As we all know, safety is the last line of defense on the defense. It’s also one of the most underrated positions in the NFL. The right safety can make a massive impact and become one of the best players on an NFL defense, which is why we wanted to rank the best safeties in 2021 before the NFL season gets underway.
Best Safeties in 2021
The funny thing is that some of the best safeties this season might not be household names. That’s how overlooked the position has become, especially with elite cornerbacks receiving so much praise. But in preparation for the upcoming season, it’s important for fans to take a look at the best safeties in 2021.
10. Derwin James, Chargers
It’s only fair to wonder about a player who’s only played in five games over the past two seasons and didn’t play at all in 2020. But other than those concerns about his health, all of the traits that made Derwin James a first-round pick and Pro Bowler in 2018 remain true.
derwin james, y'all. DERWIN JAMES. pic.twitter.com/UU58PTLNvj
— Los Angeles Chargers (@chargers) August 20, 2021
He deserves the benefit of the doubt for at least one more year because he has the talent to be an elite safety.
9. John Johnson, Browns
John Johnson probably isn’t a household name just yet, but he’s done enough over his first four seasons in the league with the Rams to warrant a big payday from the Browns this past summer.
While he missed most of 2019 due to injury, Johnson has been a steady presence for the Los Angeles defense and will have a chance to make a name for himself this year when he’ll be asked to make a positive impact on a Cleveland defense that needs help.
8. Marcus Maye, Jets
Marcus Maye didn’t necessarily hit the ground running, especially since he missed a lot of time in 2018 due to injury. But he’s started to come into his own over the past couple of seasons, especially during the 2020 season.
He’s trending in the right direction and has a chance to take a big step forward in 2021.
7. Jessie Bates, Bengals
It’s been hard for anyone on the Cincinnati defense to stand out over the past couple of years, but Jessie Bates has found a way to do it.
Jessie Bates picks off Joe Burrow in team drills. Second time a safety gets an INT today with Burrow looking for TE CJ Uzomah.
— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) August 22, 2021
He’s had three interceptions in each of his three seasons in the league and had 15 passes defended last year, helping to earn him Second-Team All-Pro honors. It’s just one season, but Bates is clearly a player who is trending in the right direction and has a chance to stake his claim as one of the league’s best safeties in 2021.
6. Marcus Williams, Saints
Marcus Williams earned a starting job as a rookie in 2017 and has turned himself into an indispensable part of the New Orleans defense. He’s an incredible athlete who does a great job of controlling the deep part of the field.
Williams is such a smart player in terms of how he positions himself and reads the game, making him one of the most underrated safeties in the league who has been denied a Pro Bowl invitation despite several standout seasons.
5. Harrison Smith, Vikings
Harrison Smith has set the bar so high for himself that he was a Pro Bowl snub last year despite a career-high five interceptions. He’s one of those players who always seems to have a nose for the ball and a knack for making big plays.
For a majority of his nine seasons in the league, Smith has helped to set the curve against which safeties are judged, which says a lot about him as a player.
4. Budda Baker, Cardinals
It’s only over the last year or two that Budda Baker has started to become a known commodity among fans outside of Arizona. The guy is the definition of a versatile, do-everything safety.
Arizona Cardinals Budda Baker running the alley
2 key comments… “no fear” & “full speed” pic.twitter.com/l9NOsjsD6D
— DB Coach Nation (@DBCoachNation) August 23, 2021
He has the ability to play all over the field, which is why he’s been to the Pro Bowl three times in the last four years. Baker is so impactful in so many ways that it wasn’t surprising to see the Cardinals make him the highest-paid safety in league history, at least for a little while, last summer.
3. Justin Simmons, Broncos
Among safeties, Justin Simmons might be the best pure athlete in the league.
He’s also one of the most impactful defensive players in the NFL. After all, not every safety receives the franchise tag in back-to-back seasons. There aren’t many safeties who can do what he does on the field, which is why the Broncos didn’t want to risk him signing elsewhere, which says a lot about what he brings to the table.
2. Tyrann Mathieu, Chiefs
As a First-Team All-Pro in back-to-back seasons, the Honey Badger is still as feisty and disruptive as ever. He’s always had the uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time and use his skills to wreak havoc.
1. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Steelers
It’s amazing the impact that Minkah Fitzpatrick had on the Pittsburgh defense since being traded to the Steelers early in the 2019 season. He’s had nine interceptions and 20 passes defended in just 30 games for the Steelers.
If Minkah Fitzpatrick grabs a pick-6 this season, he would join Nate Clements as the only players to record a pick-6 in each of their first four seasons.
— Daniel Valente (@StatsGuyDaniel) August 20, 2021
The kicker is that he’s just 24 heading into the 2021 season and is already a two-time All-Pro. With more experience, Fitzpatrick could be even better in the years to come.
Find the rest of our 2021 NFL position rankings here.