Finally, we’ve reached the last piece in the series Ranking the Rooms: AFC North edition. This has been a major labor of love compiling these pieces, but I hope you as the reader have enjoyed this series throughout the summer.
Today, we’ll take a look at the last — and very important — line of defense in the NFL: safeties.
Here we go!
No. 1 — Cincinnati Bengals
Despite losing Reggie Nelson to the Oakland Raiders in free agency, the Bengals were in a great position to lose an aging veteran as fourth-year safety Shawn Williams is ready to step in and take over as the full-time starter in 2016.
A punishing safety that makes plays all over the field, Williams is poised for a big year with the Bengals taking over for Nelson next to standout safety George Iloka, who re-signed with Cincinnati in free agency.
Iloka is All-Pro material at safety and has gotten better every single year, so there’s no reason to think there isn’t another level to his game.
Backing up Iloka and Williams is second-year safety Derron Smith who had a knack for getting his hands on the ball at Fresno State, while second-year safety Floyd Raven and rookie Clayton Fejedelem look to make an impact on special teams for Cincinnati.
No. 2 — Pittsburgh Steelers
I know — this might be way too high for the Steelers, but I truly believe that safety is going to be a serious strength for Pittsburgh in 2016.
Mike Mitchell really came on strong last year and was very, very sound for the Steelers in a secondary that was very poor in 2015.
Along with Mitchell, new starter Robert Golden appears primed for a breakout season after re-signing with the Steelers this offseason. Golden gets unnecessary flak from a lot of Steelers fans, but he’s very good against the run, a solid tackler and showed flashes as a safety in coverage. The big test comes this year.
Behind Mitchell and Golden is fourth-year safety Shamarko Thomas, who appears to be putting it all together this preseason. That’s encouraging to see from a former third-round draft pick that hasn’t done much of anything in a Steelers uniform.
Pittsburgh also has rookie Sean Davis, who can play both nickel corner and safety this season. There isn’t much depth here, but the two starters can be high-end guys in 2016.
No. 3 — Baltimore Ravens
Eric Weddle was a nice signing for the Ravens, but he’s an aging safety that might not have many years left. For right now though, the Ravens desperately need him to play at a high level, considering they’re moving former cornerbackLardarius Webb to safety due to injuries and a decline in athleticism, coupled with the poor play of former first round pick, Matt Elam.
Safety is a position in a state of flux for Baltimore. Webb has never played safety before in his professional career, so it’ll be interesting to see how he makes the transition. Having Weddle next to him should help immensely.
Elam is a backup at this point in his career, while Kendrick Lewis, Terrance Brooks and Anthony Levine Jr. There’s depth there, but how good it is or isn’t remains to be seen.
No. 4 — Cleveland Browns
This is the team that could make the jump to the top of this list next season depending on how the young players at safety for Cleveland develop this season.
Ibraheim Campbell takes over for Donte Whitner this season, while Jordan Poyer is back for another year at safety for the Browns.
Although a young duo, but have tons of upside and athleticism for the position, which is a positive aspect of their games for the Browns.
Backing up Campbell and Poyer is a rookie that I am really, really high on in Derrick Kindred. He’s a punishing player but is injury prone and profiles more as an in-the-box safety.
Cleveland also has Rahim Moore listed as safety, as well as Pierre Desir, so there’s depth at safety for Cleveland. It’s all about development.