We’re just weeks away from the start of training camp at Heinz Field for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and as we near the end of the dog days of summer we are also nearing the end of the Ranking the Rooms: AFC North series here at Steelers Depot.
Today, I will take a look at the safeties in the rugged AFC North after profiling the cornerbacks in my most recent edition of the series.
Let’s jump right in to the safety rankings in the AFC North.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers
Having the NFL’s best safety certainly helps the Steelers immensely in this ranking.
Minkah Fitzpatrick has been quite the revelation for the Steelers since coming over from the Miami Dolphins in that early-season 2019 trade. Since then, Fitzpatrick has taken a star turn as the Steelers’ free safety, helping transform the Steelers’ secondary in a big way.
He takes away roughly half the field in coverage as quarterbacks tend to stay away from him, and yet he still finds a way to make splash plays in the back half of the Steelers’ defense.
Alongside Fitzpatrick, fourth-year safety Terrell Edmunds is coming off of the best season of his career (that might not be saying much to some), and continues to progress as a defender overall. Though he did not have his fifth-year option picked up, Edmunds slots in nicely next to Fitzpatrick as the box safety who can come downhill to defend the run and seems to be getting a bit better in coverage overall.
The only real concern here with the Steelers is a lack of depth, though the franchise did add Arthur Maulet in free agency to try and fill the dime backer and depth role. Second-year safety Antoine Brooks Jr. looks to take a step forward this season, while rookie Tre Norwood could surprise and grab a spot due to his versatility in the secondary. Undrafted rookies Donovan Stiner and Lamont Wade will battle it out for a practice squad role or surprising 53-man spot.
Don’t be surprised to see Kevin Colbert and the Steelers add to this group late in training camp through cutdown day or via trade.
2. Cincinnati Bengals
If you’ve read me long enough here on Steelers Depot, you know how much I love me some Jessie Bates. It still pains me to this day knowing he wasn’t the pick in 2018 as the Steelers instead went with Edmunds.
Since becoming a Bengal, Bates has quietly worked his way into being one of the top safeties overall in the NFL. He’s easily in the top 10 and has some of the best range and ball skills at the free safety position overall. Though he’s not flashy and doesn’t have a big name overall due to where he plays, the tape shows just how great Bates is week after week.
The Bengals have a real cornerstone piece in him.
Opposite Bates, Cincinnati did a nice job rebuilding the position on the fly, adding Vonn Bell in free agency prior to the 2020 season, and then added Ricardo Allen this season, giving Cincinnati experience on the back half of the defense.
Brandon Wilson will always be a personal favorite due to his abilities on special teams, while names like Kavon Frazier and Trayvon Henderson will battle it out for the final safety spot on the roster.
Overall, this is a solid group top to bottom and was certainly in the discussion for No. 1 overall in the AFC North.
3. Cleveland Browns
Much like the Bengals, the Browns have done a great job rebuilding the back half of the defense in recent seasons, capping off the rebuild with the signing of veteran safety John Johnson III away from the Los Angeles Rams in free agency this spring. Johnson brings a physical presence to the secondary and will provide leadership and smarts, allowing younger guys like Ronnie Harrison, Grant Delpit, and Sheldrick Redwine to come along slowly at the position.
I have high hopes for Delpit, a guy I liked coming out of LSU last season. Delpit tore his Achilles in training camp and missed the entire 2020 season, but he’s a playmaker on the back half.
Harrison flashed a lot last season after being acquired from the Jacksonville Jaguars via trade and should give the Browns options as a box safety.
Jovante Moffatt and Richard LeCounte III are intriguing names to watch as depth pieces overall for the Browns, who quietly boast a strong safety room for the first time in years.
4. Baltimore Ravens
Losing Earl Thomas prior to the start of the 2020 regular season due to some issues off the field and in the locker room really put the Ravens in a bind at safety.
Though Chuck Clark stepped up and showed how good he can be at safety, the Ravens didn’t really address the loss of Thomas then, or prior to this season, instead rolling with DeShon Elliott once again. Elliott was fine in place of Thomas, posting a 66.6 overall grade from Pro Football Focus. It’s worth noting though that Elliott didn’t pick off a single pass and had just four passes defensed last season.
Behind Clark and Elliott, depth is a concern overall for the Ravens, as A’Darius Washington should make the roster as an undrafted free agent out of TCU, while Geno Stone, Jordan Richards and Nigel Warrior will battle it out for the fourth safety spot.
None of those scream great athlete overall or one with great ball skills. This might be one of the weakest positions on the Ravens, which historically is rarely the case. Baltimore could be in line for a splash trade in training camp, or could be hunting an upgrade at the position in free agency or early in the 2022 NFL Draft.
2020 AFC North S rankings:
No. 1 – Pittsburgh Steelers
No. 2 – Cincinnati Bengals
No. 3 – Baltimore Ravens
No. 4 – Cleveland Browns