The strongest safeties in the NFL are known for their brute strength, hard hits, explosive tackles, and ability to instill fear in the eyes of their opposition. They make players think twice before running towards them and when they do, they’re often met with a force they can’t quite handle.
There are generally two safeties on the field at any given moment – the free safety and the strong safety. The free safety is traditionally known as the ‘ball hawk,’ while the strong safety is traditionally known as the ‘big hitter.’ Either way, they’re considered the last line of defense.
While strong safeties are usually the bigger, stronger, and more fearful players, that doesn’t mean free safeties are weak. Much like any other football player, they love a big hit and will use every ounce of their strength to initiate a clean one when the right opportunity presents itself.
Who Are the Strongest Safeties in the NFL?
Most safeties are known for their ability to make big plays on the football field and the strongest safeties in the NFL generally rely on their strength to do so. That’s not to say they aren’t good in coverage, but they certainly know how to pump up the crowd with a big, yet clean hit or tackle.
When you think of the strongest safeties in the NFL, some players stand out more than others. Whether it’s due to the sheer size of their muscles or a big hit you once saw on Sportscenter’s Top Ten, the strongest safeties in the NFL have a way of finding themselves on a highlight reel.
Don’t worry, we’re going to rank 20 of the strongest safeties in the NFL. These are players you’re going to want to watch on Football Sunday and if you have a favorite team that you root for, then you might want to start recruiting them to your team because they’re game-changers.
20. Quandre Diggs
Quandre Diggs was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the sixth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. He has played both the strong safety and free safety positions, as well as cornerback. After four and a half seasons with the Lions, Diggs was traded to the Seattle Seahawks for a draft pick.
In 65 games with Detroit, Diggs recorded 215 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, one fumble recoveries, 6 interceptions, 24 passes defensed, and one touchdown. In 38 games with Seattle, he has 158 tackles, 13 interceptions, 20 passes defensed, one touchdown, and two Pro Bowl appearances.
19. Terrell Edmunds
Terrell Edmunds was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 28th overall pick in 2018. He has spent the past four seasons with the team, playing in 64 games (60 games as starter) at the strong safety position. He still has some developing to do, but he’s a consistent player.
Since joining the league, Edmunds has recorded 340 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, one fumble recovery, 5 interceptions, and 21 passes defensed. He has recorded two interceptions in each of the past two seasons and eight of his 12 career tackles for loss came last season.
18. Kevin Byard
Kevin Byard was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He has been with the team for the past six years, playing in 97 games and starting 88 games at the free safety position. He’s a two-time Pro Bowl and two-time All-Pro player for the Titans.
Over the past six years, Byard has accumulated 519 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks, 3 fumble recoveries, 3 forced fumbles, 23 interceptions, 57 passes defensed, and 2 touchdowns. He led the league with eight interceptions in 2017 and tallied five interceptions last season.
17. Tyrann Mathieu
Tyrann Mathieu was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft. He was the team’s starting free safety for five seasons before transitioning to strong safety with the Houston Texans in 2018. He has since been the Kansas City Chiefs’ starting strong safety.
Mathieu has had three of the best years of his career with the Chiefs since joining the team in 2019. In 47 games with the team, he has recorded 213 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, 4 fumble recoveries, 13 interceptions, 27 passes defensed, and 2 defensive touchdowns.
16. Adrian Amos
Adrian Amos was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. He spent four years with the team, playing both free safety and strong safety. He didn’t record his first interception until his third year, but recorded two interceptions in his final year with Chicago.
In 2019, Amos signed with the rival Green Bay Packers and has recorded two interceptions in every season since. In addition to his six picks in Green Bay, Amos has recorded 260 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, and 25 passes defensed. He hasn’t missed a game since 2017.
15. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He has gradually improved over the past three seasons and most recently set new career-highs in sacks and interceptions, despite only appearing in 12 games in 2021.
Gardner-Johnson had three interceptions and 2.0 sacks in 12 games last season. For reference, he had two interceptions and 1.0 sack in 31 games his first two seasons. We can expect to see a lot more of him in the coming years as he continues to emerge as a star.
14. DeShon Elliott
DeShon Elliott was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the sixth round of the 2018 NFL Draft. He has spent the past three seasons as the team’s free safety, though he only played in six games last year due to a torn pec and torn biceps in Week 9. He last played in November 2021.
Elliott didn’t see much playing time his first season, only appearing in six games and recording zero starts. He was the team’s starting free safety in 2020 and recorded 2.5 sacks, 80 tackles, and two forced fumbles. He recorded his first career interception in Week 6 last season.
13. Malik Hooker
Malik Hooker was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts with the 15th overall pick in 2017. He spent the first four years of his career as the team’s free safety before signing with the Dallas Cowboys for the 2021 season. He only started three games for the Cowboys last year.
Hooker looked like he could be one of the best safeties in the league during the first three years of his career. He had seven interceptions in that time, but only played two games in 2020 due to an injury. He caught one interception and had 44 tackles with the Cowboys last season.
12. Kyle Dugger
Kyle Dugger was drafted by the New England Patriots in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Despite only being in the league for two seasons, Dugger has already established himself as a quality Patriots’ starter. He started seven games in 2020 and started 13 games in 2021.
Last year, he set career-highs in tackles (92), tackles for loss (5), fumble recoveries (1), passes defensed (5), and interceptions (4). He’s still developing and will continue to improve, so the sky’s the limit for this 25-year old safety. We’ll likely see some big hits in the near future, as well.
11. Marcus Maye
Marcus Maye was drafted by the New York Jets in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. He has spent the past five seasons with the team, but only played in six games in 2018 and 2021 due to injuries. This past season was the first year he failed to record at least one interception.
