The NFC East position group outlook is coming to a close. Each and every position group in the NFC East has been discussed so far, besides one, the safeties. Sure, safeties and cornerbacks are normally combined into one “grouping” called the secondary, but I decided to split them up and discuss them separately.
Without any more delay, let’s take a look at the free and strong safeties this division has to offer.
Cowboys safety play over the past few seasons has been inconsistent, to say the least.
Barry Church and JJ Wilcox have become notorious for their poor tackling angles and coverage breakdowns, even though I would argue that it hasn’t been all bad.
I still think Church has a lot to offer this defense, even if it is from more of a leadership role than anything else. No, he isn’t an elite NFL safety, but he has been the stronger of the starting duo since 2014.
Cowboys faithful are excited about this group due to the emergence of now second year player Byron Jones.
Jones spent most of his rookie year at safety, but was forced to bounce around to cornerback at times as well. He will finally have some stability in his week-to-week life and will be the Cowboys’ starting free safety week one.
And he is going to be great, make no mistake about it.
Fan-favorite Jeff Heath also returns after signing a four year deal this offseason, and will provide solid special teams play, as he did a year ago. When called on to play safety last year, he actually led the Cowboys in interceptions with two.
Yeah, that’s all it took to lead the team, two.
The Cowboys added another safety during the draft when they selected Central Michigan Chippewas’ Kavon Frazier in the sixth round.
The Eagles certainly made the biggest splash at the safety position this offseason by signing safety Rodney McLeod to a five year deal worth $37 million.
The former Rams safety finished the 2015 season with 81 tackles, 5 pass deflections, and one interception. At only 26 years old, he is a solid addition and a clear upgrade for the Eagles.
Adding McLeod allows the Eagles to give Malcolm Jenkins some help. Jenkins was the best safety in the division last season, finishing with 2 interceptions and 104 tackles.
Together, this could be a dangerous combination for opposing offenses to try to test.
New York Giants
The Giants traded up in the 2015 NFL draft in hopes of securing a long-term answer at safety in Alabama’s Landon Collins.
Collins’ rookie year can best be described as a roller coaster, with ups and downs and twists and turns, leaving most evaluators to just chalk up the inconsistencies to it being just his first professional season.
His final numbers did look solid, with over 100 tackles and an interception, but the Giants have to be hoping for more consistency out of Collins in 2016.
Playing alongside Collins will most likely be Cooper Taylor, who tallied just 11 tackles in very limited time last season. That is, of course, if rookie Darian Thompson is unable to grab the reigns and earn himself a starting position. My money is on Thompson to start alongside Collins for much of 2016.
Similar to the New York Giants, Washington goes into training camp with a ton of questions surrounding their safety positions. Veteran DeAngelo Hall will likely be one of the starters, as he has transitioned from cornerback to safety nicely with age.
The question then becomes, who’s next?
Will Blackmon and Duke Ihenacho are the other veterans who could possibly start at safety in 2016. Blackmon won’t be needed as a cornerback, and if he can transition smoothly to the starting spot, he may very well be the week one answer.
USC rookie Su’a Cravens may also get a shot to prove himself as a safety this summer.
Who’s the best?
In my mind, this group was clearly a two-team race.
The Redskins and the Giants have way too many question marks and inconsistencies at safety for me to even consider them here. That leaves the Eagles and the Cowboys.
Malcolm Jenkins was the best safety in the NFC East in 2015, so he would clearly give the Eagles some type of advantage over the Cowboys’ group.
Dallas, however, has my favorite new full-time starter in the division in Byron Jones. And, to be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if we consider Jones the best safety in the NFC East going into 2017.
Rodney McLeod is good, not great. Barry Church is good, not great.
The Cowboys didn’t force enough turnovers in 2015, but that doesn’t mean Jones and company won’t improve in this department come 2016.
It is a really close call, but I have to give the edge to the Eagles.
I hate that I have to do it, but I think McLeod and Jenkins form the best starting tandem on paper at this time. Things certainly can and will change as we move further along this season.