Earl Thomas, Jairus Byrd top list of NFL's best safeties


Every Thursday, Chris Wesseling rolls out the power rankings for one specific NFL position.

So far, we have ranked the top running backs, inside linebackers, outside linebackers, tight ends, defensive tackles and wide receivers, defensive ends, kick returners, running backs, linebacker duos and wide receiver duos in the league.

This week, we turn our attention back to the league's top safeties.

This is neither a fantasy football cheat sheet, nor is it an attempt to predict which players will finish with the best statistics this season. The premise is which safety I would want for the 2013 season. Although statistics, scouting reports and other factors such as durability were considered, the criteria is based primarily on game film from the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

Top shelf: Earl Thomas, Jairus Byrd, T.J. Ward, Devin McCourty, Eric Berry

With a cornerback's speed, Thomas has the best range in the NFL. Coach Pete Carroll has said Thomas is as good as any safety he's seen. It's high praise from a man who has coached Ronnie Lott, Troy Polamalu, Joey Browner, Tim McDonald, Lawyer Milloy and Lonnie Young. ... Byrd is a true playmaker, specializing in forced fumbles and interceptions.

Ward has emerged as the top run-stuffing safety in the NFL. ... McCourty's transition from cornerback to safety has been a rousing success. He and Aqib Talib have been an excellent tandem in the Pats' defensive backfield. ... No safety has more combined quarterback sacks, hits and hurries than Berry.

Next level: Eric Weddle, Troy Polamalu, Donte Whitner, Glover Quin, Louis Delmas, LaRon Landry, Kam Chancellor

Weddle is the lone Pro-Bowl caliber player on a disappointing Chargers defense. ... Polamalu is enjoying a fine bounceback season, but he can still be exploited in coverage. ... Whitner's silly name change and illegal hits obscure the fact that he's a quality player. ... The Lions need upgrades at cornerback to go with their quality safety duo of Quin and Delmas. ... Landry and Chancellor are two of the position's hardest hitters.

Pro Bowl potential: Harrison Smith, Kenny Vaccaro, Eric Reid, Mark Barron, Johnathan Cyprien, D.J. Swearinger

Smith was making the leap as the NFL's next great safety before a turf toe injury ruined his season. ... Vaccaro has been the field general in Rob Ryan's improved Saints defense. ... Reid might actually be an upgrade on Dashon Goldson in San Francisco. ... Cyprien has struggled in coverage, but owns the highest pass rush grade of any safety in Pro Football Focus' rankings. ... Swearinger is a splash hitter with impressive range and instincts.

Solid starters: Duke Ihenacho, Antrel Rolle, Dashon Goldson, Chris Clemons, Charles Woodson, James Ihedigbo, Reggie Nelson, Steve Gregory, Barry Church, Morgan Burnett, Matt Elam

Ihenacho has looked like a difference maker at times, but needs to gain consistency. ... Goldson has been a mild disappointment in his first season with the Buccaneers. ... Woodson has played better than expected after attracting little interest on the open market. ... Ihedigbo plays like a linebacker in run support, attacking the line of scrimmage. ... Church and Burnett have struggled a bit of late after starting the season in impressive fashion.

Best of the rest: William Moore, Thomas DeCoud, Malcolm Jenkins, Michael Griffin, Bernard Pollard, Will Hill, Antoine Bethea, George Iloka, Aaron Williams, Rahim Moore, Ryan Clark, Kendrick Lewis, Michael Mitchell, Marcus Gilchrist, Ryan Mundy, Reshad Jones, Tashaun Gipson, M.D. Jennings, Yeremiah Bell, Ed Reed

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