Since 2017, Maye has recorded 312 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, 6 interceptions, and 24 passes defensed. He had a 104-yard interception return in 2018, but failed to walk it into the endzone. Look for him to break out next year.
10. Kareem Jackson
Kareem Jackson was drafted by the Houston Texans with the 20th overall pick in 2010. He spent nine years with the team, tallying 559 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, 2.0 sackes, 6 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries, 16 interceptions, 88 passes defensed, and 3 touchdowns.
In 2019, Jackson signed with the Denver Broncos and has played 44 games with the team since. In that time, he has recorded 248 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, 4 interceptions, 16 passes defensed, and one defensive touchdown.
9. Jabrill Peppers
Jabrill Peppers was drafted by the Cleveland Browns with the 25th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. He spent the first two years of his career with the team and was a regular starter at both the strong safety and free safety positions, but failed to make much of a difference on the field.
He was traded to the New York Giants ahead of the 2019 season and started in 25 games over the next two seasons, but still wasn’t coming to form. He only played in six games this past season with a ruptured ACL and high ankle sprain. He has just four career interceptions.
8. Harrison Smith
Harrison Smith was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings with the 29th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. He has spent his entire 10-year career with the team and has caught at least one interception in every season except 2016. He has caught a total of 29 interceptions in his career.
In addition to his 29 picks, Smith has tallied 861 tackles, 42 tackles for loss, 8 forced fumbles, 8 fumble recoveries, 16.5 sacks, 73 passes defensed, and 4 defensive touchdowns in 145 games played. He has also made six Pro Bowl appearances and was named an All-Pro player once.
7. Derwin James Jr.
Derwin James Jr. was drafted by the Los Angeles Chargers with the 17th overall pick in 2018. He had himself a tremendous rookie season, tallying 105 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 13 passes defensed in 16 games as the team’s starting free safety.
Unfortunately, he suffered several nagging knee, foot, and hamstring injuries that limited his 2019 season to five games and 2020 season to zero games. He returned in 2021 and recorded 118 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions, and 5 passes defensed in 15 games.
6. Jordan Poyer
Jordan Poyer was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the seventh round of the 2013 NFL Draft. He was traded to the Cleveland Browns early on in his rookie season and spent the next three seasons fighting for playing time. He had just 10 starts after four years in the NFL.
His career took a turn for the best when he sparked interest from the Buffalo Bills in free agency. He immediately became the team’s starting safety and has been exactly that ever since. Over the past five years in Buffalo, he has 18 interceptions, 10 sacks, and six forced fumbles.
5. Landon Collins
Landon Collins was drafted by the New York Giants in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft. He spent the next four years with the team as he established himself as one of the best strong safeties in the league. During that time, he recorded 437 tackles and 8 interceptions.
Collins signed with the Washington Commanders ahead of the 2019 season and has been with the team ever since. Over the past three years, he has recorded 239 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 3 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries, and 7 passes defensed.
4. Malcolm Jenkins
Malcolm Jenkins was drafted by the New Orleans Saints with the 14th overall pick in 2009. He spent the next seven years with the Saints and recorded six interceptions, 6 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries, 4.5 sacks, 9 tackles for loss and 37 passes defensed in that time.
Jenkins signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2014 and spent six seasons with the team before returning to the Saints in 2020 and 2021. In 199 career games, Jenkins has 1,044 tackles, 13.5 sacks, 20 forced fumbles, 11 fumble recoveries, 21 interceptions, and 8 defensive touchdowns.
3. Budda Baker
Budda Baker was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. He has been with the team ever since and while he had 100+ tackles in two of his first three seasons, he didn’t record his first career interception until his fourth year in the league.
Baker led the league with 104 solo tackles in 2019 and while he didn’t have any picks in his first three years, he has caught five interceptions in his past two seasons. He also has 7.5 career sacks, 5 career forced fumbles, 5 career fumble recoveries, and one defensive touchdown.
2. Jamal Adams
Jamal Adams was drafted by the New York Jets with the sixth overall pick in 2017. He was one of the most-anticipated safety prospects in a while and is likely one of the best pass-rushing safeties to ever play. He’s a three-time Pro Bowler and was named an All-Pro player once.
Over the past five seasons, Adams has recorded 21.5 sacks – more than most safeties have in their entire career. While he didn’t have one last season, he had 9.5 sacks in his first season with the Seattle Seahawks. He also has 43 career tackles for loss and seven forced fumbles.
1. Andrew Sendejo
Andrew Sendejo went undrafted in 2010, wasn’t signed as an undrafted free agent, and ended up playing in the UFL for the 2010 season. He joined the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad halfway through the 2010 NFL season and signed with the Minnesota Vikings in 2011.
Sendejo’s career finally took off in 2013 and he remained a key part of the Vikings’ defense until he was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles during the 2019 season. He has bounced around a little bit since then, but he is still one of the most feared safeties in the league – known for his big hits.
Who Are the All-Time Strongest Safeties in the NFL?
The strongest safeties in the NFL have a way of making opponents remember them with their big hits. They’ll leave bruises that you feel the next morning and often show no mercy when given the chance. The moment they see a big play open up, their eyes light up like a firework.
Some of the hardest-hitting, scariest, and strongest safeties in NFL history include the likes of Brain Dawkins, Ronnie Lott, Steve Atwater, Jack Tatum, Rodney Harrison, Sean Taylor, John Lynch, Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed, Andre Waters, Kenny Easley, and Kam Chancellor.
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The 2022 NFL Draft is just a little over a month away and there are several safety prospects that could find themselves on this list in the future. Some names to remember are Kyle Hamilton, Lewis Cine, Bubba Bolden, Jordan Battle, Sterling Weatherford, and Isaiah Pola-Mao.
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