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13 Best Safeties in NFL

13 Best Safeties in NFL. NFL is one of the most dangerous and wild sports, with the gameplay, the chemistry, the action, and the drama keeps us stuck to the television wanting more.

We love watching players with tension and aggression, hunting and being hunted. 

The best safeties make the game even more intense and fun.

We know that the position of safety is the defense’s last line.

A muscular build, athletic, smart, and fast runner make up the ideal safety.

A strong safety should have great feet, good decision-making, cunning, and quick in order to cover receivers.

Moreover, we know how perfect and efficient safety can completely change the gameplay. 

With the development and evolution of the NFL, we have seen the functions of different players and positions change too.

The NFL now varies in many ways from the NFL 50 years ago.

13 Best Safeties in NFL

With the development and evolution of the NFL, we’ve watched the duties of different players and positions change too.

We have seen the functions of different players and positions change and, the gameplay has become dynamic too.

We’ve tried to rank the 13 best safeties of all time, taking references from YouTube and the NFL.

Here is a summary of all the best safeties, continued with a brief description.

Player’s Name Number of Career Interceptions Years Played
13) Yale Lary 50 20
12) Cliff Harris 29 10
11) Larry Wilson 52 13
10) Kenny Easley 32 8
9) Donnie Shell 51 14
8) Brian Dawkins 34 16
7) Ken Houston 49 14
6) Steve Atwater 24 11
5) Troy Polamalu 32 12
4) Emlen Tunnell 79 14
3) Paul Krause 81 16
2) Ed Reed 64 13
1) Ronnie Lott 63 14

13)  Yale Lary

Robert Yale Lary was an American businessman, politician, and one of the best NFL players with 50 career interceptions. 

Pro Football Hall of Famer Yale Lary played for the Detroit Lions from 1952-1963 and from 1956 to 1964, missing the 1953 and 1955 seasons due to military service as a second lieutenant in the Army throughout the Korean war. 

Yale Lary
Yale Lary attending an NFL game (Source: facebook.com)

He played as a safety, punter, and return specialist and played in nine Pro Bowl games.

He was a first-team All-NFL player five times.

Yale passed away on May 11, 2017, of natural causes.

12)  Cliff Harris

The two-time Super Bowl champion, voted to six Pro Bowls and First-Team All-Pro three times, Cliff Allen Harris had 29 interceptions from 1970-1979.

He played for the Dallas Cowboys for ten seasons.

Also, he won the Super Bowl Champion twice. He also appeared in five Super Bowls and was selected to consecutive Pro Bowls six times.

Pro Football Hall Of Fame safety Larry Wilson said,  “I feel Harris is the finest free safety in the business today. He changed the way the position is played.

11)  Larry Wilson(Wildcat)

Larry Frank Wilson was an American football player who played free safety for the St. Louis Cardinals(1960-1972).

Larry learned to play defensive back after playing for running back position.

He proved to be an important part of his team with his intense determination and dynamic nature. 

He was a ferocious and courageous safety who defeated the ball carrier at all cost which earned him the nickname ‘Wildcat.’

Larry Wilson
Larry Wilson

You must know that he once played with two broken hands and, however, had an interception.

Larry also became a cunning, intelligent Pro, thus making him the perfect attack weapon for a revolutionary defense.

He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame with 52 career interceptions and voted to eight Pro Bowls and First-Team All-Pro five times.

In addition, he had 52 career interceptions.

Sadly, Larry lost his battle with cancer on 17 September 2020.

10)  Kenny Easley (The Enforcer)

“Play hard and hit people hard.” 

Commonly known as ‘The Enforcer,’ Kenny Easley was a physical, athletic safety.

Kenny Easley, one of the most imposing middle defenders of his era, played for the Seattle Seahawks from 1981-1987 for seven seasons earning 32 career interceptions. 

Easley has been considered among the best defensive backs and one of Seahawk’s all-time best players.

