Many people openly lament the level of quarterback play in the NFL as a whole. However, quarterback is not the only position that is down right now. For over a decade, NFL fans were spoiled by great safety play. Players like Bob Sanders, Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu, and the late Sean Taylor roamed from sideline to sideline.
Over the past few seasons several big name college safeties have entered the league, but they have had minimal impact. The bar was raised extremely high by the safeties such as Brian Dawkins, Eric Weddle, and Roman Harper. Players like Mark Barron, John Cyprien, and Matt Elam have not lived up to their early round selections.
Kenny Vaccaro was a first-round pick in 2013, and last season he ranked as the 85th best safety in the NFL by profootballfocus.com (subscriptions required). Only Dashon Goldson and Ryan Clark ranked worse in the entire league. Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix was selected in the first-round in the 2014 draft and in his rookie season he ranked just 61st.
This is not to take shots at the safeties who are struggling, but this is to show that there is a trend going on amongst big time college safeties struggling to transition to the NFL. Earl Thomas coming in and having the impact he has had has become more of an anomaly. The norm has become Eric Reid. While Reid was a replacement for the Pro Bowl in his rookie season, last season he ranked just 52nd amongst his peers.
The question is why are so many players struggling to make the transition? Some would argue the rule changes have assisted in the poor play. There are plays that former NFL safeties see now and just shake their heads because due to the rule changes safeties have a more difficult job. Slants used to separate the men from the boys amongst receivers because they knew they were going to be hit, especially in the red zone. Today, safeties are so scared of the penalty that often times minimal contact is made on these plays; players are touched down more than they are tackled.
Others would argue that scouts are just flat missing out on talented players. Kam Chancellor is considered one of the best safeties in the NFL. He was selected in the fifth-round of the draft. Nate Allen, Taylor Mays, Morgan Burnett, and Darrell Stuckey were all taken prior to Chancellor. None of them close to the talent of Chancellor.
Whatever the problem is, it is clear that it has begun to affect the stock of the future safeties. Landon Collins is rated the top safety in the upcoming draft and many mock drafts don’t have him going until in the late first-round. He has all the measurable you would want in a safety. He ran a 4.53 40-yard dash. He led the Alabama Crimson Tide in tackles with 103. Yet, there are questions of whether he is a system player. In part, the poor play of Barron and Clinton-Dix has to play into his evaluation.
Truthfully, the league goes through cycles. There has been a shortage of left tackles. The league has had a shortage of top flight running backs. The league has had a shortage of No. 1 receivers. Right now, the league is short on quality safeties.
Poor safety play on a two-point conversion is a major reason why the Seattle Seahawks were in the Super Bowl and the Green Bay Packers were home. If Clinton-Dix knocks the ball down, Aaron Rodgers may have his second ring. While safety play may be down, in a quarterback driven league, their value may have never been higher.