Both before and after the upcoming NFL season, there is bound to be a raging debate about the best safeties in 2023. Even compared to other football positions, safety takes on extra importance because they are the last line of defense.
Fittingly, we are seeing a generation of incredible safeties throughout the NFL.
Ranking the best safeties in 2023
With so many great safeties in the league, it’s not easy to distinguish the best NFL safeties currently. In fact, some of the top safeties in the NFL could end up being remembered among the greatest safeties in NFL history.
While we were a little worried to leave someone out, we wanted to try putting together a ranking of the 10 best safeties in 2023.
10. Tyrann Mathieu
He may not be the same old Honey Badger from his younger days, but Tyrann Mathieu still deserves to be mentioned among the league’s top safeties.
Even in his early 30s, the undersized Mathieu turned in an impressive campaign in 2022, starting all 17 games for the Saints while racking up eight defended passes and three interceptions. The guy can still get after it, bringing the same tenacity he did during his younger days. Keep in mind Mathieu has been a Pro Bowler in two of the last three years, so he’s far from finished in the NFL.
9. Budda Baker
Just because he’s projected to play for a bad team in 2023 doesn’t mean that Budda Baker still can’t be among the league’s best safeties. His resume speaks for itself with Baker being selected to the Pro Bowl five times in the last six years.
He’s been a constant in the Arizona secondary since he was a rookie, and now the Cardinals need him more than ever. There’s only been one season in which Baker didn’t have at least six defended passes. That part of his game goes along nicely with 7.5 career sacks and seven career interceptions. He doesn’t have the same physical presence as some other safeties, but he can do everything else that the NFL’s top safeties do.
8. Kevin Byard
Throughout his career with the Titans, Kevin Byard has been so consistent and reliable that it’s almost easy to forget that he’s one of the best safeties in the league. He’s started every game for Tennessee for six consecutive seasons and has collected at least four interceptions in five of those six seasons.
Somehow, Byard has only been selected to two Pro Bowls in his career, so he surely doesn’t get the credit he deserves. However, he’s barely 30 years old and is poised once again to be one of the NFL’s best safeties in 2023.
7. Jordan Poyer
It took until his 10th season in the league, but Jordan Poyer finally went to his first Pro Bowl last year. Somehow, it took an injury to his running mate Micah Hyde for everyone to discover just how good Poyer has been this whole time.
To be fair, he was also a First-Team All-Pro in 2021, showing further proof that Poyer belongs among the NFL’s elite safeties. Poyer’s only drawback is that he’s 32, so it’s possible that he’ll start to slow down a little or show signs of aging. However, he’s still playing at a high level and remains a big part of the Buffalo defense heading into the 2023 season.
6. Micah Hyde
Just when he was finally starting to be recognized as one of the top safeties in the NFL, Micah Hyde suffered a neck injury in Week 2 last year that cost him the rest of the season. But if he’s healthy in 2023, there’s little doubt that Hyde will quickly get back to being one of the top safeties in the league.
He’s just one year removed from collecting five interceptions and 10 defended passes during the 2021 season. Of course, Hyde’s contributions to the Buffalo secondary extend far beyond statistics, and that will be obvious if the Bills have a resurgent year on that side of the ball with Hyde healthy in 2023.
5. Antoine Winfield
Thanks to his father being a three-time Pro Bowler, Antoine Winfield entered the NFL in 2020 with huge expectations. It’s safe to say that he’s more than lived up to them three years into his career.
He started every game as a rookie when the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl and has only gotten better from there. Winfield isn’t quite the tackling machine that some of the elite safeties in the league are, but he’s not that far either.
In three short seasons, he’s collected nine sacks and 15 defended passes, which means he’s covering a ton of ground and making plays all over the field. Winfield went to the Pro Bowl for the first time in 2021 and it shouldn’t be long until he goes again, as he’s become a leader and an invaluable part of the Tampa defense.
4. Talanoa Hufanga
Just two years into his career and it’s already safe to put Talanoa Hufanga among the best safeties in the NFL. His hair and Polynesian heritage – not to mention the fact that he hails from USC – make it impossible to avoid comparisons to Troy Polamalu. At this rate, Hufanga could end up having just as good of a career as Polamalu had.
Hufanga made his first Pro Bowl last season and was also named a First-Team All-Pro. He’s quickly become an invaluable part of one of the best defenses in the NFL. To think that he was drafted in the fifth round a few years ago makes him an absolute steal. Keep in mind that he’s still only 23 and should only get better in 2023 and beyond.
3. Justin Simmons
Despite only playing 12 games last season, Justin Simmons finished with six interceptions, tying him for the league lead. Combined with his seven defended passes and three forced fumbles during an abbreviated season, Simmons was named a Second-Team All-Pro for the third time in four seasons.
Playing on a losing team in recent seasons has made it easy to overlook him as an elite safety. But Simmons is truly one of the great athletes in the league and still appears to be in his prime.
Remember that Denver’s defense was one of the best in the league last year despite the team’s poor record. Simmons was a big part of that after missing the early part of the season and he should continue to be one of the NFL’s best safeties in 2023.
2. Minkah Fitzpatrick
Since the day he arrived in Pittsburgh, Minkah Fitzpatrick has been on the shortlist of the best safeties in the NFL. He’s coming off arguably the best season of his career, earning Pro Bowl and First-Team All-Pro honors for the third time.
Fitzpatrick also grabbed a career-high six interceptions last season, tying him for the league lead. His length and athleticism allow him to cover a ton of ground in the defensive backfield while Fitzpatrick isn’t afraid to do the dirty work close to the line of scrimmage. He’ll undoubtedly be one of the best safeties in 2023 as he continues to play at a Pro Bowl level.
1. Derwin James
If you could create a safety in a lab, he would probably look a lot like Derwin James. He has the size, physicality, and instincts to play the position at a high level. It’s a shame that he played just five total games between the 2019 and 2020 seasons due to injury, stunting his development a little.
But he’s gotten right back on track over the past two seasons, earning Pro Bowl invitations in both seasons. James has actually collected more sacks than interceptions over those two seasons while racking up at least 115 tackles each year, making it clear that he’s among the elite safeties in the NFL right now.