The start of training camp in Latrobe is drawing closer and closer for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and with that, we can start to see the finish line on a long off-season.
We can also start to see the finish line of the Ranking the Rooms: AFC North series here at Steelers Depot. In the last installment, I took a look at the cornerbacks within the division. Today, I’ll take a look at the last line of the defense: the safety rooms.
Historically, safety has been a strong position for the division over the years. Right now, that’s not really the case. The Baltimore Ravens have the big names at the position, while the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals are still trying to replace the big names. As for the Cleveland Browns, a mix of veterans and high-ceiling young players as the future looking bright, but the production in 2019 will be a concern.
Let’s dive in.
1. Baltimore Ravens
Much like the cornerbacks ranking, this one shouldn’t come as a surprise. While the Ravens did let Eric Weddle go, Baltimore turned right around and made a slight upgrade, grabbing Earl Thomas III in free agency, giving Baltimore an elite duo on the backend once again.
Thomas III pairs with an ever-improving Tony Jefferson, who brings speed and physicality to the unit. Jefferson is a bit underrated around the league and seen as more of a second-fiddle type guy, but he’s going to be a household name this season.
Behind Thomas and Jefferson, Baltimore has a few guys that the draft community really liked in Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott. Elliott possesses the centerfield-type skillset where he can be a playmaker in the backend, while Clark is the run-and-hit type that could be a real downhill thumper if asked to be. He could also theoretically play cornerback if called upon, as he played some cornerback at Virginia Tech.
2. Cincinnati Bengals
This one might hurt for a long, long time.
Jessie Bates II was the guy many Steelers fans wanted in the 2018 NFL Draft. He appeared to be a perfect fit to what the Steelers desperately needed in the backend. Instead, the Steelers took Terrell Edmunds (a good player in his own right), allowing the Bengals to snatch up Bates. Fast-forward to the 2018 season and Bates was terrific in his rookie season, showcasing the ball skills and football IQ all over the field. He looks like a future star. Ouch.
While the Bengals don’t have any “big names” at safety, they’re exceptionally deep behind Bates, as Shawn Williams is a veteran safety that has a knack for making plays in big spots, and can line up all over the defense. Brandon Wilson, Clayton Fejedelem, and Trayvon Henderson provide intriguing depth with experience, while Demetrious Cox and rookie Tyree Kinnel will battle it out for one of the final roster spots.
Should the Bengals be struck by injuries at safety in 2019, they’ll be in the best position within the division to get by at the safety position due to the strong depth.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
For all of the knocks against Sean Davis from fans and media within the Pittsburgh area, the former second-round pick seems to have settled into his role as the starting free safety for the Steelers.
I’d like to see the production on the ball rise in 2019, but Davis was very solid in 2018, improving his tackling numbers, making a number of plays on the ball for the first time in his career, and giving the Steelers some much-needed stability at the position.
He still has plenty of room to get better too, and after settling into a spot for the first time in his career, I think we see another big leap forward for the young safety in 2019.
Joining Davis is Edmunds, a player that I really like and think closed his rookie season out in style. He played an insane amount of snaps as a rookie, thanks to injuries to others, but sometimes a trial by fire serves players best when it comes to development. It looks like that might be the case for the Virginia Tech product, who got better and better as the season progressed.
This year, I’m hoping for a few more sacks, forced fumbles, and interceptions by Edmunds as he’ll play in the box a lot more. Pittsburgh needs him to develop into a force.
Behind Davis and Edmunds, Pittsburgh has veteran Jordan Dangerfield and second-year safety Marcus Allen. All four appear to have their spots locked in, as Dangerfield is a strong special teams player and is the only safety on the roster that seemingly can play the centerfield role in place of Davis, while Allen is slotted into the DIME backer role, should the Steelers need it.
Dravon Askew-Henry and PJ Locke, undrafted free agent signees, could possibly play their way onto the roster with great camps and preseasons, but the cards seem stacked against them.
4. Cleveland Browns
Trading Jabrill Peppers in the offseason really hurt the Browns at the safety position, but any time you can flip a safety for a superstar receiver to pair with a good quarterback on a rookie deal, you do it.
With Peppers out of the picture, Damarius Randall is the lone returning starter at safety for Cleveland, and even he appears best suited for a cornerback role, instead of a single-high safety role.
I like Randall quite a bit, but I’m afraid he might be used incorrectly in 2019, causing his stock to fall.
Then, when you have the anchor that is Morgan Burnett slotted in next to you…yikes. We all saw how rough Burnett was in 2018, so it would be foolish to expect a bounce back in 2019 in a new place. He’s lost a step or two.
Behind the two veterans, the one to watch is Sheldrick Redwine, who theoretically should be a starter for the Browns this year due to his speed, athleticism, and ball skills. It wouldn’t surprise me if he overtakes Burnett quickly.
Eric Murray and Jermaine Whitehead provide decent veteran depth for Cleveland. But if they have to fill in due to injuries, the Browns will see a great drop-off at the position.
Last season’s rankings: