Top 20 Best NFL Safeties of All Time

Best NFL Safeties of All Time
Safeties play a crucial role in the game of football, serving as the last line of defense in the secondary. They are the guardians of the deep field, entrusted with protecting against long passes and supporting their teammates in run defense. Throughout the history of the NFL, there have been exceptional safeties who have left an indelible mark on the game. In this article, we will explore the 20 best NFL safeties of all time, delving into their unique contributions, remarkable skills, and lasting legacies.

Top 20 Best NFL Safeties of All Time

Red Badgro: The First Dominant Safety

Red Badgro is widely regarded as the first dominant safety in the history of the NFL. His exceptional athleticism and instincts allowed him to excel both in coverage and as a run defender. Badgro set the stage for future safeties, displaying the importance of versatility and playmaking ability in the defensive backfield.

Night Train Lane: A Trailblazer in Pass Defense

Night Train Lane revolutionized the safety position with his aggressive style of play and ball-hawking skills. He became known for his ability to intercept passes, setting the single-season record with 14 interceptions in 1952. Lane’s impact on the game solidified the safety position as a vital component of any defense.

Jack Tatum: The Assassin with a Mean Streak

Jack Tatum was a feared and intimidating presence on the football field. Known as “The Assassin,” he delivered bone-crushing hits that sent shockwaves through opponents and made receivers think twice before venturing into his territory. Tatum’s physicality and tenacity epitomized the hard-hitting nature of the safety position.

Ronnie Lott: Fearless and Versatile Defensive Back

Ronnie Lott was the epitome of versatile safety, excelling in coverage, tackling, and providing leadership on the field. Known for his fearlessness and willingness to sacrifice his body, Lott played through injuries and set an example for his teammates with his unwavering commitment to the game. Lott’s versatility allowed him to seamlessly transition between safety and cornerback positions, showcasing his exceptional coverage skills and playmaking ability.

Ed Reed: The Maestro of Intercepting Passes

Ed Reed is widely regarded as one of the greatest ballhawks in NFL history. His ability to read quarterbacks, anticipate throws, and make acrobatic interceptions was unparalleled. Reed’s exceptional instincts and range allowed him to cover large areas of the field, making him a constant threat to opposing offenses.

Paul Krause: The Record-Holder for Career Interceptions

Paul Krause holds the record for the most interceptions in NFL history, a testament to his remarkable ball skills and anticipation. Krause’s ability to track the ball and make game-changing interceptions earned him a reputation as one of the most impactful safeties of his era. His consistent playmaking ability solidified his place among the all-time greats.

Rod Woodson: Cornerback Turned Elite Safety

Rod Woodson began his career as a standout cornerback before transitioning to safety later in his career. This versatility showcased his exceptional coverage skills and football IQ. Woodson’s ability to excel in both positions demonstrated his adaptability and further solidified his status as one of the best defensive backs to ever play the game.

Troy Polamalu: The Dynamic Force of the Steelers’ Defense

Troy Polamalu was a game-changer in every sense of the word. His combination of athleticism, instincts, and unpredictability made him a nightmare for opposing offenses. Polamalu’s ability to read plays, disrupt passing lanes, and deliver bone-jarring hits made him the heart and soul of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense for over a decade.

Ken Houston: A Game-Changer on the Field

Ken Houston was a true leader on the field, known for his exceptional coverage skills and playmaking ability. Houston’s knack for creating turnovers and his ability to deliver punishing hits earned him the respect of teammates and opponents alike. His impact on the game went beyond individual statistics, as he elevated the play of those around him.

Emlen Tunnell: The First African-American Hall of Famer

Emlen Tunnell paved the way for future generations as the first African-American player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Tunnell’s exceptional coverage skills and ball-hawking ability made him a dominant force in the secondary. His perseverance and talent broke barriers and inspired a new generation of African-American players.

Donnie Shell: Paving the Way for Undrafted Players

Donnie Shell’s journey from undrafted free agent to Super Bowl champion showcased his resilience and determination. Shell’s hard-hitting style and ability to make timely plays earned him a place among the elite safeties of his era. His success as an undrafted player paved the way for others to defy the odds and make their mark in the NFL.

Brian Dawkins: The Weapon X of the Philadelphia Eagles

Brian Dawkins was a force to be reckoned with on the field, earning the nickname “Weapon X” for his ferocious playing style and intensity. Dawkins’ combination of speed, power, and instinctual play made him a nightmare for opposing offenses. His leadership and passion for the game made him a fan favorite and a true icon for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Willie Wood: A Staple of the Packers’ Dynasty

Willie Wood was a key contributor to the Green Bay Packers dynasty of the 1960s. His exceptional coverage skills and football intelligence made him a crucial component of the Packers’ dominant defense. Wood’s consistency and durability allowed him to excel at the safety position for over a decade, cementing his status as one of the best safeties of his era.

Steve Atwater: The Hard-Hitting Force for the Broncos

Steve Atwater was known for his bone-crushing hits and intimidating presence on the field. As a hard-hitting safety for the Denver Broncos, Atwater struck fear into the hearts of opposing receivers. His physicality and ability to deliver impactful tackles made him a cornerstone of the Broncos’ defense and a fan favorite.

Larry Wilson: Setting the Standard for the Position

Larry Wilson was a trailblazer in the safety position, known for his exceptional coverage skills and ability to shut down opposing receivers. His ball-hawking instincts and knack for making timely interceptions set the standard for future generations of safeties. Wilson’s impact on the game led to his enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Bob Sanders: A Short Stature with a Big Impact

Bob Sanders may have had a shorter stature, but his impact on the field was anything but small. Sanders’ relentless pursuit of the ball, hard-hitting tackles, and ability to disrupt passing plays made him a vital piece of the Indianapolis Colt’s defense. Despite battling injuries throughout his career, Sanders’ impact when healthy was undeniable.

Ed Reed: An Intelligent Playmaker of the Modern Era

Ed Reed’s brilliance on the field transcended eras, as he showcased his playmaking ability and football IQ throughout his career. Reed’s ability to read quarterbacks, anticipate routes, and create turnovers made him a game-changer for the Baltimore Ravens defense. His intelligence and instincts set him apart as one of the best safeties of the modern era.

Troy Polamalu: A Game-Changing Force for the Steelers

Troy Polamalu’s impact on the game extended far beyond his exceptional athleticism and physicality. His ability to anticipate plays, disrupt passing lanes, and make game-changing tackles made him a true difference-maker for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Polamalu’s dynamic playing style and knack for making clutch plays solidified his place among the greatest safeties of all time.

Derwin James: The Versatile Young Defender

Derwin James burst onto the scene as a young safety with the Los Angeles Chargers, showcasing his versatility and exceptional skill set. James’ ability to play multiple positions in the secondary, his coverage skills, and his hard-hitting tackles make him a rising star and a player to watch for years to come.

Jamal Adams: A Dynamic and Aggressive Presence on the Field

Jamal Adams is a game-changer on defense, known for his aggressive playing style and ability to impact the game in various ways. His versatility allows him to excel in coverage, blitzing, and run support. Adams’ relentless pursuit of the ball and his knack for making big plays make him a rising star among the league’s top safeties.


The list of the top 20 best NFL safeties of all time showcases the incredible talent, skill, and impact that these players have had on the game. From the early pioneers who set the foundation to the contemporary stars who continue to redefine the position, each safety on this list has left an indelible mark on the NFL.


Q: What is the importance of safeties in the NFL?

A: Safeties play a crucial role in the game, serving as the last line of defense in the secondary. They protect against long passes, support in-run defense, and make critical decisions on the field.

Q: Who were the versatile playmakers in the safety position?

A: Rod Woodson and Troy Polamalu were notable examples of safeties who showcased versatility by excelling at multiple positions, displaying exceptional coverage skills, and making impactful plays.

Q: Which safeties stood out as defensive leaders?

A: Safeties like Ken Houston and Emlen Tunnell were revered for their leadership qualities, ability to elevate the play of those around them, and their significant impact on the field.

Q: Who are some impactful contemporary safeties in the NFL?

A: The blog post highlights the continued impact of Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu, showcasing their intelligence, playmaking abilities, and their status as game-changers in the modern era.

Q: Which rising stars are making their mark in the safety position?

A: Derwin James and Jamal Adams are rising stars who are making waves with their versatility, dynamic playing styles, and ability to impact games at a young age.

Thank you for reading.

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