Ranking 31 impending NFL free agent safeties from best to worst, based on an accumulation of their 2020 statistics.
Using an agglomeration of five different key statistics, I ranked the 31 impending NFL free agent safeties that logged at least 200 snaps in 2020. This is the seventh in a series of articles that will rank all of the qualified free agents at key positions of need for the New York Jets. I have already ranked 47 free agent wide receivers, 47 free agent edge rushers, 53 free agent cornerbacks, 30 free agent running backs, 28 free agent tight ends and 33 free agent linebackers.
The players were ranked according to their cumulative performance in coverage, against the run and as tacklers.
Here are the statistics used:
Pro Football Focus coverage grade: PFF’s all-encompassing evaluation of a player’s performance in coverage based on the grading of every coverage snap. This stat’s best attribute is its ability to account for mishaps by the opponent. If a player is burnt in coverage but gets bailed out by a drop or bad throw, his coverage stats will reflect him positively, but PFF’s grading system will give him the negative credit he deserves.
Passer rating allowed: Passer rating allowed by the player across all targets in his direction.
Yards per target allowed: Average yards gained per target thrown in the player’s direction.
I decided to include a second per-target efficiency stat for this reason: at the typically lower target volume of the safety position, passer rating can wildly fluctuate based on touchdowns and interceptions. Although touchdowns and interceptions are important, they only make up a small portion of a player’s targets, so they can skew a player’s passer rating to a very high or very low level.
Including yards per target allows us to take into account a player’s overall per-target efficiency (in terms of yardage) regardless of touchdowns and interceptions. Passer rating, on the other hand, gives us a stat that heavily values a player’s ability to limit the all-important touchdowns and come up with the all-important interceptions. It’s a nice balance of two different per-target efficiency stats.
If you have been following this series of rankings, you would know that the stat “yards per cover snap” has been a mainstay. There’s a key reason I’m not using it for the safeties: target volume varies greatly at this position depending on usage.
Safeties who almost always line up deep downfield are bound to post a very low rate of yards allowed per cover snap regardless of how well they perform their role, as they naturally get targeted at an extremely infrequent rate. Meanwhile, versatile safeties who take on a lot of man-to-man assignments near the line of scrimmage are targeted much more often, hurting them in yards per cover snap. Two players who are both listed as “safeties” can play vastly different roles that result in different standards in yards per cover snap, while the other statistics in this study have relatively steady standards between all different types of safeties.
Pro Football Focus run defense grade: PFF’s all-encompassing evaluation of a player’s performance as a run defender based on the grading of every snap against the run. The run defense grade captures the bulk of a player’s off-the-stat-sheet impact against the run. Regardless of how many tackles they make, players can grade out well by consistently filling their gaps well and creating strong penetration to shut down running lanes and set up opportunities for teammates. Players can grade poorly by failing to create quality penetration, missing tackles, struggling to fill their assigned gaps, and being sealed out of plays to allow big gains.
Missed tackle percentage: A player’s ratio of missed tackles to total tackles.
Each player’s percentile rankings in all five stats are brought together to form a final, overall score. The three coverage stats are averaged together to create a single coverage score, which makes up 50% of the overall score. PFF’s run defense grade makes up 30% of the overall score while missed tackle percentage makes up 20%.
Here it is, 31 free agent safeties stacked up from best to worst:
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