Pro Football Weekly's 2018 Safety rankings

Vikings' Smith shoots up to No. 1; Titans' Byard debuts in rankings by rounding out top 10

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Pro Football Weekly’s player rankings are compiled with the help of NFL evaluators and coaches, with input from the entire PFW staff. Players are ranked on their performances to date at positions they’ve played and are not projected at new positions which they might move. Rookies are not included in the rankings. NFL personnel participated on condition of anonymity.

We continue our player ratings with PFW’s top 10 safeties. For the full rankings (1-28) and player ratings for every position, along with team-by-team season previews, get our Pro Football Weekly NFL Preview Magazine on newsstands now and online.

1. Harrison Smith, Vikings

It's easy to make an argument for Smith, Landon Collins, Eric Berry or Earl Thomas as the best safety in the game — please note we give them all the same grade — but in 2017, Smith was the best. With great size (6-2, 214), he can play as a physical, in-the-box safety, but he also drops in coverage well against tight ends and bigger receivers. He is just 29, as he enters his seventh year in the league, and last season he was first-team All-Pro for the first time and earned his third consecutive Pro Bowl trip. Smith also overcame the one knock on him last year — inability to stay healthy — as he started all 16 games for the third time in his six seasons.

2. Landon Collins, Giants

Collins was the most dominant safety in the NFL in 2016, earning first-team All-Pro honors for the first time — and he didn’t disappoint last season, even if his play was about the only thing that didn’t go wrong for the Giants. At 225 pounds and 6-0, Collins is the nastiest of our big four, a throwback to the great strong safeties of recent vintage but still excellent in coverage. Collins was the NFC Defensive Player of the Year in 2016, and he’s also the youngest of our top group. Collins, who at 11 year old was forced with his family to flee New Orleans because of Hurricane Katrina, won’t turn 25 until January.

3. Eric Berry, Chiefs

We had Berry in this spot last year, when he followed up his successful return to the game in 2015 after battling cancer the year prior to put on another All-Pro performance. Sadly, though, he tore his Achilles in Week One in Foxboro last season. With a full season to rehab the Achilles, and knowing he won’t turn 30 until the end of this season, we see no reason to downgrade him. At 6-feet and 211 pounds, there is little Berry can’t do on a football field. Last season the Chiefs' 'D' desperately missed the presence of Berry, its unquestioned leader on and off the field, as much for his outstanding play as his great character and courage.

4. Earl Thomas, Seahawks

Thomas was the standard by which all NFL safeties were measured until breaking his leg and missing the last five games of the 2016 season. He made a full recovery and solid return last year, but he was not as dominant as he once was, after teammates Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor were both lost for the season. Thomas is still great against the run and in coverage, and though he is not particularly big (5-11, 205 pounds), ball carriers must keep their heads on a swivel when venturing across the middle against him. What makes Thomas unique is that he can play the run like an in-the-box hammer but is also one of the top cover safeties in the game — and he almost never gets beat over the top.

5. Malcolm Jenkins, Eagles

Jenkins emerged last season as one of the NFL’s most outstanding leaders both on and off the field, while spearheading the Eagles to their first-ever Super Bowl title. He also rallied players around the league to action and reasonable, common-sense dialogue in regard to improving the lives of minorities in urban neighborhoods and achieving equality from law enforcement. He is a two-way defender who plays both the run and the pass well, but the 6-foot, 204-pound Jenkins is more of a free safety than an in-the-box big hitter. He hasn’t missed a start in four seasons in Philly. Last year Jenkins was voted to his second Pro Bowl in the past three seasons.

6. Micah Hyde, Bills

Hyde was one of the best stories of the 2017 season. After he played every position in the secondary over four years in Green Bay, the Packers failed to offer Hyde a new contract. The Bills offered the journeyman DB a $30-million deal with $14 million guaranteed and immediately made him their starting strong safety. At 6-feet and 197 pounds, Hyde is small for the position, but he instantly became the leader of the Bills' secondary, and played so well he was voted to his first Pro Bowl. Equally adept vs. the run and the pass, Hyde’s best football is probably still in front of him, and he won’t turn 28 until the end of this season.

7. Keanu Neal, Falcons

The Falcons surprised a lot of people when they took Neal in the first round of the 2016 draft. But by the end of his rookie season, Neal had helped lead the Falcons to just the second Super Bowl in their history, and it was Neal and Atlanta with the last laugh. The 6-foot, 211-pound Neal is a phenomenal athlete with excellent speed and perfect size, and he makes plays from sideline to sideline, arriving with very bad intentions at the point of contact. Neal doesn’t even turn 23 until the beginning of training camp, and with 218 tackles and 19 passes defensed in his first two years in the league, he has established himself as one of the game’s most productive safeties.

8. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Packers

In his four years in Green Bay, Clinton-Dix has played in every game and amassed 363 tackles, 11 interceptions, 25 passes defensed, 4.5 sacks and his first Pro Bowl nomination. Another do-it-all safety out of Alabama, who surprisingly slid down the draft board, Clinton-Dix was plucked by the Packers with the 21st overall pick in 2014. He has good size (6-1, 208 pounds) but is more rangy than big, and Clinton-Dix rarely comes off the field. It's also worth noting Clinton-Dix won’t turn 26 until four days before Christmas.

9. Devin McCourty, Patriots

The Patriots are known for unloading some of their most talented players before they reach free agency to avoid salary-cap problems and ensure they get something in return. But, along with Dont’a Hightower, McCourty is the only key homegrown defender Bill Belichick has elected to retain and pay in recent years. What makes McCourty so valuable, is that he is one of the best cover safeties in the game, and in this new era of oversized receivers, spread offenses and three- and four-WR routes, a safety who can cover is invaluable. McCourty will turn 31 this season, but he has missed just five games in eight years in New England, none in the last two seasons. This year he is joined in New England's secondary for the first time by his twin brother, Jason.

10. Kevin Byard, Titans

Byard was a hot prospect out of Middle Tennessee State just two seasons ago, as much from his combine workout as his play in college, and the Titans grabbed him in the third round. He moved into the starting lineup halfway through his rookie season and then started every game last year, when he tied Darius Slay for the NFL lead in interceptions with eight, en route to first-team All-Pro and his first Pro Bowl. Byard is just 5-11, but at 211 pounds, he is thick, loves to hit and also clearly possesses terrific ball skills.

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