Stuff the Run: Budda Baker Leads All Safeties
Entering the last year of his rookie contract and coming off his second Pro Bowl appearance last season, Arizona Cardinals safety Budda Baker has seemingly hit his stride.
That first season, after being selected by the Cardinals in the second-round of the 2017 draft (after a trade with the Chicago Bears), then-defensive coordinator James Bettcher employed Baker mostly at strong safety. When head coach Bruce Arians "retired" and interim Steve Wilks added Al Holcomb as defensive coordinator, Baker became a nickel cornerback. Another coaching change brought in Vance Joseph as defensive coordinator and Baker has played in a free safety role as a result.
After achieving Pro Bowl honors and All-Pro for special teams as a rookie in 2017 when he started seven games, Baker excelled in 2019 at safety and was a full-time starter for the Cardinals. In those 16 games, Baker accumulated 147 tackles (104 solo, 43 assisted), seven tackles for loss, six passes defended, two quarterback hits, one forced fumble (recovered) and half a sack.
It helps that he played the most of his entire career. Appearing in 99 percent of the Cardinals defensive snaps, Baker was on the field for 1,120 of them. He also played on 67 special teams snaps (14 percent). Cardinals linebacker Jordan Hicks was the only player in the NFL ahead of Baker, as he played on 100 percent, all 1,132, of the team's defensive snaps.
While the numbers are not jarring, Baker was also the NFL's leading safety in run-stop percentage, according to Pro Football Focus.
It is a testament to the legacy he left in college at Washington, where he garnered a reputation for being a tough run-stuffer.
Here's the full description of what Baker's excellence in the category means:
"While run-stop percentage has been outlined ad nauseam here in this piece, we take it a step further for safeties," PFF's Cam Mellor wrote. "With our play-by-play charting and player participation collection, we track every player's alignment pre-snap. That includes safeties and the depth at which they start the play. Those players who are within eight yards of the line of scrimmage at the time of the snap are considered to play ‘in the box.' Our run-stop percentage for safeties showcases just that, how many stops a safety made when he was lined up in the box and how many he made when he was outside of the box."