The Cleveland Browns recently signed veteran safety Rodney McLeod to a one-year deal and that means he’ll be one of the most experienced players on their defense. With so much NFL experience under his belt as he heads into his 12th season as a professional, McLeod was asked to rank the top five safeties, not including himself, currently in the NFL during a Tuesday appearance on NFL Total Access.
McLeod’s top five rankings had Quandre Diggs of the Seattle Seahawks at number five. Jordan Poyer of the Buffalo Bills was ranked fourth on McLeod’s list and ahead of him was Budda Baker of the Arizona Cardinals. Second overall among McLeod’s top five safeties was Kevin Byard of the Tennessee Titans. Lastly, McCloud announced that Pittsburgh Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick is at the top of his list at the position. He explained why that is.
“Number one, got to go Minkah Fitzpatrick. He’s a guy that will manipulate the quarterback. He baits quarterbacks into throwing him exactly where he wants it,” McLeod said. “As you’re seeing right there in front of you, he’s a guy that you always have to highlight and know where 39 is. He’s an impact player and he’s done that since entering the Steelers defense.”
NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks was then asked to comment on McLeod’s rankings.
“I like the list and look, it’s hard with safeties because safeties are the brains of the outfit on defense,” Brooks said. “Don’t let those linebackers tell you everything runs through the safety. They make all the calls; they make everybody right.”
Most players around the NFL would likely agree with McLeod having Fitzpatrick ranked first overall among safeties. After all, Fitzpatrick is now a three-time, AP first-team All-Pro selection and he’s only been in the league for five seasons. Fitzpatrick has amassed 19 total interceptions in 79 regular season games played in. The former first-round draft pick out of Alabama has also scored five touchdowns on defense since being selected 11th overall by the Miami Dolphins in 2018.
Fitzpatrick finished 2022 with a career-high six interceptions, tying for the league lead. Since becoming a Steeler in 2019 via a trade with the Dolphins, Fitzpatrick’s 17 interceptions are tied for the third-most in the NFL, only trailing cornerback J.C. Jackson’s 22 and safety Justin Simmons’ 20.
Fitzpatrick became the NFL’s highest paid safety when he signed a four-year, $72.98 million contract extension with the Steelers on June 15. Since then, however, he’s become the NFL’s second-highest paid safety as the top honor now belongs to Derwin James of the Los Angeles Chargers.