With a high level of positional awareness, Kenny Easley had range, fluidity, and vigor, making him one of the best safeties of all time.

Even in such a small span of time, Easley made his mark in the NFL.

9)  Donnie Shell (Human Torpedo)

Donnie Shell played for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1974 to 1987  and was a four-time Super Bowl Champion.

With 51 career interceptions and First-Team All-Pro three times, you can already tell Donnie Shell was like no other. 

Shell’s big hit plays earned him his nickname ‘Human Torpedo.’

Donnie Shell Hall of Fame
Donnie Shell Hall Of Fame (2021),                    Source: instagram.com

Shell was always ready for a perfect and flawless tackle.

Mel Blount (Hall Of Fame Cornerback) said, “When Donnie Shell hits you, you knew you’ve been hit.”

Donnie Shell is an all-time underrated, underappreciated player.

On January 15, 2020, Shell was finally announced as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Centennial Class of 2020.

8)  Brian Dawkins (Weapon X)

The name Weapon X came from his ability to play anywhere and be used as a weapon,” quoted a former NFL linebacker.

Brian Dawkins was a monster in the field.

He was a multi-dimensional player full of energy and athleticism.

Brian Dawkins
Brian Dawkins in his iconic number 20.       (Source: instagram.com)

With over 35 career interceptions, Dawkins played for the Philadelphia Eagles (1996-2008) and Denver Broncos (2009-2011).

For his gameplay and stamina, Weapon X is the best nickname. 

He was an inspiration for the defense of his team.

The offense never knew where he was or would attack him from.

Above all, this stealthiness and smartness made him unique. 

7)  Ken Houston (Ball Hawk)

The safety voted to more Pro Bowls than any other- Ken Houston, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986.

He was an all-league free safety for twelve consecutive years. In addition, an American Football league All-Star in 1968 and 1969.

Throughout his career, he had an extraordinary insight to know where the ball was going, therefore having 49 career interceptions.

Ken Houston was one of the greatest strong safety and tackler in history.

He could run, tackle, hustle, and play the best with his signature play. He was described as ‘ a lean mean blade cutting down a ball carrier.’

The 11-year veteran was a super safety; one of the finest defensive players the NFL ever knew with no weaknesses, smart, tall, strong, and great.

6)  Steve Atwater

“Play hard, play smart and knock them every chance you get.”

Matt Miller, NFL writer said, “Steve Atwaters was the first safety that really patrolled very well and no one wanted to get in his range.”

The games were wild and fierce with Atwater. 

Everyone remembers the Christian Okoye hit, don’t you? It was as a solo tackle in the hole.

Steve Atwater with his son
Steve Atwater with his son, who also plays. (Source:instagram.com)

The two-time super bowl champion and First team All-pro two times Steve Atwater played for the Denver Broncos(1989-1998) and New York Jets(1999). 

Atwater was a great cover safety, and his ability to anticipate, recognize and react got him 24 career interceptions. 

5)  Troy Polamalu

We definitely remember his luscious, shiny, and voluminous locks when we hear about Troy Polamalu, but with this, we remember his wild and all over the place game style. 

Polamalu has been described as a ‘dangerous’ individual with death-defying picks.

With 32 career interceptions, he was a two-time Super Bowl champion, voted to eight Pro Bowls and First-Team All-Pro four times.

13 Best Safeties in NFL Troy Polamalu 2008
Troy Polamalu in 2008 (Source: commons.wikipedia.org)

He played for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2003-2014. 

His game was a different level of play, what no one had ever seen before.

With his dedication and speed, making plays stand out at a critical time.

Lastly, we all remember how Polamalu had the freedom and took the chances other safeties hesitated on.

4) Emlen Tunnell (Offense on Defense)

Retired in 1961, with a then NFL record of 79 career interceptions, Emlen Tunnell played for the New York Giants (1948-1958) and the Green Bay Packers (1959-1961). 

With his gameplay and stamina, he was ahead of his time.

