are thinking. But the wide range of evaluations can provide insight into how wildly divergent different teams' opinions can be.

Let's take a look at the safety position, which figures to be an area the Eagles try to address. Buffalo's Jairus Byrd is generally considered the best safety available, but there are dissenting opinions.

Over at NFL.com, Byrd is listed as the No. 1 free agent available regardless of position. He is the only player tagged as a “difference-maker.” On ESPN Insider, former NFL executive Bill Polian and his team have Byrd as the fourth-ranked safety. Antoine Bethea of the Colts, the only safety with an A grade, is rated the best safety on the market.

Polian has Miami's Chris Clemons as his second-ranked safety, with Cleveland's T.J. Ward third. NFL.com calls Clemons “a league-average starter,” which would still make him an upgrade for the Eagles.

Over at Pro Football Focus, Byrd is rated the top safety and No. 2 free agent overall, behind only Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett. PFF rates Ward as the second best safety (No. 8 overall), while Clemons is No. 30 overall. Bethea, the top safety and a Grade-A player for Polian, is No. 61 overall on PFF's list and No. 51 on the NFL.com list.

PFF places Byrd in the same category as Seattle safety Earl Thomas. Considering the Seahawks just won the Super Bowl with Thomas as a key defensive player, it is likely many teams will make a run at Byrd in hopes of recreating that success.

Ultimately, Roseman and his personnel staff have graded players based on their game tape and how they project players in the Eagles' scheme. Cleveland's Ward is considered a better run defender, more of a strong safety type. Byrd is better at playing deep and at coverage, which was a huge problem area for the Eagles. Their pass defense was dead last in the NFL.

Malcolm Jenkins of the Saints, a converted cornerback, might be a better fit than Ward, from the Eagles' perspective. And that's the bottom line here: The Eagles' perspective is the only one that will matter to them, and they haven't published their opinions on the Internet.