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Ranking the safety groups that Tom Brady and the Patriots offense will face this season

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Positional Rankings Series: The Patriots’ 2017 opponents — Safeties

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

In this series we’ll rank the positional groups for each of the thirteen teams on the Patriots’ 2017 regular season schedule. We’ll start at the core of the defensive front seven and work outward throughout the defense. Then we’ll do the same for the offense, ultimately finishing at the quarterback position.


In sports, there can’t be many worse nights of sleep than those experienced by a starting safety on the eve of playing the New England Patriots offense. Tom Brady has made a career out of diagnosing coverages, uncovering mismatches, and manipulating safeties with his eyes.

With that being said, here are the thirteen safety groups tasked with stopping Brady and the Patriots offense in the 2017 regular season.


1. Kansas City Chiefs

The top spot in this ranking belongs to Kansas City, and it’s all because of Eric Berry. The superstar safety signed a six-year, $78 million contract this offseason to remain in the nation’s barbecue capital, with $40 million guaranteed. It’s the most lucrative deal in the history of the safety position in terms of guaranteed dollars, and Berry is worth every penny. He is the best safety the Patriots will face in 2017. Alongside Berry is veteran Ron Parker, who is coming off of his best season according to PFF.

2. Oakland Raiders

Ball-hawking free safety Reggie Nelson has aged like many of the fine wines you would expect to find fifty miles north of Oakland Alameda Coliseum, notching original-ballot Pro Bowl selections in each of the past two seasons. Karl Joseph, the team’s 2016 first-round selection, looks to build on a rookie season that never quite got off the ground due to the recovery time required to heal from his 2015 season-ending ACL injury. It will also be interesting to see the development and role of Obi Melifonwu, the freakish UConn safety taken by the Raiders in the second-round of this year’s draft.

3. Atlanta Falcons

2014 fifth-round pick Ricardo Allen looks to improve for a third consecutive season as the Falcons’ starting free safety. The former Purdue Boilermaker played in 99% of the team’s defensive snaps a year ago. Impressive 2016 first-round pick Keanu Neal arrived on the scene last season and performed as advertised, making plays all over the field in coverage.

4. Denver Broncos

With a quality pass rush and elite cornerback play in front of them, head-hunters Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward might be the league’s most overrated safety duo.

5. Los Angeles Chargers

Jahleel Addae missed eight games in 2016 to injury, but made such an impact in his eight starts that the team inked him to a four-year, $22.5 million contract that guarantees the fifth-year safety $10 million. Veteran Dwight Lowery was strong last year, and the unit’s depth is bolstered in 2017 by the addition of Tre Boston, a surprise offseason cut from Carolina, as well as fifth-round pick Desmond King from Iowa, who many project to move from cornerback to safety in the NFL.

6. Miami Dolphins

Reshad Jones has developed into one of the league’s best safeties, and the Dolphins rewarded him this offseason with a massive contract. His talent lifts this Miami group to a sixth-place ranking regardless of who fills in for free agent acquisition T.J. McDonald during his eight game suspension.

7. New Orleans Saints

Kenny Vaccaro is one of the more underrated safeties in football. He gets some help in 2017 with the addition of second-round pick Marcus Williams out of Utah. Former Buckeye Vonn Bell looks to make a year-two jump, with some projecting him into more of a slot role.

8. Pittsburgh Steelers

Although Mike Mitchell has been a strong, stable presence in the Steelers’ secondary for years, Pittsburgh’s defensive success could hinge on whether or not 2016 rookies Sean Davis (SS) and Artie Burns (CB) can take large steps forward 2017.

9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The safety position was in certainly in flux this offseason in Tampa. The additions of safeties J.J. Wilcox and second-round pick Justin Evans countered the departure of quality 2016 starter Bradley McDougald to Seattle in free agency. The hard-hitting Wilcox is coming off a career year in Dallas, while many were surprised to see Evans taken so early in this year’s draft. According to Scott Smith of buccaneers.com, the starting free safety spot will be a battle between veteran Chris Conte and Keith Tandy, who filled in more than adequately for Conte last December.

10. Carolina Panthers

Mike Adams, still productive at age thirty-six, continued Carolina’s pattern of signing defensive veterans this offseason. He’ll pair with Kurt Coleman in the Panthers’ secondary. Age and lack of upside, along with the aforementioned release of Tre Boston, are the primary reasons for the team’s low ranking.

11. Buffalo Bills

After declining to extend veteran Aaron Williams a contract offer, the Bills brought in former Green Bay chameleon defensive back Micah Hyde and former Cleveland Brown Jordan Poyer. They’ll be counted on heavily this season to stay healthy given the apparent lack of depth behind them on the roster.

12. Houston Texans

After earning top-three rankings in each of the first three positions in this series (interior DL, edge, and linebacker), we reach this defense’s biggest deficiency. Andre Hal remains the only definitive starter heading into 2017. Kareem Jackson has been rumored to be making the move to safety, which would certainly disrupt the perceived starting role and roster spot battles of Eddie Pleasant, K.J. Dillon, and Kurtis Drummond.

13. New York Jets

Regardless of their upside, the fact remains that the Jets’ two projected starting safeties have zero combined NFL snaps.

How would you rank these units?

Follow Brian Phillips on Twitter - @Bphillips_PP