In an era in which they played 12 games and threw the ball 15-20 times, the position was a center field.

Being a pioneer, the first purely defensive player to be voted into the Pro Football Hall Of Fame. 

He was the first African-American voted into the Pro Football Hall Of Fame and the first African American assistant coach.

His dynamics and grit were flawless, and he accomplished everything he could when African-Americans were not even playing the ball game.

He died on 23 July 1975 due to a heart attack.

3)  Paul Krause

81 career interceptions speak for itself.

Tracking and predicting plays and then intercepting turning the game towards your team is not a small matter.

Paul played for all of the Vikings teams that went to the Super Bowl in the 70s.

He revolutionized the safety position, hence creating turnovers which have been a big aspect of the game now.

He started his Hall of Fame career with the Washington Redskins (1964-1967) and continued with the Minnesota Vikings (1968-1979).

Kraus played his best defense as the Vikings won four NFC Championships. Paul Krause is one of the guys who revolutionized the position of safety. 

2)  Ed reed

Reed maximized and affected the play dynamically.

He did it all by being athletic, guarding the tight end, the back end, helping over the top, helping and running defense, and basically everything. 

With a career interception of a whopping 64, Ed Reed was one time Super Bowl champion, voted to nine Pro Bowls and First-Team All-Pro five times.

13 Best Safeties in NFL Ed Reed at Super Bowl celebration.
Ed Reed at Super Bowl celebration with his son. (Source: instagram.com)

Making huge plays, constantly tormenting the players, hits after catch hits, a vicious, terrible, and perfect safety. 

The brilliance of Reed is incomparable to others with strength, intensity, energy, and wildness because of who he was.

Reed played for Baltimore Ravens from 2002 to 2012, for the Houston Texans, 2013, and lastly, for the New York Jets in 2013.

He holds the record for most interception return yardage in the NFL. 

“Teams were actually afraid to throw the ball in his area at times.”

1) Ronnie Lott

He’s the godfather of the safety position,” says an NFL writer.

Firstly, he was a cornerback for five years, then played safety.

He was a flawless player at any position. Ronnie played for San Francisco 49ers from 1981 to 1990, the Oakland Raiders from 1991 to 1992, and the New York Jets from 1993 to 1994.

He was the backbone of the gruesome defense of the Niners.

13 Best Safeties in NFL Ronnie Lott
Ronnie Lott in his spectacular game.                        (Source:instagram.com)

Ronnie won the Super Bowl champion four times and 10 Pro Bowls. 

He had the intellectual ability to tackle people thus, leading games with his big unpredictable plays.

With 63 career interceptions, Ronnie Lott gave it all to his game.

Ronnie lost his pinky during a game, however, still played becoming one of the best safety of all times.

“I was never going to allow myself to be defeated.”, quoted Ronnie.

Honorable Mention

When making this list, one player- Sean Taylor, would have definitely been in number 1 if time and luck worked in his favor. 

He was shot on 27 November 2007, and the accused were punished.

Sean Taylor

Sean Michael Taylor started at running back and safety for Miami’s Gulliver Prep. He would hunt and bring down players and succeeded in his play.

He played 16 games with 12 interceptions in the four seasons he played for the Redskins as the fifth overall pick of the 2004 draft of NFL.

Playing brilliantly, fiercely, recklessly flawless, played without hesitation, he had big hits and turnovers.

He put in a lot of work, commitment and gave his all.

13 Best Safeties in NFL Sean Taylor
The all-time best Sean Taylor in his feels. (Source: commons.wikipedia.org)

In addition, he was there before practice, running a hundred yards, learning to become a beast inside the white lines.

Covering a large area, he was everywhere, fast as lightning and ruthless as ever.

Therefore, we now know why he has been praised and still is praised by all men.

“I’m Sean Taylor, University of Miami- the hardest hitter in the draft.”

After his death, his team played with 10 players on defense and played for Sean Taylor.

Rest in Glory.

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